In April 2022, for the first time in ten years since calling this country my home, I could breathe a sigh of relief. I no longer had to worry about needing to leave my husband, my cat, our home, or my job, due to visa issues.
Most genetic counselors on a visa in the U.S. navigate complex immigration policies. While I never expected the journey to be easy, I was ill-prepared for the extent to which limited professional recognition would impact my personal immigration journey. My employer declined to process my paperwork because they had never done it for a genetic counselor before, and their attorneys didn’t think genetic counselors qualified for sponsorship. I advocated hard for myself and our profession, but by the time they agreed, it was too late; the paperwork would easily take 2 years and I had less than a year left to stay in the country.
I searched for attorneys to help with “self-petition,” a process that doesn’t take as long but is exponentially more difficult to accomplish. There was a plethora of information on how engineers, scientists, physicians, nurses, artists, athletes, models, actors, and musicians could pursue self-petition, but nothing for genetic counselors. The biggest immigration firms in the country declined my case because they didn’t know what genetic counseling was, despite all the background I provided. All they saw was the lack of an MD or PhD after my name.
I finally found an attorney willing to take the leap with me, and it turns out that was the easy part. The next step was to find leaders in the GC field who didn't know me personally but would be willing to write a letter of support. My stomach was in knots, and I felt physically sick when I reached out to potential recommenders. These letters had to explain the significance of the genetic counseling profession to a U.S. immigration officer, highlight my role, and convince the government that I was deserving of the most exclusive visa category.
My immigration story would have ended very differently without the support of friends and colleagues I met while volunteering. Half of my letters came from people I met through the International SIG, and I’m incredibly grateful for their graciousness. To help demystify the process, some of us have put together immigration resources tailored for GCs on a visa. However, there are still many things our community can do to help international GCs. Something simple which would result in substantial impact is an official document describing the scope, significance, and value of genetic counseling, to which NSGC leadership has been receptive. My hope is that other international GCs won’t have to start from scratch while navigating such a complex and confusing process; and, these resources are important first steps in that direction.
If you are an international GC, or employer/colleague/ally of international GCs and would like to learn more, please reach out to me at email@example.com.