In my 10 years in the U.S., I have gone though a multitude of temporary work visas and I’m well acquainted with the bureaucracy that accompanies the right to live and work here. A green card would allow me to stay in the country indefinitely and work independently, without the need for sponsorship by an employer. But, distrustful of fairy tales, I had never taken my chances with the lottery.
Hailing from Athens, Greece, I’m well educated, with a career in publishing behind me; I did not see myself as a Cinderella kind of immigrant. I left my country long before its financial troubles started, and for the past eight years I’ve been a happy resident of Greenwich Village. So, at 32, while pursuing a graduate degree from a respected New York-based university and still disdaining the lottery, I went to see a lawyer in Midtown instead.
The lawyer, a loud, animated, middle-aged Armenian man, spent the first 10 minutes of the consultation shuffling through my file, as if to find something he may have missed. Regrettably, the material was all there, and it was insufficient.
“You need proof of extraordinary accomplishments to apply for a green card on your own,” he said. “See that?” he pointed to a framed photograph on the wall behind me. In it, a young woman in a suit was standing next to Barack Obama.
“One of my clients,” he explained. “A very successful case.”
I had underestimated the facility with which a green card was obtained. It was with the confidence of a “successful case” that I had gathered all the paperwork the lawyer had requested, a small pile of visas accumulated over the past decade that I saw as milestones on my path to success. They proved that I had beat out other candidates who had applied for the same jobs and that my employers had decided I was worth the complications of sponsorship: lawyers, extra costs and precious time. I was the quality import, better than the local product, equivalent to a drum of French goat cheese, a German auto part, a bottle of Stella Artois. Or so I had thought.
Pinched in the lawyer’s thick fingers, my visas did not seem so impressive. And I, sitting in his office, facing Barack Obama, no longer felt like French goat cheese. I was not an import, I was an immigrant, someone who belonged to the “visitors” line at JFK airport.
Every time I returned to New York from visiting my family in Greece, I’d get stuck in that slow-moving line and spend my time mulling over the inconveniences the lack of a green card had caused me over the years: to live here I had to be employed, but few companies would consider hiring me because I needed a visa to work. If one did, I was locked into the job for good. To quit meant I also had to quit the country, or find another corporation to sponsor me all over again. As I followed the dreaded zigzagging belts that marked the path to the INS booths, I’d often think, “You know, America, I don’t want to be here this badly.” But I did. I loved this country as much as my own. Unfortunately, my love was unrequited. Based on what the lawyer was telling me, I was not good enough for America to want to keep.
“It just seems premature,” he continued. “Maybe, after you publish a book or two…”
I nodded. Publish a book or two.Simple enough.
“Or…” he hesitated. “Are you in a relationship that could lead to marriage? With an American, I mean.”
I shook my head.
“How old are you?”
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
That question did not feel as threatening as when posed by my parents, but I still had no suitable answer.
“I’m sorry,” he said, with vague regret. “What else can I tell you? Get famous or get married.” He rolled back his chair and stood up. “Are you paying cash?”
I would not have minded paying him the $200 had he told me something I did not already know. Fame and marriage were the only two options a woman had, anyway, regardless of the green card. Otherwise you were not considered a very “successful case”—and fame, actually, wasn’t always a guarantee. The only problem was that although I had met the country I wanted to commit to, I had yet to meet the man.
That’s why I resolved to give the green card lottery a shot this year, to join the millions of potential immigrants hoping for a green glass slipper. My chances can’t be much worse than those of finding Prince Charming within the next year. Even if I did, I would rather not have to exchange vows with someone simply because it would allow me to breeze through passport control at JFK. There is no point in rushing, after all. The only thing that awaits most of us on the other side is baggage.
Photo: Sophia Efthimiatou
Trackback from your site.