Give H1-B Visa Holders a Life
New America Media, Commentary, Dirk Krueger Posted: Feb 12, 2007
Editor’s Note: A German scientist lost more than his visa when his job ran out; he lost his family as well. Dr. Dirk Krueger, who was last with the Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a member of Immigration Voice. IMMIGRATION MATTERS regularly features the views of the nation's leading immigrant rights groups and advocates.
MADISON, Wisc. -- I am a new dad who has lost much in divorce. It is still hard to talk about, but this March I will move back to my home country, Germany, after nine years in America, with far less than what I came with. My daughter and my dreams are staying behind.
Born and raised in Communist East Germany, I came to the United States in 1998 to pursue a Ph.D. I came to respect this country and made new friends. I held an open mind about whether to stay or return to Germany after receiving my doctorate degree. Midway through graduate school, I met another German citizen and fellow scientist in the U.S., fell in love with her, and we were later married.
My partner moved first to the new town where I had been promised a post-doc position. Her own prior post-doc job had given her a very good position in a promising biotech company. We both felt at home in this town. My wife wanted a good life after having worked so hard for her own Ph.D., and we bought a house. Her company arranged her Green Card process to be initiated.
On the other hand, my job situation left much to be desired as I moved from post-doc, to post-doc. This succession of postdoctoral jobs offered no employment security or even a trail of scientific success, but I hoped things would improve. The post-9/11 reality and wars, however, meant funding for basic science was hard to come by for any faculty member, including my supervisors.
My post-doc salary did not contribute much to the family income, compared to my wife’s financial contributions. Frictions arose; while I spent 10 to 14 hours a day on weekdays in the lab, working hard and hoping for one of my professors to finally get that one grant.
My wife then got pregnant. We both were happy about that, but my present post-doc position was not extended. I began another frantic round of writing applications, just so I could stay in the United States for the birth of our baby. I occasionally received interviews with biotech companies, but they deemed me overqualified. Why would they apply for a visa for me when any B.Sc. can hold a pipette?
At the last minute, literally, I was able to stay because I managed to receive another postdoctoral position, and a new H-1B visa application was sent off. But my marriage had deteriorated so much that my wife and I got divorced shortly thereafter. With the divorce I lost my home and my life as I had imagined it to be. Meanwhile, I had not seen my home country in five years. The complications and long waits for arranging visa interviews in the post 9/11 world made visits untenable, while employment guaranteed wages for only a few months at a time.
Now my current post-doc employment has run out, and with it, my ability to stay on in the United States. All I want now is just one thing, and that is, to provide for my daughter and help raise her. She was born an American citizen, with great hopes and tremendous love, to a worried and increasingly depressed father. However, I cannot stay on in the U.S. as an illegal alien, and my daughter will grow up without her biological father.
Besides undeniable bad luck and personality flaws that I may have, a large part of my family problems have arisen because of current laws on H-1B workers. We are skilled, foreign workers who add tremendous value to the American economy, yet we are given little rights. The unfortunate part of this whole story is that I am not alone in my troubles; many other skilled workers endure similar obstacles, as attested by many members of the Immigration Voice organization.
Based on my personal experience, I can say it is time for immigration reform. Let U.S.-trained, skilled people like me work unhindered. If there are delays in a research grant, allow us to work elsewhere. Let us apply for our own grants. If we have done nothing wrong, have a family to support and have lived here for years, then let us stay here legally and continue contributing to the American economy.
Balance unskilled illegal immigration with skilled legal immigration. I do not want my daughter to sponsor my Green Card for me 20 or 30 years down the road when I am old and frail and unproductive. Instead, she needs me now to help raise her. Value the rights of innocent children to have both parents. Ratify the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child, as it demands that children shall not be separated from either parent.
But I suppose the U.S. is at a stage in its economic trajectory where cheap unskilled labor is all that is needed, rather than foreign-born, skilled workers who have historically made the U.S. a scientific superpower. In a perhaps very German way, I did everything by the book. I never deviated from American immigration laws. Now I am leaving. But how can I be happy ever again, leaving my child and my dreams behind?
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