Despite being on track to become a judge in her native England, attorney Michelle Garrod decided to forego her own professional advancement to support her husband, Michael, when he was recruited to be the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for BlackDog Robotics, a division of the American company NPC Robotics. Specifically, Michael was hired to help develop robots that could be sent into law enforcement or military situations deemed too dangerous for humans. The Garrods arrived in Minnesota in the fall of 2013. Michael’s company helped him secure a visa for workers with specialized skills. But the terms of the visa prohibited Michelle from obtaining legal employment in the United States. The couple has applied for green cards, but the process could take years. Until then, Michelle Garrod cannot work.
I think that people need to remember that America was founded on immigrants
“I’m volunteering,” she says, noting that she goes to the BlackDog Robotics office every day to work, on an unpaid basis, as their informal operations manager. “I got to the point where I just became really bored, and Michael needed help doing administrative tasks, expenses, that type of thing.” Once her immigration paperwork is approved, Michelle will become the formal head of operations in Black Dog Robotics. She didn’t want to give up her legal career, but her foreign educational credentials aren’t accepted in Minnesota, even though she’s worked as a lawyer for two decades. “Upon reflection, I don’t want to go through requalifying to becoming a lawyer here,” Michelle says. “I’d kind of have to go back to square one. If we’d been in California or New York, it would be different, I could just take the bar exam.”
Though they’ve only been in the United States for a few years, the Garrods are already contributing to their local community. In their town of Minnestrista, they bring robots to visit Boy Scout troops and volunteer as judges in the First Robotics League, an international program that promotes youth education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). They have also established a relationship with the local children’s science museum, The Works, where they help out with an annual weeklong celebration of robotics to promote STEM education. “Basically, our aim is to try to explain to kids that, yeah, it may feel boring sitting in the back of the science class when you’re 10 years old, but if you stick in with it, then this is the sort of cool stuff you can do when you’re older,” Michelle explains.
The Garrods like their new home, but they’re frustrated by some of the negative perceptions of immigrants in American media. “I think that people need to remember that America was founded on immigrants,” Michelle says. “Michael’s example is that his work is a very niche area, and for the economic health of the country, and to keep it progressing and staying at the economic pinnacle of the world, America needs to acknowledge that sometimes it needs to bring in fresh minds.”
Specifically, for those who immigrate with specialist occupation visas, like her husband, there are oftentimes spouses with their own specialist occupation. “For the spouse to come over, and not be able to make a contribution, is very challenging,” Michelle says. “We’ve given up a lot to come over here. I think that should be recognized. The perception, quite often, in the media is that immigrants are coming over to take something from the country. But from our perspective, we’re coming over to give something to the country. It’s important to embrace different perspectives and cultures to allow the country to prosper.”