A Princeton Instructor's Suicide and the Broken Immigration System

There is another angle to the tragic suicide of a Spanish instructor at Princeton University in early April, as reported by the New York Times (NYT): that the immigration system of the United States is broken.

Dr. Antonio Calvo was on an employment visa (probably the H1-B) sponsored by Princeton University, and as his employment was terminated, he either had to find another job -- and sponsor -- quickly or to leave the United States. After an immigrant worker's status is terminated or has expired, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) generally gives him/her 60 days to get his/her affairs in order before leaving the United States.

Apparently, Dr. Calvo could not bear the thought of leaving his adopted country of more than 10 years.  Ironically, Dr. Calvo would not have a problem with remaining in this country had he been here illegally, or were willing to remain here as an illegal alien.

If you were to enroll in an American institute of higher education, meet someone, and fall in love with him/her -- as I did -- here are the documents that you have to file in order to adjust your status to a permanent resident:

Document

Filing fee

Number of pages of the form

Number of pages of instructions for the form

Comments

Petition for Alien Fiancé(e); I-129F

$340

3

7

Not necessary if couple gets married and files for I-485 directly.

Application for Travel Document; I-131

None in this case

3

10

For travel into and out of the United States pending processing of green card.

Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; I-485

$985; plus an $85 biometric fee (for a total of $1070)

6

11

This is the main document to adjust the immigrant spouse's status to that of permanent resident.

Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record; I-693

Free to file; medical examination costs about $200 at a USCIS-approved doctor's office

6

7

All the doctor does is to look at the paperwork you provide for proof of immunizations and fill out the form for you. If necessary, s/he will provide the immunization tests, at additional cost, of course.

Affidavit of Support; I-864

Free to file

8

11

Many more pages of documentation needed as attachments, such as the sponsor's proof citizenship, income, current occupation etc.

Application for Employment Authorization; I-765

$380

1

11

Document needed for immigrant spouse to work legally in the United States pending processing of green card which may take up to a year.

Police Clearance Letters

None

Variable

Variable

Proof that there are no arrest records or outstanding warrants of arrest for immigrant spouse from police departments of cities that s/he has lived in for the last 5 years; can cost anything from $15 to $25 apiece

Total

$1650 excl. filing fee for I-129F

27 excl. forms for acquiring police clearance letters

57 excl. instructions for acquiring police clearance letters

Not a very cheap or easy process for someone already in the country legally and for whom the case is very straightforward.


Source: USCIS. Information correct as of May 1, 2011

A quarter of an inch -- that's how thick all the documents add up to.  Woe betide you if your first language isn't English or if you're not comfortable with legalese.  Any wonder why immigration lawyers exist?

The table above summarizes the documents that an immigrant spouse has to file in a simple and straightforward case.  It does not include lawyers' fees if your case is complicated.

After you're done reading and filling out these forms, the Federal Government violates your privacy and the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" by subjecting you to a fraud interview, during which an immigration officer asks you awkward questions on your marriage based on old-fashioned ideas of what a marriage is like, in order to determine if the marriage is bona fide.

If you're unlucky, like I was, you'll get an unfriendly and aloof officer whose attitude and tone are highly similar to what I have observed of military police officers' interrogation of suspects from my experience with General Courts Martial in the Singapore Armed Forces.

In contrast, if a foreigner marries a Singapore citizen, s/he only needs to read two pages of instructions and to take 20 minutes to fill in about seven pages of a single document to file for permanent residency for the immigrant spouse.  The online instructions for an aspiring immigrant's various situations are fairly straightforward too, and wouldn't take you more than five minutes to read through.

Mr. Obama would like to see the DREAM Act passed.  Unlike most other federal agencies, the USCIS is almost entirely funded by user fees, i.e. filing fees for documents submitted by legal immigrants.

Guess who would be paying for the increased workload that will result from the millions of applications for permanent residency by illegal aliens if the DREAM Act is passed.  Guess what will happen to the thousands of green card applications every year by legal immigrants if the DREAM Act is passed.

Mr. Obama wants to pass the DREAM Act, but he should first consider the effort, time, and money that legal immigrants have to spend order to get a green card.

