What Does It Cost to Legally Immigrate to the US?

Seem to have aged backwards a few decades in this photo.

A few weeks ago, we got a very special email from our lawyer. It said: your permanent residency has been approved! Now, we’ve been waiting a while (4 years) for this. After 12 years of living full-time in the US, we can finally skip the long immigration lines at JFK and LAX. Oh glorious day!

This got me to thinking about the pros and cons. I wanted to count: Over the years, how much have we “put in” to the country, and how much do we “get out”? Luckily a lot of the monetary costs were covered by my employer, but it’s still interesting to count it up.

Cost: Monetary

  • Immigration fees: $2000 (covered by employer)
  • Lawyer fees: ~$8000 (covered by employer)
  • Work permit fees over 4 years: $6000 (covered by employer)
  • Doctor’s fees: $250 (out of pocket) to verify that you’ve taken all your vaccinations and don’t have tuberculosis. This is not covered by insurance or even done by normal doctors’ offices, only by special doctors.

So about $10k for the immigration, and $6k to maintain a work visa during the process of immigrating. Seems like a hefty chunk of change! I’m very grateful that my employer covered all of the direct fees. (Most of the big companies will do this, but not the small ones, since it’s an expensive process.) My employer offered $8000 to cover immigration fees as part of the startup package, but we went over, which they graciously still covered. The reason the fees are set so high is that USCIS is self-funded by the fees (so the current government shutdown didn’t affect processing of our application).

In addition to the direct fees, I think as my income tax contributions as an indirect payment to the country. Over 12 years (4 years of working), that totaled:

  • Federal income tax contributions: $67k
  • Social security and Medicare contributions: $22k
  • +State taxes, which I couldn’t find the numbers for

I don’t really have a good sense of monetary scale, but it feels l like I contributed enough to the country to “earn” a permanent residency, although this isn’t counted anywhere officially in the application.

Cost: Time

Dealing with USCIS (the government body that handles immigration) is like dealing with the DMV… except it’s a DMV that has no phone number, public-facing office, or really any human interaction at all (until the very last stage of the process). It’s basically a mysterious address that your lawyers mail huge stacks of paper to, along with a huge cheque. Then you wait 2-9 months for a reply in the mail saying whether your paperwork was accepted or not. And this repeats 2-3 times as you complete different stages of the process.

It took us 4 years to finish the process, which felt so so long. There’s lots of waiting, and uncertainty, and more waiting. There was a point in the process where USCIS made a mistake with our application, and we sent them multiple letters and emails trying to tell them of their mistake, but were met by a wall of silence. So frustrating! /endrant

To be honest, the immigration also sped up our marriage plans. We would’ve gotten married anyway, but doing it earlier rather than later simplified the immigration process for both of us.

On the flip side, there are also advantages to permanent residency, amirite?

Pro: Not getting deported

You can only work for 6 years in the US under a work visa, unless you immigrate. So getting permanent residency is HUGE weight off of our shoulders. We also no longer need to work to be able to live in the country, which is nice. For the past 12 years, it’s been study, study, study, work, work, work. Funemployment break imminent? Unlikely, but who knows 🙂

Pro: Eligible for more opportunities.

Before, there were so many opportunities that I would eagerly be reading about, and then see the dreaded words: “Citizenship or permanent residency required.” Part-time Starbucks job while in school? Not allowed. Scholarships for school? Most likely not. Now with my permanent residency card in hand, I can apply for stuff like government defense research grants, or simple stuff like TSA Pre. It also simplifies financial things like opening a bank account or applying for a mortgage. Woohoo!


Reflecting back while writing this post, I somewhat question why I came to the US.  I think I could’ve stayed in my home country and ended up with a similar career path and salary, plus the social services are way better back home. Out of my friends from home, maybe 10% came to the US and are working here now. I find the American pace of life generally more hectic and stressful, although the salaries are higher to partially make up for that, but probably not completely. But anyway, I am already here and settled, so the US will do nicely for now! Now just to get permanent residency for my siblings, cousins, and great-aunt… just kidding, just kidding.

Next step: US citizenship? Nah, it’s unlikely for me, as I feel a stronger affinity to my home country. My partner may go for citizenship though, as he’s getting tired of trekking to a consulate to a get a visa every time he travels abroad.


