Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Not Easy Getting Green - Part 1

The time has come to tell of the drama of becoming legal in the USA.  It all started when I came here as a missionary.  I got a visa which allowed me to work with a specified organisation, doing a specified job but did not allow me to live permanently or work any other paid employment.  I was allowed to stay for up to 5 years.  No problem, I thought, probably wouldn’t want to stay that long anyway.

Then James entered on the scene and all that changed.  When we got engaged I called the immigration people and asked if we needed to get married inside the US or if it would be ok to get married back in New Zealand as we had planned.  They assured me that it was ok to travel back once we were married in New Zealand.  As it turned out, this was not precisely true.  

A week after becoming man and wife, toting a wedding dress and suffering from jet lag we disembarked our flight from Auckland to LA.  The customs official looked at my passport, no doubt took in the newlywed glow we had about us (or perhaps that was sweat from not bathing and being in confined quarters with a few hundred others for 12 hours) and dared to suggest that it was not entirely legal for me to now enter the country on my still valid visa.  Apparently since I had now married a US citizen it was likely that I intended to live with him somewhat permanently and this violated the terms of my visa, namely the “non permanent resident” status.  Oops.  We assured the nice man that we would instantly remedy the situation by submitting the required immigration paperwork to make me a legal resident on the way to becoming a citizen.  He looked at our pathetic faces again and let us through.  Not before taking my fingerprints and scanning my bloodshot eyeball though.

We immediately forgot about our promises of paperwork submission.  This was partly due to the exorbitant cost of submitting said paperwork and partly because we had decided to move back to New Zealand and started working on the paperwork to get James legal there (a much simpler task as it turns out).

So fast forward several years and now we are sitting back in the US having arrived under tourist visas that only allow 90 days to do your touristy thing.

James and Emily were ok, they had been born here and couldn’t be kicked out.  Kaitlyn’s status was dubious but since she is the child of a US citizen and they seem to dislike the “non US citizen” parent taking off with the children we figured she’d be safe.  I, on the other hand, was not safe.  We needed paperwork.

We located the required paperwork and I just about passed out when I saw how many forms were required.  They all came with a price tag and they all had to be filled out perfectly, no mistakes and signed in all the right places otherwise they would be returned and you’d have to start again.  And pay again too.

I have to say I was a little intimidated.  I forged ahead with all the writing out in triplicate.  I made sure I was suitably caffeinated for the job (even though I was pregnant) but I couldn't take the headache medicine that I needed after the first couple of pages. I tried to remember such obscure things as where my parents had lost their first baby teeth and what colour eyes my sister's husband has.  I ended up with a stack of paperwork over an inch thick, complete with photos and certified copies of official documents.  We sent it in (with the fees) and sat back waiting for the next step.  We weren’t quite sure what the next step was but figured they’d let us know when we got there.

They sure did.  They sent a summons to a biometrics appointment.  Unfortunately the date was also within a few days of when I was due to give birth to Abigail.  The instructions stated that if you couldn’t make the appointment then you would miss out and have to resubmit all the documents again (and their fees).  There was a little note at the bottom saying that if your circumstances really prohibited you from coming (like if someone had died) then you could call and reschedule.  I called the number and I really did think I had an automated telephone system.  It turns out I was talking to a real person reading from a script.  I told him that I would need to reschedule the appointment since I wasn’t sure if their office was equipped to handle the delivery of a baby.  Without any change in tone he informed me that I would need to submit my request in writing and that a new date would be sent out in the mail if my reasons were accepted as beyond my control and serious enough to warrant to new appointment time.  I wanted to ask him if he was a robot man but as yet I wasn’t completely legal and I didn’t want to set back my submission by insulting a government employee.

The new appointment date and time came and it said on the sheet that I could bring a support person with me.  I took my mother in law and all three kids since I didn’t have anywhere else to put them (the kids not my mother in law, she was my support person).  The sheet said to get there on the dot of 12 noon.  It even said that you should try not to be early and that if you were late you would forfeit your appointment.  

We arrived on the dot of 12 noon after a 2.5 hour drive (mostly due to me saying the wrong town to my mother in law and her GPS taking us to the place I had said - I mean who knew there was actually a New Hartford, East Hartford and an actual Hartford).

