Dec 2, 2009

NSEERS Story Submitted by J. Doe, November 2009

I first entered the US on an F-1 visa in January 2000. I did my Masters degree in Computer Science at Michigan State University, and I got my degree in May 2001. A few weeks before graduation I accepted an employment offer at Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, WA. After graduation I worked for about a year on my F-1 visa according to the optional practical training program, then I applied for my first H-1B visa.

Due to all the immigration policy changes that came into effect after September 2001 I had to get my H-1 B visa stamp from my country of origin (Egypt). I went to Egypt on vacation in July 2002, and I applied for the visa stamp at the U.S. Consulate in Cairo a few days after my arrival. At that point I had been living in the US for about 2 years and a half, but still the background check process took about 4 months. Of course I couldn't go back to the US until I got the visa stamp in November 2002. Fortunately I was able to work remotely from the Microsoft office in Cairo for those 4 months.

Almost three years later my visa was about to expire and I had to apply for a new one. Again I applied for that visa while on vacation in Egypt in September 2005. I was thrilled to get that visa in less than a week. However, that same visa was cancelled a few days later by an immigration officer at the SeaTac airport because of an NSEERS violation.

I was aware that being an Egyptian citizen I had to register at an immigration office every time I had to leave the US. I did it only once, and the whole experience was too r[i]diculous that I decided not to register before departure again. Putting the obvious discriminatory nature of the NSEERS program aside, the immigration officers didn't know how to use the system, the system was too slow and the officers were kind of surprised when I showed up to register. Of course I had no choice when it came to registering at arrival time. That day in early October 2005 I arrived at the SeaTac airport after a very long trip, and I had to wait for about an hour for an immigration officer to go through the NSEERS regist[]ration process. It took the officer about one more hour to figure out that I didn't register on my way out of the US, and that according to the US immigration law I was not admiss[i]ble to the US. I was too tired to complain, so I stayed calm and decided to fly to any Canadian city (I had a valid Canadian visa) to spend the night and contact Microsoft to see if this problem can be resolved. However, the immigration officer told me I had to fly back to Cairo and not anywhere else, but I insisted on my right to go wherever I want. After a few hours of negotiations and t[e]dious paperwork, the officer allowed me to enter the US with a 2-week parole document (after my US visa was cancelled). I was finally able to leave the airport after about 9 hours of the arrival of my flight.

When I got home I contacted my boss and told him the whole story and that I can't come to work because I am not eligible to work while on that parole status. The following day Microsoft hired me an immigration lawyer who spent about an hour with me and heard the story. He contacted the immigration office at SeaTac later that day and got all the legal details he wanted from them. The following day he called me and told me all I had to do is to stand in front of an immigration judge and promise not to violate NSEERS anymore. The only other alternative was to leave the US by the end of the parole period.

I thought about the whole situation overnight. I had a promising career, lots of friends and many great memories in the US, but being treated as a “high risk individual” only because of where I come from was an insult that I couldn't accept. Even worse, that same federal government that thinks I'm a threat happily takes tens of thousands of dollars from my paycheck every year in income taxes. The following day I called my lawyer and told him I will quit my job, pack and leave.

My career was interrupted for a few months, but eventually things went back on track. I currently live and work in Canada, and I never regret my decision to leave the US. I am sure NSEERS will be cancelled one day, if not because of its shameful discriminatory nature then because it is a big waste of time and money. Only then I will be able to drive to the Michi[g]an State campus (which is about 3 hours from where I currently live) and relive the great memories I had there.