The uncertainty principle: Scramble for J visas

I just made up a new uncertainty principle that applies to postdocs. It states that if you have secured a postdoc, you have to worry about getting your J visa. And, if you do have your J visa, you have to worry about getting a new postdoc position or securing the old one. You can never be certain about both for long.

I was talking to a friend today and apparently it has been 2 months since she applied for her J visa. She is really worried. And, there is no one who can be contacted in this matter. The helpline is practically worthless as the person at the other end is some employee of a call center and he won’t have any more information than what is available online. And, God forbid, if you are one of those unlucky souls who faces a problem, whose email id and documents have been misplaced (which is the case for my friend) or who has an error in his/her visa (something that I had the misfortune of having). You then have to write an email to their support, to which they say they will respond in 2 days. Then after 2 days you have to either send in some more documents or just wait around, the waiting part of which can last anywhere between 2 days to 2 months.

International postdocs like me already have it tough, what with most of us moving across countries and continents. And then, to top it, we have to worry about our J visas, which have so many hidden rules that every time you meet another international postdoc, one of the topics of discussion is always the visa they’re on. For some countries and some fields -the list for which is completely arbitrary- there is a 2 year home return rule, which means that at the end of 2 years of your stay in the US, you have to return to your home country for 2 years before you can again apply for a J visa. Then, there is a 5 year rule, which means that you cannot extend your J visa beyond 5 years unless you obtain a waiver from your home country, which is an arduous process that takes many months. Of course, these rules and waivers are more relaxed for some countries and much less for others, which means that we are basically at the mercy of the foreign policies and relations of our home countries with our host. Postdocs from India for example, can get waivers on both the 2 years and 5 years rules, and get multiple entry visas, although sometimes just obtaining one might take anywhere between 2 days to 6 months. But, I heard from an Iranian postdoc once that her J1 visa was a single entry visa and therefore, she hadn’t gone home in like 5 years. Can you even imagine what it’s like to not see your family for 5 years? So, the irony is that earlier you were trapped in your home country and now you’re trapped in your host country. It is ridiculous.

Another ridiculous rule for J1 visa is that once your DS2019 (the form on which your J1 visas are based on) expires before you extend it, you cannot apply for a new one just like that. There should be no gap between the expiration and extension of your DS2019. Also, if you have been on a dependent (J2) visa, your visa also ends along with your spouse’s and you can’t even transfer it to an independent J1 anymore. Anyone reading this must have already got bored and confused by now. Imagine if you actually had to know all of this at the tip of your fingers just so you know for sure that you won’t be evicted from the country.

As it stands now, my own J1 visa is valid only until November 2015. So, I either have to get a new postdoc position or extend my current one before that. And, of course, everything depends on funding! So, as you can guess, I have started my worry yet again. Here’s to hoping I manage to secure a new postdoc position soon enough.



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