Clothing Budget: December 2018

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This month I went shopping crazy! I bought a whole bunch of stuff during Black Friday that didn’t arrive til December, and also took advantage of post-Christmas sales and random mall browsing while on vacation. Back home we have Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas which is full good sales. They don’t have it officially in the US, but there is still good stuff to be found. I also found some good replacements for older favorites that have worn out, so overall I’m happy.

Since there are a lot of items, I’ll try not to write an essay about each of them 😛


  • Black flats (LK Bennett, $70): As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d been looking for some new black flats. I was super impressed when these showed up. In the online photos, it just looked like a plain pair of flats, but the cut is really… elegant, is how I would describe it. It’s an almond toe without toe cleavage. The quality feels rock solid, although time will tell.
  • Sneakers (Nike, $65): My old Nikes were a few years old. I can definitely tell the difference with this new pair – there is more arch support and traction.


  • Sweater blazer (J. Crew, $90): After seeing this on a million blogs, I finally tried it on in store. So far I’ve really enjoyed wearing this – comfy yet polished.
  • Olive pants (Lululemon, $40): I was looking for a pair of olive work pants to replace a worn-out favorite pair from H&M. Who would’ve thought that Lululemon would be a  good place to find work pants?
  • Sports tee (Lululemon, $40): Lululemon was a madhouse when we went right after Christmas, since they rarely have good sales. In the same trip, I got this tee, and the sweatpants below.
  • Sweatpants (Lululemon $65): Not really a need, but you can’t really go wrong with a nice pair of sweatpants that you can actually wear out. The cut is somewhere in between a legging and a sweatpant, although the material is definitely sweatpant.
  • Long-sleeve top (MEC, $20): This tee is amazing! The quality is excellent, way better than my Banana Republic and Everlane tees. The cut is a good basic (slim, not too low-cut, long). I’m definitely going to stock up next time I visit Canada.
  • Linen top (Zara, $25): My mom and sister wanted to go to Zara, so I tagged along. I wasn’t planning to buy anything, and was just absentmindedly touching clothes on the rack, when I felt this linen top. I love linen, and the quality felt reasonable.
  • Black tank (Old Navy, $5): I saw on Sherry from Young House Love (one of my favorite clothing-related posts ever, have re-read multiple times). I like the high-neck cut that is trendy this year, and might pick up more tanks in this cut.
  • Lace tank (A&F, $15): I’ve been looking for a lacey nighty-style cami after seeing the silk version from Cami NYC and the Nordstrom knockoff. Surprisingly, A&F has pretty cute styles! It’s a little low-cut for me though.


  • Earrings (Mejuri, $65): I’ve been liking the styles at Mejuri. The sapphire is a lot smaller than I expected, but I like dainty jewelry, so it’s all good.I also have this pair of hoop earrings.
  • Wristlet (Duluth Trading Company, $35): I really wish I had stocked up on wristlets when they were popular a few years ago. Now it seems like everything is pouches/clutches, without a wrist strap. This was my first time ordering from Duluth, and I really like the solid feeling of the full-grain leather.
  • Leather belt (Duluth Trading Company, $35): Replacing a cheapie old belt from H&M. Solid and serviceable.

Winter 2019 budget: $300 – $560 = -$260

Oops, went quite a bit over! Many of the items were replacements / necessities, though, so I don’t feel too guilty. Thank u, next month (as the young folk say 😉 ).

As a reward for reading to the end of this long shopping post, check out this adorable video about a vet and his cats. Commenters compare him to Bob Ross because of his soothing voice and interactions with the cats. This video came up because I took my cat to the vet recently for the first time, and the vet was so amazing at handling her calmly. I came home and started browsing YouTube to see how it’s done, and ended up watching a whole bunch of cat videos, ending up on this one.

Books Lately

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Although I claimed to be super busy over the past few months, I somehow did find the time to read a bit. My recent preferences have definitely been for autobiographies, so if you have any recommendations, I’m all ears!

Becoming – Michelle Obama

I listened to this as an audiobook (mostly while driving to a work event in Arizona), and it was really great. Just really, really great. For one thing, it’s read aloud by Michelle Obama herself. And secondly, after hearing about her and her family’s devotion to public service (she went from private law to the non-profit/public sector), it really changed my perspective on the importance of public service. I’m ashamed of saying this, but I always had a tough time answering those “what have you done for your community?” type scholarship application questions, and considered them somewhat lame. Even now, on research proposals we write to the National Science Foundation, there’s a page or so where you’re supposed to describe your project’s impact on the community, but most people (myself guiltily included) treat it was a throwaway section and mostly write some boilerplate about doing outreach events with local high schools.

