My Unconscious Pursuit of FIRE: To Be Unemployment-Proof, Part 2

Shanghai, baby, SHANGHAI! (If you ever watched the movie Swingers)

The second watershed moment that led me to want to be unemployment-proof was the U.S. immigration process for my wife, whom I met in China.

If I thought my career being in jeopardy because of my employment was stressful, imagine how I felt when I discovered my relationship with my wife might be in jeopardy!

Boy Meets Girl

While starting a new career in China, I met a wonderful girl and fell in love. I was truly head over heels for her. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, raise children, grow old, and eventually rest in peace together.

But as an American citizen, I couldn’t stay in China without a visa, of course. And normal Chinese tourist visas (and even spousal visas back then) would require me to leave China every 30 or 60 days.

So the only way I could reasonably stay in China to be with her was for me to have a residence permit. This is basically an annually renewable visa that allowed me to work there, similar to the H1-B in the US. And that required company sponsorship.

I was very fortunate to find jobs at 2 different companies over 7 years that sponsored me. But that meant that our continued relationship was heavily dependent on my continued employment.

In theory, if I got laid off, I could try to find a job at a new company that would sponsor a foreigner like me. But those jobs were becoming fewer and fewer as China became more developed. Chinese companies were looking more and more for either local staff or Western educated Chinese returning home.

So as time went on, I felt more and more pressured to comply with everything the company required of me, to never complain or say “No.”

My Chinese Wife’s U.S. Immigration (Green Card) Process

Fortunately, I knew this state of affairs was to be temporary. The long term plan was for my wife to immigrate to the U.S.

But unfortunately, as I found out at the time, it meant that a Chinese residence permit was even more critical.

This was because standard procedure, according to US immigration policy,  is for the U.S. citizen spouse to physically be in the U.S. with the intent to stay there while the foreign citizen spouse stayed in their home country for the entire application process… a process that averaged between 1-2 years! And with no guarantee of success!

For us, there was one advantageous method that we were gunning for. My Chinese residence permit allowed us to use an expedited method called Direct Consular Filing (DCF). DCF would hopefully shorten the process to 6-9 months while allowing me to continue to live in China and stay with my wife.

So pulling the trigger on the U.S. immigration process for my wife was like doubling down on the importance of my maintaining a Chinese residence permit throughout the process.

If we pulled the trigger and I lost my job during the application process, I might have had to separate from my wife and move to the US for 1-2 years until the process completed, hopefully with her getting the green card.

But if we didn’t pull the trigger, then we’d be forever in a state of limbo, always suffering the stress of being dependent on a work permit from a company to stay together.

Welcome to America!

In the end, it worked out pretty smoothly, with my wife receiving her green card within 6 months of submitting the DCF application.

We made it!

But it wasn’t until we moved back to the U.S. that I discovered that there was more to this than being unemployment proof, that financial independence was about human flourishing.

How would you feel if you were in the same situation?

Would you have just left for the U.S. alone and go through the standard application process for up to 1-2 year while living apart?

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