US visa pain

AN educator who returned to Jamaica in 2019 from the J-1 Teacher Exchange programme has pointed fingers at the Jamaica and United States governments’ inefficiencies, blaming them for the revocation of a B1/B2 visitor’s visa issued to her.

The teacher, who requested anonymity, told the Jamaica Observer that when her five years were completed, her school lobbied for her stay and even enlisted the services of a lawyer to speed up the process. But misinformation from the Jamaican Embassy in Washington, DC and the consulate in Florida, coupled with a drawn out process in both Jamaica and the USA, eventually led to the negative outcome.

During her interview with the Sunday Observer, the teacher took the newspaper step-by-step through her ordeal, explaining what led to her B1/B2 visa being revoked.

“After the first three years you are offered an extension of two years on a J-1 visa and if the school wants you to stay at the end of that, coming into the middle, to the end of the fifth year, they will tell you apply for a waiver to stay. What happened in my situation is I had a disagreement with my sponsor and he decided to stop sponsoring me in July of 2018. At that time, my school said to me ‘Look, we cannot afford to lose you. You have to stay, find a way to stay’. They actually had been courting me on that issue before and I decided okay, let me go ahead and apply for the waiver of the return rule so I can extend my stay by taking on the H-1B offer,” the teacher said.

“In July 2018 I went about contacting the embassy in DC and saying to them that ‘Hey, I wanted to apply for a waiver of the J-1 return rule, what is my procedure?’ I spoke with the first secretary there and subsequently she sent me a list of steps to follow. I followed those steps to a T. I am very meticulous. I followed everything I was told to do and sent off my documents to the consulate in Florida, as was instructed. Now, once I did that I thought all was well,” the educator said.

Subsequently, having heard horror stories of the process in getting the no-objection letter from Jamaica, the teacher decided to book a flight home in an attempt to sort out what was needed for the letter to be obtained in Jamaica.

“I came home and decided to go to the Ministry of Finance because they process the document. It’s a letter with about three sentences. They process the document and while I was there I had them check on the progress of things in Florida. I was told that they come in batches, which is understandable. Nonetheless, while I was there on one of my visits I had the chance to speak with the person in charge of processing the no-objection letter. She was on leave and no one was sitting at her desk, as I was made to understand. The gentleman who assisted me called her and said I was there. I had original copies of documents I could submit here. I had already paid the US$50, so I said, ‘Look, there is a hitch with Florida, can I simply submit the thing here so that the efficiency can be maximised?’ She said, ‘No, it has to come from Florida’. I stayed here for about two weeks, flew back to South Carolina and when I got there, there was an envelope in my mailbox. My documents had been returned from Florida. Now, there is a lack of cohesiveness in almost every government sector in Jamaica, but then the US?” the teacher questioned.

“As it turns out, the instructions I had from DC were meaningless to the representative at the consulate in Florida, who was rude. As to be expected, we don’t do much in terms of training persons in proper customer service in Jamaica. She was rude and she flatly told me that Florida is not DC. In my mind, I am thinking if I have instructions for DC then it should hold true for Florida. Florida is to me somewhat of a satellite of what happens in DC,” the educator said.

The educator was now required to get all the documents notarised and provide new documents such as a birth certificate before sending off the documents to Florida.

“They took their sweet time from there. This is towards the end of August that I am getting the information and trying to ensure they had whatever documentation was necessary. Then the thing came to Jamaica and that is where it stopped. I went to university in 1993 and at the time they gave us $9,000 towards a $29,000 school fee. That was paid well before I graduated university. I never owed any money to student loan but that held me up as they had to run a check at student loan to see if I had money outstanding. Something like that to me could have been done well before I left Jamaica. After that it turned out they needed a copy of my Jamaican driver’s licence,” the teacher said.

It was not until December that the no-objection letter was provided, and even then there were still hiccups in the process.