But listening to the way that she described service as a high calling… I think I get it now (at least better than before). Yes, we should drive ourselves to produce the best technical work/ideas that we can, but helping others along the way can have just as much or even more impact on society. I’m very grateful that, even if some people consider it extraneous, my job does give brownie points for community service. I’m not saying that we should do it just for the brownie points, but rather if we go out and do these things (like high school camps, which I’ve done a few of), those things are counted (in a minor way) by the tenure and promotions committee. I don’t know if that’s true in other professions – for example, would a tech company care if an employee was doing STEM outreach, and reward that?

In my mind, that’s one interesting thing about the American education system – for scholarship applications, while grades surely matter, so does service. Yes, it can end up being a throwaway (e.g., “I went to South America for a week and helped build two toilets”, which my younger sister did), but at least it encourages people to start thinking about service. When I see my foreign students, they really don’t have that mentality at all – it’s all grades, grades, grades.

Anyway, that was a bit of a digression from the book itself, but that’s the train of thought where it led me – it was very thought-provoking. The book also talks about her growing up in Chicago, experiences going from there to an elite university, and transition into political life. Highly recommend!

Born a Crime – Trevor Noah

I don’t have nearly as many deep thoughts about this one, but just reading about his upbringing was pretty eye-opening to me. The apartheid conditions when he was born, the conditions under which he grew up, the economic environment, the challenges he overcame… all these serious issues presented, somehow, in a hilarious and lighthearted way. I grew up in basically the opposite environment: first-world country, educated family, opportunities to succeed. Reading about the kinds of conditions that people grew up in (and overcame) is just mind-boggling and inspiring.

(Long Overdue) Clothing Budget: Fall 2018

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Hellooo fall.

Work has been so busy lately that I haven’t had much time to shop, read blogs, or update this clothing budget series. I really just need a breather! I don’t think I’ve had a completely work-free weekend since the summer. The whole semester felt like I was running around frantically, putting out fires everywhere. No relaxing Saturday mornings with a cup of tea and my favorite armchair to work on this ol’ blog. But thankfully things have finally lightened off a bit. Proposals are written, papers are submitted… now just 50 final exams and projects to grade, lol. With the end of the year coming up quick, I figured it was time to summarize my fall 2018 shopping. Here we go!

  • Wrap blouse (Ann Taylor. $30): This is top is amazeballs! It  reminds me of the Fey top from MM Lafleur, but it has a bit of wool in it, so it’s quite warm. I wear it with a Uniqlo Heattech top underneath, and it feels nearly as warm as a proper sweater, despite being thinner by design. The drape is lovely with the bit of wool content. I hope they more colors next year! I’m even considering purchasing the pink color this year, and I never normally buy duplicates. Now that I have this top, I’m considering the MM Lafleur Soho skirt to go with it and complete the bodycon evil witch look 😉
  • Wrap skirt (Ann Taylor, $70): Hm, another wrap design… what can I say, I like wraps! I normally love purple, but somehow this skirt is not integrating into my wardrobe as well as I thought it would. I’ve only worn it once since I got it. The skirt is a bit heavy and a tad too large for me, so it’s not as flattering as I thought.
  • Wool miniskirt (Uniqlo, $30): I like wearing these with my knee-high black suede boots. I was concerned that this would look too schoolgirl for a grown woman, but it’s not too tight, and reasonably long enough to look fine.
Screenshot from 2018-10-17 21-10-55.png
On the chopping block.

