Out of Status

When this is published on October 26, I am just about to land at Toronto Pearson International Airport on my way to Iceland. being officially without a status in the USA. I decided to write this blog to gather in one place informations about my recent experiences, and in case some friends and/or family are interested in what has actually been going on in my visa-status adventure.

While I was studying at Trinity Lutheran Seminary I had what is called a F-1 visa from Department of Homeland Security, a visa given to foreign students in the US by the recommendation of their school. It is relatively straight forward process, a student applies to a school, a school accepts the students, the student receives paperwork called I-20, and the student brings that with all kinds of forms to the embassy in its homeland and gets a sticker in its passport.

After one has finished his/her studies using the F-1 visa, it is possible to fill in a form, send to Department of Homeland Security and get a work permit, called OPT for a year and that is what I did. I had to fill in the form 2-3 times and resend it (my inability to follow instruction played a part in that), but on July 26, I finally got a work permit license with my picture on it.

There is an interesting side story to the OPT process. After an applicant has turned in an application for OPT and before he/she has managed to find a job, the applicant is not supposed to leave the US. Leaving the country during the OPT process time or while unemployed on OPT can be understood to be a voluntary cancelation of the work permit.  For me this meant that I could not go to visit my family in Iceland from late February until today, without giving up my work permit, which is one of the main reasons the kids didn’t go to Iceland this summer, I was unable to go with them. Well …

On the license I got, it was clearly stated that I had work permit from July 20, 2010 until July 19, 2011. However two years ago, in April 8, 2008, Department of Homeland Security added a rule (probably for a good reason), that if an OPT holder is unemployed for 90 days, her/his work permit will automatically be revoked. This meant that I had in fact from July 26, 2010 until now to find an employment in the US. Here it is worth mentioning that OPT work permit is restricted to say the least. In my case my permit demanded that I found a job that

[would] be committed to advancing student’s experienced-based theological education of congregational life, religious entities, and church leadership while promoting the integration of theological education and faith tradition. (from my I-20 paper)

The employment also would have had to utilize my education on a master’s level. I managed to apply for at least nine jobs in the Columbus area which I considered a good match for me. Jobs where I could have brought something to the mix and did fit the restrictions above. Here I could go on and begin to speculate why, again and again, a person with less education and less experience was hired rather than I. I could talk about church politics, and complain about dishonesty and disrespect in the hiring process by some churches and religious entities (some church were very professional and I am thankful for that), but it is actually irrelevant. The fact is that I was not able to find a place that saw my gifts to ministry as valuable enough to hire me.

So here I am now. My status as a F-1 visa holder with an OPT work permit has been revoked, forcing me to leave right a way.

Hopefully this is not the last of me here in the States. My wife has three quarters left of her studies at Ohio State University, and my children just started a new school year here in Ohio. I have already scheduled a meeting at the American Embassy in Iceland on Thursday to apply for a status called F-2*. That status would allow me to stay with my family in the US and travel freely while my wife is studying, but

F-2 visa holders are not permitted to work under any circumstances. … USCIS regulations state that, as an F-2 visa holder, a person is ineligible to be a full-time university student and is not able to take courses on a part-time basis that can be applied toward a degree-granting program. F-2 visa holders are eligible to take classes that are avocational or recreational in nature. F-2 children may study full time in elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through twelfth grade). (from http://oie.osu.edu/international-students/f-2-and-j-2-dependents.html)

This means that I am allowed to play soccer in an Adult Rec League, while on an F-2, but that is about it. However, staying in the US on an F-2 visa, playing a left midfielder in an Adult Rec League is not financially viable (and if it were I would not be allowed to do it), meaning that even though I wish I could stay the whole time in the US on my F-2 visa, I will need to seek employment in Iceland.

And that is about it. I hope this explains our situation at the moment.

* The process is supposed to take one day at the Embassy in Iceland. According to Office of International Affairs at Ohio State the process going from F-1 to F-2 takes from 3-6 months if it is done in the US, and during that time the applicant has to keep his/her F-1 status active. So in my case, that was not an option.

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