In today's Spokesman Review we have a story about Reed McColm, a Canadian who has been in the US for 32 years and who recently was not allowed to re-enter because his visa had expired. (By the way, I've seen him perform in a couple of productions and he is hilarious.)
“I’m paying my taxes and I’m following the rules and
I’m not getting arrested,” McColm said. “Over time, you start to assume
all is well.”
McColm had an H-1B visa since 1995, he said, which is issued
to temporary workers with specific, highly specialized skills such as performing
arts. Of the more than 7 million visas issued in fiscal year 2011, about
129,000 fell under that category, according to the U.S. Department of State.
But McColm unwittingly violated the requirements of his
visa, he said; he should have obtained a new visa every time he participated
in a new play or moved to a different theater. He also discovered the visa
was only supposed to be good for six years; he kept renewing his for 17.
“I guess I was deliberately dumb, because I didn’t want
to know more than I absolutely had to know to stay,” McColm said. “Immigration
visas are very complicated, and the time of lawyers can be very expensive.”
Something like 40% of illegal immigrants
are here because they entered the country with a valid visa and did not
leave when their visa expired. Homeland Security doesn't have the manpower
to track down every individual when their visa expires so as long as the
individual keeps a somewhat low profile, they can pretty much stay as long
as they want.
What's puzzling about this story is that
Mr McColm says he received an H1B visa in 1995. Since their creation in
1990, H1B visas have always been granted for a three-year time period and
can be extended one time only for another three-year period. (There's a
ten year limit for those working in the Dept of Defense.) Plus, it's
the employer who petitions for the visa in conjuction with the alien. It is also a dual-intent visa, which allows foreign workers to remain in
the US while applying for permanent residency.
For Mr McColm to say he
renewed his visa every year for 17 years raises a some questions. What
visa was he using for the first 15 years he was in the US? Why did he get
an H1B visa in 1995 and who was the employer petitioning for him at the
time? Did his employer petition to renew his H1B visa in 1998? Did Mr McColm
apply for permanent residency during the three or six years he had a valid
H1B visa? What exactly was he renewing every year for 17 years?
So, yeah. Puzzling.
Bit of visa trivia: According to the
latest report from Homeland Security, 761 fashion models were granted H1B
visas in fiscal year 2011.