Ten Lessons from 10 Years Spent on American Visas

10 years.

That’s how long I’ve lived in America. And I’ve spent all of it while living on US visas.

During those 10 years, I’ve:

-Lived, studied, and worked in five states.

-Vacationed in 16 states.

-And learned a lot during that time. Here are some of my biggest lessons from each year after spending more than 10 years in America on visas:

10 Years of Lessons

Year 1: Show Up

This is one of my favorite surprises about living in America. Showing up usually means being accountable and taking responsibility for your actions. In this sense, I mean literally showing up. In person.

Show up to new places.

Show up and enjoy new experiences.

I met two of my best friends in college by showing up to a random meeting about registering for a radio show. I showed up to learn more about the radio station, and having a show, and made not only two great friends, but countless others. And I also managed the radio station for two years. None of that would have happened if I didn’t show up, literally.

show-up-year-1

Other times, I’ve signed up for networking events and parties that I wanted to back out from at the last minute. But I usually meet at least one person that I connect with at events who makes me feel that showing up was worth it.

Year 2: Moving is hard

After the excitement of the first year, I returned to my home country of Trinidad and Tobago for the summer break. And it was then that I realized how much I missed it. I didn’t miss it as much during the semester because being busy helps to take our minds off certain things.

Missing home was one of the things that school distracted me from. But when I went home after the first year, it was clear to me that while I made the right decision to study in America, moving can take a negative toll on us as human beings. And in colleges and universities around the world, international students usually move around a lot, both during school, and after graduation.

Moving is hard.

Really hard.

It can bring both excitement and fear.

Year 3: It won’t always seem like it’s worth it

Failure happens. All the time. It’s a part of life. And when you fail at something, it might feel like a waste of time.  That making the effort, and not getting the result you were hoping for, wasn’t worth it.

Back in 2009, I had my biggest failure. I was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship. The Rhodes scholarship is one of the most prestigious awards you can get. It’s offered in most countries. I was one of five students in the final round for the Caribbean. One of us was absolutely certain to get the scholarship. And then disaster struck.

I missed my flight for the interview.

On the plane, I prepared for the interview. And I spilled my orange juice.

All. Over. My. Laptop.

My laptop turned off. And my notes and all of the advice I got from my professors disappeared.

That’s not the worst part.

I did terribly in the interview. By far, the worst interview of my life.

I spent a lot of time preparing for the interview to get the scholarship. I failed.

There was no second chance. So applying for the Rhodes didn’t feel as though it was worth it. 

Year 4: It’s OK to get pushed around a little (but have a back-up plan)

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated.

Get a job? Sure.

Get a visa? Great.

The problem?

I was graduating in 2010, just after the U.S. economy was at its worst. It was hard to find a job, especially one that paid a decent salary. I was in my final year of college, so the last thing on my mind was going to school for 1-2 more years.

But I hedged.

I had a back-up plan.

I applied to graduate school in late 2009, and got admitted in early 2010, months before I graduated. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Why?

If I had found a job, I would have needed my (hypothetical) employer to sponsor an H-1B visa less than a year after starting to work for them. Why would they have sponsored a visa for me when there were hundreds, if not thousands, of unemployed Americans they could hire who didn’t need a visa.

Year 5: You don’t have to know what you like. Knowing what you don’t like can be just as important

I’m always amazed at people who know for sure what they like when it comes to many aspects of life: food, people, TV shows. The list goes on.

I’m not one of those people. I usually figure out what I like by process of elimination.

Me: Do I like this? I don’t know. I don’t hate it. I’ll give it a chance.

 

While nobody likes having people around who can’t make up their mind about things, they’ll respect you if you know for sure what you don’t like.

Year 6: Traveling will change your life (for the better)

It doesn’t matter why you travel, it will change your life, whether you’re traveling for work or vacation. It’s common to see Americans bragging about flying everywhere around the world and taking selfies in first class. But that’s a really small number of people. And they plan, save, or use credit cards for their trips.

travel-year-6

Start small.

Save.

Find a good deal.

And go.

