Lost Hyphen

Now that my green card has arrived, there are certain things I can progress.  Among the most urgent is obtaining a US driver’s licence.  The combination of my UK licence and an international licence permits me to drive in the US for up to a year from my arrival as a legal permanent resident.  Theoretically, therefore, I have ample time to obtain my licence.  However, even getting to the point of a test takes several steps and I also need to allow some time for possible fails and retakes.  I passed my UK driving test first time after just ten lessons but that was in the days before driving theory tests.  I’m not so confident this time around, especially since my brain is addled with knowledge of another country’s rules and regulations.

The first stage in this particular process is obtaining a learner’s permit and in order to get my mitts on one of those there are several things I need to do.  One of those was undergoing a medical, which I did a couple of weeks ago; the other thing I have to do is present a whole series of documents that prove my identity and status.  The green card was one such piece of documentation but I also need proofs of address.  Since my husband moved out to the US in advance of the rest of us, obviously everything is in his name.  I am only named on the lease.  So this morning we decided to get my name added to the electricity bill, since a utility bill is a recognised proof of address for the purpose of obtaining a learner’s permit.

My husband spoke on the phone first and explained that he wanted my name added to the account and that he was authorising such a change.  The phone then had to be handed to me, which is reasonable enough.  I provided my information.  It was all going swimmingly and smoothly.  Then I had to give my social security number.  I have only had an SSN for a few weeks and do not have a memory for numbers so I had not committed it to memory but I found it within a matter of minutes so we could proceed.  I was then asked to clarify how my name was recorded on the SSN.  We have a double-barreled surname.  We use a hyphen; my surname on the SSN card was hyphenless.  Instead of a hyphen there was a space.  This was not good enough verification apparently.  Our surname is unusual.  In fact it is so rare that only the six members of the Pict family have this surname.  But the fact that the hyphen was missing from my SSN registration meant the electricity company wanted additional evidence of my identity.  Labyrinthine bureaucracy again.

I was asked for the details of my driver’s licence.  I tried not to utter an irked guffaw down the phone as I patiently explained that I had only been in the US for two and a half months and had not yet obtained a US driver’s license.  So now, in order to be added to the bill, I have to present two forms of photo identification at their offices in Philadelphia.  Thankfully they will accept my UK driver’s licence as one of these, the other being my passport.  Jumping through stupid hoops again.  What was the point in my husband authorising my name being added to the bill if his authority meant nothing in the absence of a hyphen?  And why did the Social Security Department take it upon themselves to drop the hyphen from our surname?  My husband’s SSN has the surname with the hyphen so it’s not that the printing machine cannot produce them.  Someone has apparently taken it upon themselves to abduct the hyphen for no particular reason.  Just a whim.  And it doesn’t bother me at all on a personal level except that now I am going to have this mismatch between how my surname appears on everything else and how it appears on the ruddy SSN and the Green Card.  Of course there is also the serpent eating its own tail hassle of always being asked for the driver’s licence as my photo ID every single time I try to progress a step further in my quest to obtain said US driving licence.

Company checklists don’t allow for exceptions, divergence from the norm or apparently lost hyphens.  That’s today’s vent.

Green Cards

You don’t have to have had any involvement with US immigration to know that possession of a green card is your portal to legal residency in America.  Even if you have not picked it up from proper general knowledge then the hideous movie with Gerard Depardieu will  have taught you that.  As we took the Direct Consular Filing route through immigration, we applied for the Green Cards and Social Security Numbers in one fell swoop and were given a three month outside estimate for their arrival.  Until then my life has been in stasis as there are various things I have been unable to progress without both documents.

So my green card finally arrived in today’s mail.  That should be cause for celebration.  Unfortunately the positive of receiving my green card was undermined by the fact it was accompanied by green cards for three of my sons.  Three.  Not four.

As happened with the SSN, my 10 year old has been missed out.

It is now becoming apparent that our oldest son’s immigration paperwork has been lost in the mix somewhere as it is too much of a coincidence that he has been missed out twice.  When my husband went to the Social Security Office in Philadelphia (because we have no closer office and every time I phoned I was put through endless push button menus just to be unceremoniously hung up on each and every time) they had no record of our 10 year old having been processed for an SSN.  Thankfully he had gone with all the relevant immigration paperwork and supporting documentation so they agreed to process and issue an SSN for him.  Just an annoying glitch, we thought.  A one-off anomaly.  But, no, it is now evident that that was just part of a larger glitch.  Despite the intensive bureaucracy of USCIS, somewhere along the line our oldest son’s immigration packet has been misplaced, misfiled or just plain lost.

So now I am going to get to spend a day speaking to numerous USCIS personnel until I get put through to one who can actually assist me and see if we can get to the bottom of why he has been missed out.

But not today.

I am too stressed out for other reasons do deal with that whole shebang calmly today.

And once we get all of this green card mess sorted out, we will be able to apply for US passports for each of our four sons.  I can’t wait to see what glitches we encounter then.

Paypal makes me a non-person once more

Today I embarked on removing myself from various now irrelevant mailing lists, electronic and postal, and updating my details with websites I intend to continue to use.  Two of these were Ebay and Paypal.  Ebay was a breeze.  I changed my address from the UK to the US and they automatically switched all of my details to Ebay.com so I have been able to transfer my buying and selling ratings across the Atlantic.  However, given that I had changed my details with Ebay, I was then prompted to change my details with Paypal.  That’s when the hijinks started.

