Stuck like an Egyptian
October 2, 2007 9:13 PM   Subscribe

A dear friend of mine desperately wants to improve his life and follow his dreams. I live in a far freer country so I'm unsure of exactly how best to show him support sometimes. I want to tell him not to give up hope and to work hard towards his goals, that it's the only way they'll happen. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I'm just being an overly optimistic American, though. I want to help him in any way I can, but we take for granted the possibilities we have here. Things are far different in his country than in mine and I know that. So I feel a bit useless as support. Insights, please...

This friend is a very intelligent, upper middle class Egyptian man... very, very westernized with excellent english skills. His one dream has always been to travel the world, so he trained to be a flight attendant years ago but wasn't hired due to poor vision. He has a good job in travel now, but desperately dreams of getting a job in Dubai, Europe, or America and leaving Egypt. He's just too westernized to feel comfortable remaining in Egypt, he wants to acheive more for himself. He want a new life, and he deserves that chance as much as anyone I know.

Problem is, since 9/11 it is apparently nearly impossible for an Egyptian man to be approved for a foreign visa unless wealthy. It's far easier for women -- all of my female Egyptian friends travel and both his mother and sister travel for work regularly without problem. Meanwhile, he takes them to the airport and picks them up but stays in Egypt. It's heartbreaking. He's even bought plane tickets to visit British friends in the past and had to get the tickets refunded when his visa was denied (although they kept his $130 application fee). They basically implied that he didn't have enough money in the bank.

I did try helping him by writing him a new CV (resume) and he tells me he's sending it to people in Dubai and elsewhere, but I'm not sure he knows the best way to go about getting an actual job outside of Egypt since he's never tried before. How should he really go about getting hired by someone? Is it even likely? Am I just going to witness his dreams shatter forever as time passes? Is he truly destined to be trapped in his homeland & never leave?

It's really hard for me to believe that... we Americans just aren't used to accepting that something is impossible.

Honestly, he's such a good person with so much potential and such a solid head on his shoulders... but he sees his future as hopeless in his home country. I can't argue with him, either. There just isn't much opportunity for success there. He has so much to offer the world... he's an incredibly smart guy and a very hard worker. He deserves to be able to pursue his dreams and to earn a better life for himself. So I want to tell him to never give up, but what should I really be saying? Is there any good advice that would work? Any good, realistic gameplan for someone in his place? Do you know of anyone who's been in a similar situation and successfully left Egypt (or a similarly repressed country) as an adult? Have you?

And if there IS no chance of this actually working out for him, should I just continue my silly pep talks? I do a lot of listening, but I don't want to give him false hope. I just want to be the best and most supportive friend I can possibly be.

And no, I'm not marrying him. No fiancé visas are in my future. No no no no no.
posted by miss lynnster to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I'm not sure if "travel & transportation" was the right category for this now that I think about it. Would it be "society & culture" I guess?
posted by miss lynnster at 9:24 PM on October 2, 2007

As someone in a similar visa/passport situation, I feel for your friend.

If he can get hired by an overseas company, the company can then sponsor him for a visa. Of course, the question now is to find which companies would hire him.

Does his travel company have branches elsewhere? Do the both of you have contacts that could help? Never underestimate the power of networking.

Of course, the main obstacle is that the company would have to prove that he's a better hire than any Australian, so choose well.

What sort of things is he interested in?
posted by divabat at 9:30 PM on October 2, 2007

Can he write? Maybe he can work for the AP or Reuters?
He can teach Egyptian to the language teams at the CIA or MI-5?
Can he get into an overseas school and get in on a student visa?
Is he a talented chef that can work at an embassy?
posted by spec80 at 9:40 PM on October 2, 2007

Response by poster: His company has branches in England, but he's recently switched jobs and definitely doesn't have enough seniority there to be considered for a transfer. He's currently coordinating a lot of corporate events, assembling travel itineraries and tours for groups and cruises and whatnot, and doing customer service too. He's also been hired to escort visiting VIPs and dignitaries through the country.

He's too proud to openly ask people to help him leave Egypt though... so that makes it hard too.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:41 PM on October 2, 2007

Response by poster: His favorite meal is Kentucky Fried Chicken. He's definitely no chef.
His spoken english is wonderful but his written skills aren't quite strong enough for a paid english writer.
He's in his mid-30s so he's too old to be accepted as a student.
I'm pretty sure he wouldn't like the idea of working for the CIA -- any more than I would.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:46 PM on October 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the ideas though! :)
posted by miss lynnster at 9:47 PM on October 2, 2007

Perhaps he could try Canada. We're always getting bashed for letting terrorists in, so it might be easier for someone from Egypt. (I don't mean at all that your friend is a terrorist. I just mean that we apparently do not follow US Immigration in our procedures for granting visas.) Perhaps your friend could work, study or immigrate. See Immigration Canada. He could certainly come to Canada as a student. I teach MBA prep courses and often have students who are in their 30s and from Northern Africa and nearby regions. They are accepted at universities here, just as anyone else would be. In fact, if your friend chose an MBA program (or another masters) with a co-op program, he could even work during the program. Co-op is considered academic study, so a work permit isn't needed for those terms.
posted by acoutu at 9:53 PM on October 2, 2007

He's too proud to openly ask people to help him leave Egypt though... so that makes it hard too.

Well, he's got to buck up and do it. Just ask his friends if they know of any overseas companies hiring. Ask it as a favour. They'll help him somehow.

He's in his mid-30s so he's too old to be accepted as a student.

You're never too old to be accepted as a student in university, even overseas. It's easier for Masters/PHD programs, but I've known of people who do it for Bachelors - my sister just started a BA a few days ago and she's 33.
posted by divabat at 9:57 PM on October 2, 2007

Also, does it have to be a Western country? He could go to Malaysia, which is very Muslim-country-friendly (being one) and is very near other countries so he could travel.
posted by divabat at 9:58 PM on October 2, 2007

What about getting hired as a translator? (maybe even working for his own government and getting sent overseas to work in an embassy)
posted by amyms at 10:41 PM on October 2, 2007

The basic "con" for your friend would seem to be that he doesn't have any real desirable skills that would make getting a job in America (or, indeed, most Western nations) very easy. I'd rate experience in the travel industry as being very very far down the list of skills Western companies are seeking. The fact is also that there would still likely be visa problems even with sponsorship (I speak from somewhat relevant personal experience.)

School's not a bad option, though he really would have to have money in the bank.

But all that aside, the obvious choice would be to work as an Arabic/English interpreter or translator. Factions of the military and many private contractors are *desperate* for people whose English skills are at the level of your friend and have Arabic fluency. I can relate to not wanting to work for the CIA per se, but to be fair, plenty of good people do it, and most jobs are benign. This obvious opportunity is there, and to paraphrase Divabat, if he really wants out, he's got to buck up and do something. Life's not going to get any shorter!

I worked about a million angles to get out of my home country - putting my life at peril many times in many ways. I've got friends who were pickier and not willing to risk much - and most of them are still back home, waiting for some fortuitous "chance" that will likely never happen. Your friend sounds great, but *everyone* deserves a chance to pursue dreams and make a better life for themselves - hundreds of millions of them are smart and hardworking too. So wanting to leave, on a mathematical basis, is almost never going to be enough. With what you say about his English and organizational skills, I don't know why he hasn't signed on to do some translating or interpreting work with any of the billions of governmental and private organizations who are desperate for people with this skill set. A simple Google search turns up plenty, and if he can pass a background check, it would be a very simple (and high paying) way into the USA.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:47 PM on October 2, 2007

He's currently coordinating a lot of corporate events, assembling travel itineraries and tours for groups and cruises and whatnot, and doing customer service too. He's also been hired to escort visiting VIPs and dignitaries through the country.

That's a fantastic background for private sector diplomacy and translation. If it won't get him fired for it--and it probably won't--he should print up business cards and give them out to the people he meets through these tours etc, and let them know he's available for private contracts, and if they want to recommend him to business contacts back home who deal with Egyptians and other Arabic speakers, please do.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:11 PM on October 2, 2007

Just a quick thought or two:

Has he looked into the vast array of UN jobs? (google "UN jobs" and you'll find listings for both the UN and affiliated agencies). I imagine they'd love to find someone who speaks fluent Arabic and English and who would make a competent admin. I'm in the middle of a search myself and was just on the site yesterday, so I have it on the brain.

If this is a long-term project, it's time for him to start focusing on bringing his written English up to the level of his spoken English, since you mentioned that this seems to be a gap in his skill set that's preventing him from being a viable candidate for many jobs abroad. This is something you can definitnely help him with- propose a regular email exchange, not to trade personal updates but to complete mini-writing assignments. You can offer feedback on and corrections to prose style, grammar, etc.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:35 AM on October 3, 2007

Because of his Arabic & English skills, the UAE (& also perhaps Qatar & Kuwait) would be an obvious choice. There are online recruitement agencies he could list himself on. Bayt is the only one I remember off the top of my head.

How much chance he'll have with them from Egypt I don't know, I suspect very little realistically. Obviously he'd have much more chance if he could actually go to his chosen country for a month or so & be available for interview locally. So he's back to needing a Visa to somewhere.

As Dee Xtrovert mentioned above: many millions of people in 2nd/3rd world countries want to work/live in 1st world countries - many with equal or better skills too. So if he's too proud to ask friends & family now for help, I think he'll have to drop that & pull in any favours he can to help him.

An idea off the top of my head: miss lynnster you might be able to help him get a tourist visa to the USA. A letter of invitation to stay with you for a holiday may help sway the USA embassy in Egypt & once he's in the USA he'll be able to job hunt.
posted by selton at 3:01 AM on October 3, 2007

Maybe it'll help to put things in context. He's a boundary spanner. People like that are extremely hard to come by. The ones who can capitalize on that do very well in life.

Another route, going back to the original problem, lasik surgery might help him become a flight attendant, but I really think he needs to delve into the above first and see where that takes him. It's easy to tell a person who has passion for what they are doing, vs. one just doing it as an excuse to some other goal. Find the passion and the goal will come as part of it.
posted by jwells at 5:34 AM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My understanding is that in Egypt you can't be hired as a flight attendant if you are color blind for some reason. That was his vision problem, unfortunately.

I've never heard the term "boundary spanner" so I'm going to have to look into this. These are great answers, I really appreciate them and please keep them coming. I am just struggling with picturing him gradually losing his passion for life over time due to his circumstances. It breaks my heart.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:39 AM on October 3, 2007

I worked about a million angles to get out of my home country

I think this is pretty key. My husband did the same thing to emigrate from Bangladesh, as did his siblings. I know there are application fees, but why not make this a priority and try everything - apply to college in wherever, apply for Canadian permanent residence, apply for a transfer to the English office of his employer, ask his employers if they have contacts abroad, contact family abroad to see if they can sponsor him, call in favours from friends, investigate Malaysia and try the UN and all the other suggestions above .... and so on. And see where the chips have fallen six months from now. Because whatever route he wants to go, there are lead times to any immigration/visa process, so getting some paperwork out there right now is kinda important.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:40 AM on October 3, 2007

I also have a friend in Egypt who is desperate to get out. When I spoke to someone I know who was in a similar situation (was in the Egyptian Air Force, has advanced degrees, now works as a computer specialist), his advice was to try to get a company to sponsor him for an extended work visa. I have a little more detail, but don't have access to it right now. Feel free to contact me for info (email in profile).
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:08 AM on October 3, 2007

Two words, student visa. Your friend is under a mistaken impression that a student visa is hard to attain, particularly when he has a great friend right there in the US of A who is willing to help him out with finances, or at least state so on an affidavit of support and put him up while he works on a degree in the travel industry at a school near you. Afterwards he will get OPT for a year at a company in the US and then he'll get an H1-b, then he'll get sponsored for employment based permanent residence as the usual pool of available Indians heads to greener pastures back home in India rather than shifting to LPR status as in the past. Next thing you know he'll be just another Republican screaming to build a giant fence to keep the immigrants from taking our jobs and women.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:38 PM on November 26, 2007

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