Celebrating my own freedom on July 4th: a US work authorization

It is a very special 4th of July for me because I received a work authorization after 22 years in America. My application for a self-sponsored green card was approved two months ago. For the first time, I feel a sense of freedom.

It might sound like just a formality but it actually isn’t . For 22 years, I was vulnerable to the whims of my employers. The O-1 regulations, governing my last visa, allowed for a discretionary grace period of 60 consecutive days. Losing my job meant I had two months to exit the country leaving the twins behind. 60 days… to leave one’s life and family behind. A huge improvement at the time, as under a G-4 for 20 year, I had only 30 days.

I was upset by this blog post a few months ago which claimed “a White Frenchman like Fabrice Houdart has an entirely different lived experience as an American immigrant than immigration law Prof. Fatma Marouf, a child of Egyptian and Turkish Muslim immigrants — though both of them are gay, and both are parents.” It is TRUE but it overlooks the vulnerability I still experienced. Because, while I acknowledge my infinite privilege in the immigration process, being white, speaking English (granted with a VERY heavy accent), having a diploma and being able to afford the best lawyer, my status was a source of suffering and a constant Damocles Sword above my head.

In many instances employers and others instrumentalized the fragility of my immigration status with cruelty. I was at times sexually harassed, silenced and in two instances not paid making it difficult for me to make ends meet. Some, over the years, were astonishingly blunt about the threat of immigration retaliation.

The G-4 syndrome, a term coined after the visa awarded to employees of the UN system by Moisés Naím (1994) is real. In Naim’s words, it “creates a critical dependency on the Bank and significantly shapes its internal culture.” With more than half of the World Bank staff reliant on this visa, the syndrome “raises the aversion of individuals to taking risks, and increases the resistance to organizational change…” (Naím, 1994)

In 2020 when I left the UN system after 20 years on a G-4 Visa, I had not accrued any right to permanent residency despite both my children being (cute) little Americans. I had to patiently work with my amazing lawyer, Allen Orr of Orr Immigration, who I would like to thank here from the bottom of my heart, to build a green card case over the past year.

I would be remiss not to mention key figures in my life, including David Mixner, Cliff Cortez, Kaushik Basu or Amb. Wally Brewster who generously wrote testimonials to support my case.

I was in a cab with the boys last week and the driver told me about his efforts in the past eighteen years to regularize his situation. He has not been able to return to Mexico, his home country, in the meantime. The boys were full of questions afterwards incredulous that living here is such a hard-earned privilege. My heart bleeds for the millions of individuals caught in a system my friend Edafe Okporo just called out in his new book “Asylum”.

My life is here and I love this country, despite its shortcomings, I could not be happier today to have finally acquired a ticket to freedom. Happy 4th!

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Fabrice Houdart

Fabrice is on the Board of Outright Action International. Previously he was an officer at the UN Human Rights Office and World Bank