Twelve years ago Deborah Skinstad left South Africa with two bags, two suitcases and $2,000 in her pocket. Now, after temporary residence in the United States, Skinstad’s Visa is calling it quits and forcing her to fight for permanent residency or leave the U.S.
In 2004, Skinstad came to ORU on a full-ride tennis scholarship from South Africa. In 2009, she graduated with her masters from ORU, and then took a job working for ORU.
Skinstad’s visa expires Aug. 8. Following the hooding ceremony and graduation this spring, ORU will no longer claim Skinstad as a faculty member.
To be able to stay in the U.S., Skinstad must have a employer sponsorship to continue her visa. Without this sponsorship from ORU, Skinstad will be forced to return to South Africa.
“I knew there could be a possibility just with the immigration regulations as they currently stand, and obviously there is a timeline involved with visas, so I knew there was an expiration date,” Skinstad said. “Did I know that it would actually come to this particular end? Not in your life. Because there is an option with that particular visa to extend it, but with no sponsor, I can’t.”
Skinstad has been advised to go back to South Africa by attorneys.
“The trouble is, I left South Africa 12 years ago, I don’t have a home to return to,” she said.
Skinstad has been accepted into a program in England to study and finish research in sports medicine and performance nutrition. Most of Skinstad’s family lives in England, yet the process to obtain residency in the U.K. is just as tedious.
In order to obtain a visa to enter England, she will have to pay the first full year of tuition and show the financial stability to stay in the country as an international. The exchange rate with England is $1.49 for every American dollar.
“It’s a very competitive degree,” Skinstad said. “The mere fact that I was offered a place to study was huge. I just don’t have the finances. It’s going to cost me at least $33,000.”
Skinstad has been fixed in Tulsa since 2004, but she has prepared herself for a culture shock wherever she may end up.
“I’m up for the adventure,” Skinstad said. “I just wish at 32 I would have a little bit more sense of security. Being in the states by myself all these years, no family, but, hey, that always gives one resilience. I’m always keen, up for a challenge. I would just like to know on an immigration front what America is going to do to curb this issue.”
The “brain drain” has become a concern, according to Skinstad. Students from different countries like India and China are learning at U.S. universities on scholarship, and the government is doing little to keep them here to use their education to further the economy and American industry.
“We experience brain drain from third world countries losing our cream of the crop. America, if it doesn’t fix its immigration and start from the ground up, starting with the minority groups, which would be the legal, educated immigrant, then I don’t even know what to say,” she said.
To advance President Wilson’s globalization vision, Skinstad believes the visionaries of the university and the human resources department need to be on the same page.
“If Dr. Wilson has high hopes of global learning centers and things like that, which I think is great, we’re going to have a cream of the crop thrust coming through this place,” Skinstad said. “And if they are battling with little idiosyncrasies of taking care of one of their own faculty members, a former student, let’s just say I wouldn’t want there to be a backlash.”
Skinstad is taken aback by the way immigration is set up to almost, by default, place status such as hers in the same category as illegals.
“So 12 years I’m known as temporary. Dictionary definition doesn’t even describe that as a temporary status,” Skinstad said. “So if I were to apply for a green card, which I can’t self-petition in any way, an employer would have to offer me a position, sponsor a green card, after I’ve been on the green card for five more years, then I can apply for naturalization. Then after 17 years I can say ‘Hey, I want to be an American citizen.’”
Skinstad leaves the international office and its students with the advisement of being aware from the beginning of their education in the states.
“Before an international student comes to this particular university, they need to be schooled thoroughly, not in a pessimistic way, but what is black and white,” Skinstad said.
Despite her departure, Skinstad does find joy in the years she has spent in the U.S. and at ORU. Her fondest memories are found in the hospitality of America and her students.
“They’re the reason I come to work every day,” Skinstad said. “I’m up at 5 a.m. every morning, passionate about their health and wellness. Just seeing people sit in that chair with tears in their eyes and tell me how their lives have changed on their health aspect and thanking me for my contribution. It’s a small contribution, but, nonetheless, it’s why I come to work every day.”
“I came here and I stayed,” Skinstad said. “And if it wasn’t for ORU, I don’t know where I’d be.”