Year 7: It’s not always about you

When I was in school, I’d go to my home country during vacations. Winter break made the most sense since it was too short to get a job or internship to make it worth it. During summer break, I would find an internship, travel, or find something else to do other than go home.

One of my best friends from home would always ask me when I was visiting. It was easy for me to say I couldn’t afford it or find some other excuse.

But after a while, I realized that going home wasn’t supposed to be fun all the time. It became more of an obligation: visit family and keep in touch with old friends.

So one year, I decided I’d surprise my friend by visiting home on her birthday. Every time she asked me when I was visiting that summer, I said I didn’t know. And then one day I showed up to her office unannounced. While I haven’t managed to recreate the surprise factor, I’ve visited my friend on her birthday a few times since that first surprise.

Year 8: What got you here won’t get you there

I’d thought about writing a book for a long time. Back in 2012, I was reading a lot about business, and fiction books. I even listened to audiobooks. It was different from how I had approached reading in the past because I wanted to read with a purpose. I wanted to read and put into action what I had read. Not only did I struggle to find time to read because of work travel, but I couldn’t focus even when I had time to read.

reading-books-year-8

I had to change my approach. I couldn’t read harder or magically focus.

I needed help.

Help wanted.

Help found.

Some people have coffee addictions and weird noise machines to give them energy and help them focus.  They swear by them, and can’t live without them.

My weird “can’t live without them” items? Tea and music without lyrics.

I discovered Cognitea and an app named Focus at Will in my quest to read more and be more productive so that eventually, I could write a book. I’ve been a loyal subscriber and user of both since 2014. Although I haven’t yet finished writing a book, I’m much closer to finishing now thanks to changing my approach with Cognitea and Focus at Will. What got me to where I was in 2014 stopped working.

And now I’m way more productive and closer to achieving my goal.

Year 9: It’s OK to have regrets, as long as you learn from them

I’ve always been suspicious about people who say they have no regrets.

Really? You don’t regret a single thing in life? Whoever doesn’t have regrets must be the world’s greatest decision-maker ever. 

Regrets? I have tons of them. Both big regrets and small ones.

My biggest regret? Failing to write about my experience in the US to help others who may be struggling or just starting out. Leaving your comfort zone is one of the hardest things you can do. We are creatures of habit, and most of us avoid big changes. But I’ve learned from my regret, and I’m slowly managing to write about my experience moving to America.

Year 10: Your best is yet to come

It’s safe to say that whoever you are now is probably not who you will be in the future.

One thing is for sure: we can’t predict the future. But we can prepare for it.

How? By learning new things, enjoying new experiences, and maybe even taking my advice from this post and traveling if you don’t already do so.

If you live in America on a visa, you’re not at your peak. And that’s a good thing.

Your best is yet to come.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Photo Links:

Jacob Owens on Unsplash

Dakota Corbin on Unsplash

Jeshoots.com on Unsplash

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The Biggest Mistake I’ve Made Living On U.S. Visas

Opinions.

Having lived in America on visas for the past 10 years, I’ve learned that this is one “thing” that everybody has.

Everybody.

Everybody?

Yes, everybody.

How do opinions relate to the biggest mistake I’ve made in America?

Let me explain.

When I moved to America, I started out as an international student. For students starting at a college or university for the first time, American colleges and universities organize an orientation period for them. Other colleges and universities around the world also organize orientation for new students. Orientation is a great time for students to learn more about the school, where to go for classes, and lots of other helpful things. There are also events like dinners and board game nights during orientation to help students get to know their peers. When I was a student, I participated in two kinds of orientation – the general orientation for new students, and one designed exclusively for international students.

Many parts of orientation were fun. Volunteers and staff answer tons of questions that students have during orientation.

You name it, they had answer.

Other parts of orientation? Not so much fun.

Some parts of orientation were really boring. Most of the boring sessions focused on helping students fill out forms to comply with visa regulations and student status.

At the time, whenever I went to a session about filling out forms, I would think:

This is so boring.

I’m sure I could find this on the internet.

What a waste of time.

