Why is Max going back to Australia? Immigration and us.

Today we’re packing. Max is heading back to Sydney tomorrow. It’s not something we wanted to do. Many friends and colleagues are wondering why Max, who is so nicely settled, and has college acceptances, is leaving, and I’ve been too raw to write about it in a balanced way until now. But here goes.

Y’all kinda know that I’m pretty passionate about the “immigration reform” that is being talked about in the US. I put that in inverted commas, because the reform being talked about and put in the bill, and pushed by fwd.us, is not adequate. It does not address the inefficient and erratic way the legal immigration process works (or doesn’t work). In reality, if it is passed, it won’t help because the administration side of immigration is screwed up royally. It’s that which needs reform.

Max graduationWe are not from Mexico. We are not here illegally. They are the two things that people automatically equate with immigration. They are both valid, real concerns, but they are not what I’m talking about here. In fact, if you are one of the people who screams that people should be coming to the US legally, then you should read on to find out how that works.

Max’s story

Max joined us in the US in December 2011 after staying in Australia for a while after we came to the US. He is on a dependent visa – he’s dependent on me maintaining my visa. If I screw up and get out of status, then automatically he is too. He’s not been allowed to work anywhere at all, not even during the summer, etc. There are stacks of rules for visas, and we spend a plenty of money and time (and emotional energy) ensuring we meet them all. There are over 19 types of visas, and each visa has different visas underneath them. All have different conditions. No wonder immigration lawyers do so well.

We want to be legally present. And Max wants that too. He’s always been a stickler for the rules.

Happily, he integrated well into life here in Colorado. He met the challenge of adapting to a different culture, learning a lifetime’s worth of US History, geography, social studies with just two years up his sleeve in order to graduate. In the US it’s a requirement to have a language in your high school academics to graduate, which is not so in Australia. So he took it on. He did Spanish through school and then took an additional year’s worth online by himself over the summer so he could graduate with enough credits to be considered for CU. None of us speaks Spanish, so we couldn’t help him if we’d tried. He joined extracurricular clubs at high school and was regularly there from 8am to 5.30pm, at all the additional clubs he signed up for. He also took Karate three days a week in Boulder, and worked his way up through the belt rankings, repeating many of the belts he had achieved in Tae Kwon Do in Australia.

Max has had an enormous opportunity here, and we are very grateful for it. He embraced many aspects of that opportunity. He has wonderful friends. He was accepted to CU Boulder, CU Colorado Springs, and others. We are very proud of his achievements.

If I were an American citizen, Max is a young person I’d say immigration reform should help to keep.

So why can’t he stay?

But then came the news that while he has done all this, as an international visa-holder, he would have to enter college under a student visa of his own, and in doing so, would not have access to in-state tuition at CU. He would have to pay international tuition rates. That’s $35K a year. That’s not feasible.

Recently Governor Hickenlooper signed into Colorado law the bill that states people who are present in the US without legal documentation, who graduated from a US high school, and were here for three years could go to College in Colorado and pay in-state tuition, which is just under $10K a year. The law, on line 8, pointedly states this is not applicable for those who have legal presence. Max’s legal visa means he can’t access in-state tuition.

And so Max, because we follow the rules, and because we’re not rich, and because he can’t get student financial aid because he’s international, and because he should pay his own way anyway, is leaving to go back to Australia. He has deferred his offers for college, to keep his options open. But I have not given up.

We don’t know what will happen next. Maybe when the “immigration reform” bill passes I might be given a greencard along with my PhD (but the bill doesn’t address the length of processing time that might take, so who knows if it’s even a viable possibility), which would then allow us to have Max return and take up one of his university offers, as he would be a greencard holding family member. That would be awesome. Then he could work here too, and pay his own way – what parent doesn’t want that?

