Laws block British corporal’s move to Iowa

varUsername = “jeckhoff@dmreg.com”;document.write(“By JEFF ECKHOFF“);By JEFF ECKHOFF
REGISTER STAFF WRITER

December 18, 2006

British
army Corp. Bob Pattinson was introduced to Iowa by soldiers in a
military camp outside an Iraqi palace. He fell in love, first with the
state’s people, then with the place.

“Friendships like that
don’t come around so often,” Pattinson explained last month. “So when
they do, you hold on to them because, like I tell my kids, true friends
will never leave you.”

But U.S. immigration authorities can –
and will – block an official “honorary Iowan” from legally beginning a
new life among the buddies he made in combat.

This is a story of
cribbage, football and the government red tape that has made it easier
for soldiers on both sides of the Atlantic to understand why immigrants
might chose to live illegally in this country.

“If somebody
truly wanted Bob and his family to be here, they could make it happen,”
said Ray Reynolds, a frustrated Iowan trying to help Pattinson
immigrate. “The way I look at it, if this guy’s good enough to drive
our colonels and generals around in Iraq, then he’s good enough to make
some kind of contribution here.”

The official certificate signed
by Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2005 to make Pattinson an “honorary Iowan” says
the career British military man befriended an Iowa National Guard unit
“with his positive attitude and infectious humor that greatly helped
ease soldiers’ fears and homesickness.”

Pattinson, a northeast
England native assigned to drive dignitaries around during the first
year of the Iraq invasion, discovered common souls the first time he
wandered into a camp of the Iowa National Guard’s 234th Signal
Battalion.

Soon, Pattinson began dropping by regularly to play
cribbage and chat about life back home. He taught the Iowans about
rugby; they schooled him in the importance of Hawkeye football. At
Pattinson’s invitation, the Iowans spent Christmas 2003 caroling at the
home of a British general while car bombs exploded outside.

“He
had this knack for giving us a piece of normal life, to make things
normal in an abnormal world,” said Reynolds. “It’s not so often that
you find somebody and you just click.”

Two years later,
Pattinson brought his wife and children to Iowa for a visit. Julie
Pattinson took her husband aside and quietly asked if they could stay.

“From
the first day, from the first person we met, I’ve loved it,” Bob said.
“I love the way of life. There’s no hustle, no bustle.”

And there’s almost no chance that the Pattinsons will get to embrace Iowa life anytime soon.

The
problem, according to Pattinson, Reynolds and local immigration
experts, is that there are few paths to legal U.S. residency for a
foreign citizen with no relatives in America: Pattinson can invest $1
million in an Iowa company (not an option), enter a lottery for one of
roughly 50,000 visas issued annually nationwide, or find a potential
employer willing to certify that Pattinson is uniquely qualified for a
job no American can fill.

Visas are awarded in October, but the
application deadline is in April. That means a long waiting period for
a 23-year military man with few special skills other than the ability
to teach soccer.

Potential employers would “have to apply in
April, then keep that job open until October,” Pattinson said. “That’s
not going to happen. I don’t need a business degree to know that.”

Even
if Pattinson had a blood relative who was already here, the backlog to
get a visa could force a wait of five or 10 years to enter the country
legally, said immigration attorney Michael Said.

“This gentleman
is not coming over, I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t care how nice he is,
he’s not coming over – not with the current immigration laws.”

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