“Immigrants—the risk takers and the entrepreneurs—built this country and made America great,” says Sung Je Lee. “But today’s immigration system doesn’t acknowledge that history at all, and the United States loses job creators every year.”
Lee, who is originally from South Korea but grew up in Indonesia, first came to the United States to pursue a bachelor’s degree in international business at the University of Texas at Austin. “I came here because I wanted to get the best education in the world,” he says. “I also had this romanticized notion about America as the land of opportunity, about achieving the American Dream.” But Lee’s pursuit of the American Dream has been riddled with obstacles.
The restrictions placed on visa holders make it difficult to be mobile in the job market, which has made it hard to progress in my career.
After graduating from college, Lee went on to get a law degree, an MBA, and an LLM—the equivalent of a doctorate in the law field. Despite these impressive qualifications and the tremendous investment that American academic institutions had made in his professional future, Lee was nearly forced to leave the United States permanently. “I’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops and had to make sure I did everything the right way,” he says.
After business school, Lee’s firm agreed to sponsor his visa, but his petition was not selected in that year’s lottery, and he had no choice but to “self-deport” back to South Korea. “Luckily I was able to continue working remotely and make it back to the U.S., but it was obviously really inconvenient, and I was very fortunate to be able to make it back,” he says.
Luckily, Lee’s second visa application was successful, and he now works as a business and real estate attorney for the Fowler Law Firm in Austin, Texas. Still, Lee says the regulations on his work visa have limited his job mobility. “The restrictions placed on visa holders make it difficult to be mobile in the job market,” he explains, “which has made it hard to progress in my career.” Lee says many of his friends and acquaintances are struggling with the same issue. “The whole system is out of date,” he says. “It has not kept up with the times and needs to change if America wants to remain competitive in this global economy.”
I have a deep love this country for so many reasons.
Despite these obstacles, Lee says he is committed to staying in the United States and is currently applying for permanent residency. This is a process that could take many years, and he will have to go through another series of steps before it is complete. However, this has not deterred him. “I have a deep love this country for so many reasons,” he says, “The United States is the land of opportunity for all immigrants who can come here, and work hard, and make a better life for themselves. That’s why I’m invested in it—I want the best for it—and why I hope the immigration system is updated to make it easier for people like me to stay and contribute to this great nation.”