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Mace & Crown | December 12, 2017

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The Struggle for Citizenship: Julia Vido's Story

Hannah Kristan | Contributing Writer

Photo by Lisa Thatcher.

Photo by Lisa Thatcher.

While splitting her time between staying up all night to maintain her 4.0 GPA for her bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, winning races for her NCAA Division I swimming team, speaking three languages and updating her popular Instagram page, it’s difficult to understand why Julia Vido would not be welcome to stay in the U.S. Though she seems to embody the American dream, the Brazilian student and varsity athlete may not be able to stay in the country after her graduation this spring, given the extremely difficult path to citizenship. With such an impressive resume, her situation begs an answer to the question: Who is eligible to earn citizenship in the U.S.?

When Vido was recruited to join a swimming team in the U.S., she knew that citizenship was her long-term goal. This was especially true considering that her field of study, engineering, was not a lucrative or plausible career in Brazil.

“I’m not a refugee. I can definitely go home, but with the way the economy is in Brazil I will never be able to work there as an engineer. Everyone I know in Brazil who is an engineer has been laid off and every student I know who studied engineering is unemployed or had to reconsider their careers. There’s just no option for it because of the way the current economy is,” Vido said.

Vido, as well as her two sisters who also have hopes of living in the U.S., have known that they wanted a life in America ever since they were young. The three sisters all share Division I athletic titles and dreams of being able to call themselves American citizens.

Photo by Reagan Lunn.

Photo by Reagan Lunn.

“My big sister, Clara, and little sister, Fernanda, played volleyball when they were young for the same club team that I swam on in Brazil. Clara used to come play a tournament in the United States when she was a teenager and she fell in love with the country. Once Fernanda and I later visited her at Louisiana Tech where she played for their Volleyball team, we knew that we would also pursue NCAA athletics so that we could go to school here, too. In America, you work hard and are rewarded. My sisters and I all wanted that. In America, you can earn the life you want,” Vido said.

Unfortunately, even if someone is a model student and has made strides in their field of study, the road to acquiring a U.S. work visa is difficult and often unpredictable. Vido, like the vast majority of international students, is at the university on a student visa. Once she graduates this spring, she has one year to live here on “Optional Practical Training,” which will extend her student visa for an extra year while she seeks employment.

“I’m having a hard time applying to jobs or internships online because I don’t have a lot of contacts as a foreigner. Also, most companies require you to be a U.S. citizen because they’re sponsored by the U.S. Government, meaning they seek only to hire Americans. I could work for these companies with my OTP, but they won’t sponsor my legalization,” Vido said.

In order for a work visa to be obtained, the company would have to either sponsor the applicant or the applicant must sponsor themselves. Vido is unable to sponsor the process herself because it is time consuming and expensive. She explained how the job market as a foreigner requires navigation that Americans do not even consider.

“I don’t even have the option to apply to most jobs in D.C. Most applications ask if you can legally work in the country, which I technically have to say no to since I haven’t acquired the work visa, which makes the field of options very limited, no matter how qualified I am,” Vido said.

Vido’s younger sister, Fernanda, and Brazilian boyfriend, Diego, all share her anxiety about remaining in the country after graduation.

“My sister is still an undergrad and Volleyball player at Eastern Washington University, so she has a few years left on her student visa but she knows she has a difficult road ahead. Diego plays soccer at the Duquesne University and he and I both want to graduate this spring and continue our American life here together, but he is not a STEM major so he has an even lower chance of getting a work visa than I do because his OTP is less flexible. He will probably have to get into graduate school if he wants to stay here with me,” Vido said.

Though the legalization process was never easy, Vido fears that the current Trump administration could make her legalization even harder. Since taking office, Trump has taken a firm anti-immigration stance, going as far as to issue a ban on entrance into the U.S. for seven countries. Though there are no specific policies in place by the president that would affect Vido’s immigration process, it is hard to ignore his anti-immigrant statements. Though Brazil has not been mentioned as a country in need of immigration reduction, the anti-immigration rhetoric still has a profound global impact.

“I feel so unwelcomed by his actions. I’m not from any of the countries on the Muslim ban list, but he’s opened this window for xenophobia in a country I thought would welcome me. I’ve always loved America and known I wanted to work here, but now I have to wonder if maybe America doesn’t want me. If a leader can be elected who feels so negatively toward immigrants, I can’t help but think that that’s how most Americans feel and maybe for the first time in my life I should consider that perhaps I’m not supposed to stay here,” Vido said.

Vido earned her passage into this country on a swimming scholarship and has worked tirelessly in the classroom to assure that she is at the top of her field when it is time to enter the workforce. She has been on the honor roll since she began her education at the university her freshman year and even earned a perfect GPA this past semester, all while maintaining her position on the varsity swim team and serving as treasurer for the Virginia Gamma Chapter of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. She has even held engineering internship positions at competitive companies like El Dorado Chemical Co. Additionally, her fluency in English, French and Portuguese make her a uniquely globalized candidate. Despite the success she has achieved, the chances of her being approved for a work visa and staying in this country are considerably low.

Photo by Lisa Thatcher.

Photo by Lisa Thatcher.

Vido’s passions and strides in her field make her an ideal candidate for the typical “American dream.” She has mastered both academic and athletic fields, while creating strong bonds with her classmates and teammates. However, the current immigration and political environment are working against her presence in the U.S. Vido is still optimistic that she will be fortunate enough to receive a work visa in the upcoming years, but she knows that it will be tough to gain citizenship. She has no plans on giving up on her dream though.

“I love this country and even if President Trump has created a harmful stereotype for immigrants, I hope that by continuing to work hard here in America I can change that,” Vido said.