Take Me to America!

Posted by on Sep 25, 2008 in Rwanda, Travel Talk | 8 Comments

If you have ever traveled outside of the West you’ve probably been approached by someone asking for help immigrating to The U.S., or every once in a while, Canada. I got a lot of this in Asia and Africa. Sometimes it would be a checkout girl in a supermarket in Nairobi, other times it was a kid on a bus asking about college scholarships. I’m surprised that they think a complete stranger would lie for them. I saw a lot of men in suits in Africa sitting in internet cafes looking for “jobs in America” or “expedited work visas.” It was sad, really, because all of these people were going to lose a lot of money and come out without a visa.

In Rwanda a man in an internet cafe asked me to translate something from English to French. I don’t speak French but I saw what he was looking at and tried to warn him. He had received an email from the “U.S. Department of Labour” about a job opportunity. There were so many red flags that it was nearly impossible to fathom anyone would fall for this. The email was sent from a Yahoo address, the logo was badly photoshopped, the body text was brown and many words were misspelled. Apparently this man had already wired the contact a large sum of money (hundred of dollars, which was probably his life savings) and received a request for more money. I explained that this was not the U.S. government and that at this point it was best to give up and accept the lost money. I can’t imagine how anyone would think the U.S. government would ask an applicant to wire money to a bank in The Congo.

This man was from The D.R.C. (Congo) and was somewhat educated but not enough to qualify for a skilled laborer visa. I suggested he apply for a refugee visa, as it would be the easiest to get but his pride would not allow that despite telling me he was “going to die in The Congo.” He kept glancing back at the screen with the fake email and I insisted not to pursue it. I even showed him the real U.S. government’s immigration website. We looked at the requirements and there was no way he could fulfill them. The amount of money needed to immigrate is substantial for someone from Africa and I understand why. If someone shows up with little money and no family how will they assimilate and support themselves? He had thought about getting the money together for a plane ticket but nothing else. I felt bad breaking the news to him but can only hope he listened to me and didn’t waste his savings on an email scam.

I was reminded of this encounter when I came across this interesting chart depicting the immigration process to the U.S. To read the conditions you can go directly to the large version here. Apparently even if you qualify the wait is anywhere from six to twenty eight years. Maybe I need to print this chart out and carry it around with me on my next trip to help explain just how hopeless the reality is for most people.

8 Comments

  1. JV
    September 25, 2008

    Interesting post.

  2. Sonia
    September 26, 2008

    Funny timing for this post… This week our Craigslist ad (to rent our house) got hijacked by someone asking people to wire money to Nigeria in exchange for the housekeys. I was marveling that anybody would actually fall for this ridiculous scam — not to mention extremely ticked off that this person decided to send these stupid people to *my* house — but I guess this sort of thing is still happening regularly. Not just in Africa but in the US as well. It just amazes me. And makes me think of the Benton bunny that says “It worries me how dumb you are.”

  3. [F]oxymoron
    September 26, 2008

    In my mind I like to flip positions and imagine what it must be like to be in such a precarious position… though I disagree with many policies here in the USA, I’m equally, if not more grateful to live here.

    There should be a worldwide organization that facilitates immigration – a one stop shop of relocation.

  4. Megan
    September 26, 2008

    People do fall for those banking schemes. I can’t believe they’re going into house postings to do it though!

    I’m torn on the immigration debate. I know illegal immigrants working in the US who are incredibly hard working. I’ve also met smart, hard working people in other continents who want to come to America. But at some point there has to be rules. I got really pissed when the illegal immigrant’s girlfriend told me she’d just go to the emergency room to have her baby and it would be free. You’d better bet with would cost me $10,000 and they’d come after me and bankrupt me to get it.

    I think some of the people who came here would do great, but a lot of the people without a support system in place would fail no matter how educated and hard working they are. I also think that there’s a misperception about what life is like in the US. If I were them I’d be trying to get into the EU instead!

  5. Ant
    September 27, 2008

    That poor guy. Do you think he believed you? If you come across a book called ‘Yes Man’ by British comedian, Danny Wallace you should give it a go, as you can deduce from the title he goes on a quest to say Yes to everything, including the spam emails. Funny read.

  6. Todd Mecklem
    October 9, 2008

    Hi Megan,

    I just came across your blog…it’s quite interesting. I’ve done some traveling in the last eight years or so–have visited about 20 countries so far–and my wife Sue and I are going around the world (sadly the trip will last just 16 days) this Nov.-Dec.: Portland-Amsterdam-Berlin-Istanbul-Seoul-Vancouver-Portland. Maybe someday we’ll take a long, adventurous journey like yours. Anyway, I’m enjoying your writing, and look forward to future adventures.

  7. Maria
    October 21, 2008

    Hello? Are you still alive? Not heard anything in a while?

    I was in your links section and noticed nothing had been updated since May 20, 2006 Lots of those people have finished their trips now!!

    Just wondering if you’ve finished for now?

  8. Lauren
    October 22, 2008

    Thanks for this post. I need to print and bring this flyer next time I’m traveling in the developing world. Just like you, I faced countless men hoping I’d be a free visa to the US. Most have no idea how difficult life would be to make it here as they think we all live like they do on the Real World.