“When I called Florida they said, ‘no, it’s not there’. I had to say ‘check’, as this has been going on from July and on my insistence that they check that the letter was there, they told me the letter had been prepared and it would have been sent to Washington, and from there I follow the procedure. By the time that was sorted out with our embassy in DC, the US had gone into their Government shutdown and that meant up until the end of January I had heard nothing from the American Government. Remember, I have a visitor’s visa and a J-1. My J-1 is out of the picture so I am sitting in the US waiting from the time I went back in August on the visitor’s visa to the end of January. Six months now and I have to now leave the country. I left the USA and came back home January 31. There was still no word from the US Government. It just said pending. As I was travelling to Jamaica, that was what was there and I came home and had to get people there to do legwork, forwarding documents. The school had a lawyer who was really helpful and I provided all of what was required on my side,” the teacher said.

But, when it came time for her to get her new state licence, things took an unfortunate turn.

“I applied for my state teaching licence, as I had to renew that, and part of that means I am getting a new licence, so I had to be fingerprinted. What I didn’t know is that I could’ve sent the fingerprints from here by going to the Police Records Office and having it sent off. I went back in April 2019 and they asked me to leave. They were saying I overstayed on the B visa which I did not, as I had returned to the US August 2018 on it and left January 2019,” the teacher said.

“As Jamaicans we are independent, and so when I initially went there I did what I would do anywhere else. I settled, got a home and had savings. I still have my home there. That’s how I lived for six months. [But] they insisted I must have been working and so I was sent back. Coming back I got frustrated with the system because the school went through a lot of trouble, including writing to the governor of the state, to get me to come back to the US. That didn’t work and so I decided to take up a job here [Jamaica]. I am now in the high school system here,” the teacher said.

General questions about the process of getting a no-objection letter sent to the finance and education ministries by the Sunday Observer two weeks ago have not yet been answered.

While the educator, who has 17 years’ experience in the classroom, spanning both secondary and tertiary institutions, has no plans of returning on the J-1 programme, she recommended it.

“It is excellent. It’s excellent for the exchange, however, the US is very insular in terms of their thought process. Whereas they appreciated certain things such as the food, music and so on, they weren’t as interested to learn about my culture, but I learnt a lot,“ she said.

“I went and enhanced my skills. Even my delivery improved. I taught for 17 years before going and I went and learnt new things. That I cannot pay for. That is something that I absolutely would never trade. My school sent me on several courses. I did a practice exam and had a recognition of excellence award. I did a second exam to stay there — same thing. The school considers me a valuable resource, but by themselves they couldn’t keep me there. There are no regrets except now Jamaica looks bad in the school district I worked,” the teacher said.

“They love Jamaican teachers, but they are very wary of how the Jamaican Government operates. I have been in meetings where I was called and asked what is happening or if there was any attempt to assist me [and] there was always the underlying snicker of ‘Boy, this is Jamaica’. It made me feel very Third World sitting in those meetings and knowing for myself that Third World is just a mentality. It’s not about what we have, but what we deny ourselves because of the way we think,” the teacher said, adding that Jamaican educators have taught children in Spanish and brought students reading below the acceptable level up to par without the help of specialists.

Further, the educator does not believe Jamaican teachers are valued in Jamaica.

“I don’t think we are valued here. We are valued outside. Being here and having taught here for 17 years, I can’t afford to buy a house alone. I went abroad and in six months I was able to buy a home. We come back to share, but is our system ready for that sharing? I remember making a suggestion for getting a clear touch smartboard so we can introduce labs to subjects that don’t traditionally have labs and it was met with scant regard. We are using a projector — 20-year-old technology — and acting like it is novel and fun. The children in the US had everything and if I could take my Jamaican children and put them in that setting, dem woulda mash up the place. They would know how to use the resources. We say we are moving straight ahead but we are still behind the ball,” the teacher said.

See Related article: 

Teacher likens US exchange programme to ‘pimp with prostitutes’


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