Friday, January 27, 2012

So, um, hi. (A rare political post)

If you didn't read the title for some reason, this is a rare post that explicitly discusses politics. So if you read the whole thing and you're not happy, don't say you weren't warned. Twice.

Craig gave me the keys to the blog back in September, but I recently realized that I never wrote a proper introductory post. So — hi everybody! I'm David. I was at Michigan from 2000 to 2006 for graduate school in Electrical Engineering: Systems. After that I did four years of postdoctoral research in Seattle at the University of Washington, during which time I occasionally put in an appearance as HSR's Northwest Correspondent.

Originally I was going to just write about academic seals to provide some midweek content during football season. But I got bored during my forced three-week vacation at the end of September and started writing more and more. That's where the politics gets involved.

The story continues after the jump. This is your third and final warning if you don't want to read about politics. I mean, it's like a Daily Kos diary entry crossed with a Grantland post back there. A relatively coherent and well-structured diary entry and Grantland post, but still.

I finally decided to write this post after reading about Chester Brown.

After leaving Seattle, I moved to the D.C. area for work. Though my degree is in engineering, it's probably more accurate to say I'm a scientist right now. As you might guess from some of the posts I've written here, statistical analysis is part of the job. Because this post constitutes very mild political advocacy, it would be prudent of me to not say much more about work here. I'll limit myself to saying, like many jobs in the D.C. area, you'd probably agree my job supports U.S. national interests*.

*I want to make it 1000% clear that the views expressed here are solely my own as a private resident and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or any other organization. As you'll see, it's good to be extra careful.

There's another thing you need to know. Before heading to Ann Arbor for grad school, I spent 22 years in Canada because I was born and raised there. So when I was a student at Michigan, I was in the United States on a F-1 student visa. While I was in Seattle, I was authorized to work under TN status, which allows Canadian nationals working as qualified professionals to temporarily work in the U.S. As a postdoctoral position is, by definition, non-permanent, this was the easiest and most appropriate way to get me working.

I am married and my wife is an American citizen. Now that I'm working at a job where I can in principle stay permanently, we decided it was time for me to get my green card. So my wife filled out an I-130 petition, I filled out an I-485 petition, we filled out an I-864 to prove we wouldn't go broke any time soon, we each filled out a G-325A with all our biographical information, I went to a civil surgeon and got an I-694 to prove I didn't have tuberculosis or any other nasty or rare condition. Reams of forms had been completed. Everything was looking good.

While an application for permanent residency is in process, the applicant is not supposed to leave the country. This was a problem because, for work, I was organizing a conference in Canada from September 11-16. Fortunately, there's a form for that like there's a form for everything else, so I filled out an I-131 and sent that off, and, after weeks of cajoling USCIS, I got my I-512L advance parole form just in time so I could go to the conference and get back to the country.

Actually, I didn't get it in time. The form actually showed up at my home the day after I left on my trip, so one of my co-workers Fedexed it to me in Canada. But since I only needed it to re-enter the U.S., that was all right. Before leaving, when it appeared that I wasn't going to get the form in time, I made an appointment with the local USCIS office in Baltimore to get the form expedited, but was told that I couldn't get the form expedited because I had already submitted a non-expedited request for the form. (What is this, Thembria?)

Now for the fun part. At the Calgary airport on the way home, I was informed by the U.S. border guard stationed there that while I would indeed be allowed to return to the country, I was no longer authorized to work. This was completely my fault because I forgot to fill out an I-765 to get an Employment Authorization Document. Under NAFTA, the TN is non-immigrant intent status and, by applying for a green card, I had stated immigrant intent and thus no longer eligible to work as under TN status. I was admitted into the U.S. under the mysterious AOS, or "adjustment of status."

Canada and the U.S. have an agreement where people flying from major Canadian airports to the states pass through customs before boarding the plane. Since you now have to wait through a customs line of indeterminate length, followed by a security line of indeterminate length, you'd think it would behoove you to show up at a Canadian airport extra, extra early. You'd be wrong: U.S. customs doesn't let you get in line more than two hours before your departure time.