Nicholas Cheong is a recent immigrant to the United States.  He blogs at comopolis.blogspot.com and tweets at @nicholas_cheong.
There is another angle to the tragic suicide of a Spanish instructor at Princeton University in early April, as reported by the New York Times (NYT): that the immigration system of the United States is broken.

Dr. Antonio Calvo was on an employment visa (probably the H1-B) sponsored by Princeton University, and as his employment was terminated, he either had to find another job -- and sponsor -- quickly or to leave the United States. After an immigrant worker's status is terminated or has expired, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) generally gives him/her 60 days to get his/her affairs in order before leaving the United States.

Apparently, Dr. Calvo could not bear the thought of leaving his adopted country of more than 10 years.  Ironically, Dr. Calvo would not have a problem with remaining in this country had he been here illegally, or were willing to remain here as an illegal alien.

If you were to enroll in an American institute of higher education, meet someone, and fall in love with him/her -- as I did -- here are the documents that you have to file in order to adjust your status to a permanent resident:

Document

Filing fee

Number of pages of the form

Number of pages of instructions for the form

Comments

Petition for Alien Fiancé(e); I-129F

$340

3

7

Not necessary if couple gets married and files for I-485 directly.

Application for Travel Document; I-131

None in this case

3

10

For travel into and out of the United States pending processing of green card.

Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; I-485

$985; plus an $85 biometric fee (for a total of $1070)

6

11

This is the main document to adjust the immigrant spouse's status to that of permanent resident.

Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record; I-693

Free to file; medical examination costs about $200 at a USCIS-approved doctor's office

6

7

All the doctor does is to look at the paperwork you provide for proof of immunizations and fill out the form for you. If necessary, s/he will provide the immunization tests, at additional cost, of course.

Affidavit of Support; I-864

Free to file

8

11

Many more pages of documentation needed as attachments, such as the sponsor's proof citizenship, income, current occupation etc.

Application for Employment Authorization; I-765

$380

1

11

Document needed for immigrant spouse to work legally in the United States pending processing of green card which may take up to a year.

Police Clearance Letters

None

Variable

Variable

Proof that there are no arrest records or outstanding warrants of arrest for immigrant spouse from police departments of cities that s/he has lived in for the last 5 years; can cost anything from $15 to $25 apiece

Total

$1650 excl. filing fee for I-129F

27 excl. forms for acquiring police clearance letters

57 excl. instructions for acquiring police clearance letters

Not a very cheap or easy process for someone already in the country legally and for whom the case is very straightforward.


Source: USCIS. Information correct as of May 1, 2011

A quarter of an inch -- that's how thick all the documents add up to.  Woe betide you if your first language isn't English or if you're not comfortable with legalese.  Any wonder why immigration lawyers exist?

The table above summarizes the documents that an immigrant spouse has to file in a simple and straightforward case.  It does not include lawyers' fees if your case is complicated.

After you're done reading and filling out these forms, the Federal Government violates your privacy and the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" by subjecting you to a fraud interview, during which an immigration officer asks you awkward questions on your marriage based on old-fashioned ideas of what a marriage is like, in order to determine if the marriage is bona fide.

If you're unlucky, like I was, you'll get an unfriendly and aloof officer whose attitude and tone are highly similar to what I have observed of military police officers' interrogation of suspects from my experience with General Courts Martial in the Singapore Armed Forces.

In contrast, if a foreigner marries a Singapore citizen, s/he only needs to read two pages of instructions and to take 20 minutes to fill in about seven pages of a single document to file for permanent residency for the immigrant spouse.  The online instructions for an aspiring immigrant's various situations are fairly straightforward too, and wouldn't take you more than five minutes to read through.

Mr. Obama would like to see the DREAM Act passed.  Unlike most other federal agencies, the USCIS is almost entirely funded by user fees, i.e. filing fees for documents submitted by legal immigrants.

Guess who would be paying for the increased workload that will result from the millions of applications for permanent residency by illegal aliens if the DREAM Act is passed.  Guess what will happen to the thousands of green card applications every year by legal immigrants if the DREAM Act is passed.

Mr. Obama wants to pass the DREAM Act, but he should first consider the effort, time, and money that legal immigrants have to spend order to get a green card.

Nicholas Cheong is a recent immigrant to the United States.  He blogs at comopolis.blogspot.com and tweets at @nicholas_cheong.