For a country built by immigrants, the US sure makes it difficult to immigrate here. I get that it’s one of the most popular destinations that most people want to move to. I also get that a country, any country for that matter, can’t just let any Tom, Dick and Harry in. A country needs to protect its borders. You can’t make it easy for criminals, drug dealers and other unsavoury characters to just put down roots. Laws are required. I accept that. I also understand the massive problem with illegal immigrants. So here I am, trying to find a legalway to stay and coming up against brick walls and no way around the red tape and bureaucracy that is intended to block you at every turn. Basically, they pretty much intend to make it as painful as possible so that you just give up in the end. The flowchart below may be humorous, but it gives you a frustratingly accurate indication of the US immigration system.

Source: Reason Magazine – October 2008. Click to enlarge.

After months of battling, pursuing all sorts of avenues, which have all led to dead-ends, I now fully understand why the US has such a problem with illegal immigrants. The unfriendly immigration system is enough to turn any honest, law-abiding individual into someone who decides to play outside the rules. It’s a matter of desperation. For many trying to escape a bad situation back in their own country, they would rather risk being here illegally than going back home. Hell, even I, one of the most law-abiding people on the planet, has considered it. I have always wanted to emigrate. It’s a dream I’ve had my whole life. I’ve not only looked at coming to the US, but also other countries such as Australia, UK, New Zealand and Canada. Immigration is no easy feat and the US is THE most difficult place to try and emigrate to. I’ve been exploring my immigration dream for at least 15 years. While for some it’s been quite easy, for me it’s been like trying to swim across the vast icy Atlantic while being tied with elastic to the shores of my country.

Basically, it’s been impossible or maybe I’m missing something here? At some point I gave up. I resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to get out of a country I never felt was really my home, but just the place I happened to be born in. A country I never felt I quite fitted in to. A third world country which, despite being a developing country, will always somewhat be lagging behind its first world counterparts. A country with a mentality that differed from mine. A country where I feel I will never reach my full potential; and at the moment, a country that is slowly on the decline. That country is South Africa. There are many who are very proudly South African but I was just never one of them.

So when I came over on an extended vacation to the US, I took the opportunity to pick up the immigration dream again. With great optimism I searched tirelessly for jobs, looked into the option of studying, and even had a friend want to employ me as their au pair or housekeeper so that I could obtain a visa, all to no avail. I figured it had to be easier approaching it from within rather than from the bottom of Africa. At least I can go to interviews while I’m here. Wrong! I could not land one interview. Why? Because every application from McDonalds to Walmart to Microsoft asks you two questions: 1) Are you a US citizen? 2)Are you a permanent resident or do you have legal status to work in the US? Given that most job applications are online these days, I don’t make it past those two questions. So here’s the problem. To get a work visa, I need a job offer FIRST. No-one, however, will even look at my application because I don’t have a work visa. I am in a very annoying catch-22 situation and the prospects are bleak. But wait, there’s more! It gets worse! There’s another snag I’ll hit even if I do get a job offer. The employer has to apply for and sponsor your visa and this is not cheap (fees can go up to $6000). Besides that, the US Department of Homeland Security doesn’t just dish out visas willy-nilly. Oh no! In addition to ridiculously high fees which, should the visa be denied is non-refundable (just imagine how much they make on visa fees – they can deny hundreds of visas and still pocket the money!).

Anyway, I digress. The employer also needs to prove that there is no local person that can do the job. Why employ a foreigner when there are plenty of local people to do the job. To make the cut you need to either form part of Silicone Valley with highly specialised and sought-after IT skills; or have a PHD and a whole lot of other letters behind your name; or be some hot-shot engineer or scientist. You get the point. Most of us are pretty ordinary folks, with ordinary education and ordinary jobs so getting the elusive and highly-desired H1B visa is pretty much out of reach for most of us. Throw the recession and unemployment issue in the mix and that makes it even more difficult. Jobs need to go to Americans first. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that. It is only fair.

Here I am nearing the end of my stay as a visitor and having to face the depressing fact that once again my dream is squashed and back to my third world country I will have to go. Well, unless I marry someone; or get a fake social security number or driver’s licence and stay illegally. Yes, I know about all the devious and underhanded options at my disposal. This is America, there are plenty of corrupt people who can offer up ‘creative’ ways to work the system and for as long as they make it so impossible to immigrate here, people will continue to turn to those not-so-legal ways. Obama has promised that the immigration issue will be tackled during his second term. Didn’t he also promise that during his first term? So I’ll watch that space. The immigration issue is a hot topic and a tricky one to solve. How do you manage illegal immigration while at the same time making the path to legal immigration easier for those, like me, who are educated and skilled individuals who will make a positive contribution to the country rather than drain resources and be a burden on the welfare system. In the meantime, while they work that one out, I’ll pack my bags and go home.


  • On average one million people legally immigrate to the US every year.
  • Around 700 000 become naturalized citizens every year.
  • There are approximately 11.5 million illegal immigrants in the US. 59% are Mexican. 24% live in California; 16% live in Texas.
  • Illegal immigrants make up around 3.5% of the US population.
  • More than half (57%) of illegals live in five states: California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New York.