Tales Of An H1B Reject
By Ghita Benslimane
July 30th. That was a dark day for me.
I had my flight scheduled for 8 P.M. that night. After four years in Boston and a year in New York, this was it. Good bye, Ghita! Thank you for the tuition money... Catch you on the flip side!
My last year in the U.S. was a particularly impactful one. I’d worked at Snapchat for nearly a year — a dream come true. I’d developed important relationships, moved into my very first apartment and made New York my home.
The Snap Team!
When I first started working at Snapchat, I was made well aware that they would not be sponsoring me for an H1B work visa. I was disappointed, but had hope that this would change. And it did. After months of proving myself, my new boss fought for me, and Snap decided to sponsor me. But the battle wasn’t over just yet. I knew I only had (approximately) a 20% chance of getting selected.
Selected, you ask? Yes. Each April 1st, after USCIS receives all of the country’s H1B petitions, it runs a random selection on a computer, determining which applications it would even look at. Mine wasn’t selected. When I found out, I was crushed. I’d spent my whole life dreaming of when I’d be able to live in New York City. I vividly remember dreams I used to have as a child, dreams where I’d be walking around the city. And I’d wake up in Casablanca.
Casablanca was home, but it was a home where I always felt a little out of place.
My parents put me in an American school, and that education gave me a second culture that neither my parents or I were expecting I’d adopt so wholeheartedly. I grew up wanting to be an actress. Wanting to live in New York. Wanting to make movies. I was in another world.
When I moved to the U.S, something clicked. I felt I was in my second home. I was no longer a black sheep amidst a sea of white. The cities I lived in were home to all kinds of people with all kinds of background, passions and endeavors. Even my friend group was as diverse as a Benetton ad:
So when I got an e-mail saying I wasn’t selected, the years of struggle it took to get to where I was flashed before my eyes. And I broke.
Everything I knew: gone. I’d have to start all over again. I’d have to leave my job, my home, my community, my structure. So I did. I moved back to Morocco on June 30th. Here's a screenshot of my Facebook post, which I whipped up on the plane back:
After I got home, for months, all I could think was, “Wow, the universe really doesn’t like me right now.” Typical cliché of a girl thinking the universe makes decisions about her life, right? But that's what I genuinely thought. I just couldn’t believe that after 5 years in America, I was being sent back home. My STEM colleagues were being given 2 more years to prove themselves, to truly experience what it’s like to work in America. My film/tv and I, meanwhile, were being sent on a one way flight back to Casablanca.
I felt so angry. I felt a sense of patriotism for the U.S. When the Boston marathon bombers were caught in 2013, I joined my friends at the Boston Commons and chanted my heart out. Every 4th of July, I was out celebrating the country that gave me hope of a better future. I felt short changed. I felt unwanted. I felt disgusted. It was as if my partner of 5 years broke up with me out of nowhere. I’d given so much of me and got nothing in return.
After a few months in Morocco, however. I started to see the silver lining.
I became closer to my family members, I started a new job and got accepted to grad school in New York! I’d be coming back. I would spend my time at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism advocating on behalf of the city's international student community.
But my return is another gamble. Another unjustified gamble. America welcomes thousands of international students each year only to send them away. This makes no sense.
We are educated, we are smart, we are courageous. We want to work, we want to contribute and we want to pay taxes just like anyone else. It should be the biggest compliment to the country that we would choose it. But instead, it feels attacked by us. It rejects us. Why?
Ghita now studies social journalism at CUNY and is spearheading an Instagram project called International Students of New York. The account is a treasure trove of telling pictures and captions that put a face to the international student community in New York City. Follow the action here & the author's personal blog here!