Hometown kid returns to Steamboat for 1st time after being forced to leave the U.S.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Mark Dennis was a typical Steamboat Springs kid.
He spent his childhood skiing on the slopes of Mount Werner and Howelsen Hill. He attended classes here and graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 2009.
Dennis still calls Steamboat Springs home, but after being asked to leave the United States in August by the federal government, coming “home” has gotten a little more complicated. It requires lots of planning, making sure his passport is in order and a nine-hour plane ride to Colorado from where he now lives north of London.
“Other than being so far away from friends and family, I think the hardest thing is not being able to live the Steamboat lifestyle,” Dennis said while visiting Steamboat last week. “A huge part of me growing up involved being outdoors here in Steamboat — ski all winter, bike all summer. I don’t really have the same access to that over there in the U.K.”
Dennis, now 26, moved to Steamboat with his parents Alison and Martin Dennis when he was four months old. His parents held an E2 treaty investor visa and have owned the Carpets Plus store in Steamboat since 1997. Mark’s younger brother Matthew was born in the U.S. and is a U.S. citizen. He was able to sponsor his parents a few years ago, and they are also permeant residents.
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“We have taken it in stride because of how positive he is about it,” said Alison Dennis about her son’s situation. “As a mom, you always want your kids close, but he has settled in with my mother, and she absolutely adores him.”
As a child and teen, Mark Dennis was able to be in the U.S. legally under his parents’ visas. During college, he secured student visas, which he was able to extend for a few years after landing a job as part of a program that allowed immigrants to come to the country for training purposes.
For 26 years, Dennis was concerned about being able to stay in the U.S., but last summer — when his visas finally ran out — he was unable to get an H-1B visa and his situation abruptly changed.
“It was always sort of a thought in the back of my mind that eventually I might have to leave, but I never really thought that it would actually happen,” Dennis said. “I don’t think that I’m angry, just frustrated. We looked at every option, every legal option, to stay in the country. My parents have had immigration attorneys for their business visas and had the attorneys look into every possible option, but it was not really possible to keep me here.”
So at the end of August, Dennis packed his bags, left the oil and gas industry job he had held for three years and moved to a country where he had visited but never lived.
“I was lucky enough that during the three years there was a company that bought out the American company that I was working for, and they are headquartered in London and Paris,” Dennis said. “When they got wind that I was heading over there, and of course I have a British passport, they were more than happy to find a spot for me. I was lucky enough to have work immediately after I got there.”
Dennis graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in geology and had worked for a company out of Oklahoma as a geosteerer — a specialized position critical in drilling operations.
Since moving to London, Dennis said his life has been a whirlwind. His company sent him to Gabon in West Africa for four weeks and then to Paris for three weeks. He is currently living with extended family, because he has not had time to get his life in order. He admits the move was expensive, and he’s working on establishing his credit in England.
“I’ve got to start from zero again, so buying (a home) is not really in the cards at the moment,” Dennis said. “They have no credit history for me, almost no records of any kind because I have not been in the country for 26 years.”
Setting up bank accounts, getting a driver’s license and even getting a phone have been difficult.
“He has had a lot of issues getting set up in England,” Alison Dennis said.
Mark Dennis said his move to England has been tough because he is really close to his family and friends in the U.S. and his visits back will be limited to once or twice a year. But he said he remains optimistic about his chances of eventually gaining U.S. citizenship.
“I think that is the goal eventually,” Dennis said. “But the stuff that is in the spotlight now for immigration, DACA for example, is not really going to make any difference in my case. It just doesn’t apply for me, so I don’t think that anything will change.”
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