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Posts Tagged ‘H4 visa’

Viva La Visa

As you may have picked up from a few of my early posts (here and here and here and, oh, here), when I came out to the US I was on the H4 visa. And, as you may have also gleaned if you’d read them, I was less than happy about it.

When the move to the US was first discussed, I was promised a working visa, so I could continue my career as a journalist and web editor, and so I could contribute to society as any educated, mildly ambitious and intelligent person would wish.

However, because of a cock-up by the previous management – or a total lack of foresight or planning at the very least – we ended up with the H1B on, well, an H1B and me on the H4.

The H4 visa is called The Trailing Spouse visa. That is not a joke – it’s actually called that. On it, one cannot work, can’t even volunteer – making cupcakes for a school fete could be considered entrepreneurial by a particularly jobs-worthy immigration agent.

So you are simply expected to sit idle, or breed.

If the bebe hadn’t come along and forced me into maternity leave, I would have gone mad. Or gone home.

The visa is retrograde, repellent, offensive, unrealistic (show me a couple that can afford to live on one salary in NYC), and misogynist (I’ll bet my oven glove a high percentage of those spouses are women).

And my heart goes out to anyone who is on it. (Not that I have anything against sitting idle; although involuntary sitting idle is basically prison.)

Anyway, after a lot of paperwork and cajoling of editors to say nice things about me, I am now the owner of the 01 visa, which gives me full working rights. And it’s nice to be in the real world once again.

(The 01 is aka the Extraordinary Ability Visa, and when the Consulate officer interviewed me and asked me what I’d been doing in the US for the last near two years, he said, so what’s extraordinary about being a mom and wife? I nearly punched him. But I didn’t because there were men with guns nearby.)

If you are on the H4, and don’t want to be, don’t give up your search for a suitable work visa. I think the H1B’s HR department got so sick of us complaining and asking and bitching (me, not the H1B – he’s more professional), they just agreed to help us so we’d leave them the fuck alone.

Advice on finding a new visa: don’t bother with the USCIS websites or lawyers; find someone in the same situation or similar industry as you. Those websites are, I’m sure deliberately, very hard to make head or tail of, and it’s better to get a personal recommendation for a lawyer anyway.

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“Couples usually come home very married or extremely divorced…”

The BBC is doing a special investigation into the effects of living overseas on families; particularly in regard to wives (OK, spouses – but let’s face it, it’s normally women stuck in the H4 scenario).

How serendipitous.

It’s for the business section of the website, which just goes to show how important a consideration this is for industry.

After all, there’s a huge percentage of overseas placements that fail (something like 70%), because the family of the person with the working visa is unhappy. Even if the person with the working visa is successful and making oodles of money for the company he/she works for.

So it makes sense for organisations to dedicate some time to thinking about how the relocation of their employee is going to effect his personal life.

I’m continually maddened by how ignorant the H1Bs company have been over the difficulties of us living here.

When the H1B recently called his line manager to bring his attention to the fact that our health insurance premiums were going up, his response was: “HOW much? That’s outrageous”.

Funny, that’s what I was thinking too.

I also was thinking that we shouldn’t be paying for any health insurance in the first place (the verbal agreement that agreed our health insurance would be covered by the company seems to have been forgotten and, despite our polite reminders, any resolution is continually delayed).

I don’t think this is malicious – just neglectful. It’s not surprising that a manager doesn’t fully grasp the intricacies (or basic issues) but why there isn’t someone in HR who deals with international relocation in a multi-billion dollar company is beyond me.

Or perhaps there is – and no one has told us. That wouldn’t surprise me either.

Here’s an extract from the piece:

Moving an employee abroad is staggeringly expensive. The living expenses, relocation allowance and benefits can cost three to four times the employee’s normal compensation, according to most estimates.

Given such high stakes, companies from Shell to Dupont are looking at the factors that can lead to successful stints abroad for their employees. A happy spouse has long been, and continues to be, the best predictor of a successful move.

The number one reason for assignment failure is the family’s inability to acclimatise and adjust to the new location,” says Andrew Walker, the director of global mobility at WorleyParsons, which oversees more than 3,000 employees who move abroad.

> Read the full report

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The H1B and I spent an evening this week trying to make sense of our new health insurance package. We have to reassess what we require because of the increases caused by Obamacare (aka, the Affordable Health Care Act).

In over-simplified terms because insurance companies now have to offer cover to everyone, with subsidised rates for those who couldn’t previously afford it, the same companies are recouping costs elsewhere.

Our health package will be going up from $155.40 every two weeks (most US companies pay bi-weekly rather monthly), to $250*.

$500 per month is quite a bite out of our budget – that’s a flight home or a weekend away, or our monthly food budget actually.

Admittedly, we have boosted some areas of our package. For example, we’ve upped our dental plan from basic to comprehensive, and opted for increases in the H1B’s life insurance payout and the evocative Accidental Death and Dismemberment clause.

With or without the hike in costs, the biggest decision to make is over deductibles, which are similar to the excess you might pay on your car insurance in the UK. That is, you dutifully pay your monthly premium but the insurance company will also make you pay the first £300 or so of the bill.

Thieves.

Likewise, if you go to the doc with a chronic chest infection in the USA, you have to pay a deductible before the insurance company cough up (pun intended) the cost of the examination and all the horse pills you’ll be over-prescribed.

So, the H1B and I had to decide whether to go for the Gold or Platinum package (it’s already starting to sound like Airmiles), with the latter being the superior package in terms of coverage and payout, plus it covers things like obstetrics and protection for dependents.

While the Platinum package costs us more in terms of cash every two weeks (about $39 more), our deductibles are much less.

EG: if the H1B needed a trip to the emergency department, like he did in the summer, and we guesstimate that the visit cost around $10,000, if we had the Gold package we’d have to pay $1200 in deductibles. If we went with the Platinum package, it would only be $250.

These figures don’t take include the mystery “co-pay” and “out-of-pocket maximum”, which you would also be charged.  (The H1B asked his insurance company why they exist and what they do, and the customer service rep couldn’t tell him.)

There are extra costs if you don’t want to go with the approved doctors  (car insurance works the same way in the UK – if you don’t use approved car mechanics or garages, your car insurance company is likely to charge you more – unless you go with an independent non-fault accident claims company, such as Vamco**).

And legal services cover. If you are a smoker, you pay more too.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the ordinary worker in this country. I don’t understand how a family with, say, a nurse and teacher as the breadwinners can actually afford health insurance. Most liberal thinkers agree, I’m sure, which is why Obamacare ever got anywhere near the House of Representatives (or was it the Senate – still working that one out).

In Britain, most take the NHS for granted – the wait times, the moody nurses, the unsympathetic GPs with their eight minute appointments – but really, we don’t know we’re born.

When was the last time you saw a cleft lip in the UK, or a club foot? Never, right? These are fairly common sights on the New York subway – people just can’t afford to get them fixed. Imagine the ordeal of someone in your family getting cancer and then having do deal with a bill for several thousands of dollars landing on your doormat.

Brits (me included, a few times, I’m sure) gripe about surgery visits for tonsilitis or a bad cold, but when something really bad happens – like the big C, or you’ve mangled your leg in machinery, or you’ve been run over by the proverbial bus – the NHS foots the bill and you’ll get the best care in the country from private doctors who have to work for the NHS too. We don’t have to think about it.

Obama is a visionary and a brave man for approaching the issue of a free health care system but when health insurance premiums are soaring for the majority of people living in the USA, it’s a bitter pill to swallow (if you can afford the deductible on the pill, of course).

PS: If you’d like to read a better analysis of Obamacare, and the health insurance in general, here are some recommended places to start (I tried to find non-partisan sources – not that easy when it comes to this political stink bomb):

*There is, of course, the issue of why we are even having to worry about paying for health care at all – it seems to be a basic part of the relocation package for most companies. We’ve had to wave several large, colourful flags in the faces of our employers to get them to think seriously about health care, pensions (we stand to lose a big chunk of our pension when we move back to the UK because of taxes), and the H1B is also missing out on some other bonuses (such as grade allowances for a company car), which he would have in the UK.

The most frustrating aspect is that I don’t believe these oversights aren’t down to lack of duty of care, just failure of process – the managers didn’t know the issues involved, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone in HR who actually grasps the implications of moving to a city like New York.

