Tag Archives: visa

Seven Reasons it Sucks Being an Immigrant in the United States

I seriously hate being an immigrant.

Right now, not even the fact that I am married to an American is not going to save me the $1000 plus that I will blow on another international trip to an American consulate to get a visa stamped in my passport (I haven’t gotten my green card yet).  I have to leave the country and get this visa stamp if I hope to travel internationally and re-enter the United States with permission to work.  Absurd.  Hence the dour look on my face as I write this at Starbucks in Terminal B in Sacramento International Airport.

I am not yet ready to look at the bright side of all this (there may be some happier immigration-related posts later this week if my rendezvous at the US Consulate in Calgary goes as planned.)  So for now, let’s wallow in pessimism and complain about the crappy state of the immigration process in seven, rambling points:

1)  There are too many jokes about immigrants – starting with my wife Jammie’s joke that I have blogged about before.  She LOVES asking, “Why am the one who looks like I need the green card,” really enjoying the irony of the Filipina who is this white boy’s ticket to America.

2)  Life is always more complicated for immigrants – ever since I was in college it has been the SAME story – you’ve got to jump through ALL these hoops if you want to study/live in the US.  Depending on where you are from, the paperwork and the uncertainty surrounding whether or not you will get a student visa is absolutely exhausting.

3)  Immigration to the United States (or anywhere, for that matter) is BEYOND humiliating – When I finally arrived at my American school I had to go to something called International Student Orientation where they shared gems like “take daily showers and wear deodorant.”  Welcome to America indeed.

4)  Immigrants are always at the mercy of the host country – I remember landing in Chicago after a trip back to the UK for Christmas.  An airport official at the immigration desks started yelling at the huge crowd of non-US travelers that were lined up, immigration forms in hand, trying to get in the country.  It was as though we were a crowd of misbehaving school children.  I raised my hand and asked if she was going to do anything about the fact that the super slow immigration officials were causing people to miss their flights.  The collective humiliation of being yelled at as a crowd quickly became personal as she directed her plump ire at me, pontificating on about how we were just going to have to “wait our turn.”  I complained heartily to their customer service people and missed the last bus to Michigan.

5)  Being an immigrant is ALWAYS more expensive – If it were not for the fact that I got lucky and have worked for extremely generous employers, I would be completely broke at this point.  The paper work that has been filed for me to work in the US on a professional non-immigrant H-1B (too confusing to go into the reasoning behind this category here) visa has cost about $15,000 and I have only worked in the United States for five years.  It is absolutely ridiculous.  Having a legal immigration status is immensely costly.  And we wonder why we have a problem with illegal immigration.

6)  The life of an immigrant feels like one long interview process – Living under the constant threat of deportation for the slightest infraction is hardly a great way to enjoy the American life.  It is super stressful.  I have my THIRD immigration interrogation in five years this Tuesday at the US consulate in Calgary just so I can get a visa stamped in my passport for which my employer has already spent thousands of dollars.

7)  You are at the mercy of politicians – It is not ordinary Americans that are causing all of this drama.  It is a completely inefficient Congress.  Immigration comes up in every election cycle, especially in the border states.  Good immigration news is the number one issue in many voters’ minds.  But let’s be real, does anything constructive EVER happen?  It certainly doesn’t feel like it.  Immigration problems are here to stay.

OK, enough negativity for now.  On Tuesday we look at whether or not it is worth immigrating to the United States anymore.


Bjorn Karlman


Surviving “Fresh off the Boat” (FOB) Parenting…

Junge Türkin bei Dreharbeiten

It happened WAY too much.  And it always happened when we were already running late.  Our old, disgracefully dilapidated beast of a Buick would shut off at the bottom of the long, steep driveway to the cookie-cutter Marietta, Ga. apartment complex where we lived.  My high-strung über-Scandinavian mother would then proceed to frantically wind down the car window, stick her head out as far it would go and yell “It STOPPED!!” with shrill, Nordic determination to the annoyed assortment of early-morning drivers behind us.  Humiliated, my sister and I would shrink down in our seats, willing the moment to pass.

This, of course, was only one of the whole smorgasbord of awkward experiences my sister and I had growing up with FOB (Fresh-off-the-boat) parents who had about as much interest in blending into local culture as we did in sticking out like sore thumbs.

I’ve met enough children of FOBs to detect some patterns.  The first of these is that immigrants often have an idealist, nonconformist streak.  It took guts and ignoring naysayers to move from their homelands.  Now that they are here, some of these qualities manifest themselves in a stronger-than-usual sense of motivation. They are also less likely to concern themselves with what others think.  While this singular focus has worked well for them, their children (who are more concerned with blending in) will often find this focus too narrow and abrasive.  I’ve rarely witnessed kids that have been able to change their FOB parents.  It seems that the best thing to do is to appreciate your parents’ work ethic and recognize that they are who they are.

Another thing about FOB parents is that although they (in most cases) chose to leave their home countries, they often are extremely patriotic and nostalgic about the homeland they left behind.  They will wax lyrical about the food, the culture and the beauty of home.  Ask them if they would like to go back though and they quickly shake their heads or talk loosely about what they might do in retirement. If you were born to FOBS and have to listen to your parents and their nostalgic rambling, take it all with a grain of salt.  It is good to be aware of your roots but realize that time and distance have probably embellished the memories of your parents’ home.

One of the more obvious things about FOB parents is their accent and how they carry themselves. Accents rarely change if someone learns a language as an adult so chances are that your FOB parents really sound foreign.  My mom’s accent used to embarrass me, but nowadays it is much more of a source of amusement.  As with most things about foreign parents and their cultural idiosyncrasies, if you can see the humor in the situation, you can actually enjoy it.  On that note, let’s conclude with a video from HappySlip, a YouTube-based comedy series by Christine Gambito, a Filipina American who plays all her characters and who has the funniest take I have ever seen on the FOB experience…


Bjorn Karlman