The Truth About US Visas (In My Experience)

 

H1 Visa Passport Stamp

H-1 Visa Passport Stamp

Today’s “flashback” relates to my early experiences in the USA. The image above shows my H-1 visa stamp, in my UK passport, which was obtained for me by Sony so I could start working for them in 1989.

I moved to the USA to work about 30 years ago, initially on an E-2 (Treaty Trader) visa (for a different employer). The H-1 visa shown above was my second and final US visa (because I became a legal permanent resident in 1991).

Ever since I first began working in the US, I’ve heard controversial claims about the working visa scheme. The H-1 visa type was replaced by the H-1B visa in 1999, but many of the controversies surrounding its use have remained.

  • On the negative side, there are complaints that employers use visas to hire foreigners and undercut American workers, or that some employers prefer workers who require visas because such people can be treated as “indentured servants”.
  • Conversely, defenders of the system claim that employers have no choice but to hire visa workers, because the USA simply doesn’t produce anyone with the required skills. Is that really true, and, if so, why?

Some Criticisms are Justified

As someone who has benefited from the availability of US work visas, you may be surprised when I say that I agree with some of the criticisms. I’ve seen personally that some employers do seem to abuse the visa scheme, do use it to undercut American workers, and do treat visa employees as “captive workers”.

On the other hand, not all employers abuse the system. In my case, I have a clear conscience, because I really was hired due to having skills that my employer could not find in any available American workers, as I explain below.

Sony did not treat me as a “captive”; in fact they treated me quite generously, and even agreed to help me obtain Permanent US Residency (which became moot about a year later, when I married Mary, who is a US citizen).

After I began working for Sony, my manager explained to me that they had gone to considerable lengths to hire me because I really did have experience that no other available candidate possessed. Ironically, that experience came from an earlier job that I had, until then, regarded as a “wasted year”!

When Life hands you Lemons…

In 1986, while still living in the UK, I obtained work with Link Electronics Ltd. Link was a manufacturer of television cameras for the BBC and many other worldwide broadcasting organizations. At the time, this seemed like a positive move, given my background in video production and training at the BBC, so I moved away from London to Andover, where Link was located.

Unfortunately, Link succumbed to a pattern that seemed all too common in British engineering companies. There was no doubt that Link’s products were technically brilliant, but it was not a well-managed company, and, unknown to me, was in fact already in severe trouble by the time that I started there. As a result, despite making recognized contributions to their hardware and software, I was laid off from Link after only one year, leaving me feeling that my move there had been a very bad decision.

It was, therefore, very gratifying when, about 4 years later and 5500 miles away, I discovered that my one year’s experience at Link had opened the door to a great job at Sony. By the end of the 1980s, there were no remaining television camera manufacturers in the US, so Sony really couldn’t find any available Americans with that experience.

(The reason why Sony were so eager to hire someone with experience of television camera design was because they wanted to develop a film scanner that could convert high-resolution film into HDTV video. The video could then be used instead of the film for editing and compositing cinematic movies, which made the process far more efficient.)

Visa from Tokyo

It may seem odd that my H-1 visa states that it was issued at “Tokyo”, rather than London or San Francisco. That is correct, and occurred because of the oddities of the visa issuing process. In order to get the visa stamped in my passport, I had to visit a US embassy outside the United States. My first opportunity to do that, after being hired by Sony, was when I visited their plant in Atsugi for a project meeting. We stayed at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo, and, one morning, I went along to US Embassy in Tokyo to get the visa stamped into my passport.

Finally, in 1991, Mary and I got married, as a result of which I no longer needed a visa to work in the US. Of course, there are also many stories of immigrants who marry US citizens simply to obtain residency, but the Immigration Service is well aware of that and conducts extensive checks to prevent that kind of fraud. Now that Mary and I have been married for over 26 years, I think we have adequate proof that there was nothing dishonest about the motivation for our marriage!

The only photos remaining from my 1990 Tokyo visit seem to be a couple of portraits that Mary took of me in the hotel. One of these is shown below.

KeioPlazaDavid2Cright

David Hodgson at the Keio Plaza, Tokyo, 1990

London Terror Attack: Don’t Surrender our Freedoms

London Bridge Station & Southwark Cathedral, 1983

London Bridge Station & Southwark Cathedral, 1983

I was very saddened to hear the news yesterday of the latest pointless terror attack in London. Naturally, my best wishes and thoughts go out to all those affected by the incident.

This latest incident reminded me of the ever-present terrorist threat that existed when I lived in London during the 1980s. In those days, almost all the threats (real or hoax) came from the IRA, and there were several actual bombings in London while I was there.

As a result of living in London for a few years, I was forced to think about the delicate balance of opportunities and dangers presented by living in a free society.

Bag Searches

In response to the IRA bombings, every building in London that admitted the public adopted a policy of searching the bags of visitors entering the premises. This naturally included the museums near Imperial College on Exhibition Road, such as the Victoria & Albert Museum. Nonetheless, it seemed clear to me that there was really nothing that could be done to prevent all such threats, and that it was inevitable that some attacks would succeed.

I became quite accustomed to the bag searches when going into a building, but, on one occasion, the guard searching my bag admitted that these efforts wouldn’t really deter a serious threat. He said to me, “This is really just to reassure the public. You could put a bomb in a cigarette packet and walk in with it in your pocket, and we’d never spot it.” Sad but true.

While I was a student, I also worked as a Sales Assistant at Selfridges Store in Oxford Street, London. In that job, bomb threats were a daily nuisance, although, while I was there, all of them fortunately turned out to be hoaxes.

The point I want to make here is that, during all the years that I lived in London, I was never personally involved in an actual attack of any kind. The press coverage naturally given to such events makes it seem that they are more widespread than they really are. The attacks of the IRA were a real danger and a constant worry during those years, but they failed in their aims, and they never prevented Londoners from going about their lives.

Unfortunately, it suits the purposes of some politicians to exploit this kind of event to whip up fears and con the public into signing away their own freedoms. We’ve just seen a particularly transparent attempt to do that, with the irrelevant and unhelpful tweeting of Tweedle Don, trying to link the London atrocity in the UK to his unconstitutional travel ban in the US.

Don’t be Intimidated into Surrendering our Freedom!

Given the possibilities for committing terrorist attacks in large conurbations such as London, it’s actually a relief that so few actually succeed. I realize that this is no consolation for those whose lives are affected by these atrocities, but, for the remainder of the population, it’s important not to blow these events out of proportion.

The only way to guarantee that such attacks could not happen would be to implement a surveillance police state, which would entail giving up many of our existing freedoms. However, most of us value our freedom, and wouldn’t want to live in such a state. The price of living in a free society is the risk that a few such horrific events will occur.

Of course, that realization makes it no less shocking when these things do happen.

Tweedle Don

tweedledon2Tweedle Don throws his daily tantrum…

I don’t normally draw “political cartoons”, but the astonishing fact that we’re facing an election where one of the major candidates (Donald Trump, of course) has the maturity of a ten-year-old prompted me to take some inspiration from Sir John Tenniel!

I was told that some people may be unfamiliar with the original illustrations. For details, please see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tweedledum_and_Tweedledee