I am an immigrant. I chose to leave my home country in pursuit of a new adventure, a new life, with new opportunities. It’s taken a considerable amount of courage, bravery, and resilience. Being an immigrant is a hard road and comes with many challenges, especially as the global powers tighten boarders and make the pathway to citizenship longer and more complicated than it needs to be.
My niece has asked me about my experience as an immigrant and specifically my pathway to citizenship as there are bound to be many similarities that I have faced that immigrants to America would also face. I’ve been wanting to write about this for some time, I talk about it a lot, but haven’t fully put it in to black and white, and I welcome that chance now.
I read somewhere a line that went something like to be an immigrant, you will always have your heart in two places, and that’s as true as it can be. My heart has always been torn between forging a new life for myself in Australia and leaving behind my family and everyone I have known before now in order to do so. It’s a compromise that has to happen when you venture out into the unknown of anything, and absolutely applies to traveling and making home abroad.
The process to citizenship here in Australia has been very long and convoluted. I still, after being here for more than eight years, being married to an Australian, having an Australian child, owning a business in Australia, and having gone to University here in Australia, I have still yet to be granted citizenship. I’ve had various visas that always cost a lot of money, and I’ve had to learn to live with the instability that comes with not being fully allowed to live in a country. Honestly the stress that this has caused, I’m certain has negatively impacted my health and also my first pregnancy. The stress that you can be asked to leave at any given time because you don’t have the right to stay is ever present. It’s like holding your breath, and wanting to give all you can to the country you are now living in, but at the same time holding back because why set down roots if you will have to cut them off and move again anyway.
When applying for Permanent Residency which precedes citizenship, there are typically requirements that need to be met like being in the country for a certain amount of time and not having any issues with visas before. For PR, as it’s commonly called, you have to submit so much paperwork not only about yourself, but you also have to give information about your friends and family as well, private information like their birthdays, their occupations, their own families, their marital status. It’s incredibly invasive, and asking friends and family to do this feels like one additional barrier that we have to go through. There’s a thorough health check, at designated immigration doctors offices, and you are treated like just another immigrant, no bedside manner, all matter of fact, and then you’re on your way awaiting the results. There’s character checks that happen from your original country, then within the country you are trying to immigrate to, along with any other country where you have spent more than a year. If you’ve married a citizen then you have to prove your relationship, which feels so false, and the things they ask, normal couples wouldn’t do. Specifically, who opens a joint bank account with their boyfriend or girlfriend the day they decide they’re going to be exclusive? If any regular couple did that, it would be a huge red flag, but for immigration, that is one of the ways to prove your relationship, and if you don’t have that you get knocked back in the queue.
The hardest part of all of it, beyond the utter lack of privacy, beyond the inane requirements that normal people wouldn’t do, is that the government is always changing, and with that, their stance on immigration changes. So you can call up and be told one thing on Monday, and then call back the next Monday and be told a completely different thing. For us, we were advised to wait until our three year anniversary before applying for PR because it would go right through, no more than six months the immigration agent said. So, we waited the additional year and a half and when we applied, the rules had changed, and had to wait an additional two years, not six months, to finally hear back, which gave another waiting period of a year. So it took a total of three years from the time I applied for PR to the time of being granted it, rather than six months, and that was after waiting for the full three years beforehand to apply. In this time, the fees go up, the waiting stretches out, and you find yourself checking your email account every single day, and every single day you feel disappointed and feel like it’s not going to happen.
Also in this waiting period of seeing if you will be accepted, and this could only be me, but I felt completely restricted about what I could say online. It was during a time when America was changing greatly, and Trump had been granted President, and the whole world was in shock and disbelief. Even before then with whistleblowers being outed and vilified, I didn’t feel like I could speak freely about this. I didn’t feel like I could even seek help with dealing with the dark feelings I had after having a very traumatic birth because all of that would be linked to me, and all of that would go into the decision making of whether I got to stay in the country where my entire world existed now, and I didn’t want to do anything at all to jeopardise that.
Looking for jobs as an immigrant is always a trying situation, because employers want to know that you will not be a fly by night, and the time and training they put into you will be repaid by long service. Going to University and further education is also limited unless you have the access to pay for the exorbitant fees they charge international students, and even then only some courses are available. There are restrictions every way you look, and sometimes, it feels like it would be easier to just throw away the dream and move back to your home country. I’m lucky I’m not a refugee and that is an option for me but for a lot of immigrants going home isn’t an option, so they have no choice but to deal with each obstacle, each setback, each challenge, and trying to maintain patience with their heads down, waiting for their time to come and be welcomed officially into their new country.
Lawmakers must be so removed from this process, because I can’t imagine that they would put us through all of this hardship, which ripples out to our new families here, and our friends, and the economy because we are going through unnecessary challenges to gain access to stay in the new country. I would definitely recommend a change that would include having English classes for migrants who don’t speak English as their first language while in the process of immigration because everyone benefits when we can speak a common language. I would recommend each immigrant being issued a clear plan with dates for them to apply and what to do at each step, currently the information is all over the place, and it changes so frequently that making a timeline with a plan is almost a joke currently.