The Basics of Immigration
About a month ago, I typed out a rage-filled blogpost about how difficult immigrating is. At the time, I was nearing the end of my student visa and had a promising job interview at a UK university (my first interview after over 3 months of applications). I didn’t get the job. I was brokenhearted about the missed opportunity and that I would have to leave the country I’d grown to love (and my partner and friends) behind.
Over the past 3 years, I’ve done a lot of living, working, studying, and travelling abroad, which means that I get a lot of questions about it. People are usually shocked when I tell them about the difficulty of getting a visa in the UK or the US. I don’t mean for this article to embarrass people that ask me these questions, but just to shed a little light on the reality of the situation. It may be a lot different than you realize.
Disclaimer: This article is specifically about UK and US immigration processes which have a lot of overlap. The immigration criteria for other countries vary widely. Because the UK is still in the EU (January 2019), EU citizens can forego these visa processes, but this will likely change in the future.
1. The easiest way to live abroad is to study abroad
A student visa is by far the easiest and quickest visa to obtain. If you’re a decent student, you can likely get in to a lot of foreign universities. The downside? UK tuition fees will cost you just as much, if not more than an American university. My one-year Master’s degree cost me £17,000 (about $20,000) in tuition. Most foreign universities don’t have the scholarships that American schools do, so you’ll likely have to cover all of it yourself with loans or personal funds. Even if there are scholarships, you’ll be competing against all the other international students for them.
US universities also charge their international students more in tuition fees and student fees than American students. International students in America aren’t usually allowed to work off-campus which makes it tough to finance things like housing, food, and clothes.
2. Work visas are for the wealthy and established
You might be thinking, why don’t you find a company to hire you and work for them? For some, this is an option, but only if you are well-established in your career (5+ years) and are in a high-paying field. Both countries have minimum salary requirements of around $35,000. You will also have to prove that your job is “skilled” based on a ranking system.
Employers are also very skeptical of hiring international workers because the sponsorship process necessary for a work visa requires a lot of paperwork. It also usually requires them to pay an extra fee just for hiring you. In the UK, employers are legally obligated to hire British people before hiring you if they are equally qualified. As an international person, getting an interview is rare.
3. Marrying for a green card isn’t that simple
Alright, so just get married to a citizen. That makes things easy, right? Not really. Both countries have taken some extreme measures to catch fake marriages. With your visa application, you’ll have to submit copies of text messages, emails, pictures, and tenancy contracts (if you’ve lived together). If they’re skeptical, sometimes they will make you or your family come in for an interview. This process forces you to divulge very private information to the government. Your partner will also have to meet minimum salary requirements to sponsor you.
The visa process doesn’t stop there because you’ll have to wait around 3-6 months while your visa is being processed before you can move. For many couples, this means that the newlywed period is spent apart. Because the time it takes to be processed can vary widely, it also makes it difficult to plan things like moving and finding a new job, finding a place to live, and much more.
If you’re moving to America, you’ll have to wait even longer to receive that coveted green card which allows you to work in the country.
In short, immigrating isn’t easy. I know that there are many misconceptions about immigration in political debates across the world. I think it is worthwhile for people to know that immigrating is a time-consuming, expensive, and often invasive process. It is not something that can be done easily. I hope that this blogpost has been somewhat informative. If you are still dreaming of moving to another country, I hope that this does not deter you. It is a challenging process, but it isn’t impossible.
*I would also like to note that this is based off my own experience as a privileged young, educated, white woman. Many people trying to immigrate face even more obstacles because of their skin color, language skills, economic situation, and religion.