Normally that would be the end of my post, but that would be pretty short, so I figured I’d talk about some things that I donated or sold. To do this, I dusted off the ol’ eBay account and listed a few things:

  • Lululemon backpack: I gushed about this in August’s budget, but after using it for a month, I’ve found the lack of interior pockets is a deal-breaker. I still love the comfort of the straps and the overall roominess. But it’s missing some more smaller pockets on the inside to hold keys, chapstick, pens, etc. The interior is also pitch black, so I’m constantly fishing around for things in the one giant compartment.Bought for: $110, one month ago. Sold for: $100. This one had very few watchers/views, but bidding ramped up quick at the end, so I was pleasantly surprised by the final sell price.
  • Madewell transport backpack: I bought this a few years ago after being inspired by Emma Stone’s style (love her street style!). I still really do like this, but it doesn’t fit my current 13″ laptop, which is again a deal-breaker. And I can’t think of that many other occasions where I need to carry a large backpack around. The only other leather laptop backpack I’ve found is the Cuyana Large Backpack, but I’m not that fond of the style. It looks like a copy of the Mansur Gavriel backpack, but with pockets. The search for the perfect laptop backpack continues…Bought for: $200 a few years ago. Sold for: $90. This one had a lot of views/watchers at the beginning, but after an initial burst, bidding was quite slow. I was expecting a slightly high final sell price, but I suppose the age of the bag and a couple of markings counted against it.
  • Lush long-sleeve blouses: I bought two of these blouses on the recommendation of Putting Me Together, one in red, and one in olive. I did like them, but eventually some oil stains got on there, and wouldn’t come off. With more expensive fabrics like silk, I find the stains can be washed off or absorbed into the fabric and aren’t that visible, while with cheaper polyester like these blouses, the stain just sits on top and can’t be removed. Donated.

And that’s a wrap for the year! (I count my “shopping year” as December to November, inclusive.)  The total for the season is:

Fall 2018 budget: $300  – $130 = $170

I did buy stuff around Black Friday but I’ll include that in next month’s post. In total this year, I spent $1350 on shopping for clothes, shoes, and accessories. My past years were about $2000-3000, so I consider this good progress! I’m working a summary post with tons of statistics from my last 5 years of shopping (I’m an Excel-o-holic, ok? 🙂 ).

Life Updates

My Halloween costume this year was a fuzzy leopard print onesie from Forever 21. Comfort is key; gone are the revealing costumes of my past 😛 This onsie is definitely gonna get good use this winter, too!

I’ve never done of these “journal” type posts, but since it’s been a while since I blogged (whoops!), I figured I’d write a bit about what’s been going on lately. Things have been super busy lately (I know, I know more excuses), but the reason is that there’s a big National Science Foundation deadline every fall around now that keeps everyone up at night. I even saw some of the tenured profs in the office this weekend! Sigh, my job is basically constant fundraising to support my research.

So besides work that’s burning up my brain, what else has been up?

Permanent residency interview

Our green card interview is tomorrow, yippee! It’s been a long haul. I was flipping through my old passport and saw my first entry into the US was in 2006, woah! 12 years of my adult life here now. Fingers crossed that all goes well at the interview tomorrow. I never want to wait in a customs line at the airport again.

As a side note relating to permanent residency/citizenship, I realized have never been able to exercise my civic duty to vote – sad, right? The reason is that I moved to the US to go to university when I was 17, before I could vote, and after a few years, I lost the right to vote in my home country because I was no longer a resident there. And of course I couldn’t vote in the US, not being a citizen.

The other day on campus I overheard a conversation between two undergrads about the midterm elections:
– Girl A: “Are you voting?”
– Boy B: “Nah, it doesn’t make a difference anyway, it’s just one vote.”

Come on, guys, that’s sad! If you have the right to vote, use it! Maybe I should’ve said something…

Performance review

Another recent event was my merit/promotions review. In my university, this happens every two years, and the third time (after 6 years) is your tenure review (eep!). This was my second time, so I have 2 more years to tenure. The salary bump associated with each merit is on a fixed, university-wide scale, and is about $5k at my junior level.

The way it works is that you submit a record of everything you have done in the past two years (students advised, papers published, grants awarded, teaching evaluations, etc.). Probably the most important thing is the number and quality of publications. Then the rest of the department faculty sits in a room and they discuss your progress and whether you have done enough.

In my case, the feedback was essentially “you’re doing fine, but step on the gas pedal for tenure”. Which was not exactly what I had been expecting in my own self-evaluation (I thought I was doing a bit better than that). It kind of threw me off for a day, since it’s hard to hear direct feedback, and I’ve been working pretty hard, but unfortunately the results have yet to show up in terms of papers and grants. Oh well, I’d rather have that feedback now rather than in two years’ time. Onward! Harder, better, faster stronger.

