Saturday, 11 February 2012

New Country, New Rules, New Challenges, New Fears

She packed her bags and looked at them. She had to pack her entire life in only two suitcases weighing no more than 25 pounds. Not everything fit, not everything she would have liked to carry with her. Unfortunately, moving to a new country in search of better opportunities did not really leave much room for spending extra money on overweight luggage.
At the airport she said good by to her family and to the few friends who came to wish her well in this new stage of her life. There were not many tears as this moment had been in the making for quite a while. The truth is, she had never been that much of an emotional person.
After hugging her mother, she entered the gates at the airport. Having never been on an international flight, she was overwhelmed by the sight and sounds around here at the terminal. This was really happening. She was going to hop on a plane and, about ten hours later, she was going to arrive to her new home and her new life.
During the plane ride, she thought about the life she was leaving behind. She had just left her job at a prestigious company where she had moved up the ranks quickly. However, because she had not completed her university coursework, she did not have much room for growth elsewhere and this had driven her to pursue an education outside her home country. She was excited about the possibility of continuing her education. She was excited about the new country she was heading to. Mostly, she was excited about the opportunity of starting a new life from scratch in a new and promising land.
Full of dreams and expectations, she was not ready for the reality of arriving to this new country. She was not ready to switch her privileged status for that of an immigrant in a land that does not embrace immigration quite as well as she had been led to believe.
In this new country, she was not allowed to work but she was expected to cover all her expenses, including the very costly tuition charged at her university, without any help or support. She was grateful for having chosen a low-cost university for non-traditional students. Otherwise, she would have not been able to meet any of her obligations. As it was, she found it immensely challenging to save up for tuition, while still having to save money to buy food.
Shortly after her journey to this new country was completed, she found a job as a nanny. She was supposed to work from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, taking care of two 3-year old twins. This schedule, she thought, would allow her to attend school in the evening from six to nine. Somehow, somewhere, she thought, she would be able to squeeze in time for homework.
The compensation for watching the twins for nine hours, four times a week, would be the meager amount of one hundred dollars. As a result, she had to find another job to supplement her income in order to be able to save up for next semester’s tuition. Through a referral, she found a job cleaning a house that would pay her, for only 4 hours of work, the same she made on a week of watching the twins. She could not complain or demand a higher salary at her nanny job. After all, she was being given a chance to work and make some money, something that she was not legally allowed to do.
In reality, her nanny job ended up demanding longer hours, to the point that she did not have any time in between work and school. Thus, she had to do homework after getting home from school around 10:30 at night. She would then go to bed around two in the morning, and then she would wake a few hours later to start it all over again. Overworked and exhausted she carried on this routine for a year until new and better opportunities knocked on her door.
This is the reality of many immigrants. They usually leave their homes in search of new opportunities, and the promise of a better future. In some cases, a not-too-bad situation ends up being an exhausting schedule, a substandard salary, and the ongoing fear of being caught for working without authorization. At the end, and despite all the challenges, these immigrants are able to work towards the goal they set up for themselves when they chose to migrate to a new country.
However, life in a new country is not the same for all immigrants. Women are especially at risk for being forced to perform sexual favors in order to meet their obligations in a new country. In some cases, they are even forced to perform sexual acts by immigration officials in order to maintain their immigration status. In other cases, they fall victims to sexual harassment at hands of their employers. Due to their fear of deportation, they keep quiet, choosing to endure the abuse instead of jeopardizing their immigration status.
In other cases, women migrate to a new country because their husbands found an opportunity for work or to go to school. Their visas are attached to those of their husbands. If these women find themselves in an abusive relationship, they have no special legal protections. Therefore, they remain silent about the abuse, fearing that if they speak up, their husbands will sabotage their visas and force them to return home.
The situation is even worse for those women who arrive to a country undocumented. If they are in an abusive relationship, they are even less likely to denounce the abuse because they fear that if they go to the authorities, they will find out about their immigration status, and send them back to their home countries.
No matter what the situation is, whether you move to a new country as a student, following your husband, or entered the country without authorization, women are more vulnerable to be subjected to abuses. The abuse can be at hands of opportunistic employers, abusive husbands, or unethical and unscrupulous immigration authorities, just to name a few. Due to this, it is important to provide special protection to women in order to provide a safe platform for them to speak up against abuses of any kind.
Paola Brigneti


  1. It is not easy migrating to a another country for education or to leave. For women this is even more difficult to and sometimes more risky. Another issue is the lack of help and assistance available for women in abusive relationship who are immigrants

  2. The plight of immigrants studying abroad, especially women, can be overwhelming. I will advise anyone looking to migrant overseas to please properly plan ahead, and for women, have plan of how you will make ends meet. This is to avoid unwanted incidents and sexual harassment, in the case of women.

  3. Thanks for the article! It is important those planning to migrant to another country know exactly what they are expecting to meet, especially in Europe. Immigration laws are changing and so is the mindset of the people. Please plan properly before migrating!