Work Permit Hell... on U.S. Soil: Kim's Story

Kim, an Italian, came to the U.S. with visions of a work permit dancing in her head. Since she speaks five languages fluently, including English, she thought she'd have no problem finding work as a translator.

"No one [at the U.S. Embassy in Milan] ever told me about how I could apply as a self-employed person," she notes. So Kim came in on a tourist visa. She knew that if she could find an American company to hire her as a contract worker she could then apply for a work permit for the duration of the contract. She'd worry later about staying longer.

Once inside the U.S., Kim scrambled to find someone who might need her services. Her first bite came from an unexpected source: a national park. The personnel manager felt that her language skills would be helpful with tourists.

"We worked together on the paperwork for a month. I had to go to the INS three times because they didn't give me everything I needed the first or second time," she reports.

Toward the final stage of processing, the INS asked the park's manager to prove that Kim was the only person in the U.S. qualified to fill the job as translator. While she was certainly qualified for the job, the park manager couldn't make the case that she was the only one for the job. The outcome? She was denied a work permit for her translation services and found herself babysitting in the park instead.

"Just think about it: I had to lie and hide it from the park rangers. There I was on federal territory getting paid under the table," she says. "The only result of them refusing me a work permit is that I worked illegally in the U.S. without ever paying taxes."

Hoping to stay in the country and work as a translator, Kim moved to another location within the U.S. She met a man who directed a social services program. He offered her a job working as an interpreter for trials with Spanish-speaking witnesses.

"The job paid $20,000 with benefits and everything," she notes. However, after a couple of months, frustrated by the process of trying to prove Kim was singularly qualified for the post, the director gave up trying to lobby for her.

"He proposed that I should try and pass as a Mexican because he said it was easier to get a work permit if you are Mexican with no papers at all than trying to get it with a regular passport, visa, and Italian citizenship," she says.

In the end, Kim flew home and attempted to secure a student visa from the U.S. Embassy in Italy. A student visa would buy her more time as she tried to find a way to get a work permit. She assumed her visit to the embassy would be routine. She'd apply for a student visa, visit with her family, and then return to the U.S. a few weeks later. Instead, the embassy stopped her in her tracks. It turns out that while she was filling out the INS papers, her tourist visa expired. Though she'd applied for an extension, it had never been approved. When the embassy saw that she'd overstayed her visa, she was not only refused the student visa but was denied entry back into the U.S. To top it off, she was banned from returning to the U.S. for seven years.

Kim has since opened her own business in Italy.