Yesterday, roughly six months after I first printed out the forms and LP and I had made our first fraught and unsuccessful attempt to fill them out, I became a (conditional) permanent resident of the United States.
In two years, if LP and I are still married (which I very much plan on) we file paperwork and my permanent residency becomes unconditional. A year after that I can apply for citizenship. By 2016 I'll be voting.
My Green Card will arrive in the mail within four weeks. I'm now free to work where and when and for whom I please. I can come and go freely and enter the country through the side of customs that Americans get to come in through, which never has any lines.
Once I had applied for enough visas and run into the apparatus of the American immigration system enough, I realised that there's an easy trick to the interviews. You can't be thrown off by an officer's surly demeanour. They're almost all impossibly grumpy. You just speak when spoken to and answer only the question you're asked, nothing more. Whatever you do, don't over-share.
Knowing this, I was still edgy before my interview yesterday. Even my American flag socks, a gift from my friend Melissa, couldn't entirely soothe my nerves. Our attorney had assured us that ours was about the simplest case imaginable and not to worry. But it seemed big. I've never held such a privileged legal standing in another country before.
Maybe it was something about the level of preparation involved. Getting permanent residency through your spouse in America requires providing proof of a legitimate marriage. In the days past, LP and I had archived five years of photos, leases, bank records showing transactions between us, correspondence between us, documentation of our joint health insurance and "family" cellphone plan and other general minutiae. We'd then made copies of all of that, because our attorney told us that our interviewer might get cranky if they had to make copies themselves.
The process was painless.
As much as we had to document, we saw quickly that it would be pretty hard to fake a five-year relationship. There was a lot of evidence of how our lives had folded around each other.
All told, the Green Card interview took 19 minutes. I had to put my hand up in the air and swear an oath to tell the truth. I had to recite the answers from my i-485 form - which, considering I'd already filled it out and hadn't lied about my identity, was no big deal. It is a bit more ludicrous, though, to be asked in person than it is on a form if you've ever been a member of a terrorist organisation. I did accidentally tell the man LP's cellphone number instead of my own when he asked; but that was a source of humour within the meeting, not angst.
Our agent then asked LP questions about where she met me and how and when we were married. We showed him our wedding rings. LP forgot our wedding date and the agent laughed that in his line of work, more commonly the man forgets. He looked over our documents and photos and sometime around when he learned that LP had lived in New Zealand for two years, he seemed to buy that this wasn't a sham.
I had a brief moment, when the meeting was wrapping up, of feeling a bit odd. As I've mentioned before here - and as many of you have been involved in various immigration tangles through foreign partners (or work) could relate to - the realities of living within the immigration system as an alien have been a huge part of my life for a number of years now; the special trips up to Auckland for interviews at the embassy, making sure I have the right documents when I enter the country, checking in at school within the first 10 days of each term to maintain my status, and so on.
As the agent informed me that I was going to be approved on the spot (which our attorney told us doesn't happen too often) and nonchalantly finished up the paperwork, for a moment I wanted him to acknowledge the gravity of the moment. I was being released from the chains. That big red tick he put in the little white box to bestow the privilege of permanent residency on me, it ended a part of my life that had felt at times like a stone in my shoe but in some ways had become defining.
His tick cemented something, also. It was tangible proof of a drift away from my own homeland and family and friends and of how I have come to have a foot planted in another camp.
But, this was a small minute. A sense of context returned. For the immigration agent interviewing us, this moment was easy. He was probably just happy that he had an easy case. He was one officer of 59 who works in the San Francisco immigration office and all of those 59 would have had pretty full dance cards for the day.
I was just another number, floating through the system, wanting into America.
It was a big day for me.
I feel as many readers of this blog would have felt, clearing or approaching this hurdle. What has been your experience?
Did anyone have a quicker interview than 19 minutes?
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