I have been an expat for the last twenty years. My first job outside of Italy was in Japan. That is where I met my husband. He is from California in the U.S. Since we met we have travelled, lived and worked around the globe, together. We have been legally married since 2006. Our son is nearly 13 and has both an Italian and an American passport.
We can not live together now.
We are one of many families that have been separated by the American immigration policy. After many years in the Middle East, we decided it was time for a change. When we arrived in the U.S. at the beginning of summer last year, my husband didn’t have a job. We were still searching and figuring out exactly where we wanted to be and weighing our options. He had a few offers to consider but none of them were quite right for him or our family.
I had a B1-B2 visa, tourist-business visa, which will expire in 2025. I had used it a few times before. The officer who welcomed us at the immigration counter asked a few questions and decided we needed to be scrutinized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We made an unfortunate mistake by telling him that one of our options might be to stay on in the US if my husband was successful with his job search.
Expressing only the intention to stay with a B1-B2 visa is a good reason to be expelled immediately! ICE told me I needed to leave within the next 30 days. I have very confused memories of those 30 days. Two days after we arrived my husband got an interview followed by a good offer, we looked for legal counsel, we scrambled around trying to understand what to do. My husband decided to accept the job offer. It was exactly what he was looking for.
Our lawyer gave me two options; stay, become an illegal immigrant and submit the papers to change my status from non-immigrant to immigrant, or leave, return to Italy and apply for a spouse visa. I didn’t want to be an illegal immigrant so I chose the second option. I couldn’t lose my freedom by becoming an illegal immigrant. Being an illegal immigrant meant not being able to work, drive or travel up to 24 months aside from the fact it is illegal! I left my husband in the States and brought my son to Italy with me. It was really our only option.
On my return to Italy, we applied for a spouse visa. My application went in early August 2019. We received confirmation and a file number two days later. Then nothing! Nothing for months. We can log onto the US Citizenship and Immigration website for updates but so far there are no updates. We only have a vague idea of how long it will take but are hopeful that maybe sometime in the next two months we will get some kind of update.
There is no way of knowing when we will be able to reunite our family. This makes it so difficult to plan. I am not supposed to enter the U.S. during this process making visiting with each other hard. We were naïve and underprepared for all of this. In hindsight, we should have known better. We made a mistake of being totally upfront at immigration and that is costing us a lot.
The separation of our family is absurd. It is unfair and painful. The uncertainty is awful.
There are a few upsides, especially for my son. He is going to an Italian public school, to an Italian music conservatory, making friends and playing in the regional basketball league. His Italian has improved, he is experiencing our way of life, our traditions and finding his roots in a small city in the south of Italy. However, the most joy I have had out of the whole situation is seeing him becoming close to his Italian family. The silver lining of all of it is that he gets to spend lots of time with his grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Being back to Italy has not been easy for me. I have started studying for a master’s degree. Going back to school has been a way to make some sense of this forced break in my career. It has given me something to focus on aside from my family’s situation. My husband has been able to visit twice and COVID-19 permitting, he will be back in two weeks. The separation and uncertainty has been tough for me.
Immigration is often tricky. We have lived in many countries and dealt with countless immigration departments around the world so we know this. However, never would we have imagined that the most difficult immigration problem we would face would be with one of our home countries. For now, there is nothing we can do but wait and hope this separation will end soon. We are practising patience as we have never had to before!
We don’t usually publish articles anonymously but sometimes we need to in order to protect the identity of the writer for their own wellbeing and safety. This is one of those times.