Citizen Pict

I emigrated from Scotland to America as a Green Card holder in October 2013.  My husband has been a dual US/UK national since his birth and our children became dual nationals when they became resident in America, made official by them obtaining US passports in October 2015.  I, therefore, have been the only alien in the Pict family for quite some time now.

My original plan had been, for many and varied reasons, to wait to apply for citizenship until closer to the time when my 10 year Green Card would expire.  However, the 2016 presidential election was tough on my psyche and it didn’t get any easier to live in this country without having the ability to vote in 2017.  I have always exercised my right to vote so being entirely disenfranchised and unable to participate in the democratic process was really challenging.  That, therefore, became the primary reason why I decided to bring forward my timeline for becoming an American citizen.

The immigration process was complex and expensive.  The naturalization process was not quite as challenging and not quite as expensive but it still involved a whole load of tricky bureaucracy and a massive chunk of money.  It also involved a large investment of time and a fair dollop of stress.

The first stage was to submit my application, which was time consuming and sometimes had me raking through the dusty, musty corners of my memory banks, but nowhere near as complex as the immigration application had been.  This was then sent off to Chicago to be picked over and start the ball rolling.  However, no sooner had my application arrived in Chicago (I was tracking it) than I received a letter informing me that I was to report to a USCIS field office to have my biometrics taken.  No problem except that I had just one day’s notice between receiving the appointment card and the date of the appointment.  One day.  I flew into instant panic.  My husband was working in New York so I had to organise childcare backup for if I had any sort of delay outside school hours – however unlikely – and I had to scramble to find someone to take my place at work.  That fits neatly into a single sentence but it involved a whole lot of stress.

On the day of my appointment, I dropped off my youngest kids at school and drove off into northern Philly.  Thank goodness for Google maps because I had zero clue where I was going.  I did, however, meet almost every red light and had to stop at a rail crossing while an exceedingly lengthy cargo train rumbled past so I arrived at the USCIS field office with a mere five minutes to spare.  When I walked into the building, it was like a wasteland.  There was one other client visible and then everyone else was an employee.  The whole appointment, therefore, went smoothly and rapidly and ultimately felt like a giant waste of my time.  I had already had biometrics taken (eye scans and fingerprints) when I emigrated and I have had my fingerprints taking subsequently for volunteering and employment purposes.  The appointment, therefore, felt like replication.  The staff were friendly and courteous and worked efficiently so in no time at all I had been processed and sent on my way with a study guide for the tests.

And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It is unbearably stressful to be in any sort of limbo situation.  We had been through this before with the Immigration process.  While we had to move forward with our lives as if we were relocating to America, the fact that at any stage either the immigration process might have had a hiccup or the employment prospects for my husband have fallen through, we would have had to abandon the whole plan and root ourselves back into our lives in Scotland.  However, that always felt as if it had forward momentum.  The Naturalization process felt like suffocating in stasis.

After the Biometrics appointment, I had zero contact from USCIS for months.  In many ways, that was a positive sign.  They did not need to request further information from me which meant my application was sound and, of course, they would have contacted me had they decided to outright reject my application.  However, to receive no correspondence for months, no update, no indication that progress was happening, however slowly, was painful.  It was also stressful because I could not commit to anything and had to opt out of certain plans because I had no idea when I might be called for Interview (and then the oath taking) but I was pretty sure it would be at short notice when it did happen.  Granted I am prone to stress and anxiety but it really was a pretty intense period of waiting.

I started to log into my USCIS online account at least once a week to see if there were any updates on my case.  In doing so, I discovered that I could monitor the progress of the Philadelphia field office through all the N-400 applications they were handling.  Whereas it used to take a few months from submitting an application to being called for interview, they were estimating at least a year.  I heard from other sources that this backlog is happening all over the US due to understaffed USCIS offices having to handle a massive increase in applications prompted by the political climate.  While not altogether surprising, therefore, it was a bit deflating.  It was estimated that I would be called for interview in the Autumn of 2018 which was not just a long time away but would also prevent me from registering to vote in time for the midterm elections.  I continued to obsessively check my USCIS account and track the field office and there was never any change.  My husband and I decided, therefore, that it was probably safe to plan out a summer vacation.  Nothing elaborate, nothing involving crossing an international border, and mostly things that could be cancelled with a full refund at 24 hours notice, just in case.

