For the past two years KSRM radio listeners have become familiar with hearing the station’s top news stories delivered in a Down Under accent. But this week, the public safety announcements, political updates, developments in fishery issues and other churn of the news cycle are no longer being conveyed in the unmistakable, rhythmic cadence and vowel-heavy pronunciation of news director Catie Quinn, as her tenure at the station came to an abrupt and unexpected end at the end of last y-EAH.
On Dec. 23, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services informed Quinn her application for visa renewal was denied and she must return to Australia. She was ordered to immediately leave the U.S., the country in which she’s been working and paying taxes, and the Kenai community in which she’s been laying roots and building relationships. She’s got a one-way ticket back to Sydney booked for Jan. 27.
“It was a shock when we got the letter,” Quinn said Monday. “It’s five pages of small print, and the only things I could see is, ‘Does not satisfy … may not be appealed,’ these kinds of words. And I think, ‘Whoa, I don’t think this says what I expected this to say.’”
Quinn has been in the U.S. on an E-3 work visa, which is specific to Australians due to a trade agreement with the U.S. It’s similar to the more standard U.S. immigrant work visa, the H-1B, but it only applies to Australians so the waiting period for approval is significantly shorter and E-3 visas aren’t under the same cap as the H-1B program. The E-3 must be renewed every two years and doesn’t lead to a green card, but can be renewed indefinitely. The H-1B must be renewed in three years and is generally the first step in applying for permanent residency. If a green card isn’t issued, the maximum length of stay on an H-1B is typically six years.
Getting her initial E-3 approval to work at KSRM in 2012 was a breeze, Quinn said, done at a U.S. Consulate in Canada. She first came to live in the U.S. after high school in 2006 on a student visa to attend Colorado Christian University.
“I wanted to go somewhere and do something that really matters,” she said.
She took a weeklong trip to Alaska in 2007 and was immediately enthralled.
“I though maybe I’d like to come back and spend some time here,” she said.
Her student visa allowed 12 months of work experience, so she came to the central Kenai Peninsula and worked as an office manager in 2009-2010, while finishing her college studies in communications online.
Quinn’s student visa expired in April 2010, so she returned to her hometown of Tumut, a small town about four hours from Sydney. She started working in marketing, which morphed into a journalism job at the local newspaper. In the summer of 2011 she came back to visit the peninsula with her parents, who had their first taste of Alaska visiting Quinn in 2009.
“I stopped by KSRM, stuck my head in the door and said, ‘Hey, just wondering if you guys would have any jobs available.’ I had kind of gone everywhere — anywhere, anyone that might have anything going — and no one was really willing to even consider going through the immigration process,” Quinn said.