From French to U.S. Citizenship, Part I: Adrienne's Journey from the J-1 Visa, to the H-1B Visa, to the B-2 Visa

Adrienne was 23 years old. Until then, she had lived her entire life in France. Most of her family and friends were there. She had completed a bachelor's degree in the field of French Language Teacher Education and a master's program in French Translation at a French university. While Adrienne loved her country, she had always wanted to spend time in the United States. She knew that the U.S. offered many new experiences and employment opportunities for her. This is the story of Adrienne's journey from French to U.S. citizenship.

After graduation from her master's program in 2001, Adrienne searched for job opportunities in the U.S. It was then that she learned of the J exchange visitor program. This program provides opportunities for foreign nationals to travel to the U.S. for a limited amount of time to teach, study, conduct research, or receive on the job training. Adrienne was able to secure an internship with a translation agency that met the requirements for the J-1 visa. When she arrived in the U.S., she was so excited to finally be here! However, her J-1 was valid for 6 months only, a common stipulation. In order to remain in the U.S. after the expiration date, she needed to change to a different immigration status.

One option was the H-1B visa. This is the most common employment-based visa. It allows a foreign worker who possesses the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor's degree to work in a specialty occupation here in the U.S. on a temporary basis, for up to six years. It is a "dual intent" visa, meaning that the foreign worker can intend to remain in the U.S. permanently at the time she applies for the visa. Adrienne qualified for the H-1B because it was determined that her French degrees were equivalent to a U.S. bachelor's degree in French Translation. Her employer, the translation company, was willing to sponsor her for this visa. Luckily they had an established relationship with an immigration lawyer who could handle the case. The H-1B application that he submitted was approved. Adrienne could remain in the U.S. for six years or until her employment ended. The company would have the option to sponsor her for a green card at any time so that she could remain permanently.

After four years at her new job, Adrienne was really enjoying her life in the U.S. and contemplating whether she wanted to apply for a green card. Unfortunately, at that time the translation company was forced to downsize and lay off a number of its employees. Adrienne was one of them. Adrienne did not consult an immigration lawyer. Had she done so, she would have learned that she could transfer her H-1B visa to a job at a different company. However, Adrienne believed that she had no choice but to return to France. She left immediately after she was let go, before she began to accrue "unlawful presence" in the U.S.

After about a year back in France, Adrienne felt the pull of the U.S. once again. This time, she applied for the B-2 tourist visa to visit the U.S. for a short time. To get her B-2 visa approved, Adrienne had to demonstrate that she had strong ties to her home country. In her case she was able to show that most of her immediate and extended family resided in France and that she had a job there to return to. Adrienne was granted a tourist visa for six months.

Soon after Adrienne arrived in the U.S. for the second time, she met Brian, a U.S. citizen. They immediately had a strong connection. Adrienne quickly decided that she did not want to leave Brian to return to France. However, she did not know how to extend her lawful immigration status. Therefore, Adrienne remained in the U.S. after her tourist visa expired. At that point, she went "out of status" and began accumulating "unlawful presence" in the U.S. She did not have authorization to work in the U.S., but she did so anyway, as she had to make money to pay her expenses. Adrienne remained out of status for the next two years while she and Brian dated. It was then that they realized that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They were married a few months later.

It was also at this time that Adrienne realized she would need to consult with an immigration attorney. She was concerned about her unlawful presence and the fact that she had worked without authorization. Adrienne worried: would she be able to remain in the U.S. with her new husband, her life partner, or would they be forced to separate?

To be continued . . .