Journey Of A (Non-)Immigrant…

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This is just a small binder with some of my immigration documents…

The quality is terrible, but that’s my friend Sabela and I at a Spanish gathering 3 years ago…
Hello loves and happy Friday! 

I have debated long and hard about whether I should write this post or not. “Should I make it a series?” “Will people even like this?” “Is this something I should even talk about…)” etc. 

But recently, I came across someone who clearly didn’t know anything about people like me: international students. Living in the U.S., and particularly in Denver, a lot of people live side by side with this huge current issue of immigration. Considering all the political and media focus this topic has had, I was surprised by how little this person knew about the difference of me and an illegal immigrant. And before I continue writing, let me make a huge disclaimer

I am in no shape or form against anybody moving to a different country to improve their life and/or the life of their children and family. I am in no way judging the manner in which people do it. This is simply a blog post to explain MY personal situation and how it differs from other people’s.

Now that this is clear (I hope), let me give you an insight into what it is to be an international student. Technically we’re not considered immigrants (we are: “temporary/ non-immigrant aliens) but I feel like not too many people are aware of that. 

For starters, getting to where I am now has neither been easy nor cheap. Coming to the United States with a Student Visa is a very long, intimidating and tedious process. When you decide you want to come and study in this country, you have to apply to the U.S. Embassy in your country for a student visa. And it is not as easy as it sounds. To try and keep this process explanation short, there are 5 things you need to provide BEFORE you apply for this Visa: 

  1. You need to provide them with a very long list of documents about yourself and your family, demonstrating “strong ties” back to your home country (meaning: that you intend on going back once you’re done with university); 
  2. You need to prove foreign residence, your and your families;
  3. You need to demonstrate/ adhere to the rules that you will only study in an academic environment once you get to the U.S. (and not work unless it is in a campus location with very limited and supervised hours); 
  4. You need to prove that you have sufficient financial support and ability to not only study but also to live in the U.S.; 
  5. And finally you must show prove that you have been accepted by the university: which requires that you travel to the city you intend to move to, apply for the university/universities, show prove of sufficient funds to them and that you can support yourself, and show prove of a very good health insurance with coverage requirements that include travel back to your country if needed… 

In case you didn’t catch it, these are requirements you MUST meet prior to applying to attempt to get your visa. So all this time, you are not guaranteed to be approved to come to the U.S., but the trip, the applications to universities, bank documents that need to be translated, health insurance coverage that also needs translation… they all cost money. And before you go and think that money comes out of my ears: no, I am not rich. Neither is my family. But we saved up for quite a while before even starting this process. 

So lets say that you do get approved by one of the universities you applied to (because if you didn’t, then there is obviously no point to the next step), then comes the application for the student visa, also known as F-1 Visa. Keep in mind that every single form, document and photo you send to the embassy requires payment as well. So yes, saving money is almost a requirement for all of this so: PLAN AHEAD! 

To start this application you need to submit an application fee (this changes every year so check the USCIS website for updates on that), Form DS-160, which comes with all the same required paperwork that you previously accumulated, valid copies of your passport and passport-style photos (I believe at least 2). Submitting all of this does NOT guarantee that you will get approved. Now, you have to wait to see if you’re granted an interview with the U.S. Official at the Embassy. 

Once you receive notice that you have, you will have to choose a date and go to the U.S. embassy that is closest to you (mine was the one in Madrid because it’s the only one in Spain), and go through that. After being through the whole process I am glad people ask me for advice because I believe the only reason why my interview was fairly short (almost 3.5 hours) is because I kept a huge binder with copies of every single thing I had send them. They couldn’t find one of my papers, but luckily I not only had a copy for myself but also one for them to keep (Score!). 

And it is at this interview that they tell you whether or not you are approved for a student visa. If and when that’s the case, they will charge you an issuance fee, take your fingerprints and your passport will be taken by them in order to get your visa (which is glued/ stapled into your passport). Then you can either pick it up or have it mailed to you if you don’t live by the embassy. It is advised to you on every official website, and by me too, not to make travel plans prior to this last step, because as mentioned there is no guarantee. 

So as you can see, this is no quick trip to the embassy or short application to fill out online. It takes a long time (mine was close to 8 months), quite some money and a lot of commitment. And once you’re in the U.S. you are closely monitored and have to keep in constant contact with USCIS and SEVIS (both of which monitor your every move in the country) to make sure everything you’re doing is legal and allowed. 

After four years in Denver and finishing my university degree, I got approved for OPT, which is a program that allows for international students to work during one year in the field they studied (I did Journalism and PR so now I work at a PR firm). 

If you’re wondering if I want to stay, I do. But it’s going to take a very long process to switch visas (from student F1 to work H1B) and I could write a whole other blog post on that. Like I said, I’m just trying to explain the process to those who don’t know about it and maybe even help somebody out who is trying to do the same. 

If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below. I’d love to hear what you think about this, if you knew about the process or even help you if you have any more questions. 

Until next time! Lots of love, Yara