The true story of two years in the US on a H4 Visa

Before I came to the US, I saw a Youtube video of a woman who was here on a H4 visa (I’ll include the video at the end of my blog). She was telling about her stay in the US and her experiences as a dependent of her husband and how she sees her visa as a curse. I remember talking about it with my husband. We were both a little bit light-hearted about it: we have always been successful in making things work within our family… right? But now, after 2 years, I kind of understand what the woman in the video meant with ‘curse’. However, I still prefer to call it: an opportunity with quite some challenges. Here is my honest story.

Let’s start with giving some more information about the H4 visa. Based on Floris his job, the Arizona State University applied for a H1B visa. This is a temporary non-immigrant visa for employees with highly specialized skills. For the children and me, the university applied for a H4 Visa. The H4 Visa is a dependent visa, which means that you only have the right to be on American soil as long as the H1B visa holder is being employed at the organization that applied for it. Based on a H4 visa you are not permitted to work. Even performing paid duties for a company in your own country is not allowed. Furthermore H4 visa holders are not automatically assigned with a social security number. This means theoretically that you do not exist. A nice example of is our first tax declaration. Floris could not report the children and me as dependents so he had to pay tax as if he was single. This means more tax to pay. To make it clearer: as a H4 visa holder I have full dependency on my husband. That doesn’t sound a lot like me does it?

Yes I agreed on the terms of my Visa. But seriously….. at the time you apply for it you don’t have a clue. The first year in the US we had to overcome an overload of change. It is truly not comparable with anything else. If you have never lived in foreign country, it is impossible to picture how this will be. Everything is different and I mean EVERYTHING. From doing grocery shopping to getting electricity in the house. From renting a house to mastering the traffic regulation. And if you don’t know what to do, you can always ask… in English. I thought that the language barrier was something that I shouldn’t have to worry about. But my gosh, it is! Natives use words you don’t learn at school. And they go fast! Besides that, even simple conversations do not come easy. In the beginning I was stammering all the time. It goes better now, but speaking English still takes quite some energy of the balance. Consequently if I am tired or tensed I still go into a back-breaking stutter mode. Anyway, the first year went fine. Great actually. Floris needed all his time to get settled into his new job, while I used all my super powers and flexibility to cope with and absorb the changes flocking in (besides taking care of the children of course). We truly enjoyed everything about Arizona. The weather is great, the people are nice and the environment is amazing. And you can buy cheap brand clothes, which I totally love. We have learned so many things about both ourselves and the Netherlands. Living here made us reflect on our habits, norms and values. It made us think different about a lot of things.

As planned I enrolled for the undergraduate program ‘Graphic Design Technology’ at Arizona State University. Unfortunately that wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I had to send official transcripts of all my degrees. Ok… I was prepared for that. But the transcripts that I took from home were not good enough. They had to be sent to ASU by my old schools/universities, in an original and sealed envelope. I had to provide official translations of all transcripts and prove of authenticity from a certified authority. I started a couple of months after we arrived but the whole thing took me forever. In the meanwhile the boredom kicked in. A friend suggested to take some courses at the Community College. You don’t have to show transcripts in order to start a program there and it is way cheaper than a University. Or at least…. If you are eligible for in-state tuition, which of course I am not based on my H4 visa. And for the record: out-of-state tuition is not affordable (something like 1300 dollar for a 3 credit class). The funny part is that my friend, who is here on a L2 visa (her husband has a L1 visa) CAN profit in-state tuition AND is permitted to work in the US. While the only difference between both Visas is the kind of organization the main visa holder is working at. L1 is for employees of international companies and H1B for employees of national companies. So, why these enormous differences in rights? Of course I totally understand that the law is the law and that is just how it is. (Oh, you can find these kind quotations along the highways. Super funny. Like: Buckle up it’s the law! You would never see such a thing in the Netherlands). But since I was not extremely happy with the situation I was in, I couldn’t help myself feeling a little bit neglected over the whole thing (I totally know that I sound like Calimero now).

For months I kept myself busy mastering some serious baking and cooking skills. But ever since I am kind of a Michelin Chef (perhaps I overestimate myself a tiny bit here), I felt that I needed more mental challenge. My husband may be a high skilled worker, but I am as well (I know the names of the people who think: Really? You have skills? So please don’t make that joke… Too predictable). It felt like my brains were slowly dying off. I looked into the possibility to apply for a job but there is no company that wants apply for a status change (they mention this explicit in their vacancies) unless the job requires very exceptional specialistic skills. Yeah… Don’t have that for a change. Then, when we were approaching the summer break, I started to feel low-spirited. I found myself in a situation in which I didn’t do a thing that I actually liked a lot. The knowledge that my children would soon be home for 10 weeks (!!!!), as well as actually having them home, didn’t help a lot to get rid of the extreme tiredness which made me thin-skinned as well. Not because I don’t love my children, because I do. But they are little energy vampires and not very appreciative as well (must have done something wrong there). I was running the whole day to do a lot of boring things for other people but I wasn’t able to do anything for myself anymore. To make the whole thing worse, Floris was gone A LOT at that time. He had to go to quite some conferences while I stayed at home with the kids. It felt if the cage was closing up on me. A golden cage though because on face value I didn’t had so much to be sad about. I think that was the moment that I lost myself a little bit. I got sort of depressed. Cried a lot, that kind of things. Fortunately I am privileged with a lot of great people around me that didn’t let me sob, which helped a lot.

However…. At this very moment the ties are turning. And they are turning quick! I have always known that I was not entirely locked up in a dead-end situation. Obama created the possibility for spouses of H1B visa holders to obtain an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) as soon as the principal (my husband) has an approved petition for Alien Workers. This means that my husbands’ employer had to apply for a Green Card for us (in Dutch: verblijfsvergunning voor onbepaalde tijd). I feel privileged that they started that process pretty soon after we arrived in the US but the process is long and laborious. Besides the current administration wants to get rid of the arrangement. Nevertheless I finally received my employment authorization a couple of weeks ago In comparison to other individual cases this is fast. It often it takes many years before there is approval. Exactly a week after I received my work permit, I got a request for an assignment as a freelance interpreter. I accepted it and accelerated the start up of my own business. After that things were moving rapidly. I finally got accepted at Arizona State University and obtained a substitute certificate. A substitute job would give me something more structural that is flexible enough to give me enough time to take care of my children, even when they are sick. In the meanwhile I can spend my time on developing my business and taking some classes at the university. Yesterday I signed my contract as a substitute teacher for the Tempe School District. Last week we had our medical examination necessary for our Green Card process and in the beginning of October we will have our final interview. Fingers crossed that everything goes well and we will get our permanent resident status. I still love to live in Arizona and the States. It is a true experience. But a lot of people think it is mainly awesome that we are living here. Yet, you have to understand that living in the US is not as vacation. When you are settled, everything will be as normal as would be in the Netherlands. Two years doesn’t sound very long but if you feel caged it kind of is. Luckily it finally feels if everything comes together now. And that…. makes me feel so much better!

Here is the link to the video that I mentioned in the beginning of this blog.

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