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Views of an immigration lawyer

March 23, 2012

Most of the members of Westgate Culinary Club are on F-2 visas, which mean they are bound by certain visa restrictions. What are they, how does it affect them and what are some ways to work around such types of visas? To answer these questions I recently spoke with Eileen Morrison an immigration lawyer. Morrison has been practicing immigration and nationality law since 1990.

“It’s very hard and frustrating there is no doubt about it,” she said when asked about what she has to say about the plight of dependent visa (H-4, F-2) holders who are not allowed to work in the US. Dependent visas holders on H-4 and F-2 visas can only engage in volunteer work.

F2 visa holders are allowed to engage only in study that is avocational or recreational in nature, she said. They are also not permitted to attend school without changing their visa status.

“It’s definitely an issue,” said Morrison. “Their primary reason to come into the US is to accompany the F-1 spouse and if people don’t have these [visa] facts before they come to the US they can find themselves in a situation that they really didn’t anticipate, especially when dependent spouses in their home country are allowed to work or go to school. They may assume the same is true in the US for people on a dependent visa. Many people expect to work here because the trailing spouses in Europe can work. But the situation here is quite a bit different.”

So why are such visa restrictions imposed on dependent visa holders like those on F-2?

“Why? Because if you are on F visa the expectation is that you won’t seek to immigrate here and you are going to return home. I think it has to do in part with wanting to be protective of American jobs,” said Morrison.

But when I told her about the recent study which proves that immigrants add jobs to the American economy, she said, “I think there might be a misperception about the types of jobs being added. I don’t think Americans are necessarily very well educated about the role of immigration in US economy. There is a perception that immigrants may be responsible for eroding American jobs,” she said.

Apart from dealing with the visa restrictions, is the fact that it takes time to adjust and settle down in a new country, she added. “It’s a very stressful thing to relocate to another country…it takes three to six months for people to settle into a bit of a routine, a rhythm. It’s a lot of work,” Morrison said.

While the working spouse gets involved in work, the situation becomes very overwhelming for the “trailing spouse”, she added.

But a way to work around the F-2 visa restrictions is to change it to F-1 visa, which will permit them to engage in full-time study.

“If they want to go to school then they have to change status to F-1, which then requires them to qualify to meet the financial requirement of the institution.So if you have a spouse who is on F-1 you need to meet the financial qualification times two…that is a lot of money,” Morrison said.

F-2 spouses changing status to F-1 must independently qualify academically and financially to attend the institution, she said.

Also coming to the US on a J visa might be an option that can be looked into, she said.

“The J visa could make some sense because then the J-2 spouse can work; can apply for work authorization. Sometimes people are not aware of the existence J visas, that there might be a good option for the couple. But sometimes the J visa is not a good option because there is a requirement that the family return home for two years before seeking some other type of immigration. So you need to be very planfull about this,” she said.

Morrison concluded by saying, “If you know what you are getting into before you come, it can set better expectations.”


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