Yes, I can hear you. I know that immigration is often the elephant in the room. Nobody wants to talk about it until they are the one affected. Becoming a permanent resident. The process is painful, the documents are endless, and the feeling of uncertainty is unbearable. Indeed immigration (work visa/student visa/spouse visa) is something we would rather talk about behind closed doors with only a lawyer or an HR professional. But we need to talk about it.
How I Became a Permanent Resident in 3 Countries
I was born in Indonesia and initially studied Engineering. Then I decided to study further in the United Kingdom. I lived and worked in the UK on a student visa. Eventually, I became a permanent resident in the UK when I married my husband from Yorkshire. My impression of the UK visa system was that it was simple, straightforward, easy to understand and not that expensive. I did all the visa applications by myself without a help of a lawyer (a solicitor in the UK) and I was capable enough to understand the English law without multiple meanings in each sentence.
The permanent resident status was given two years after I changed from a student to a spouse visa. It came as a big sticker in my passport that my status was now INDEFINITE LEAVE to REMAIN (ILR) in the UK. It was that easy? Not really because we had to post many documents with our application: a total weight about 2kg. These included household bills, bank accounts, birth and marriage certificates (original and certified copies), education certificates and financial evidence that my husband would not use public funds (he would not be able to claim most benefits, tax credits or housing assistance that are paid by the state). But wait, we haven’t got to the worst one yet!
How difficult to obtain 5/10
Time to process 6/10
Financial needs 6/10
Difficulty score: 22 of 40
In 2005, we moved to Singapore, the international hub country in Southeast Asia. We made the decision to become permanent residents of Singapore for a few reasons. One of these was because of its excellent health service. But if you are considering applying, please be aware of the compulsory military service for males over the age of 18. Since we didn’t have children then, it seemed that it would be a breeze for us.
It was the most efficient immigration process we have encountered. Even my husband had to admit that the whole process was pain-free. We did the health check, went to the ICA office, and filed the paperwork (which was not even 50 pages in total). No lawyers, no hassle. It was done in practically a few hours. (The decision though took a few weeks, but the immigration officer will tell applicants if their application is going to be considered or rejected on the spot).
How difficult to obtain 2/10
Time to process 3/10
Financial needs 5/10
Difficulty score: 12 of 40
The United States of America
When we arrived in the Bay Area in 2007, we realized that the immigration process would be a difficult path. My husband failed to get an H1B visa due to the allocation already being full in the first weeks of the window being opened. He then got an L1 visa, which gave me some benefits. I could get a Social Security number; a bank account and freedom to do things that a spouse with the H1B visa wouldn’t be able to do, including getting a job. But soon we did get the H1B visa in the next round, and then my freedom disappeared into the thin air. For those who face the pain of being an H1B visa spouse, yeah I know. It hit my gut and ego.
We started the green card process (to become a permanent resident) two years after the status change to H1B visa. Here we go, all over again. Paperwork was an almost daily demand. The health screening was also the most incredulous and intricate process we’ve ever experienced. My husband had to gather paperwork back and forth in the UK. The language used in the immigration papers was full of ambiguity, or you needed a law degree to understand the main subject. It was probably the most challenging visa application we’ve done. Not just the complexity but also my hands were tied up beyond control. The money we spent was huge and although we knew this was reimbursable, in my opinion, the cost seemed too high to even comprehend.
How difficult to obtain 8/10
Time to process 9/10
Financial needs 9/10
Difficulty score: 34 of 40
I wrote this not to make you change your mind. On the contrary, I wrote this piece because I do understand the long and painful road you will face to US immigration. I am not talking about an elephant anymore, but rather I am talking about a donkey. Yes, the road will bumpy and slow sometimes, but I am sure once you deal with it then you will realize how far you have come and see that it was worth every penny.
How difficult to obtain: 1 to 10 (very easy to very difficult)
Time to process: 1 to 10 (less than 2 years to more than 2 years)
Financial needs: 1 to 10 (very cheap <$2000 to very expensive >$5000)
Effectiveness: 1 to 10 (can be done by individual versus needing third party lawyers)
Rows of Bentleys, Rolls Royces, and Ferraris, palm trees swaying, and well-heeled folks...this is drop off at an American elementary school in Dubai.