A dream undone
Leaving home at the age of 20, Victoria Vannerom lived 11 years in the US before being deported for working while on a student visa. She tells her story to Aaron Gray-Block.
Deported from the US at the start of March for working while on a student visa, Belgian national Victoria Vannerom is now trying to pick up the pieces of her life in the country of her birth.
Vannerom worked as a nanny to twin boys in Hingham, near Boston
But immigration regulations eventually caught up with Vannerom, 32, and arrested her on 26 January near Boston.
She spent more than five weeks in prison before being deported, arriving back at Zaventem Airport in Brussels on Saturday 4 March.
But how did it come to that?
"I first had a tourist visa, then I had another visa, an extension and the last visa I had was a student visa," Vannerom tells Expatica over the phone.
"I was always legal in the US, that's for sure. The only thing I did that was illegal was working on the student visa, but I did not know at the time that they would throw me in jail."
But why did she stay?
"My boyfriend was there, I liked the mentality of the people there, liked the openness about the people, had my own life and could do whatever I wanted," she says.
"I also had a lot of friends and it became a habit; I'd lived there since I was 20."
Admitting she knew it was illegal to work, Vannerom did not suspect the response from immigration authorities would be so severe.
"I didn't think it would be so bad because I paid taxes. I really didn't know much about US law and couldn't hire a lawyer. I just tried to survive on my own," she says.
She is now very clear on her opinion of US immigration law.
*quote2*"Immigration laws are too strict in the US. I know they have to secure the homeland; they have to be strict about that, but it's not fair," she says
"But it is very hard to have a future in the US if you are not a citizen or married to a US citizen. But it would not have been a right decision to marry just to stay."
Others have been harsher in their criticism, such as Alicia Secor who employed Vannerom in 2004 as a nanny for her twin boys.
"We certainly appreciate the law and Homeland Security, but we think their time might be better spent pursuing terrorists and murderers and rapists," she says.
Secor — who also tried in vain to adopt Vannerom in a bid to let her stay — has also been quoted saying: "It is disgusting and embarrassing for the United States to treat this kind of person in this kind of way".
The Boston Herald has also said in an editorial that Vannerom is a martyr for immigration law reform.
Vannerom, of Halle, had returned in 2001 to Belgium, where she applied for a student visa in the US. It was the last time that she was 'home' until her expulsion some five years later.
While in the US, she studied office management at NHTC Berlin in New Hampshire, graduating in 2005 with a score of 4.0, topping her graduating year.
But it was during her studies that Vannerom ran into problems with immigration authorities.
While doing volunteer human relations and PR work for a hospital in the state of New Hampshire, Vannerom says she met two elderly sisters in their 90s who were living together.
She started taking care of them because they did not have any family around them and hired two nurses to assist her.
One of the sisters later died and Vannerom sacked one of the nurses.
Vannerom says the disgruntled nurse then informed immigration authorities that she was working while on a student visa and her passport was seized in 2002.
After the second sister died in August 2003, Vannerom says she moved to Boston to be closer to her new boyfriend, a US citizen.
In Boston, she started working for Secor and husband Jim McGorry to help pay for her studies.