Remember what I started out with: opinions. Everybody has them.

That was my opinion at the time. The thing with opinions, they aren’t really right or wrong. They’re just opinions.

But when I look back on my orientation experience America, I realize I made a big mistake.

Actually, it wasn’t just a big mistake.

It was HUGE.

Biggest Mistake

What was my huge mistake?

I didn’t ask for help.

I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t ask for help even though I needed it. I thought I could do everything by myself. I was too stubborn to ask people who had been in my situation of being an international student for help – lessons learned, pitfalls to avoid, among other things. Instead, I thought I could do everything all on my own.

You see, in America, there are many scenarios where help is expected and given.

Help of some kind is usually offered for major life events. Examples of major life events in America are starting college/university, starting a new job, getting married, buying a new house, and having children. For most of these events, lots of people experience them at the same time.  And since lots of people need help at the same time, it makes it easier for their communities and businesses to help out by organizing classes for everyone who is experiencing these life events.

There are other events, however, where help is needed, but it’s difficult to find it.

Why?

Lots of reasons.

These other events aren’t considered as important or major. For these types of events, everyone might be on a different timeline or the relevant details for each person is different which makes it hard to organize one solution for everyone.

A common example of when its hard to find help in the real world is visa compliance. In college/university, I had lots of help to follow the visa rules and laws. It was easy because many other students like me (at the time) needed help.

But as an employee, it gets much harder to find help. There are too many different types of visas. And visa laws can be tricky too.

Recently, my big mistake came back to haunt me. Yet again, I didn’t get the help I needed.

It was right around tax season here in America. For most people, tax season is March/April each year. For me, tax season is May/June because of my visa.

I found an accountant. I had all of my financial documents ready.

And then I thought: It’s less expensive for me to do my own taxes.

I knew I owed taxes. I knew I needed help. But I didn’t want to pay an accountant to tell me that, especially since I wasn’t going to get a refund. So I figured out how to do it myself.

But doing my own taxes was more complicated than I thought. Since it took me a while to figure it out, I missed the tax filing deadline. Since I missed the deadline, I had to pay the taxes I owed and a penalty.

Lesson learned.

Next time you need help, what should you do?

Ask.

Thanks for reading.

 

Photo Credit: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Five Popular Visas for Non-Immigrants in America

Know what I love most about immigration lawyers and so-called visa “experts” on the internet?

Laughing at them.

Here’s why.

They lead you to think that getting visas to come to America is hard. But with their “expertise” to guide you along, it suddenly becomes easy.

In fact, some of these lawyers and visa experts group all visas together and tell you “these are the most popular U.S. visas.”

They don’t tell you that some visas are popular for a reason.

They don’t tell you why others aren’t as popular.

They don’t tell you that the popularity of a visa might be unrelated to YOUR specific situation.

Their biggest omission though is failing to tell potential clients about the difference between non-immigrant visas and immigrant visas. Sure, you’ll find out about that difference when you pay them a consultation fee. Then they’ll upsell you on their legal services to help you apply for a visa. They’ll tell you about what kind of visas they’ve helped clients apply for, but they won’t tell you about clients who failed to get their visas approved.

I’m not saying all immigration lawyers and visa experts are like that.  But let’s face it, they get paid whether their clients succeed in getting a visa or not.

However, with a little research about YOUR specific situation and reasons for wanting to move to America, you’ll be able to figure out for yourself which visa is right for you to give you the best chance to submit a successful visa application.

What is a non-immigrant visa?

First things first, what is a non-immigrant visa?

In America, a non-immigrant visa is needed for travel on a temporary basis. Someone who holds this visa – a non-immigrant – could have this temporary status for any number of days, months, or even years. If circumstances do not change for a non-immigrant, s/he can renew a non-immigrant visa at the discretion of the U.S. embassy or the U.S. Department of State depending on where the visa application is submitted.

What are the most popular non-immigrant visas in America?

There are many types of non-immigrant visas. Most people who need to apply for a non-immigrant visa go to a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home countries.

If you were issued a non-immigrant visa for America in 2016, you were one of more than 10.3 million people who received a visa either for the first time or as a renewal.

