My visa nightmare (part 1)
This was by far the most challenging time of my 32-year life. A couple of reasons-
I have been hit by uncertainty about if I would be able to go back to the USA where I build my career for the last 8 years. I have close to zero professional networks in Bangladesh. I was uncertain about what I can do here.
I have my wife living in the US. I am not sure when I can go back. She was dealing with the pandemic all by herself. On top of that, she didn’t have the work permit to work and her driving license was contingent to an EAD/singed I-20. So, my stay back in Bangladesh made her take leave from her work and stay home without a driving license.
Our green card process has a hard deadline in November. If we miss that, our current process will be discarded. The consequence is huge. We wouldn’t know when Taskin will be able to get back to work (1–2 years minimum lag). I have no direction when I can start to build a company.
In summary, all our hard work and sacrifices for the last 8 years were looking bleak. So how was the last seven months microscopically?
I landed in Dhaka on 20th Feb and faced a US visa interview on 23rd Feb. I came with only 2-weeks leave and expected to return to the work as soon as possible. I wish I would have known what is waiting for me.
When I bought my ticket in January, back in the US, there was no reported case. We have been hearing about rising cases in China. Government of the US sort of played it down, which the president acknowledged privately. I still remember that my boss was discussing traveling to China for the Apple project. In February, things started to look a little different but didn’t see any significant change. A few cases in Washington state were reported. President Trump was visiting in India in late February even. So everything was normal. Among all this ‘signal”, there was a noise that I missed or “ignored” like millions of people. CDC said- “it is not a matter of if, but when the virus will be here (USA).” I wish I would have understood the message at that time.
US embassy approved my case during the interview but later refused it for administrative processing aka 221(g). Generally, it takes a few weeks to a few months to clear the 221(g). I was expecting it to clear it in March or April at best. But who knew what was coming?
On March 19, the Department of State (DOS) announced a suspension of the visa program worldwide. That was pretty much a block on getting my visa issued.
Throughout March, I reached out to the US embassy directly and through the Bangladesh foreign service officer Amin. Amin was my two years junior in the case college and we were in the same house. He tried his best to make my case to the chief of the visa ops, Den Hoopingarner. However, Den repeatedly denied any action on the visa stating that the visa ops are suspended (only emergency visa can be issued for medical reasons etc.) and no flights are available.
April was a month of the biggest turmoil. By early April to mid-April, there were news reports that Donald Trump is going to place an embargo on the immigrant and non-immigrant visas. I am not sure exactly how many sleepless nights I had during that time. One side effect was that I lost ~20lbs in less than a month. I couldn’t sleep in most nights (in my case days). I was in a fear of losing everything that we built in the last eight years. We sacrificed so much to come to this point. Both of us have good-paying jobs, a stable career, and a well-off lifestyle.
On April 20, I received my I-140 approved. It was the only good news I heard in a very long time. My days felt like months. I would have slept at 6 or 7 am and slept until 4 or 5 pm. I would get up 4–5 times in between and browse cellphones like crazy to see if there is any news related to the visa embargo. If I call it crazy, I am selling it short!
Finally, on April 22 Donald Trump announced the ban on the immigrant visa. He excused the non-immigrant work visas in that time, but he put a provision to reconsider the ban of the non-immigrant work visas in the next 60 days. The rumor was that all the work visas including H-1Bs were on the ban list. Somehow the US chamber of commerce and tech companies talked him out of that. Actually, he opened a line of lobbying by putting the 60-day reconsideration provision.
Unemployment in the USA was jumping up like crazy. It reached 14.7% in April. Tens of millions of Americans lost jobs. The biggest unemployment happened in retail, restaurant, hospitality, and entertainment businesses.
There was no significant incident in May. There were tens of articles from the tech lobbyists (in Forbes). There were a couple of articles from the anti-immigration bigots CIS (Mark Krikorian gang). It was an exhausting month with all the news, opinions, and rumors. On May 8, four right-wing Republican Senators Cruz, Cotton, Hawley, and Grassley (Grassley is not right-wing through, but an immigration-hawk) wrote a letter to Donald Trump to ban all foreign worker visa program until the economy bounces back to its original position (i.e., ≤3.5% unemployment).
Unemployment claims start to come down below 2m per week in May. Still, the economy was tremendously unstable. People were losing jobs right and left. US government was paying a stimulus of $1200 per person and $2500 per family. Unemployed US citizens were receiving $600 from the feds on top of state unemployment insurance of $200–500 (depending on the states).
June was the month when Donald Trump announced the ban on work visa that included H-1B, H-2B, J-1 etc. I was sleepless most of the days of this month because of the uncertainty of if he is going to impose the ban and if there will be any exceptions to escape that.