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Vanessa's Story

I am an immigrant. I may not "look like one", whatever that may mean, and I may not sound like one, and it may not be permanent according to my visa, but I consider myself to be an immigrant. I was born in Como, Italy and lived in a small town called Merate until I was 15 years old. In that time I also lived in Rijeka, Croatia for two years. For the past 9 years, however we’ve been living in America. Nine years. In the grand scheme of things 9 years isn’t that much time, but thinking back at my life then and my life now, it could not be any more different. For one, I left Italy with three sisters, and three years later we welcomed a little (American) brother. Our life changed in 2012 when, after years of work, restless nights, meetings with lawyers and thousands of dollars, my mom was granted a five year E-2 visa. I couldn't be more exited; I would finally live in America and my life would be as glamorous as all those coming of age movies I had grown up watching on TV.

 

Little did I know that as the child of the visa holder, things would get complicated and my rights very limited. As a teenager none of it seemed like a big deal but it started becoming more and more of an issue when I got into college, which my parents had to pay for out of their pockets since I was not eligible for any type of financial aid. I had to turn down jobs that not only would have helped me financially, but would have helped my career prospects because I am ineligible to work and don't have a social security number.

 

Despite everything, I still felt fortunate enough to live in the US, the land of opportunities where dreams come true if you are willing to work hard enough. And boy, were we working hard. My parents hassled day and night trying to grow their business while supporting their family and I worked tirelessly in college trying to keep my grades high so I could get scholarships, and build on my resume. Well five years flew, and soon our visa expired. Because my parents’ business wasn’t financially strong enough, our immigration lawyer suggested we wait to renew it and simply get an extension of our I-94 document, which is the arrival-departure record card used by US Customs and Border Protection to keep track of non permanent residents and noncitizens exiting and entering the country, and is valid for two years. Since our visa was expired and we only had the I-94, we were not allowed to leave the country for that time.

 

It was not the end of the world that I couldn’t go back to visit Italy for a couple of years or take a weekend trip to Canada. It does not end here. My junior year in college, while still here with the I-94, I turned 21. According to US law, it means that I’m an adult or, “no longer dependent” on the visa holder aka my mom. This means that according to the law, children of visa holders are expected to return back to their country, leave their family behind and figure out life on their own. Thanks to the I-94, however, I was able to finish college. As a matter of fact, I graduated in May 2019 summa cum laude. I worked hard, and have two degrees to show for it; a BFA in Dance and a BS in Video Production. Senior year was challenging, On top of my classes, rehearsals, extra-curriculars, work and trying to make a plan for my life post-graduation, I also had to worry about whether or not I could stay in the US. I talked to lawyers and the only advice they had for me was to go to grad school or get married; neither of these options fit my plans or aspirations for my immediate future. I want to dance, travel, perform and do so much more, but my visa status doesn't allow for any of it. I thought about switching to a student visa while completing my last year of college so that I could then apply for the OPT, but because I came up with this idea too late, it would have been too risky. So I decided to enroll in a post graduation dance program at Peridance in NYC with an F-1 visa instead. Before I knew it, my program ended and in December 2020, I received a certificate with high honors. While in New York I tried to make contacts, apply to jobs that would sponsor an H1B visa, scouring to find a way to get a career going in the US. However, it became clear that the nature of my artistic degrees, along with Trump's strict immigration policy would have made it impossible for me to stay.

 

So now I'm preparing to depart the US. My grace period is up in a month, but due to the pandemic I filed for a change of status so I can stay with my family while I look for work abroad. I hope to be able to find my way back eventually. I hope I can make a life for myself here. This is my home. My family and friends are here and I can't imagine being anywhere else. But for now, I have to say goodbye.