For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Aug 31 2017
by Alaba

The Struggle of Coming To America on a Student Visa

By Alaba - Aug 31 2017

When my father told me I’d be coming to the U.S. a full month before classes started, I was ecstatic. Who doesn’t love a good vacation? In that month, I’d do my college shopping, visit my college campus briefly and generally acclimate to the way things in the U.S. worked, since it is worlds away from my home country, Nigeria.

I was all smiles throughout the trip. It wasn’t my first time coming to America, but it was the first time I’d be coming to do something other than visit Disney World or Six Flags and go shopping. I was going to college! Even after 15 hours spent on a plane with a layover of about five hours, and the seemingly endless line to go through immigration, I was bubbling with excitement and energy when I reached the immigrations officer.

Imagine my shock when the immigrations officer took one look at my I-20 Form and said: “Sorry, your student visa isn’t valid yet, so I can’t let you in.” My smile froze on my face and my brain did a complete 360-degree spin. What?

It took me a few seconds to fully process his next words, but when I did, my knees felt a bit weak and suddenly, I felt all those punishing hours of flying return and besiege me. Apparently, I had come in more than a week earlier than the date written on my I-20 form. Thus, I could not enter the USA as a student until that date. The officer handed me the form and pointed out the portion where it was stated clearly in black and white: “Earliest admission date into USA: 29th July 2017.”

In all the time I had spent studying that form and drinking it in along with the knowledge that I was going to college, I had never ever acknowledged that little section. I couldn’t believe I had never noticed it. Apparently, that section meant a lot, because the officer was clear as day. I couldn’t come in as a student. I was ready to sink into the floor.

Luckily, my tourist visa was still active, so he let me in with one simple instruction: I had to leave the USA and get back in with my student visa before school started.

Could I go to classes with my tourist visa? No, I could get deported.

Could I just call when the day came and make them change my status from B1 to F1? No, that wasn't possible.

Could I just walk into the airport and somehow make my way back to this counter when the time came? No, things didn’t work that way. I had only two options: Leave the U.S. now and return to Nigeria, or enter now and leave later. I was hungry and jetlagged. The choice was obvious.

Cue my sleepless nights and the mad scramble for where to go and how to get there. Everything was happening at top speed for me, following the brisk beat of a Spanish dance. So many ideas were thrown up and dragged back down.

My first choice was to drive over the Canadian border, since I was just about four hours away. But to enter Canada, I’d need a visa, so guess what I did? I applied. It was after applying and sending everything in that I deigned to look at the processing time. 20 days! I didn’t have twenty days, so I wasted time and money applying. Face palm.

Next options were Jamaica and the Bahamas. This time, I learned from my past errors and did my research. The processing time was just five days, so I decided to give Jamaica a chance. I mailed all the necessary information to the Jamaican Consulate in New York, including my passport. I didn’t hear from them for nearly two weeks, and trust me, that time was filled with anxiety and total frustration.

After wasting my time, did they give me the visa? Nope. Apparently, the process is longer for Nigerians, and I needed to send in more documents. So they sent my stuff back. But that’s not what pained me. What hurt was discovering later on that there was a Jamaican Consulate in the same state I was in. I wasted those days for nothing. Double face palm.

Clearly, my research skills were lacking, so I was hesitant when I found out that I didn’t need a special visa to visit Mexico. I could use my American visa and that would be all. It seemed too good to be true. After weeks of stressing, I couldn’t fathom that the answer to all my problems had been lying right beneath my nose! I wished I could borrow someone else’s hand to add to my double face palm.

My deadline was approaching fast, so I decided to go for it. Flight tickets were bought, a hotel was booked and the next day, I was off to Cancun, Mexico. It was a successful trip. I got back in with my student visa and now I’m contentedly lying on the bed in my dorm room, typing away.

Moral of this story? Read your immigration documents carefully. Take the time to do full and thorough research before making hard decisions. Or else, you may end up like me, who suffered sleepless nights and wasted thousands of dollars.

At least I have one good experience from this ordeal. Cancun was beautiful and I enjoyed every second of my 24-hour stay there. So it wasn’t all bad… right?

The beach in Cancun.  Photo credit: Alaba Danagogo

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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