Back in Maryland, I call up company HQ and say, I need to get my work eligibility back. There were two options. I could fill out an I-765 and wait up to 90 days, or my employer could shell out $2000 for an expedited H1-B visa. Since the second option only takes 2-3 weeks, we went with that. While I was waiting for USCIS to expedite things, I got kind of bored and a little stir-crazy. So I started writing stir-crazy posts.

Suppose that you are my biggest fan in the universe and you think posts like these make me the Louis C.K. of Michigan sports-related comedy. (Which I'm not, as long as the M-Zone is around.) Even if I made you laugh your ass off, wouldn't you rather I had been spending that time doing, oh say, my job? Shouldn't that be more important to the United States than one damn piece of paper? That damn piece of paper, by the way, asks for no documentation that hadn't been provided with the other forms we had already filled out.

So after spending three weeks of being allowed to be in the U.S., having a job in the U.S., but not being allowed to do that job, I got my H1-B paperwork, drove seven hours to Buffalo, got it approved at the border, and drove back and got back to work. The good news is that I've been doing a good job since my forced vacation ended. If you're still reading this, you probably like my writing, so I'll jump to the conclusion that you think me continuing to write here is also good news.

I got my green card at the beginning of December after an interview with an USCIS official in Baltimore. After my wife and I told the story about how I lost my status and had to scramble to get a new one, she stated the one obvious fact that no one in the government had thought to say before: "We want skilled people to immigrate here!" She said that the border guard should have just given me a lecture and let me go on through**, even though he was following the letter of the law.

**To be honest, I think she said that because this whole mess ended up being extra work for her. She's the one who had to fill out all the records explaining why I went through three immigration statuses in less than a month. This post is long, and she probably had to write it all up in three times the detail, and in triplicate.

Blogging and government bureaucracy have one big thing in common: once they get rolling they take on lives of their own, regardless of how silly the results may be. I have some suggestions to make nightmarish bureaucratic situations like this less Kafka-esque.
  1. The simplest solution for me would be for the TN status to be a "dual intent" status like the H1-B is, but that change requires an amendment to NAFTA. When they where negotiating the agreement, the Bush 41 and Mulroney governments apparently never considered the possibility that someone might move to their countries with the intention of staying temporarily, but then change their mind because they fell in love. Those clowns in Congress (and Parliament and Congreso): what a bunch of clowns.
  2. The cost of requesting an Employment Authorization Document is normally $380, but it's free if you file it together with an I-485 petition. Under certain circumstances where it could have been filed for free, border officials could be authorized to issue an emergency EAD for $380. Paying that much would have sucked when it could have cost me nothing, but it would have sucked less than missing three weeks of work.
  3. Easiest solution of all: USCIS could add a section to the I-485 instructions listing the set of forms that normally require a filing fee, but do not require any fee when filed along with an I-485. Then anyone filling out the form could see the set of forms that go together with the petition for permanent residency and make sure to fill out all of the relevant ones.
I'm not going to say this situation wasn't ultimately my own fault, and I'm not going to get into the issue of how law enforcement should treat immigrants who enter illegally. But seriously, why on earth would you want to make it such a pain in the ass to people who are willing to follow all the proper procedures and jump through all the hoops and make sure everything is legal? Why are there so many hoops in the first place? To bring this back to college sports, why would anyone want to screw over a kid like Chester Brown, who, even if he is in violation of immigration law, clearly didn't violate it intentionally and wants to make things right so he can go play for Georgia?

I thought that I would write this up and publish it as my overly long, long overdue introductory post because one thing I think we can all agree on, regardless of political persuasion, is that "paperwork error by scientist applying for residency in the U.S. prevents him from doing science in the U.S. national interest" is stupid.

This concludes my story of how I ended up with three weeks of forced vacation, and during that time I became addicted to writing ridiculous pop culture parodies and making terrifying photoshops for HSR. Thanks to those of you have left kind comments on my posts or sent nice tweets to the @hooverstreet Twitter account. I have access to the @hooverstreet account, but you can reach me directly at @schnoxl, which is my personal account, if you have something you'd like to say about this or any other post. Thanks to Craig and Geoff and Jeremy for having me here!

No comments: