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

Indiana Jones & the Treasure Island

Administration Building, Treasure Island

Administration Building, Treasure Island

There are many islands in San Francisco Bay, and most of them are natural. There is however one artificial island that has a short but intriguing history. It’s called Treasure Island, and it was built during the 1930s as the intended location of San Francisco Airport.

The Administration Building on Treasure Island enjoyed its “fifteen minutes of fame” (or less) in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when the airport terminal building was dressed up to portray “Berlin Airport”. The remainder of its existence has mostly been quiet, but its fascinating Art Deco architecture remains on public view to this day.

The first use of the new island was not as an airport, but to host the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. The island’s airport facilities were used by PanAm’s Clipper flying boats, which moored at Clipper Cove (aka the Lagoon of the Trade Winds), between Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island. This information is missing from the Wikipedia article, but I have a copy of a 1939 color movie titled Trans-Pacific, which shows PanAm passengers arriving at the terminal and boarding a Boeing 314 clipper, which then leaves from Clipper Cove.

After the start of World War II, the US Navy took over the island as a base, swapping the land for its existing base at Mills Field on the Peninsula. As a result, after the War the new San Francisco Airport was developed at Mills Field (which was just as well, because Treasure Island would have been impossibly small). The surviving Boeing 314s actually flew from the shoreline at Mills Field for a short time in 1945-46.

During the 1990s, I was a member of the Treasure Island Museum Association, and was involved with efforts to maintain the museum that was located in the Administration Building, so I visited the island quite frequently, and took the photographs shown in this post. Unfortunately, the museum closed in 1997, due to lack of financial support, but, now that the City of San Francisco owns the building, there are plans to reopen it.

View of Bay Bridge and San Francisco from Treasure Island

View of Bay Bridge and San Francisco from Treasure Island

The spectacular view from the Administration Building towards San Francisco and the Bay Bridge.

Treasure Island with Mustang

Treasure Island with Mustang

The Administration Building one summer evening, with my Mustang parked in front.

Sunset over the Golden Gate from Treasure Island

Sunset over the Golden Gate from Treasure Island

Goodnight from Treasure Island! Sunset over the Golden Gate, from the car park in front of the Administration Building.

Lunch in Tiburon

Angel Island - Tiburon Ferry with San Francisco in background

Angel Island – Tiburon Ferry with San Francisco in background

Yesterday, Mary and I enjoyed lunch at Sam’s Restaurant in Tiburon, with Japanese friends. Our friends live in Tokyo, but were staying in San Francisco for a few days.

They took the ferry from San Francisco to Tiburon to meet us, as shown above. The ferry stops on the way at Angel Island. The photo shows Angel Island and San Francisco behind the ferry, which is about to dock.

Below is the area of the Tiburon foreshore immediately east of the ferry dock. The building at the waterfront is the Railroad & Ferry Museum (unfortunately not open at this time of year). The entire visible foreshore area used to be a railroad yard and ferry transfer dock. The mountains beyond are on Angel Island.

tiburon_dock

Tiburon foreshore, with site of railroad ferry dock

The photo below shows the Christmas tree by the main highway. This area is now the route of State Highway 131, but was also originally part of the railroad yard.

tiburon_xmastree

Christmas tree in Tiburon

The link below takes you to a web site that contains some amazing color photos from the 1950s and 1960s, showing the railroad in operation in these locations. Tiburon looked very different in those days!

https://sites.google.com/site/pics19703/tiburon-nwp-pics