In 2015, more than 10.8 million of these visas were issued, again either for the first time or as a renewal – the highest number of non-immigrant visas issued since 2012.

Although millions of non-immigrant visas are issued every year, each visa is assigned a symbol or category. In each year from 2012-2016, there were 83 eligible visa symbols to be used for the millions of non-immigrant visas issued. Letters and numbers are the symbols used to indicate the reason for your non-immigrant plans, whether as a tourist, a student, or an employee, among many other possibilities.

Each year, USCIS gets millions of visa applications, and issues millions of visas. USCIS is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Here are the five most popular visas issued to non-immigrants for travel to America from 2012-2016:

B-1/B-2 – Temporary Visitor for Business and Pleasure

The most popular non-immigrant visa in America? It’s the B-1/B-2 visa. More than 65 percent of non-immigrant visas issued in 2016 were the B-1/B-2 visa. This visa is issued to foreign nationals who require a visa to visit the United States for business or pleasure for any length of time, whether a few days, months, or years.

Another visa, the B-1/B-2/BCC, can be issued. Technically, this visa is the second most non-immigrant visa. The BCC stands for Border Crossing Card. The B-1-/B-2/BCC visa is issued to Mexican citizens to enter the US. More than 10 percent of non-immigrant visas issued in 2016 were the B-1/B-2/BCC type.

Overall, more than 75 percent of U.S. visas are issued for business or pleasure.

F-1 – Student Visa

The F-1 visa was my second American visa (and my third as well). This visa is the second most popular visa issued to foreign nationals in non-immigrant status. F-1 visas are issued to foreign nationals who want to study in America. For academic programs (which excludes vocational programs), a foreign national can apply for an F-1 visa with help from the college or university they plan to attend.  Each college and university in the U.S. which enrolls foreign nationals on F-1 visas has an international student office with advisers who help with the visa process.

When a foreign national graduates from a degree program, s/he can apply to USCIS for work authorization. The period of time that follows the work authorization is referred to as OPT (Optional Practical Training). Depending on the student’s degree, OPT may be granted for one year (12 months) without extension for non-STEM fields. For STEM fields, an extension may be granted for an additional two years (24 months). OPT is not granted without an F-1 visa having been issued to a foreign student in the past.

J-1 – Exchange Visitor

In 2016, more than 3 percent of non-immigrant visas issued were the J-1 type. This visa allows professors, researchers, and exchange visitors to participate in programs that help to promote cultural exchange between the U.S. and the foreign national’s home country. Participants are not limited to these three categories. There are tons of categories under which a foreign national is eligible to apply for a J-1 visa.

The J-1 visa requires foreign nationals to return to their home country for at least two years after completing their exchange program. However, a foreign national who has held a J-1 visa may obtain a waiver of this two-year requirement if eligible to receive one.

 

C-1/D – Transit/Crew Member

The C-1/D visa is a combination of two visas: the C-1; and the D-1 visa.

The C-1 visa is issued for transit purposes. The guidelines for this visa require immediate and continuous transit through the U.S. to another country.

The D-1 visa is issued to crewmembers who work on marine/sea vessels or for international airlines. When leaving America, these crewmembers exit on the same vessel on which they arrived to the U.S. If the crewmember will depart on a different vessel, then a D-2 visa is issued instead. 

A combination C-1/D visa is issued for a foreign national who needs to travel to the U.S. to join the vessel or airplane s/he will work on. More than 2.8 percent of non-immigrant visas issued in the U.S. in 2016 were of the C-1/D type which allow for legal transit and work.

 

H-1B – Temporary Worker of Distinguished Merit and Ability

The H-1B visa is one of the most popular visas that allows a foreign national to work legally in America in most jobs. These jobs are referred to as “specialty occupations” which require at least a bachelor’s degree. Nursing is one job where a foreign national is not allowed to hold an H-1B visa. Foreign nationals who hold this visa are limited to working only with the employer who sponsors their H-1B visa.

