A Bittersweet Citizenship
Rika and I met in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1997. We are both film and television editors. I had been on my own for 20 years and had begun to believe that was how it would always be for me.Then I walked into an edit suite one day and there she was! We worked on a few productions together and found that we enjoyed the experience tremendously. I guess it was inevitable that in the year 2000, romance sneaked into the relationship. We moved in together in 2001.
Following a traumatic experience which made living in South Africa really difficult for me, I applied for an EB-1 visa (permanent residency based on exceptional ability) – it was granted four years later.
In 2006, we came to the US to activate my green card. We loved it here – being out and about and not having to rush home before dark. We could walk everywhere and, for the first time in our lives, we felt free. On that trip, we met with my immigration lawyer who told us that there was no way I could sponsor Rika as my partner. If we were a heterosexual couple, none of this would be an issue; I would be able to sponsor Rika’s permanent residence. The fact that we had been in a committed relationship for six years, had no value in the eyes of immigration authorities. Therefore an F1 visa seemed to be the only option for Rika.
We went back to South Africa to pack up our belongings and we moved to the US. At the end of May 2007, we began our new life here, together. Even though she already had two university degrees, Rika enrolled at a US college and studied for 18 months. She was then allowed to work for a year as part of the visa (practical training). After a few months, the anxiety set in. What would happen when the year was up? We had already spent our savings on her education and the move across continents, how could we make this work for any length of time? The strain on our relationship was often almost too much to bear.
In her late thirties, Rika became the oldest intern at a large company! Soon afterwards, she managed to convert the internship into a job. Her vast experience in post-production led the company to agree to apply for an H1B work visa - everything looked good to go! But the H1B numbers ran out and we missed the boat. We were devastated. We tried to stay positive. We focused on our relationship, our love, our commitment to each other. Over cardboard boxes and packing tape, we celebrated our 9th year of being together.
And we knew that even if we went somewhere else together, I would have to come back within six months to keep my permanent resident status intact. We also knew this would mean we may have to be apart. We had been out of the country for about three months when Rika was offered her old job back – this time the H1B application was submitted very early and there were still visas available.
We came back to Los Angeles in late 2010 and in September 2011, I became an American citizen. It was a huge event in my life, but it was bittersweet, because, instead of the two of us standing side by side pledging allegiance to the flag, we were separated by immigration policies that refuse to see us as a family.
We are in the process of applying for Rika’s second three-year work visa. The strain has been enormous: Rika feels that she constantly has to push herself to do better than everybody else, because if she loses her job, we lose the life we’ve built, the plans we’ve made and goals we’ve set for our lives together.
Rika is the love of my life. I am in my mid-fifties and cannot keep starting over in a different country. This is my home. This is a country that I have grown to love and where I voted proudly for the first time last year. I just wish that the United States would afford us the same rights that it affords heterosexual couples.
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.