Thursday, December 13, 2012

Aliens Among Us

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.

No comments: