It's not every day that I read a New York Times article that makes me seethe with anger. But this is what happened when I read journalist Atossa Araxia Abrahamian's piece on how she manipulated the United States government into giving her an O visa (intended for outstanding people) and now holds a green card to remain in the United States indefinitely.
First, it is necessary to explain what an O-1 visa (colloquially referred to as an O visa) is: It is for an individual "who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements."
Put quite simply, a 26-year-old individual who wrote a handful of freelance pieces for some minor and mainstream publications, does not fall into any of the above categories. In fact, I'd call this white collar illegal immigration. (It's no secret that the United States, and New York in particular, is teeming with writers and journalists of both working and wannabe varieties.)
That this individual is now taking away a job from an individual (American, or someone here under another type of ordinary person visa, like one you would get after winning the green card lottery) under the false premise that she has some extraordinary ability is ludicrous. Her only extraordinary ability is in duping the U.S. government: It doesn't take a person with extraordinary abilities to write news wire articles or for some online magazine ... and I say this as someone who has many intelligent friends who work for news wires and magazines.
As I have previously written, America's priorities in terms of who we give our visas to are currently a mess. Quoting myself (but not in the way that Jonah Lehrer quotes himself ... I am intentionally repeating an earlier argument that I made):
"America has a dearth of engineers. And our science and math education system is pathetic in relation to the rest of the world. And we have skilled labor jobs that need to be filled. The only way for America to thrive in the future is to retain the undergraduate and postgraduate students who have thrived in this country. What if Sergey Brin had to start Google in Russia? Then America would have far fewer jobs, fewer tax revenues, and less dominance over the Internet industry, not to mention less knowledge. (As Forbes wrote, immigrants make great entrepreneurs.) But the reality is that many awesome American-educated entrepreneurs are returning home."
So what does the United States government do? We send thousands of Chinese and Indian and other engineers back to their countries to create companies that will inevitably compete with United States interests, while we give Abrahamian the right to work in the United States as a freelance writer and journalist who will use her cunning and faux sob-story to take away jobs from other journalists for the rest of her life. America needs more doctors, scientists, and engineers, yet here is an unethical and privileged journalist, who we have opened our doors to instead of those who yearn to breath free.
Abrahamian is the daughter of U.N. officials, and her mother unethically gave birth to her in the country she wanted her daughter to have citizenship in. Abrahamian has openly mocked and scoffed at the two wealthy, first-world nations that have already granted her citizenship: Canada and Switzerland. Abrahamian writes, “I felt like a foreigner in Geneva, and most of my friends had left. I’d spent no time in Canada.” Boo hoo, your high school friends had left Geneva? My heart bleeds for you. Even though she was likely coddled into thinking she was extraordinary at the International School of Geneva and Columbia, put quite simply, she is run of the mill. The EU states quite clearly that Swiss residents can work wherever they please within its boundaries. So, in short, this individual who can work anywhere in Europe, as well as in Canada (where people now have higher net worths than they do in America) is now complaining about being a person without an identity in any of the above places. Be happy you're not stuck in Iran. Sheesh.
Now, let's ask what would cause the U.S. government to grant someone who is not outstanding an O visa? Answer: Money. This is yet another case where a person at the upper echelons of society operates on a different set of rules than everyone else.
Abrahamian admits in her article that she had the “time, resources and support to make it work.” Well, after she lied to the U.S. government in her initial green card lottery application, she presumably had the time to figure out how to more effectively manipulate the system for her personal gain.
Though she never mentioned it by name in her guilty conscience piece, Abrahamian attended Columbia for her undergraduate degree and then for her MA in journalism. She implies that she paid the full tuition price for this education. Presumably, during her time at Columbia, Abrahamian would have been taught by some 40 professors at minimum. If she had a handful of these individuals write reference letters on her behalf, combined with letters from a couple of editors from the random online magazine where she works, as well as some of her unethical parents' friends from the UN, I'm sure she could create a pretty convincing rouse to the U.S. government when it was evaluating her O visa application. Were there bribes involved? Who knows. (Columbia already gives accused war criminals coveted spots at their institution, so its credibility as anything but a home for wealthy foreigners is already shot.)
I don't know Abrahamian personally, and she very well may be an okay person, but the fact that she sought to write a very public apology for her actions means that she has a guilty conscience. I thank her for having the gaul to write this column, because it may shed light on other individuals who are fraudulently obtaining visas. (Hell, if I had duped the United States government, I'd be smart enough to keep my mouth shut about it.)
Abrahamian's admissions must now draw additional scrutiny from either the Inspector General or other watchdog bodies: What other individuals are being granted coveted O visas? A more thorough investigation is most certainly needed, and I encourage you, dear reader, to file a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out.