Me, the Immigrant

As much as I try to avoid the news, I find it impossible to not know the American executive branch’s sentiment toward immigrants. Immigrants are not welcome. Immigrants should go back where they came from. Immigrants are criminals. Immigrants are taking jobs, sometimes without paying taxes. All this, except the rich, white ones.

Hi, I’m an immigrant. I’m a white male, too. Where does that fit me in the welcome/not welcome spectrum? Should I go back where I came from? Where did I come from? Am I a criminal? What was my crime? If I paid my taxes and now I’m unemployed, whose job am I taking? I’d like to meet the non-immigrants, the natives. Truth is: they’re hard to come by.

Wikipedia: Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalized citizens, or to take up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker.

I (used to) take up employment and (still) reside in Germany. I am not German. I am a foreigner.

I wanted to know what it was like to need “permission” to exist, to be second class, to be an outsider, to live with consequences of others’ decisions without any say in the democratic process. I take for granted what it means to be “free” in America. I’m not talking about the right to carry a gun, or speak my mind, or publish this blog post. I’m talking about the freedom to know that I can securely own a home, apply for a job, open a business, receive a paycheck, drive a car. I can support myself without needing individual legal checkpoints to proceed with my intended life.

In the 22 months since moving to Germany, I applied for my initial visa and work permit, then two renewals; converted my drivers license to be eligible to rent a vehicle; established credit and rented an apartment; studied the language while fumbling through everyday interactions. To what end? Am I working toward being a non-immigrant? My ancestors left France and England for North American land in the 17th and 18th centuries. Subsequent generations made their livelihoods and settled lands throughout the North Atlantic region. Did they apply for visas and work permits? Did they struggle to learn English? When do outsiders become insiders?

Now I’ve joined the queue of unemployed Germans by notifying the government that I’ll be officially unemployed by the end of August. I lined up outside locked doors at 7:45 am on a Tuesday morning to say “I need to register as unemployed,” and then get yelled at for not knowing enough German. The employment office provides unemployment services to help people find work, and I’m entitled – or obligated – to work with them to find a new position. Since I willingly left my job, I won’t receive unemployment benefits for 3 months; however, after this time, I am theoretically eligible to receive a portion of my salary and additional assistance. If I were fired, I’d be immediately eligible for assistance, under the condition that I register immediately. Even quitting, I’m obligated to report myself… and that’s a bit uncomfortable. The Arbeitsamt offers quite a safety net, but I’d honestly rather take care of myself. I think most immigrants want to take care of themselves, because immigrants are people, and people want to be self-sufficient. Ideally, I’ll have a job contract soon, but it’s not so simple.

“Are you currently and legally eligible to work in the United States?”
“Would you now or in the future require sponsorship?”
Whether part of the electronic application or asked verbally, these questions – verbatim – are mandatory for hiring processes in the United States. I used to ask them in the initial phone interview, hoping for a yes then a no. I know that it’s much harder to higher a non-US citizen. But when people ask me “is it hard to get a visa to work in Europe?,” I can’t answer, because I don’t know how to measure “hard”. I just know it takes paperwork and patience.

And now, the tables have turned. I’m on the other side. In fact, I’m not legally eligible to work in Europe until I find an employer who can sponsor me. Or I can find multiple companies who are willing to contract my services and pursue an independent freelancer/self-employment visa. Then – in either case – I have to wait, often up to 90 days, to hear whether my application has been granted. And if not? Tough luck, I guess. Keep looking.

Most recently, I’ve been researching immigration and employment law for the Netherlands, and ideally I would qualify as a “highly skilled migrant,” which could speed up the decision process to two weeks. This requires an employer who’s a recognized sponsor. Becoming a recognized sponsor also takes up to 90 days, as well as several thousand Euros in application fees.

Imagine any career – doctor, researcher, baker, project manager, you name yours – and you’re applying for a job. The resume/CV gets you the interview. Cue nerves. The interview gets you (more interviews, more nervousness, then) the job. The job offer… gets you a spot in line to wait for the government to decide whether you’re permitted to work, whether you’re highly skilled and economically secure. Landing a job as a foreigner requires more than qualifications, negotiating, and signing a job offer. This application process typically includes the employer needing to prove that there are no local (in my case, any European) candidates who are better qualified for the job. Yes, because I’m taking a job from someone! Just like all the hispanic immigrants who are working in food service and poultry processing plants… we’re all taking jobs from the natives, right?

I am an immigrant. White. Male. Of European descent. In Europe. Full of privilege. Waiting in line. Proudly. Nervously. Uncertainly. Avoiding the news.

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