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I lost the U.S. foreign-worker visa lottery, but I still feel lucky

facts and arguments

Sent back where I belong

Kate MacKenzie lost the U.S. visa lottery, but maybe restarting her life isn't such a bad thing

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

This is my personal story of my close call to living in Donald Trump's America. My story of being deported from the United States of America.

Just more than a year ago, I finished graduate school at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and entered the working world, starting a job with a major Hollywood studio on their digital distribution team.

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For me, a girl born and bred in Truro, N.S., landing this job felt momentous. I'd studied media in school and knew I wanted to work in the industry, but as graduation loomed, the thought of finding employment in a notoriously competitive and nepotistic industry (particularly as an immigrant) seemed unrealistic.

I also wasn't sure I was ready to settle in the States. Sure, spending a year here for school had been fun, but L.A. had proved to be such a strange city, I wasn't sure it would ever feel comfortable. It certainly didn't feel like Nova Scotia.

But shortly after graduation, when an online application led to an interview and eventually an offer letter, I was shocked. Was I ready to stay in L.A.? Had I just pulled the wool over someone's eyes?

Despite my reservations, I felt compelled to take the offer – a job is a hard thing to pass up. Not to mention my parents were not so subtly hinting that time would rapidly start ticking on my postgraduation-living-at-home status.

So I took the offer and made my way to Avenue of the Stars to start my career in Hollywood. (The fact I find that street name funny epitomizes how wholly uncool and un-L.A. I am.) What followed was a steep learning curve as I got to know the ins and outs of the business and find my footing in the city. This was all made easier by a great boss and a growing network of friends, who helped me realize that normal people really did exist in the city of angels.

I also started to more fully appreciate everything L.A. had to offer, namely that I could run outside on the beach every single day of the year. In shorts. Having grown up where outdoor exercise involves dodging the snow plow, this was major. Slowly but surely, I started to love the city and life outside of Canada.

Then April arrived – the month the U.S. government hands out H1B visas, i.e. the visa that most skilled professionals need to work in the United States.

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Luckily, my employer had been supportive of my international status and they were happy to sponsor me. But there was a catch. In the past few years, more employers had sponsored foreign workers through the H1B program, but the government hadn't increased the number of visas available. So they started a lottery. A lottery in which the odds were a depressing 1 in 3.

That meant my chances of continuing to build the life I had unexpectedly started to love were just 33 per cent. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Then the e-mail from my lawyer came.

As you probably guessed, I wasn't picked. I would have to leave the country.

Ugh.

I've tried over the past few months to better articulate how it felt, but that's the only word that really seems to sum it up. Ugh. A big fat bummer.

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And so began the weeks of awkward conversations at work, trying to explain the U.S. immigration system to my American colleagues, most of whom assumed that, as a Canadian, surely I didn't need a visa as I was "pretty much American." Sigh.

I also received a couple of last-ditch marriage proposals from well-meaning friends, but I kindly rejected those because, let's be serious, marriage is scarier than deportation.

Eventually, I fell into a couple of weeks of indulgent self-pity. I felt cheated. I had started to build a life in L.A., and it felt as though someone had pulled the rug out from under me. But as I voiced these concerns over melodramatic calls back home, my tough-love Nova Scotian parents quickly reminded me how spoiled I sounded – being deported to Canada was a pretty comfy Plan B and I better shut up and appreciate the privileged situation I was in.

Of course they were right.

So with the pity party over faster than a Canadian summer, I spent the next month packing my bags, saying my goodbyes and crossing the last few things off my L.A. bucket list.

And just like that, I was home.

I knew I was home because an old man in the airport stopped me to make a joke about my ripped jeans and whether I'd bought them that way. Ah, Nova Scotia, home of the fashion-forward.

But I also knew I was home when I stepped outside and inhaled a deep breath of fresh, salty air; when I hugged my parents and saw the box of Timbits in my mom's hand; when "traffic" stopped immediately to let us cross to the car park (try crossing to the car park at the Los Angeles airport and I assure you a swift death).

It's now been four months since I left. And while I still feel the frustrating weight of having to leave before I was ready, I finally have the "everything happens for a reason" clarity that people kept assuring me I would find.

It came in the form of an orange man with a bad hairpiece. Because, while having to leave my job and start over was scary, it was not as scary as living in a country where Donald Trump is at the control panel.

Kate MacKenzie now lives in London, England.

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