So You Want to Immigrate to the United States
Do you dream of immigrating to the United States?
I was born and raised here in the USA but my husband is a native of one of the former Soviet Central Asian Republics and since our marriage, I've helped many of his family members and friends get visas to visit, study, work, or live in the United States. I've also observed the transitions of many other immigrants, and in the process I've learned a lot about what characteristics and choices are shared by successful immigrants. Here are some pointers for young people who are interested in immigrating to the United States:
Protect Your Visa Status With Your Life
Getting out of status is the single biggest mistake you can make, so do everything you can to make sure that you completely understand the terms of your visa and that you fulfill them to the letter.
If you're a student, take advantage of the resources of your school's international admissions department and make friends with the counselors there. If you're a worker, do the same with your employer's HR department.
If you have an immigrant visa, find a good immigration lawyer when you arrive in the United States and consult him or her for any questions and concerns you might have. It's better to be safe than sorry, and far easier to stay in status than get back in once you're out.
It might seem obvious, but you would be surprised by how many would-be immigrants show up on our shores with poor English skills. Although there are immigrant enclaves in many big cities where it isn't necessary to speak English, in general, the better your English skills, the better chance you have of getting a good job and making the most of your life here. Bilingual people are highly sought after in many industries and if you speak English fluently, you may be amazed by how easy it is to find a good job.
Studying in the USA
Get a Good Education
Maybe you're hoping to come to America for college. If so, study hard to get good grades in school and practice, practice, practice the TOEFL until you can do it in your sleep.
Maybe you're hoping to come to America to work after graduation. If that's the case, get the best education you can and keep records of everything: courses, grades, credit hours. Bachelor's or master's degrees are required to receive certain types of visas.
Depending on your chosen field, you may also have to be certified by an American board before you are allowed to use your academic degree in the United States. For example, an organization called CGFNS evaluates the credentials of foreign-educated nurses before they are allowed to find employment as nurses in the United States. The better your record keeping, the faster and easier this process will be.
Speaking of nurses...
Become a Nurse
If you want to come to America and stay in America, a nurse is a great profession to be. Many states are currently suffering under a severe shortage of nurses, and immigration for foreign-trained nurses is fast-tracked to cover the shortage.
Immigration for skilled professionals and those of extraordinary ability in the arts and sciences is faster and easier in general than for those of lower educational attainment.
Be Willing to Swallow Your Pride
Even highly educated and qualified professionals may have to spend some time working in unskilled jobs, especially if your English skills are poor. Usually, this is temporary.
Don't Get Married
This might seem like a strange piece of advice, but there's a very practical reason behind it. If worst comes to worst, you can get a Green Card by marrying an American citizen. If you're already married, you won't have this option.
Be warned, however, that there are scam artists who will take advantage of desperate would-be immigrants. I never advise marrying an American solely in order to get a Green Card. Yes, it's possible to get away with it, but if you get caught, the consequences aren't pretty. Far better to do some dating and find someone you really love.
Dating can be difficult, especially for girls from conservative cultures, but Americans expect it. It comes as a surprise to many foreign immigrants who are familiar with American culture mainly through movies to learn that in America dating does not necessarily mean having sex. Never date any American who pressures you into doing things that go against your moral beliefs.
By the same token, foreign immigrants (especially men from conservative cultures) should not assume that just because an American girl smiles at you, talks to you, or makes eye contact with you that she wants to date you or have sex with you. She is probably just being polite. I have known several foreigners who have been accused of sexual harrassment or had restraining orders taken out against them because they misinterpreted these signals.
If You Must Get Married, Delay Your Trip to America
One of the most consistent patterns I've seen among immigrants and foreign students in America is this: newlyweds have the hardest times adjusting to life in this country. Not only are they going through culture shock and adjusting to living in a new country, they are also adjusting to married life. Singles and people who have been married longer have a far easier time adjusting, and are usually far happier in America than newlyweds.
For this reason, I recommend you wait at least one year after marrying before coming to America.
If You Must Come as a Newlywed, Use Birth Control
The only people who have a harder time adjusting to American life than newlyweds are newlyweds who get pregnant soon after their arrival. The early stages of pregnancy are the worst possible time to be adjusting to a new diet, new water, and new physical surroundings, and the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy also add to the challenges of adjusting to American life.
The worst case of morning sickness I've ever seen was in a woman who came to America four months after her marriage and got pregnant within one month of her arrival. She was sick 24/7 until the day she gave birth, then suffered from severe hemorrhoids and constipation for months afterwards. Another woman I know who was in a similar situation miscarried twice in her first year after coming to America, probably due to stress.
Surviving Culture Shock
A lot of the foreigners I've talked to who have never been to America, especially those who come from poorer countries, tend to romanticize it as a land of freedom and opportunity where money falls from the sky and the streets are paved in gold.
Freedom and opportunity it has... but just like anywhere else, it takes hard work for the vast majority of people to suceed here. Immigrants can expect to work even harder than native-born Americans. Often much harder.
I know a lot of immigrants who go to school full-time AND work 80 hours a week, sometimes at really depressing minimum wage jobs for which they're terribly overqualified. Needless to say, this wrecks havoc on your social life, and often on your physical and emotional health as well.
In general, the longer you're here, the easier it gets, but a lot of people get very disillusioned very quickly. Some of these give up and go home; others try to act like their romantic image of America was real, and end up getting in trouble or losing their visa status because they don't work or study enough to keep it. It's not pretty, so don't let it happen to you. Expect to work hard, and you won't be disappointed.