One is sweet and the other is … a web developer

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Letter 14 (page 1)

7 March 2001

Dear everyone,

This was going to be a Christmas letter but I delayed it until we knew if we were staying in America or not. The delay turned out to be longer than I expected.

2½ years for this?!

To cut a long story short, Lan’s application for permanent resident status has been approved and look what she got:

Here is the unabridged version: You will recall that I came home to Australia in 1998 when my father got sick and that the original idea was that Lan would follow a few months later. However, Lan’s employer, US West, offered to apply on her behalf to get her permanent resident status, commonly known here as getting a green card-even though the actual card hasn't been green for decades! This made us change our plans so after dad died, I quit my job, finished the work on our house and rejoined Lan in the US. Permanent resident status is one step down from citizenship, so the American government will continue to call us aliens.

Lan was led to believe that the process to get a green card would take about a year. I wasn't there during any of the early conversations but I soon learnt that the lawyer would almost always communicate by telephone, possibly because it was quicker but it also avoided putting anything in writing that could be held against him. Thinking that Lan would have her green card and I would be allowed to work by about September 1999, I entered a "community college" to get a computing certificate. About halfway through the year, we asked more questions of the lawyer and found that it would take longer but I would be allowed to work, perhaps by the end of 1999. However, Lan would be stuck for some time longer at US West, which she now hated, though he couldn't say how long that might be.

Lan did her best to put on a smile at US West but it was difficult as the organization is intensely political. Many factors guide the decision-making process but logic and efficiency don't appear to be among them. Lan started getting attacks of vertigo (dizziness) around March 2000 and they continued for several months. We believe it was mainly stress-related.

Hope came last July when we had our fingerprints taken. A decision is normally made within 2 or 3 months, so we expected everything to be concluded by say October, well in time for a Christmas letter. It wasn't.

Everything was thrown into turmoil when another company bought US West and Lan was amongst thousands who lost their job in September. Getting laid-off is sufficiently traumatic for most people but it seemed our green card application would be withdrawn immediately and we would have to leave the country, just as it was about to be approved.

However, we did find out that losing a job didn't affect the application. Once a person has "work authorization", they can in theory work for anyone but the employee promises to work for the employer when the green card is approved. What was important then was Lan’s status at the time her case was approved. Lan tried desperately to get rehired but to no avail.

We were getting ready to pack our bags when help arrived. We were unaware that changes to immigration law were making their way through Congress and few expected it to pass on the first attempt so there was little publicity. It did pass and Bill Clinton signed it into law in October. One provision allowed green card applicants to change jobs if they had an application pending for over 6 months. Ours had been in for 12, so our application was saved! Or so we thought. It wasn't clear if the new rules would apply to (a) people like us who were already in the system, or (b) only to those who filed a new application after the new law was enacted, or (c) only to those who filed a new application after some arbitrary date when the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was ready, say January 1, 2001. This question has still not been resolved as the INS has still not issued their "regulations" that will specify exactly how they intend to implement the new law. We had thought of coming home to visit last Christmas but I didn't want to book a flight until we knew whether we needed a one-way or return ticket.

Lan worked part-time at my company for a month or two while she looked for a "real" job and in December got a job as a technical trouble-shooter at Avaya, a company that makes telephone voice-messaging systems. Unfortunately, she isn't using the skills she has and is being asked to do things she hasn't done before, making us wonder why they hired her and prompting one of her friends to suggest that she is there as a trouble-maker! It is also a long drive from home which doesn't help.

The INS runs an automated telephone system so you can check the status of your case. We discovered that Lan’s case was approved on January 22nd. After we received the approval notice, Lan got out to the local INS office at 6.30am to be ready for when they opened at 7.30 but even then was about 100th in the queue! She was frozen by the time she got into the building at 8.10 but by the time she got out at 9.30, she was officially a permanent resident.

However, my case was not approved. As the spouse of an applicant, the requirements placed on me are minimal, principly that I haven't shot anyone recently and that I don't carry the ebola virus. (Having both would definitely disqualify me.) Eventually we found out that the problem is our marriage certificate: we don't have one - at least not one the the INS will accept. Since there are so many fraudulent marraiges, the INS insists on one issued by a government. Ours was issued by the church, even though it has "Commonwealth of Australia" at the top. We have ordered a real one and it should be here soon.

Going back a bit, I was allowed to work in January 2000 and I started work at Premier Data Systems. I've spent the year mainly doing an intranet application, which means it uses internet technology but it runs only within the company. However, the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know which is depressing.

I've started doing the prerequisites to the prerequisites so I can get a master’s degree in computer science at Colorado University but it will be years before I finish. By the time I'm 40, I should be able to compete with 22-year-olds finishing their degree. Still, while employers value a degree, it will be largely useless garbage, just like my engineering degree, so there is a huge amount of current technology I need to learn and certifications I need to gain. I still need to do one more class at the community college to finish my "Associate Degree" too.