Dennis family prepares for worst, hopes for a miracle | SteamboatToday.com

Dennis family prepares for worst, hopes for a miracle

The Dennis Family included, from left to right, Matthew, Martin, Alison and Mark. There is a good chance that Mark will be separated from his immediate family later this summer if he an't find a way to earn an h1-B Visa or find another path to US citizenship.

Growing up in Steamboat Springs, Mark Dennis seemed to be the portrait of the all-American boy.

"I went to school in Steamboat from the time I was in elementary school until I graduated from high school," Dennis said. "I grew up just like every other kid who was living in Steamboat, and I did all the same things."

He was a ski racer for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club  and in high school, skied for the Sailors and played tennis, as well.

After graduating in 2009, Dennis headed to Boulder, where he spent the next five years at the University of Colorado, earning a degree  in geology. He has spent the past couple of years working in the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma as a geosteerer, a specialized position critical in drilling operations.

But his story really begins 26 years ago, in England, where he was born. His mother, Alison, gave birth only four months before coming to America with her husband, Martin.

In the United States, the couple, in the country on an E2 Visa for investors, found  success on this side of the Atlantic, giving birth to a second son, Matthew, and running a successful business for more than two decades.

"The visa we had never leads to citizenship," Alison Dennis said. "It allowed us to work here and to employ people. We paid taxes, we had to renew our visa every five years and we followed all the rules."

The only problem was that Mark Dennis was not a citizen of the United States, and he lived under a cloud that has followed him most of his life. In middle and high school, he took family vacations to England, but has not been to the country in more than 10 years.

When Matthew Dennis turned 21, he was able to sponsor his parents and his older brother for citizenship, because he was born in the United States.

"When you sponsor your parents, the system works much more quickly," Alison Dennis said,

But things were not so smooth for Mark Dennis, who is still waiting, despite the fact he is also sponsored by his brother. Alison Dennis said her elder son is expected to have to wait 13 years to gain citizenship in the United States if he is sponsored by his brother and between four and six years if he is sponsored by his parents.

"I'm not mad," Mark Dennis said via phone from Oklahoma, where he will continue to work for the next couple of weeks. "I'm just a little frustrated with the system. I've always followed the letter of the law and expected things to work out, but I've learned that you can do everything right, and they still might not work out."

Despite years of trying to gain citizenship in the United States through legal channels, his efforts seem to have reached the end of the road. His job will come to an end July 6, and he has to leave for England at the end of August.

"We have spent thousands and thousands of dollars," Alison Dennis said, "but we are not any closer."

Mark Dennis had been able to stay in the United States when he was a child as a dependent. Then, he was able to extend his stay thanks to a student visa while he attended college.

The past couple of years, he had  hoped to earn an H1-B Visa, which goes to workers with certain specialized skills. But, after applying for that status in April, Mark said has had not heard from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Debbie Cannon, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services, said she could not speak about a specific cases and could not confirm whether Mark Dennis’ situation is unique.

However, she did say that roughly 85,000 H1-B Visas are awarded annually and that there are close to 200,000 applicants. The H1-B Visas have recently been capped, and Cannon said the popularity of those visas has continue to  grow in recent years as immigrants seek new ways to come to the United States and stay here. Growth in technology industries has also fueled the desire for the H1-B Visas. Alison Dennis said she has friends reaching out to state representatives, hoping for a last-minute reprieve.

"This has been really hard," she said. "Just imagine if you fought all your life to get ahead. Imagine if you studied to get through high school and college and got a good job when you got out. Then, imagine if all that was taken away from you, and you were told to  leave. Imagine that you had to sell your car, leave your home, leave your family and friends to a place where you are the outsider, a place where you had to start at the bottom of the job in his field. It's a big step backwards, and that’s the hardest part."

As of now, Mark Dennis will have a few more weeks to work before he has to leave his job, After that, he will have another 90 days to tie up his affairs in the United States before boarding a plane to England.

"I guess I'm one of the lucky ones, because they speak the same language in England," he said.

He is also lucky because the Dennis family still has family and friends in the country. Mark Dennis plans to move in with his grandmother and will start looking for a job or an opportunity to go back to school. It will be difficult, because he has not been living in England, so his tuition rates will be higher, and he will also have to pay more for health care for the first years. England has a nationalized health care system, but it does not apply to people who have not been living in the country.

"That’s one of the hardest things," he said. "I'm going to be leaving behind a lot of good friends and my immediate family."

He will also have to leave behind a good job in the expanding field of oil and gas exploration. He said his job falls into a specialized area, and there will not be a lot of opportunities where he is moving. His hopes are to return to school and possibly look to specialize in environmental geology — a more general field that offers opportunities around the globe.

Mark Dennis hopes the move will be temporary and that his brother's sponsorship will eventually offer him the chance to return to the home he has known for 25 years, eight months.

"Short term, I will go back to England and try to get back on my feet," he said."There is no question that one door is closing, but who knows what doors will open for me while I'm over there? Maybe something will happen, and I will look back on this as a good thing. Who knows what will happen?"

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966