I still had to return to the UK for my Visa interview, which I was assured multiple times from my lawyers was just a formality. This gave me comfort, as I knew that with my ESTA having just expired this was my last chance.
I returned for Christmas with my adopted family in December 2009 with my Visa interview scheduled for January 8th by this time I was so fearful of the process I was second guessing everything from should I wear an open shirt to show confidence or a suite and tie to show respect. It’s a very fine line dealing with immigration officials, you have to be confident enough to show you deserve the visa but also not too confident to piss of the immigration officer, second-guessing yourself during this period becomes a fact of life.
I approached the embassy with trepidation, on a dark, windy, wet London morning, again I sat, and again I waited. My number was up, I walked to the window, I was questioned. I had everything with me, 500 pages of my life, everything he asked I provided but after ten minutes he just quite simply tells me that he does not have enough time to review my application so he is suspending it. Disbelief did not cover it, as I exited the embassy for the third time shocked and confused I could not believe that this single arbitrary decision not only changed my life, but would destroy the life of my employees and a fledgling company that could have generated millions in revenue for the US economy.
In a certain respect suspension of a visa is much worse than a denial, at least with a denial you know where you stand. If you get a suspension it disappears into a black hole and there is literally nothing you can do about it. You would think that you could contact the embassy about your visa. No. You would think your lawyer would be able to contact the embassy about your visa. No. In actual fact there is no way you can get any perspective on the situation at all, its just pending. This is the other major issue with immigration, no checks or balances and certainly no redress.
I held out hope for the first month I was stuck in England. The second month I had to sack my employees and effectively close the USA company. The third month I had enough and so I got on a plane to Thailand.
The trip to Thailand was an amazing experience but it is a story for another day, lets just say I stayed for a year, owned a bar on the beach, and nearly died of Dengue fever! One day out of the blue on the beach in Ko Pang Yang I received a call from an unknown number, unusually for me I picked it up. I heard a friendly voice say he was calling from the embassy and he had my suspended application in front of him.
This was the first time in my experience with the embassy I really felt like somebody was actually listening to me. I explained to him I did not run a single traditional business and that my company was all about helping early stage companies to market, so while I had many interests in many successful companies I did not have one big company like most entrepreneurs do.
He was really friendly and he said he did not understand why my application had ended up on his desk, and in a brilliant twist of fate he said he had seen me on “Secret Millionaire” and knew me to be a genuine, hard working, successful entrepreneur. He said he would support my application and he would arrange an interview for me within a week and get me back to the USA.
Deciding on whether I would go back to the USA was an emotional challenge for me, as I had given up hope of going back to the USA, and after wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars and two years of my life I was not sure if I could do it again.
However part of me also hates to giving up so I got on a plane returned to London and two days later presented myself at the embassy.
What a difference a friend in the embassy makes, as soon I got to the waiting hall he came and found me and within minutes he was interviewing me, for the first time I had a connection with somebody who listened and understood what I was trying to do. He was happy and invited the top immigration official in the embassy to sign off my visa.
Since then I have actively become involved in immigration reform, starting a community of immigrants that represent billions of dollars of revenue for the USA, working with Mayor Bloomberg’s Partnership for a New American Economy campaign and engaging the White House on immigration issues.
The story nearly ends there, during my time since I entered the USA I have started many companies, currently raising a $500m solar fund, written a bestselling book and paid a lot of taxes, yet I still fear every interaction I have with immigration. Every year I have to spend $3000 on a renewal and for around 3-6 month every year of that I cannot leave the USA while they decide my fate, and at any minute I could be denied and have 5 days to leave the country.
Even as I sit here and write this on a business trip back to the UK I still have to go for a consulate interview just to get my extension rubber stamped, which again is just supposed to be a formality. In less than a week somebody will spend 10 minutes with me and decide the entire fate of not just my life, the life of hundreds of employees and hopefully billions of dollars for the US economy.
The one thing I have learned throughout this is that for immigration purposes that you truly are guilty until proven innocent and that is evident every step of the way. Unfortunately for America and its economy this approach takes a huge toll, your immigration process is the first experience the world gets of your great country. Most people blame the immigration officers or consulate staff, but actually knowing a number of ex embassy employees you would be shocked at how little training they get for such complex cases. It is endemic within the institution of immigration that everybody wants to go to America for a free ride. I have literally seen the devastating effect that this policy has on the US economy probably wiping hundreds of billions off the GDP where my colleagues companies that would have expanded into the USA now decide China is an easier route.
The irony of the situation is that it is actually a lot easier to be an illegal immigrant than a legal immigrant in the USA and while that is true the system does not make sense.
So visa permitting I will continue to make America my home for now, but for those of you who are considering getting a visa or moving to the USA my advice would be prepare yourself for one of the hardest, most challenging, most helpless experiences of your life.