I'm an Alien.

First written on November 20, 2013

4 min. read

With some very minor modifications, below is a reproduction of a Basecamp message I sent to my co-workers this afternoon.

Hello everyone,

I’ve been putting off writing this because I like to think of myself as feisty and I didn’t really want to admit defeat.

I’ve been working in the US for the last 2 and half years under a non-renewable work visa that is set to expire on December 15th, 2013. The USCIS is kind enough to extend me a grace period of 60 days beyond that date during which I can remain in the US but will no longer be allowed to work in any capacity.

That means that unlike you suckers, I’ll be on vacation in 25 days. Haha.

I spent about an hour on a call with an immigration attorney from San Francisco. Unsurprisingly, she deals with a lot of similar cases, and she was recommended to me by a nice British Ruby developer I met at RubyConf and who — like a bunch of other recognized or famous folks in the tech industry — obtained a prized O-1 visa. Unlike the H-1B visa I unsuccessfully applied for earlier this year (65,000 slots, over 150,000 applicants), the O-1 is not tied to a single employer-sponsor but has much stricter requirements — it’s for aliens with “special abilities”.

Since I haven’t practiced shooting gamma rays out of my finger tips in quite some time, this is a bit of a longshot. I’ll most likely need to put on my writing cap to publish articles (in major publications if possible), apply to speak at more conferences, and hopefully extract an ebook or print book out of my brain with forceps. If you or anybody you know can help me in this process, I’ll repay you in mountains of authentic French cheese, pastries, cookies, wine and other delicacies.

The most sensible option for me beyond December will be to fly back to France and scramble to setup a way for me to work for Code School either as a third-party or as a foreign employee. I’ve talked with an American citizen living in France about this quite a bit, and I’m doing my best to figure out how to navigate the extremely business unfriendly French legislation to avoid being buried in taxes if I’m paid in dollars while living in Euroland with 20% VAT and 50% professional taxes.

The San Francisco attorney advised me to avoid travelling back to the US with an O-1 or H-1B application in process. That’s because the USCIS (Citizenship & Immigration Services) is very sensitive about “immigration intent”. You see, while I’ve been living legally in the US for nearly 5 years, I’m a “non-immigrant”. Clearly I’m still checking out this whole USA thing, and I need to hear about payment plans before making up my mind.

My goal now is to bump up my profile (if you thought I was self-centered before, boy you’re gonna love me next year!) as much as I can to make the O-1 possible in the medium to long term. Meanwhile I’ll be getting ready to re-apply for the H-1B on April 1st, 2014 despite the poor odds. Both O-1 and H-1B are costly (especially when using legal counsel) and time-consuming affairs, which means it’s very likely I’ll be reducing the amount of hours I work each week to a minimum. Slap me if you hear me complain about anything else, because I’m extremely fortunate to be able to work with all of you, but not being able to put 100% into Code School enrages me. I’ve never been more proud of anything else I’ve ever worked on in my life, and I don’t intend on giving up because of archaic immigration legislation.

Now if you want to see the bright side of this, realize that a guy who can get one of the most envied Health Care coverage in the world, who can live in the city with unarguably the best selection of cheese, bread, meat, chocolate and alcohol the universe has ever known, who can quite literally live like a king by taking a bus that passes through the royal courtyard of the Louvre Palace, that this guy would rather be hanging out with you in sweaty old Orlando, Florida — where people don’t know how to drive very much but at least they’re not honking arrogant smelly pricks.

So, there. Cuddles. And prepare for regular French onslaughts.


I’m going to write about this a lot more in the future but for now I don’t really have it in me to add much. Wherever you’re from, if you’ve been or are in this situation, I’d love to hear your story.