South African woman gets green card, by chance
October 6, 2011
ASPEN – When Nicola Quinn received the call that she would be able to immigrate to America from South Africa, she thought the female voice on the other line was playing a cruel trick on her.
After all, ever since she had finished high school in 2003, she had been applying for a visa to come to the U.S., hoping to move to New York to pursue her acting dream.
“Got denied every single time,” Quinn said. “It was always based either upon my age, or the fact that I was in school.”
Then in March, the phone call came informing her that she had won through a different U.S. immigration program called the green card lottery. She was aware of the slim chances of winning and knew her selection was a omen for her to seek out New York City.
“I asked (myself) for a sign,” Quinn said. “I needed a sign – a hit-me-on-the-head, obvious-type sign. Five minutes later the phone rang, and I had won the green card lottery.”
Quinn, 25, is working in Aspen as a freelance pilates instructor, volunteering for Aspen Film and “sampling every margarita in town.” The actress will be dancing the tango in the Aspen Community Theatre’s production of “Evita” in November.
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She says acting is her life’s motivation and the reason she felt she had to come to America.
“I wish I didn’t want to be an actress; life would be so much easier,” Quinn said.
Growing up in the coastal town of Durban, South Africa, Quinn left her family, including five sisters, to study acting in Johannesburg. After school, Quinn opened her own pilates and acting business called Fusion Studios.
Working long hours, she said she was concerned that Fusion would sidetrack her aspirations of acting with the responsibilities of owning a business. Quinn, already with a long-term boyfriend, saw her friends marrying and settling down – a domesticated lifestyle she didn’t know if she wanted.
“I knew at one point I wanted to leave to pursue my own goal. I made the decision to think carefully whether I was going to really pursue it and go to America, or if I was going to get married and move into a perfect little suburban house and start looking at running a family.”
With her decision made, Quinn still knew it was a long shot to get to the U.S.
She had little more than a 1 percent of a chance of winning the green card lottery in South Africa. The U.S. will allow about 50,000 lottery winners to immigrate from countries that have low immigration rates. The program excludes Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom, among others countries, because they already have a high number of immigrants coming to the U.S.
Quinn said 100,000 lottery winners are selected from all over the world. However, only the first 50,000 people who interview are eligible.
“You may win and not ever get to go through the process,” Quinn said. “You really get analyzed: They are not letting in any riffraff, that’s for sure.”
If the interview goes well, an applicant will have to go through another series of background checks and a full medical exam, which is what Quinn did.
Quinn said it all happened so fast. She closed her business, packed up, and moved away from her boyfriend and South Africa. The program gives participants six months to be inside the country, and Quinn’s green card allows her to stay for 10 years.
Still adjusting to American life, Quinn is fresh off her first American parking ticket and said she is surprised how obedient Americans are when it comes to the laws.
“There are a lot of rules that I’m amazed people follow. There is signage for everything, everywhere you look there is something telling you how you should behave.”
Quinn’s destination was Aspen because she is living with family friends and plans on staying through the ski season. She hopes to move to New York in the spring, though her friends warn her that she might be lured into Aspen culture and never leave.
Even after being here just three months, she says she is still overwhelmed with how quickly and how much her life has changed in a short time, all because of the luck of the draw.
“I honestly thought someone was going to come up and pull me off the plane and say ‘There’s been a mistake, she can’t go through.'”
She said she is lucky to have landed in Aspen for the time being, and looks forward to working through the season. But she knows that she can’t waste the opportunity, and is determined to act in New York.
But until then, she’s taking it one margarita at a time.