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My immigration story

Home is on the inside, Oil on panel, 8x10in

In 2012 I moved to Ireland for my Master’s degree. I was on a student visa until I graduated in 2014. The following year I was put on the ‘graduate scheme’ which allows any international student to remain in Ireland a year after completing their degree. Seeking to stay any longer is tricky, and I learned that. I applied for an extension and waited around four months for a response. I was told no. I emailed a lot of people simply letting them know the situation and that I was going to come back as often as possible. Without expectation several people reached out stating that I should appeal this decision. The trouble was I had been given my rejection about ten days prior to my visa expiring. There was an angel though. An arts professional who had done a lot for me, called me up and asked me if I could put a few hours into re writing my letter, if I could do that and get it to her to review, she could help. A true blessing. I still flew home to avoid any gaps in my visa status and while I was home that summer, I was granted a two-year extension that would expire in 2017. So that fall I returned to Ireland, and was able to focus on painting, and building my career. As 2016 neared its end and I could see this extension ending I submitted another application in November asking for another extension. In April I received notification that I was denied, not for the validity of my case, but because I had applied to the wrong department. It felt like waiting in line for six months only for it to be my turn and told I need to go to the line next to it, but I’d have to go all the way to the back and start over. Living in limbo is not something I did well, and I use the word did because I believe I actually do a decent job these days.

I had some things I needed to take care of in the states and I had an upcoming painting show. Going back to North Dakota felt like the right thing to do at the time. I was emotionally exhausted. I had a show lined up later that summer in Ireland and if I left in May I could return in August (legally you need three months between visits) for the opening. I did just that. The winter of 2017 I was asked to return in 2018 for a masterclass workshop. I agreed and booked a ticket. On this trip I peddled my way around galleries and left them small catalogs of my work. A few months later a gallery suggested a show of my work for the coming summer. I was elated. I agreed and booked a ticket. Between 2017 and 2020 I felt torn. I was in constant contact via email, social media, and text messaging with the professional and personal network I had built over the years. When the pandemic hit, I had just come off a few life changes. I had an upcoming show in Dublin summer 2021 along with other opportunities. I spent the first half of the year evaluating my life and considering changes I wanted to make. I felt mentally strong enough to handle the immigration battles again. So, I bought a ticket back to Ireland for September 1. My intuition told me it would be rocky, but it would happen. I accepted this and if I can trust anything it’s my intuition. Six days prior to my flight I finally found accommodation via a not so reputable website requesting I message the landlord via WhatsApp who had a place for rent in the area I was aiming for. I told him the day and time I was arriving and his words ‘meet me in my pub’. Cool. Ok. So, after three flights, two busses, and a taxi* I made it to his pub. This was all during covid, so the moment I arrived in my accommodation I was there for 14 days, limited to leave only for exercise. I had arranged how to get food delivered but knew internet would be more than likely not happening.

Prior to leavening the states, I had spent the summer researching programs in which acquiring a visa would make most sense. I emailed several departments and they all said I didn’t qualify for their programs and advised me to email departments that said the same thing. The other option I have is to obtain a visa via my grandma, but obtaining proof is a hurdle. I currently have an open case with that department...

Once my 14 days were concluded I was able to meet up with some friends, one of which has had to deal with immigration services. In Ireland each region has its own officers, and she gave me the phone number and email of the local one here. Essentially, I had three months as a visitor anything longer than that would require a special visa. I emailed this woman, and she was more than happy to arrange a phone conversation the following week. She advised me that I was doing the right thing and that Ireland should be ‘scooping me up!’. I felt like I was on the right track. She was incredibly helpful and supportive, asking me to forward on the application I had prepared. Assuming she had sent this on I waited for her response but heard nothing for weeks.

My initial accommodation was quite grim, and I was fortunate to find a new residence. The day I moved (October 31st) I emailed her notifying of my new address, she suggested I come in the following week to be put on an extended visa. The following week I went to her office, and she put me on a Stamp 1G, I paid €300. She said that I would receive a card in the post within a week’s time. A week later I received a phone call that my card had arrived, and I was to collect it, when I went in the card was not reflective of my 1G stamp, and there was a new officer in her position. We went up to his office, and I explained my entire situation. I am a bit in the dark on the details, but she appears to no longer be in this position. He was unsure of what route best to take, so I left his office without my card, and he said he would be in touch once he had some answers.

He rang the following week notifying me that my application was never sent to the Dublin office. The next week I went back to his office, he gave me a postal address to send my application. He told me that stamp she put me on is one I should not be on and revoked it, crossing it out in my passport (I honestly have some serious PTSD over this and have not looked at my passport since that day). I would like to note he has been extremely helpful in getting me on the right track, but this has been incredibly emotional. I have never had a run in with the law and want to take all the possible steps to do everything as I legally should. The next Monday I sent my packet to the address he advised. I did not receive any confirmation of receipt of the application so, I emailed their offices in Dublin. Low and behold, another glitch as the address I was advised to send the packet to be the wrong office. The office it arrived in was in Tipperary and they were sending it on to the correct ones in Dublin (this is like sending something to North Dakota and it going to Kansas). This was just prior to Christmas, and just prior to Christmas the immigration office shut down. I have been in brief contact with a secretary in the department once because I needed to update some information in the packet.

This is where I have been since, limbo. I am still waiting on acknowledgement of the application I sent. Monday through Friday I spend the morning anxiously awaiting the post to see if the letter that will give me an application number will arrive and when it doesn’t, I just imagine maybe it will tomorrow. On Fridays I am relieved that I don’t have to be anxious on Saturday or Sunday. The saving grace in that Visas were extended to January 21st, then April 20th and now September 20th due to Lockdown and vaccine rollout.

What I think I find most difficult right now is that I am stuck, I can’t leave until this is sorted. I have had to fear the thought of being told to leave yet trying to truly make a life for myself. When going to stores I look at each object and consider how long will this live with me? For a day, for a week? Will they allow me to stay?

Finally, I will say I came prepared. The odd thing about immigration in Ireland is that you are not allowed to apply for a visa when you are not in the country — so you must jump unsure if you will land. I have saved like crazy and lived as frugally as possible, so I am supporting myself. I am not asking the Irish for anything more than the right to stay in the place where I have made cultural contributions and would be delighted to continue to do so.

Coming in September I will have a new body of work shown at Molesworth Gallery in Dublin and the show is titled 'Home is on the inside' because what the past year has taught me is how to lean into myself and remember that 'home is on the inside'

-if you have any leads on how best I could navigate my situation I would love to hear from you:

*I want to add this small irrelevant detail. The taxi woman had just come by her friend who had just been out fishing. She had two large pails of fresh mackerel and cod in her van. I will say when jetlag has set in, and the warm bodily feels of long-haul travel set in sitting in a van next to two pails of fresh fish is not exactly the most ideal travel companion. Bless her though she offered me some and it was fabulous once cooked.

UPDATE 9/14/21: I officially have been granted a one year visa from INIS. I have the official stamp in my passport and am waiting on receiving my id ID card. This all came not a moment too soon, and I am so grateful for those who helped me manage this very tenacious journey.

UPDATE 9/11/22: I contacted the immigration officer late July, he re-registered me, I paid the fee, and three weeks later I had my card, I’m set for another year.


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