When I started working in late August of 2017, I was not a legal employee. I don’t think the few parents who interacted with me recognised that; I’m not sure they recognised that, for the first couple months of my work, I did not have legal rights to work at the school that had hired me.

Honestly, I couldn’t have worked anywhere in Italy because I didn’t have proper paperwork.

And I wasn’t the only person in this situation working at this school. There were two of us, both Americans, who found ourselves working at a place illegally. We were coerced into this work, as it was not our decision. It was expected that we work, and we would be paid for our work.

But we would be underpaid for our work because we had no legal recourse, as they would deduct for taxes. That left me wondering: “How are they paying taxes on this?”

For me, I was underpaid roughly €2000 for the work that I did. They penalised me for “not working” when I was sent home to complete the visa procedures, even though I was working from the United States to help get the library in place. That was a full-time job on its own.

They never repaid this. One excuse I ran into was that, since they “paid for my flights,” they were deducting this from my pay. This wasn’t something discussed with me, and these flights were not my fault or choice.

But I wasn’t ever surprised about this.

The money was never the main issue for me; it was the situation that I had found myself in. When I uprooted my life in China to move to Italy, nothing about the process was made clear to me.

I expected that the visa procedure would be clear and mostly obvious, as it had been in both Taiwan and China, since I was getting a visa through work.

Generally, the employer (be they a company or a school or whatever) knows the processes because they have people who work with those topics in Human Resources, even if it’s an “outsourced” or “third-party” Human Resources office. I mean, these people are paid to know or figure it out. That’s literally part of their job.

Except, apparently, these people didn’t know anything about visa procedures because it “was the first time they had to work with it.” This was an excuse that I ran into repeatedly, even up to the point that an in-house HR representative was hired (via nepotism).

At one point, the HR company sent me a list of papers I needed. Most of it was normal: my passport, my degrees, my transcripts, and translations. These all made perfect sense. But there was one that didn’t quite make sense: a declaration of valor? Exactly what is that? So I asked.

They responded: You get it at a consulate. We don’t know. Ask them.

So I engaged in a months long process of sending inquiring email after inquiring email to three separate consulates to obtain information that my employer’s Human Resources should’ve had clearly outlined.

In the end, I finally had all the necessary paperwork to start the visa process after roughly five months. I sent back to let the HR office know it was complete and to inquire about whether or not I needed to do anything else. I wanted to make sure, since I was clearly engaging on this on my own, that I would have everything prepared.

There was no answer. Later, I would learn, that Italy basically closes for August. They were on vacation, and all of my inquiries would go ignored until I brought them up with my boss in email and in person (and then she would act incredibly put upon).

I learned, at the beginning of September, that I would be sent home because I needed to leave the EU and Schengen region, since I’d already been inside of it for three months. At this point, I’d been working illegally for about a month; I’d been teaching, setting up the MYP curriculum, and setting up the library.

My assumption, at the time that I’d been told I’d be going home, was that I’d be sent to the United States for at least a week if I needed to visit a consulate. In fact, before the told me anything, I wasn’t even sure if I required a visit to the consulate, thinking that perhaps I’d be sent to the immigration office to obtain the necessary documentation to be considered “legal.”

The first assumption was correct: I was sent back to the United States. However, I was wrong about the length of time: It would take one month for me to get an appointment at the consulate to finally acquire the visa that I needed to then get my permiso de soggiorno.

It would take one month because the Italian consulate in Chicago had a massive jurisdiction and only operated for three hours. Due to my residence, I was unable to visit another consulate in any other jurisdiction.

Not a person had bothered to learn about the process and adequately prepared me for this. They continually told me it was “because they were new to the process of getting visas for Americans,” which always felt like a cop out. Surely someone had to have done it before? Another company, another agency, anyone?

Throughout this period of time no support was given. I was expected to plan lessons for my boss to “teach” for me, only to later find out that she never did them; I learned that she rarely taught my class, handing it off to some available teacher (who’d teach their subject in place of mine because my boss encouraged it, not alerting me to any of these changes until I arrived back at work).

My boss would even use my absence against me when I told her how I “didn’t feel like a part of the team,” claiming that I had “missed the window” to become part of it and doing nothing to make sure I was included somehow (which is another post for another day).

This entire event was my first red flag. They had shown me precisely who they were: liars, cheats, and thieves.

Bonus material:

It was after my colleague and I went through this process that they had very loudly and very frequently proclaimed that they “would never hire Americans” who didn’t already have permission to live and work in Italy because “this was too much work” and “took far too long.” I assume they also made this decision because it required that they put forth any resources to help the employee obtain a visa (but did not reimburse any expenses paid in the process of acquiring necessary paperwork).

I recently found out that they have changed this decision, which I presume is out of desperation for having lost seven very good teachers (almost all of whom comprise one entire section of the school). I also learned that these teachers will be arriving late due to visa issues. How funny.

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