We trooped into the office and had to go through security.  I had to fill out yet another form in which they wanted to know how much I weighed.  I didn’t complete this box and got an earful from the lady behind the counter because apparently the US govt has every right to know how much you weigh at any given moment.  I made up a number which seemed to satisfy her and then she stated that my children would have to be like statues or I would be thrown out.  I kind of did a double take and asked her to clarify this statement.  She explained that if my children so much as spoke louder than a whisper or moved from their seats even once we would be expelled.  Then she pointed at the 6 week old baby and said “that one included”.  I could not believe my ears.  They were actually saying that a 6 week old baby who cried was going to cause me to be expelled from the office and then she topped it off by saying that I would not get another appointment and therefore would be ineligible to go any further with my immigration request.

We sat down, slightly stunned and waited for my number to come up.  At that point the lady swooped in on me and almost yelled that I could not sit with my family, I had to sit in the specially designated area set aside for applicants only.  We obediently separated and I continued to wait.  My number was skipped over and they started calling people who had come in long after we had.  Then one of the biometrics people went on their lunch break leaving just one person to take care of all the people waiting.  We sat and sat and sat some more.  Finally when there were no more people to put ahead of me the lady sighed and called out my number.  She completed the test which involved digital scans of my fingerprints and a photograph of my head.   Then she smiled a great big smile and told me to have a wonderful day while handing me a small card.  I was slightly stunned at her friendliness when she had spent the whole time up till that point scowling at me, yelling at me and generally being unhappy with me.  I looked down at the card she had handed me and saw that it was the customer comment card.  I smiled back and went to where my family sat.  I took out a pen, checked the card for any distinguishing features, determined that it was not marked and filled in the little pink form with the lowest possible marks I could give along with a scathing summary of my treatment at the office.

My kids had been little angels during this wait and even the baby had been quiet. I was quite proud of them at that point and wanted to poke my tongue out at that horrible lady as I pushed the stroller out the door.
A little while later I got a card in the mail which was my official employment card.  I could now get a job legally if I wanted.  We figured this meant that it was just a matter of time before I got my green card.  We had a couple more hurdles to jump though.  These were the medical examination and the dreaded interview with the immigration officer.

I had put off doing the medical exam because I figured that they would want x-rays of my chest to make sure I didn’t have tuberculosis and since I was pregnant I knew they couldn’t do the x-rays.  I was cutting the time limit a bit fine but I got an appointment for the special immigration doctor and went along.  It turns out he was a cardiologist in real life but he did immigration checks on the side (for a hefty cash fee).  I went in thinking it was going to be a long, drawn out examination but it turned out the nurse did most of the work.  She checked off all the forms.  I apologised for not knowing the exact dates of my childhood vaccinations and she said ‘oh, its no big deal, we just put down that you can’t have them because of your age’.   She seemed most interested in whether or not I had syphilis.  This was not the first time that question had occurred.  I had been tested for it during my pregnancy with Emily and again with Abigail.  Apparently the US government is far more anxious about a syphilis outbreak than the New Zealand government.

I assured her that I had never had, nor did I currently have syphilis.  She hummed and hahhed and then said “well, I’ll just draw some blood anyway and send it away”.  She did this and then I waited for the doctor.  He came in, read the form and noted all the tick marks, grunted then said “did the nurse take a test for syphilis?”  “yes she did”.  The only thing he actually did was administer a tetanus shot just in case I hadn’t had one recently.

We couldn't take the forms away with us because they had to wait for the results of the syphilis test.  She said we would have to come back and pick them up in a few days.  

We came back a few days later only to find that the office was all closed up with a sign on the door stating that the doctor was on holiday for the whole week.  Only problem with this was that the medical forms were due back at the immigration office that Friday and it quite clearly stated that if you sent them late they would be rejected thereby voiding all your other forms and requiring you to resubmit everything all over again (including the fees).  

I couldn't believe it.  I called the immigration department and talked to the robot man again.  He read from his script that there was nothing he could do, we would need to submit those forms or else forfeit the whole thing.  I explained the situation and his reply didn’t change, it was word for word the same.  I asked him what I was supposed to do, should I break into the doctors office, find the paperwork and send it in?  He actually said “well, if you think that would ensure that it got in on time then you have to do what you have to do.”  I couldn’t believe it, these people actually thought my ridiculous suggestion of breaking and entering was a reasonable solution to this problem.

I decided on the less illegal option of writing a letter explaining the situation and paying an exorbitant amount of money to overnight the package of doctors notes on the Monday morning thereby making it only one day late.  I did this and apparently it worked because we got an appointment for the face to face immigration officer interview a few weeks later.

1 comment:

  1. You should have just immigrated illegally - you could have been working, holding a driver's license, and not paying taxes in no time! (tongue in cheek, of course) :) - Amanda