A fortunate problem to have

But still I know how very blessed we are. We come from ‘the lucky country’ where war and disadvantage are not deciding factors in any decisions we make. We are so blessed that our family is strong, and that Max will stay with my dad in Sydney until he works out his next steps. I am praying that both of them are blessed by the experience (and that Max stops leaving his dirty laundry on the floor). I am so blessed that Rebecca is already planning for Max’s birthday in Sydney, and that my brother and my sis-in-law are an email or phone call away, and are ready to help. I pray he finds his direction, and employment, quickly.

But as a mother, it’s tough to say goodbye. I’m pushing Max out of the nest before I feel ready. This is not what I wanted for him. I supported him to work hard, and I love what he’s achieved, but now the visa thing has speed-bumped it. Last night at dinner it became apparent that with Max’s departure I can now have a room that will be a study for me, which will be nice. I’m looking for the silver linings here, people.

Yeah, I know, it’s a good learning experience that life isn’t made of clearly good opportunities all the time, and that you need to see disappointment sometimes is the doorway to something amazing you hadn’t considered. In fact, it’s something he needs to understand, and holding him close to me will stop him discovering that. It’s also his life, not mine. He’s an adult. Blah blah blah…

He needs to make things happen for himself, and this return to Australia might be the start of a fantastic new life experience that sees him on a career trajectory that is Australia-based. If that’s so, then America has totally missed out on what immigration reform should hope to support.

I’m his mother. I hope Max comes back. But today, we pack.


  • What a hard choice to have to make. This is just so wrong! Another reason why I don’t like the new tuition law! Prayers to you

  • I’m so disheartened that such a stand up young man can’t have the same opportunities as those who come here illegally! Just doesn’t add up. 🙁

  • Such a hard thing and I’m so sorry you have to go through all of this. I’m hoping it will improve or change somehow and soon. He sounds like an amazing young man!

  • OMYGOSH, poor you, poor Max. As a Canuck, I’m well acquainted with the nightmares of visa, immigration, etc. However, I was fortunate when I came from Canada because I went to BYU, an inexpensive private college that didn’t have to deal with any of the in-state tuition nightmares.

  • Clearly we have work to do! Having 19 visas, with different rules, and yet, to be here legally, instead of breaking the law, gets the rule-followers booted? This is wrong. What can we, non-lawyers do?

  • Thanks Amber! We did begin considering schools in different states – most of which are far less expensive for international students, however as Max rightly pointed out, one of the things we wanted him to stay for was so that he could be close by to us. If he had to go to a different state, he might as well go home, and not have to worry about visa stuff at all. That said, college in a different state might be something we consider more during this time.

  • This is such an important issue you talk about here, Joanne, and one that unfortunately touches too many families in a negative way in this country. There’s no arguing the current immigration and visa system is seriously flawed – families are often broken apart and those that follow the rules often can be at a disadvantage. I just hope that we can get our act together on this! Good luck to your family!

  • The inefficiencies of our systems are not just words on paper and administrative duties. I am sorry to see your family a little more fractured earlier than you had anticipated. Good luck to Max and the rest of you.

  • Jo, I am so sorry you have to say goodbye to your Max tomorrow. It’s maddening how inconsistent and non-sensical the laws are. For a nation that likes to scream how much it upholds “family values” we sure don’t do our best to make sure families can stay together.

    My heart goes out to all of you.

  • Beyond sucks Jo and I know how much it meant to you that Max could live there with you, and so sad he’s forced to go back.

    If I was a typical Australian I’d start on about how much it is better here…but it’s not. There’s a flaw both in the system here and there in the Unites States that doesn’t focus on awarding those who can contribute most, vs some sort of need for political correctness (that might not be the right term here, but I’m not sure what is.)

    I don’t begrudge people in need in either the US or Australia, but both countries are broken when neither of them can’t recongnise (recognize in your now English;) ) that those who can contribute aren’t let in.

    Max is a clear case in fact.

    Best wishes as always.

  • I just came across your blog and was very moved by your story. It must of been a very hard time for the family. But I hope it has all worked out for the better.

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