Shopping for black flats

On a more fun note, let’s talk shoes. Now, everyone and their suburban mom has the Tory Burch Revas, but I’m happy/sad to report that mine are completely worn out. Sad because, well, they wore out (after 4 years of moderate use). I even took them to the cobbler, and he recommended I replace them rather than attempting a repair. Happy because, well, it’s fun to shop for a replacement!

My requirements are: black, minimal embellishment, leather, almond toe preferred. None of that new-fangled loafer or pointy toed stuff. (I do look pointed toe flats, but not in black – it looks too witchy to me). Here were my top contenders:

  • AGL – These have really good reviews in terms of comfort, but they look kinda grandma to me. I think it’s the shiny buckle that provides too much contrast with the cap toe.
  • Repetto Cendrillon – This seems to be the OG ballet flat. I like the simple look, but the Interwebs reports widespread durability issues.
  • Ferragamo My Joy – The Ferragamo Varas I have are not my favorite in terms of style, but the quality is definitely fantastic. These My Joys are from the same brand and seem a bit more casual. The gathered square toe is kinda interesting.
  • Taryn Rose Rosa – In a moment of craziness, I looked at the Chanel flats, which I actually really like the look of, but no way am I paying $750 for shoes. I’d never heard of the Taryn Rose brand, but they look like a good dupe, and they’re supposed to be comfortable because they’re designed by an orthopedic surgeon (although I’m dubious if that’s really a strong credential – operating on someone seems rather different from manufacturing shoes). I also like the non shiny version.
  • Cole Haan Tali – I have a pair of Cole Haan sandals that are super comfortable, and I’ve had great customer service experiences with Cole Haan stores (they replaced a broken pouch of mine for free). I bet these would be really comfortable, and I think that Xin had a pair she liked. However, I’m not sure sure about the bow, it might be a tad too formal for me. I’m leaning more towards a simpler (boring?) style they carry, the Manhattan.

I might  have to hike over to a real store at some point (gasp!) to try them on in person. The bottom three are probably the top contenders, with the best balance of comfort, price, and preferred style. But there’s no rush. I’ll continue to wear my existing shoes to the ground in the meantime.

Well, that’s it for my update! How do you deal with performance reviews at work? Any black flat suggestions?

Adventures in DIY Haircuts

I’ve been to a range of haircut places in my life, and have found that I prefer old-school Asian places – the worse English skills, the better 🙂 Not because of cost (although they are definitely cheaper), but because they know how to tame my very thick, slightly wavy Asian hair. I remember going to a fancy hair salon near my school once that cost me ~$70, which was a lot for an undergrad student at the time, and the lady basically spent half the time blow-drying my hair instead of cutting it. The best haircut of my life was at the Flying Shears salon in Hong Kong, which seemed ordinary at the time of cut, but grew out beautifully and lasted longer than any other haircut I’d ever had. My standard haircut was from a random place I picked out on Pell St. in NYC, which gave me reliably average cuts, without frills or appointment needed.

After moving to current city a couple of years ago, I was on the search for a new haircut place. There were some disappointments initially: a popular hairdresser on Instagram who turned out to be a one-hit wonder and couldn’t cut other styles; and an Asian place that seemed to have the right ingredients on the surface, but was too disorganized to keep up with appointments. I did find one good place that I would return to, but it was a solid 35-minute drive away. What’s a girl to do?

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#metoo and Power Imbalances in Academia

Hello, Miss. I’m Dr. Monster.

Whew, it’s been a hot minute, what with the quarter starting up, proposals to write, paper reviews to submit, etc… To kick things back off on the blog, let’s start with a very fun and lighthearted topic (not) that’s been on my mind lately: sexual misconduct in academia, particularly in cases where there’s an imbalance of power (e.g., a prof and a student).

The reason that this has been on my mind is that over the past year, there’s been a drama playing out at my former grad school. There was a prof who was put on probation after sexual misconduct claims with his own grad student (inappropriate touching), and later dismissed after discovery of a consensual relationship with another student. This guy was a huge giant in his field. Without him, along with several other recent personnel losses, the department is a shell of itself in that research area.

This incident got me to thinking – how common are these cases? To clarify, I consider a case as consensual or non-consensual interactions between two people of different standing in the same institution (most often a prof and a student). In STEM and academia, these cases generally involve a male prof (age 30-60) interacting with a female grad student (age 30ish)

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