Paypal is doing its level best to remind me that I am a non-person.  Unlike with Ebay, I cannot simply transfer my account across the Atlantic.  It’s financial and the movement of money across borders is strictly controlled so it is logical and I accepted that.  A lot of searching the help section enabled me to uncover the jiggery-pokery required to do what I needed to do: I had to close my UK account and then open a new US account.  Simple.  Except I have a not insubstantial balance on my UK Paypal account since I was paid for various personal possessions we sold in the UK using Paypal.  If I closed my account prior to opening the US one then all that virtual money would disappear.  I, therefore, contacted Paypal to learn specifically what someone in my circumstances should do.  They permitted me to briefly have two accounts in my name so long as they were linked to different email addresses so that I could transfer the balance.  So I changed the email address of the UK account and registered a new US account.  Which is when the whole plan ran aground.

As per my blog entry of a few days ago, I have no independent access to our joint finances courtesy of my present status as an SSNless immigrant.  Yes, I do repeat myself when I’m in soap box rant mode.  So, of course, Paypal required me to enter a linked credit or debit card to the account.  I have neither.  Actually I do have a debit card for my joint bank account but I have not been able to register it because I do not, as yet, have an SSN.  So I could not link a debit card to the account – at least not one with a US billing address since I do still have a UK bank account at present.  Nor could I add a credit card because my lack of SSN (and, let’s face it, non-existent credit score for the US despite a stonking credit score in the UK) means I am not eligible to apply for one.  So the process stalled.

Of course, my incomplete new Paypal account can still accept balance transfers so I duly shifted the balance from the old to the new accounts … whereupon it disappeared into the electronic ether.  I now have zero balance on either account, though it is very possible I am just being impatient and it will appear.  Meanwhile every time I log on to check said balance transfer,  Paypal prompts me to add not just a credit or debit card but also my social security number.  Keep on rubbing the salt in, Paypal.  E-commerce a la Kafka.

Some friends have advised me that it is possible for me to obtain a pre-paid credit card.  In effect I shove some money on to a swipe card which I can then use as if it was a regular debit card.  I think I am going to take the plunge and get one in the hope that I can add it to my Paypal and other online retail sites and it might just make my life that bit easier and time-efficient too.  I will still be a non-person but at least I will be a functioning non-person.

Non-Person

I don’t intend for this blog to be on a “living the dream” theme or for it to only showcase sunshine and lollipops.  I want this blog to truly reflect my experience as an immigrant to the US and, let’s face it, not every day is going to be a gentle breeze with prevailing unicorn farts.  Getting to the US was a tough slog and I, therefore, fully anticipated part of the slog to continue.  This, therefore, is my first post that’s a bit Eeyore gloomy.

I have arrived in the US as a Legal Permanent Resident.  (My children have become US citizens upon arrival as they are now the children of a resident US citizen parent.)  We took the Direct Consular Filing route through immigration meaning that we were processed through the US Embassy in London which theoretically makes for a smoother, easier journey.  Certainly we found it to be pretty straightforward – demanding, of course, expensive definitely, but with no glitches or surprises.  I, therefore, am now entitled to a green card and social security number, both of which I applied for in advance as part of the process the children and I undertook.  Meanwhile, however, I am in limbo waiting for these documents to turn up.  Because until I have those documents in my possession, I am a bit of a non-person.

So much here is dependent on having a social security number that there are barriers everywhere preventing me making progress because of my lack of SSN at this given moment in time.  My husband and I have a joint US bank account yet I cannot access cash from an ATM or use my debit card because I have been unable to register it without an SSN.  This is my biggest deal.  From having been able to pay for things independently, I am now in the position of having to ask my husband for money.  Of course, it is our money so I am not quite a kept woman receiving pin money but, nevertheless, my psyche is out of sorts because I am having to exist on little bits of cash here and there and really think about every dollar and cent that is in my purse.  It will be a bit of a celebratory moment for me when I finally have independent access to my own money.

There is an election in the US on 5 November.  I have voted in every single election in which I was eligible to vote (with the exception of one local election I missed because of being in labour – valid excuse I think) because exercising my democratic right to vote is very important to me.  The franchise was fought and won by people who in some instances literally gave their lives in the cause of making their countries truly democratic.  I am also politically aware and have strong opinions.  Now, of course, I am living in a country where I am not entitled to vote.  I am disenfranchised.  Right now that does not feel like such a massive deal but if I think of the future and continuing to have a political stake in a country (because I live here and am raising my children here) while having no political voice here that, again, reminds me of my non-person status.  The right to vote may well be the thing that drives me to seek citizenship at some juncture.

This all comes on top of a baseline feeling of regression.  In Scotland, I was a fully fledged adult, able to operate fully and independently, understanding all the systems, routine and structures of everyday life.  Here I don’t even have a sound grasp of basic things like volume measurements and I am very slow at making change because, of course, I am trained to add up cash in different denominations.  Whereas I could drive in the UK almost on autopilot, here I am having to concentrate at each junction, stop sign and traffic light because the rules are different.  All those little differences that make me have to stop and think and figure things out make me feel as if I have regressed from adulthood to being a teenager again, just embarking on an independent life.  It’s quite a discombobulating feeling.

Of course, these woes are all short term.  At some point in the not too distant future I will receive my green card and SSN and can be a fully functioning adult here.  But, nevertheless, it was important to record this gripe here on this blog for the sake of truth because I am sure ever so often being an immigrant will suck.