In 2008 at the age of 17 in Hong Kong, Kitti Tong declared to her mother that she was moving to the United States. Her mother was not surprised when she learned Kitti had applied – and was accepted – to United World Colleges, a top rated International Baccalaureate school in Montezuma, NM on an F1 (school) visa. Upon completing her last two years of high school in 2010, she continued her educational pursuit at the University of Virginia, graduating on the Dean’s List with dual degrees in Financial Economics and Public Policy in 2014.
Kitti was quickly recruited by corporate headquarters at Choice Hotels in Rockville, MD, who provided H1-B sponsorship due to her impressive educational resume. Her drive and perseverance is evident in her accomplishments. As a Data Analyst for Revenue Optimization, Kitti led the development and implementation of Choice’s first pricing optimization system that brought significant revenue uplift. This program was rolled out to over 4000 hotels and is used globally every day. Her love of public speaking resulted in founding (and becoming President) of a Toastmasters chapter. Her volunteer work with employee resource groups (co-chair of the Women’s Business Alliance and committee leadership with ENABLE, an advocacy group for associates with different abilities) contributed to her earning the 2017 President’s Award for Exceptional Performance. During her 4 years, she was promoted several times – first to Senior Analyst for Marketing & Distribution Strategy, and then to Upscale Brands Initiatives Manager. In her most recent role, she oversaw the organization of the Ascend Hotel Collection’s Owners Advisory Council and conceptualized and moderated the Annual Owners Conference. It was the highest rated conference to date, and one survey comment stated “that gal is going places”, referring to Kitti, just 27 years old.
On November 12, 2018, three days following the conference, Kitti was struck by a car while in a crosswalk on her way home from work. This accident was life threatening with a severe traumatic brain injury; she lay comatose and required life support machinery. Upon arrival to the emergency room, a portion of her skull was removed to allow her brain to swell.
Her tenacious spirit prevailed. After several weeks, she emerged from the coma and was transferred to inpatient rehabilitation. Exactly five months to the day of the accident, Kitti was discharged on April 12, 2019, having relearned to walk, eat, and brush her teeth - as well as all of the activities of daily life.
Recovery continues. As a result of the brain injury, Kitti has significant cognitive and speech challenges including aphasia and apraxia; she is relearning to speak. In a nutshell, she can “see” the words in her brain but cannot verbalize them. She is relearning to read, as her mind interprets the words as mere squiggles on a page. Her comprehension lacks, confusing even simple directions at times. The words “yes” and “no” are often transposed when she is able to respond. She has made progress that has surpassed the doctor’s expectations. These cognitive challenges are in addition to her endocrine levels that continue to fluctuate post injury, and spasticity on her right side. She has an implanted shunt that monitors for fluid buildup on her brain. She has recently developed grand mal seizures. Her skull flap was replaced prior to discharge.
Kitti was on medical leave until May 13, 2019, but is unable to work. The loss of her H1B status presents significant concerns for her progress and medical care, and a request for change in status was submit for a B2 "medical visa". A B2 visa is valid for 6 months only at a time, and 4 months later, Kitti has not received a response from USCIS. She remains legal in the US…for now.
There is no legal remedy for her to remain in the US long term to receive the care she needs – at a time when cognitively, she needs stability the most. She participates in daily speech and cognitive therapies (self-paid) and has numerous doctor visits (private insurance, no federal benefits!) each week. Kitti is currently under legal guardianship by her primary caregiver, a USA citizen. Her mother in Hong Kong passed away in 2015. Her friends in the US are now family, and her dream is to return to work at Choice Hotels one day.
We are pleading with the US government to introduce a private bill to grant her lawful permanent residency. These extraordinary circumstances are a hardship that no human should endure.