Monday, December 2, 2013

I refused an H4 visa because I chose freedom

For two years I had been living a relatively quiet life of an immigrant student's wife. I tried to keep busy from the very first moment we moved into our new life abroad. I had left my job back at home and finding myself alone was a challenge. Now I could pursue other things I hadn't had the time to do before, but at the same time I was intimidated because I had a lot of time to manage on my own. I tried to look on the bright side. Being on a J2 visa, I immediately applied for an employment authorization card. Eventually, I found a part time job I loved. I considered myself extremely lucky because I had found an occupation that kept me busy and allowed me to stay among people. Life was looking good and my sanity had been preserved for a while.
Things started to shake again when my husband was offered the H1B visa, which meant for me to pass on an H4. This visa, as most immigrants' spouses know too well, implies many limitations. I was to give up my financial independence and my professional career. My higher education degrees were nothing more than trophies used as wallpaper. I was forced to give up everything I believed in and worked for. The prospect was very ominous.
In the meantime we also had moved to another place, closer to my husband's workplace. The friends I had met in the previous two years were also moving to other destinations. I began to feel totally deserted, lost and useless. The delicate new balance I had created abroad was starting to crumble. The situation deteriorated pretty quickly; I got sick and spent time in and out of doctors' offices to find out the cause of a mysterious allergy that was tormenting me. I was losing my strength in body and spirit and I realized I had to do something before it was too late.
Slowly and painfully I started to realize that I couldn't beat this system that denied me to be who I was and who I aspired to be. With an H4 visa, I was to sign away my freedom and I couldn't force myself into something I also believe to be fundamentally unconstitutional. In fact, I felt this visa status was violating and contradicting many primary constitutional rights. An oxymoron: a legal paper that limits or denies your rights! What happened to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin's Declaration of Independence? Did they really mean that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, including the pursuit of happiness, or some men are more equal than others (to paraphrase George Orwell)?
I felt very confused; in the land of the free I had no freedom. Within legality, since I had come to the country following all the red tape to the dot, I was limited in many ways that forbade me from living my normal life. This is a country where slavery has been abolished, women have the same rights as men, a nation populated by immigrants (not to be sarcastic here, but how many can really trace their roots back to Pocahontas or Sacajawea??), and yet, LEGAL immigrants' wives are at the mercy of their husbands, depending on them for everything. Are you kidding me?!? There is something against nature in this perverse system. Many immigrants' wives can't cope with this situation, they feel unwelcome, unwanted and invisible; hence, in the best scenario they decide to leave: empty handed, abandoned and broken in their spirit and in their lives. 
I was wasting my days, my life, away in a nasty place that I was loathing by the minute. The system wanted to reduce me to a role totally unsuited and anachronistic for today's women. After long and serious considerations, I came to the only possible conclusion: I was to leave if I wanted to recover and regain health and happiness. It was the hardest decision ever. I was leaving a country that despite everything I still loved for many reasons, but obviously for some others I started to hate. 
This adventure was also taking a huge toll on my marriage. However, despite the odds, I have been very lucky. Unlike many husbands who decided to follow their careers, my husband followed me.

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