It would be interesting to hear your stories if you’ve been in a similar situation (if your experience, however, is a relocation package that includes a no-limit expense account at Crate & Barrel, free flights back home and a fully paid-up off-shore pension, you can keep that to yourself).

**Vamco is my dad’s business, which I help him out with from time to time; which is how I can I write about car insurance for any length of time without curling up my legs with boredom and falling on my back like a Raid-sprayed cockroach.

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Dependent Visa Holders

I found this article on immigrationvoice.org. It covers important topics, such as protection for victims of violence, and some readers have left interesting comments.

The last sentence is worth flagging as I find the discrepencies between an L2 being able to work, but not an H4, confusing:

Allowing the L2 and E2 category to work didn’t create any marked increase in the unemployment rate among US Citizens.”

What do you think? As H4 visa holders have we traded our right to gainful employment for the experience of living in America with our spouses? Or are we really victims of abuse?

“All these years the United States of America denied work-permits to
dependant visa holders with one simple explanation “You are in USA
because Your Spouse is allowed to work here”. But numerous surveys by
different social organizations has thrown light on the darker sides of
the life of dependant visa holders.

The dependant visa holder has to forgo his/her career growth in-order
to stay with the spouse. This causes  a big gap in the career and
finding a suitable job in the home country becomes difficult when the
principal visa holder has to leave USA and return to the home country.

If the dependant visa holder’s field of study or work is, one in which
getting a sponsorship from an employer is difficult, getting a
work-visa is almost impossible. He/she even loses his/her hard-earned
skills in the respective fields due to the large gap in career. Even
though volunteering is possible, most of the volunteer jobs might not
utilize the persons skills.

Studying in the USA is good option but, being a single income family,
it will affect the financial status of the family if other members of
the family (children) are studying.

90 percent of dependant visa holders are women. Women being, more
susceptible to domestic violence by the partner, becomes even more
prone to violence due to her complete dependence on the Spouse. They
become prisoners in USA due to the spousal abuse and immigration
policies that give their husbands complete control over their lives.

The immigrant Women get protection under VAWA but non-immigrants are
not covered. Even if a law to let the non-immigrant battered women to
obtain work permit is introduced, It might not protect women whose
cases dismissed as non-critical. The abuser can further exert his
control over the victim and convince her that he has changed so that
the victim might not press charges against him. Thus the abuser gets
encouraged to continue violence.

Divorce is not an option because most non-immigrants come from third
world countries where a divorced women has to bear the social stigma of
divorce and will not be protected in her own home country.

Because of the long queues for Labor certification application and
retrogression of visa numbers, getting an EAD and Green Card takes
longer.

Most European countries issue work permits to the spouses. Also the
time taken for permanent residency is lesser. In USA L2 and E2 visa
holders can have work permit, but the other categories are ignored.

Fear of flooding the labor market is not a valid reason to deny the
dependant visa holders work permit. Allowing the L2 and E2 category to
work didn’t create any marked increase in the unemployment rate among
US Citizens.”

Read the US Citizenship and Immigration Services definition of the Violence Against Women Act

Read the original article and comments from immigrationvoice.org

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If you are an H4 visa holder in the USA, it’s worth googling around the net to see what other folk are saying about their own situation. I’ve read mutterings about “infringement of human rights” a few times but found this programme by PBS the most considered. It’s well worth a watch, although I find some of the thoughts of the panelists frustrating. They argue that just because the US Government deems a spouse worthy of employment, that doesn’t mean that his wife (or her husband) should automatically get a job.

True, but we are not asking for an instant or automatic job, only the right to be employed if an employer sees us as a potential candidate – based on our merit and experience. Is that too much to ask when we pay taxes and contribute to the economy and wider society on every other level?

The piece centers around a documentary made by former trailing spouse Megha Damani who says: “A sense of self-worth and meaning of life comes from what we do. I felt like that person was just cut off from me when I landed in this country.”

Immigration attorney Shivah Shah points out that there are some serious issues over women who are in abusive relationships being much more vulnerable when they have to depend on their husbands for every cent, every credit card payment. I think this is a different issue though, as terrible as it is, because it takes the attention away from the basic issue – which is, if you have someone in the country paying taxes (albeit through their husbands), contributing to the economy etc etc, and they are particularly well qualified, they should be allowed to work.

Shah also points out that in some states women on an H4 visa can’t get a driving licence.

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