Each year, 65,000 new H-1B visas are issued for foreign nationals to work for private companies. These foreign nationals must hold a bachelor’s degree. An additional 20,000 new H-1B visas are issued each year to foreign nationals who hold a master’s degree (or higher degree) from U.S. colleges and universities. Applications for the H-1B visa are accepted from the first business day in April each year.

How does the USCIS decide who receives one of the 85,000 new H-1B visas?

A lottery

If a foreign national holds a master’s/higher degree, s/he has two chances to get an H-1B visa. First, s/he is eligible for the 20,000 H-1B visa lottery. If s/he is not selected, then the foreign national becomes eligible for the 65,000 H-1B visa lottery.

For foreign nationals who work at a college/university, or at a non-profit research organization, H-1B visa may be issued which is not included in either the 65,000 cap for bachelor’s degrees or the 20,000 cap for master’s/higher degrees. Foreign nationals, through their employers, can apply for the H-1B visa which is exempt from the cap at any time during the year.

***

These five visas account for almost 80 percent of all non-immigrant visas issued by the U.S. in 2016, whether in the country or at embassies and consulates worldwide. When Border Crossing Cards are included, the figure rises to slightly less than 90 percent of total non-immigrant visas issued. If none of these visas fits your needs for a non-immigrant visa to enter America, there are lots of other categories which would fit your non-immigrant visa needs.

Thanks for reading.

NOTE:

U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Consular Affairs. Visa Statistics. Report of the Visa Office 2016. Web. 10 June 2017.

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Five Tough Questions to Ask Yourself Before Moving Abroad

Be honest…you’ve wondered.

Your life.

Your new life.

You’ve wondered if you have what it takes to succeed in another country.

Moving to a new country is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Each country has its own laws, regulations, and rules to follow. I still remember how nervous I felt when I decided to go abroad for college. And that was more than a decade ago.

Every simple detail made me anxious. I doubted myself.

Am I filling out my forms correctly?

How should I answer questions when I’m applying for my visa?

What if my visa gets rejected?

All of my doubts about moving came from not knowing what to expect.

By asking yourself these questions – and answering honestly – you will either be closer to removing any doubts you have about moving abroad, or you’ll save yourself some time and money if you decide that moving abroad isn’t the best decision for the current phase of your life.

 

Do you know why you’re going abroad?

Before we can even get into specific details about moving abroad you need to ask yourself a very honest question:

Why are you moving abroad?

Most people move abroad for one of three main reasons: work, education, or family.

Your reason for moving abroad would likely be one of those.

Yes, there are more exciting reasons for moving abroad: to fulfill your dreams, and goals, among many other reasons. But pursuing success is made possible through gateways like work, education, and family.

Today, another option is to take time off from responsibilities to travel as a tourist for a couple of months, even hopping from country to country and not being restricted to one place. This article focuses on moving abroad for relatively long periods of time (and vacations don’t count).

 

How long do you plan to stay?

Ok, so you know why you’re moving abroad.

That’s a great first step.

But do you know how long you plan to stay once you move abroad?

The length of your move abroad depends mainly on how long you’re allowed to stay in your country of choice. Visas provide the permission and the proof needed for your move. Some countries don’t require visas for short visits (usually under 90 days). But during that time, you aren’t allowed to go to school or work. So it’s best to know why you’ve moving abroad – it will help you determine how long you can stay.

If you know why you’re moving abroad, then it’s important to check with the embassy in your home country before moving for requirements that exist for your reason for moving abroad.

 

Do you want visitors?

Settling into a new place takes time. When moving to a new city or country, you have to get used to the customs, food, and culture wherever you decide to move. During that time, you’ll likely get homesick.

At this stage, you haven’t yet boarded the plane for the official start of your move abroad. But after a few weeks living abroad, you might miss your old way of life. You might miss your friends and family. You might miss little things about home that made you happy.

Visitors can help you to cope with being homesick. Knowing if you want visitors and when they can visit you will give you something to look forward to, and help you avoid feeling homesick.

If you know that you want visitors, but it will be difficult or expensive for a visit, you can also consider going home for a visit on your first vacation if you moved abroad for work, or long break if you moved abroad for school.

 

Who will you call in an emergency?

Unexpected events happen all the time. While it’s good to be prepared as much as possible, it’s hard to plan for an emergency.

You might miss the last bus.

You might miss a flight, and have no money left.

Or worse, you might get injured.

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes. By definition, an emergency is unexpected. What do you plan to do in an emergency?

In America, when you fill out important documents, you are often asked for an “Emergency Contact” or “Beneficiary.” If something unfortunate happens while you’re abroad, it’s a good idea to know who you can call in an emergency. You can call a family member. Depending on the type of emergency, it might be better to have someone to call whom you trust and lives close by when you move abroad.

How will you cope with setbacks and failure?

You’ve already imagined yourself living abroad.  Everything is great.

But then something unexpected happens. It’s bigger than an emergency. It can’t be fixed in one day.

You lose a scholarship that you need. You fail an important class. You didn’t get a promotion you earned. Or worse, you lost your job. And your visa is attached to it. You feel as though you’ve failed. You might even want to move back home.

How will you handle challenges when you move abroad?

Are you the kind of person who can rebound quickly after a setback? Or does it take you some time to cope or “get over it?”

Before you move abroad, it is helpful to define your work ethic, habits, and personality. Any setbacks or failures you suffer abroad may come as a surprise, but knowing how to bounce back can help turn the experience into a valuable lesson. More importantly, it might help you to continue on with your journey of moving abroad to pursue success.

***

These are tough questions to answer. You may not have all the answers now, and you don’t need to have them right now. But take a couple of hours to write out answers to each of them. You’ll not only be more prepared for your big move abroad, but you’ll be more determined as well. Answering these questions – and others that you might have – are what you need to answer to remove any doubts you have about moving abroad.

Are there other questions you’ve been asking yourself about moving abroad? What do you want to know?

 

Thanks for reading.

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Why Your American Dream Doesn’t Have To Be a Lottery

When I came to America more than 10 years ago, I heard a lot of sayings that people used to describe its history. And you’ve probably heard the same too.

“The Land of Opportunity.”

“The American Dream.”

“A Land of Immigrants.”

I could go on. And a lot of these sayings about America are still true, even today.

But it’s the last saying that’s a big hurdle for most people, isn’t it?

If you’re not already living and working in America, you’ve probably wondered How can I work in America?

And if you’ve already been living and working in America for a few years, you’ve probably wondered How can I stay?

One visa has been the most popular. For years, it has been the holy grail of foreign nationals who want to work in America legally.

It’s the H-1B visa.

Applicants in India even have a place where they pray for a successful application called The Visa Temple.

What’s the big deal with the H-1B visa?

Each year, more than 250,000 foreign nationals in the US and around the world apply for an H-1B visa. Only 65,000 are approved for foreign nationals who finish college or university, and 20,000 are approved for applicants who have advanced degrees. And there’s a deadline to apply too. The agency responsible for the visa process, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services even stops accepting applications for the 85,000 visas.

The process is a mystery. H-1B visa applications are approved based on a lottery.

I’m not lucky.

I don’t like those odds.

After spending years studying and doing internships, I would hate to leave one of the biggest decisions of my life up to a random lottery.H-1B Visa

 

Are there other options?

Yes. In the US, there are about 185 different types of visas. It’s a lot to choose from. Most fall into two categories: visas for immigrants and non-immigrants. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa. It means that the person who has an H-1B visa can only stay in the US for a set number of years. If a foreign worker holding an H-1B visa quits or gets fired and does not change to another non-immigrant visa status, then s/he has to leave the country.

Pack your bags. Bye bye, Uncle Sam.

That’s risky.

It’s even more risky as the US government plans to change how H-1B visas are used by American companies.

Fortunately, with all of these different visas, there are tons of other options for foreign nationals who still want to work, study, or live here in America – legally. And depending on how long you want to stay in America, some visas are even easier to get.

Thanks for reading.

Photo Credits: (1) Janaka Dharmasena; and (2) Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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