Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our Story: Teresa & Helen

The Happy Ending Has Yet to Be Written

Helen and I met through a fan-based message board for a British television show.  At the time I was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Helen was in Perth, Western Australia, neither of us knowing that the other existed. Through the message board, Helen and I started e-mailing. At first our e-mail conversations were very polite with the usual “What’s your favorite movie?” and “What do you do for a living?” but then it quickly grew into so much more. 

"The stress of having Helen on a work visa here in the States is constant."

After a few weeks of e-mails Helen gathered up the courage to call me (her words, not mine) and from the first “hello” our lives were forever changed.  After months of long-distance telephone calls we finally planned to meet in Sydney, Australia. 

Our meeting in Sydney was the most amazing experience, it was exciting and comfortable, it was like we had known each other for years, yet there was still that feeling of meeting someone new.  After our time together in Sydney Helen came to the U.S. for two weeks and after that visit knew her life was here with me in America. Although it would be hard for her to leave Australia, she flew back and made the arrangements to move to the US.  At that time we had no idea how hard it was going to be getting employment, arranging visas, selling Helen’s home and so forth.  It took us 12 months, a lot of money and a lot of stress to finally get it all sorted. The only thing that kept us both going was the fact that we were in love and that we had each other. Nothing else mattered. 

Helen and I married in a Civil Partnership ceremony in London, England on August 8, 2008. The reasons for choosing London were because of our connection to the British television show that brought us together and also because Civil Partnerships are legal in England and we wanted to be recognized as a married couple. This day was the best day of our lives and every day since has been even more amazing – although we were about to discover how hard it is for a same-sex binational couplet o stay together in America.

Helen had to find a company that would sponsor her so she could stay in the U.S. on a work visa. We investigated student visas, but although my income may have been enough to sustain us, it was not enough to sustain us both and pay for her schooling.  Australia has an E-3 visa, the first visa is good for 3 years, but then you need to have it renewed every two years.  Helen was able to obtain employment from a company willing to go through all the paperwork and expense involved in sponsoring an employee.  Her first 3-year visa was approved without any problems, but 3 years goes by quickly and before we knew it, it was renewal time.

What we thought would be a routine visit back to Australia to see her family and attend the U.S. Consulate to renewal her visa turned out to be an ordeal. Helen was put on “administrative review” which meant she was “stuck” in Australia until her case was decided. At that stage we were given no indication as to how long it would take. The wait turned out to be 3 months and during that time, Helen and I were separated which was extremely hard on us both as we didn’t know if Helen would even be allowed back in the country. Saying goodbye to each other at the airport was one of the hardest things we have both ever had to endure.

Eventually her visa was approved, but the stress and expense of “not knowing” was extremely painful beyond words. 

The stress of having Helen on a work visa here in the States is constant. If her company lays her off or goes out of business, she has only 10 days to leave the United States.  This would tear our family apart. Additionally as soon as we get a 2-year renewal the clock starts ticking on the next one. Every other year we’re heading back to Australia to “beg” the U.S. Embassy to please let her stay another 2 years.  The stress, the financial burden, the emotional roller coaster is sometimes more than you think you can take, but the hope of Comprehensive Immigration Reform and being with the one you are meant to be with keeps us going on.

Today, Helen and I are living happily together in Milwaukee, WI. We own our home, we have 4 dogs, we travel, we pay our taxes, we do all the “married” things any other couple would do; but there is never a day that goes by that we do not think about what could happen or what could have happened all because of laws that protect opposite- sex couples, but not same-sex couples. I love my country, I love my wife and family and I should not be forced to choose between her and my country.

Are you a same-sex binational couple? Do you have families / friends affected by this issue? Please contact us at http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn if you are interested in sharing your story.

No comments: