Building a Home
Ryan Clark loves flair bartending. He has 13 years of experience and 11 flair competition wins to his name. He also adores and respects classic cocktails and the study of mixology; he’s been incredibly successful at that as well, narrowly coming in second in Vegas Seven’s 2016 Best Bartender Competition. Living in Las Vegas and working at Vince Neil’s Tatuado (formerly Rock ’n’ Rita’s) inside Circus Circus allows him to pursue both passions. A Canadian citizen, Clark had little trouble getting work visas in the flair heyday. But since the recession, and with the rise of mixology, sponsorship dollars have dwindled. Clark’s journey to enter, work legally and now remain permanently in the U.S. has been an all-consuming fight for himself, his wife, Nova, and their son, Galen, now 18, to maintain the life they’ve built in Las Vegas.
Clark estimates he has spent $8,000 with his current Los Angeles law firm, $3,000 for the initial firm in Canada in 2013, another $1,000 or so in filing fees and, soon, another $2,000 for his green card application. “These numbers aren’t so bad, but keep in mind,” Clark says, “while here on the visa, I am the only one able to work, and only where I am currently listed on my visa. I have had four or five other places that want to hire me, but those companies won’t sponsor a visa. Nova and Galen are under [my visa], so they only have the right to go to school, but no right to work. This will change with the permanent residency.
“It’s about creating a better opportunity for myself, Nova and Galen. Having the freedom to live in the U.S. just opens endless doors for all of us and creates so many different futures.”
A Timeline of the Clark Family’s American Journey
December: Clark receives a job offer from Rock ’n’ Rita’s inside Circus Circus.
January: Attorney hired to start an O-1 visa petition (“Person of Extraordinary Ability”).
March: Petition filed.
June: USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a component of the United States Department of Homeland Security] requests more information.
October: Visa approved; Clark drives 22 hours to Las Vegas to begin work, leaving his family in Canada. For the first six months, Clark and Nova take turns traveling back and forth each month.
February: The Clark family drives a 26-foot U-Haul (Clark: “That almost breaks down!”) in a two-day move to Las Vegas.
March: Clark joins the Las Vegas chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, enters its Shake It Up Competition and starts getting involved in the local bartending community.
July: Clark wins his first mixology competition, as well as a trip to Puerto Rico, in the Don Q Piña Colada Challenge.
August: His three-year visa renewal approaching—and having made Las Vegas his home—Clark hires another lawyer to get started on his EB-1 Permanent Resident (a.k.a. green card) application.
April: Renewal filed, but late; Clark misses weeks of work while waiting on approval.
May: Three-year visa renewal approved; the green card application process begins with the gathering of reference letters and documentation. “It’s difficult to ask for people’s time—some a second and third time.” Clark says. “I just hate to ask things of people, but this is just what needs to be done.”
June: Attorney leaves the firm; a temp fills in while Clark awaits references.
August: New attorney leaves the firm as well; more waiting.
October: The second new attorney gets up to speed just before the holidays interrupt the process. “Part of my circumstance is that what I do as a flair bartender is not ‘normal’ and falls under the entertainment category for visas. So each time I get a new lawyer, I need to have a lengthy discussion of my specific case, how to approach it and how they can help.”
January: Start over again. “Once filed, it should take about six months with current wait times to get an initial answer. Sometimes you can get approved initially, or we may get a request for more evidence,” Clark says. “There are also no guarantees; each case is on an individual basis, and it really can depend on the adjudicator you happen to get.”