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The Visa Hustle

by V (writer), Venice!, February 28, 2007

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If you are an American who has had the misfortune to find yourself in the company of a group of expatriates and other foreigners embroiled in the task of migrating, you will no doubt have been exposed to long and tedious discussions about visas. No matter what topic our conversation commences with, you can be certain that, before too long, a smart segue into Visaworld ensues, and with good reason.

My Fiancé and I have spent thousands obtaining our current visas and we are not alone. Once you have committed to trying to make a life here, you are simultaneously surrendering your fate to the hands of Visa Brokers, i.e. Immigration Lawyers and all that that implicates. It is a financially and emotionally exhausting roller coaster ride. And like a roller coaster, once you’ve done your first upside down 360, you’re too far in for anyone to stop the ride.

You find yourself rekindling long expired relationships in order to extract glowing reviews to contribute to the decade-long paper trail that will lead you down the path to candidacy as a worthwhile contributor to American society. It is the first duty of any nation to care for its citizens. It is only fair that you should have to prove yourself of more exceptional skill than a local who could be enjoying the benefits of your job instead of you. Not only do you have to prove your exceptional skills or talents, but so too, you have to account for every decision that led you choose this life and how this life could benefit you when you go home. You have to go home.

At 9am on the first morning of the ride, things can look rosy and you’re led to believe that you’ll have your visa in no time. By two o’clock that afternoon, it looks like things have taken a wrong turn and you’ll have to leave the country and a lover in a few days. You cry, declare undying love for one another and swear that you can wait for each other, no matter what it takes. By 10:45am the following day, your Visa Broker has brokered you a new deal with a new ‘umbrella company’ and lo and behold, you’re back in the game. By 5:50pm that same day, you find yourself buying a flight to Canada for a visa run only to find, after paying for the cheapest ticket you could get your hands on (translates also to not flexible and not refundable) in fact, with the newly brokered deal, they specify that you must go back to your country of origin not Canada.

Now you’ve got a $550 credit to go to Toronto via Minnesota, anytime you like within the next twelve months but that cannot be deducted from the $1,500 you now have to spend to go back to Australia. And maybe, when you get to the U.S. embassy in Australia, you might get that asshole public servant who had a tremendous fight with his Australian wife that morning and hates all Australians and thus, you find a man that has vengefully sought out the one loop hole to deny you entry back into America. I was lucky. I did not get him this time.

'Hello Soul Suckers*, can I help you?' I say. There is a long, deep sigh at the other end of the phone and then, with a pause of the same time measure, the deep, weary voice of a man who is most likely gay finally responds, 'Oh could you just stop with the fake English accent? It doesn’t make you smarter or more sophisticated no matter what anyone tells you.'

This was the first client phone call I took, on the first day of my first job in La La Land. You would probably be right in assuming that this is to be expected in Los Angeles in the fashion game, but this kind of self-importance, bitterness, megalomania, vacuousness and outright rudeness, knows no geographical boundaries I am sad to report.

I have known many Brandts (name changed because I am superstitious enough to fear the unknown and I worry that two hundred Broowaha readers psychically uttering his name, may waken the beast from who I have not heard for several days) in my years in this industry both here and abroad. It is however an anonymous vocation that we share Brandt and I, so it was an unexpected horror when I actually got to see a picture of Brandt recently. He apparently did a ‘Playgirl’ centerfold back in the 70’s, replete with coiffed and gleaming, ape-like, body hair and a handlebar moustache. Much about his toxic character content instantly made sense.

I spent a lot of time that first day with my very expensive visa pasted neatly into my passport, reflecting on the cumulative decisions that brought me to this place. I was prompted from my reflection when my boss – who was on the phone – put her client on hold and shouted out across the room, ‘Hey, what’s Mongolia?’ Speechless, I watched this terrible scene unfold as my co-worker – also on the phone (as we usually are) – put his client on hold and, exasperated, rolled his eyes at the heavens and responded, ‘It’s a country, in Africa!’ For the months following, I have tried very hard to pretend that this is not my life.

But here I am a visa holder, a slave to my master. I have no qualms about leaving a supposedly ‘good’ job behind for one much more menial. I’d be washing dishes in a diner tomorrow if only I could get a visa to do that. Such is my predicament and I am not alone.

When feeling this defeated, it is easy to fall prey to the temptation of going under the radar and joining the hundreds of thousands of others picking fruit and manning cigarette stands in toilets. Many of my kind – not running from inhumane circumstances in their Motherland, war or famine – have done it.

I find myself considering the ten thousand dollar going rate to marry someone for a Green Card. I start to wonder how much I could earn as a sex phone operator with the charm of my ‘fake’ English accent. I wonder how long it would take them to find me if I dyed my hair Thai-hooker blond and headed South down Mexico way …. then I snap myself out of it.

It took six months to get that fucking Social Security number with far too many visits, sitting waiting for hours next to that stinky junky in that bleak, gray room that smacked of a public health care, mental facility. Not to mention the six months where I routinely had Saturday morning breakfast at the bank, hoping that this Saturday would be different to all the others and that, after a forty-five minute wait followed by a Teller’s thirty-minute questionnaire, I would be told that my Social Security number was now cleared ‘in the system’ and I could go ahead and open a bank account and stop keeping my money under the bed.

It’s tough following the rules but, like a roller coaster, the giddy satisfaction of it all once you step of the ride is exhilarating. Shaking it up opens up a world of new possibilities and a little ‘perspectivo,’ as the gringos say down Mexico way.



*Yeah right! I need my Visa. Like I'm going to tell you where I work.


About the Writer

V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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5 comments on The Visa Hustle

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By Tumerica on February 28, 2007 at 10:53 am
Oh, I have been there--from the other side of the globe, that is. I spent my whole five years in Japan struggling with visas! It took years just to get a student visa so I could work legally (and so good firms would hire me). And I spent ontuld time in "bleak, gray room[s] that smacked of a public health care, mental facility." Every time my visa ran out, I'd have to leave the country to get it renewed. It was maddening. Once, I even got "stuck" in Hawaii for six weeks waiting on the consulate there to sign my papers so I could return to Japan. They were so slow, I finally actually got my dad, a retired colonel in the Air Force, to write a letter on Air Force stationary. The day they received his letter I miraculously got approved for a visa. What a CROCK! So my heart goes out to you. Could not be more unfair or ridiculously unwieldy, our current system rewards breaking the law and discourages honoring the law. Arrrrggghhhh!
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By Steven Lane on February 28, 2007 at 11:50 am
Be careful V I have a great Aussie friend that used to do the Canada run. Then was told that he had to return to Sydney and reapply (He overstayed by like a month) and that was a few years ago and he is still there. Good luck and if you need any character references, you could get a ton right here on Broowaha.
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By Matt Weston on February 28, 2007 at 12:07 pm
bureaucracy = slow death. here's hoping you wriggle free of the red tape sooner than later. great detail about the playgirl guy - speaks volumes :)
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Log In To Vote   Score: 3
By V on February 28, 2007 at 02:44 pm
Tumerica: Thanks for hearing me. Steve: Thanks! I'll drop by the hotdog stand for a reference & a dog - perfect! Matt: It feels precisely like Japanese water-torture ... both dealing with the bureaucracy & clients that shoot Playgirl.
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By VeroniqueChevalier on September 23, 2007 at 06:00 pm
Brings to my mind Terry Gilliam's masterful film "Brazil" which made red tape gone awry into a true artform.
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