So obviously – because Murphy’s Law – a mere two days after the refund deadline had passed for the one vacation commitment that didn’t have a generous cancellation policy, I logged into my USCIS account and learned that I was being called for interview.  Of course, no date or time was provided with the electronic notice.  Nope.  It was just a notification that I would be receiving a notification by mail.  You know what a stress-head I am so you can probably well imagine the panic I had on seeing that notice and the anxiety I experienced waiting for the paper notification.  I found I was actually hoping for the same extremely short notice I had received for the Biometrics appointment because then it would be before my vacation.  I learned that the notice for an interview is usually between 2 and 4 weeks, parameters that were definitely going to scupper our travel plans.  Anxiety was developing into panic and attempts at problem-solving all the possibilities.  Could we delay our departure?  Could we return home early?  Could I fly back to Philly from random road trip location A and get a flight to random road trip location B?  After over a week of intense waiting for the letter to arrive, it was good news: my scheduled interview date permitted us to go ahead with our travel plans and I even had a day to spare.  Phew.

A few days after returning from our road trip, therefore, I entered the USCIS office in Philadelphia for my interview.  I went through security and got checked in about 20 minutes before my scheduled interview time but I had no sooner sat down – not even enough time to open my book – when my name was called.  The officer who interviewed me was friendly and jolly which immediately put me at ease.  After a little bit of introductory admin – such as checking my IDs and Green Card – I was launched straight into the tests.  There are 100 possible questions on American civics, history, and geography from which the interviewing officer will ask 10.  The first time I took the test of the full 100 questions, I got 96 correct.  After studying and really concentrating on dates and numbers (those being my weakness when it comes to memorisation) I was regularly getting 100% but you know how neurotic I am.  Those four wrong answers from the first run through niggled at me.  I was making anxiety mountains out of molehills.  I got 100% on the test.  I obviously had zero concerns about the English reading and writing tests and passed those.  I was then asked a series of questions that were really just a means of ensuring that my oral answers were consistent with those given on my submitted paperwork.  A few more bits of admin and that was it.  Interview over.  I was approved.  The letter had told me to allow for two hours.  I was done in 30 minutes.  I guess they decided that a marriage of 22 years with 4 kids probably meant this was not some sort of sham Green Card marriage and that no intense interrogation was required.

Now there was just one final step.

It took about three weeks to receive the date and time of my Naturalization Oath Ceremony in the mail and, when it arrived, it gave me under a week’s notice.  USCIS really does like to keep us on our toes.  Luckily I don’t work during the summer months and my in-laws had coincidentally flown in two days earlier to they could babysit the children.  I had swithered about having the boys attend the ceremony but I could not obtain information about provision for guests or how long the ceremony was likely to be so we decided – given the grandparents were around – to leave them at home.  My husband had no choice but to take some time off work to accompany me not just because I wanted someone there at the ceremony for me but also because I could not drive myself, having just had general anaesthesia for oral surgery.  Yeah, the timing of this ceremony was not particularly great given the state of my mouth and the level of discomfort I was in but I was not about to postpone it.

My ceremony was scheduled for 9am on Friday morning.  There were 56 other people taking the oath of allegiance with me during the ceremony and we represented 31 different countries.  I was the only one from the UK.  They kept us all very organised and had us process through various administrative processes according to the rows we were seated in.  I was the sixth person into the room and was, therefore, in the front row.  The chap who was “compering” the ceremony was very genial and warm and helped put us all at ease.  I had this weird, illogical anxiety that something might go wrong at the last moment.  A contributing factor was the fact I was still very woozy from the after effects of the anesthesia and strong painkillers which led me to make an error on one of my forms, thankfully not a critical error but one that left me with a malingering feeling of paranoia.  I had to return my Green Card as part of the Naturalization admin.  It felt weird to be giving away something that has been so important these past few years and something which was quite a bit of an ordeal to acquire.  There were some videos to watch and then we all stood for the oath taking part, which was led by another USCIS official.  At that point, at approximately 10am, I became an American citizen.  I was given my Certificate of Citizenship and all the formalities were over.

By 10.30am, I had registered to vote.  I will have to change my status with the Social Security department and then I will have to apply for a US passport so I still have some bureaucracy to plough through.  However, the big milestone is now done and dusted.  I am now Citizen Pict.

2018-08-03 10.22.58

The Green Card Saga Concludes

If you have been following my blog since its inception a year ago, you will know that my year has been liberally peppered with stress over my oldest son’s missing Green Card.  It has been a long, drawn-out, sorry story of shambolic bureaucracy, acute ineptitude, willful inflexibility, an extortionate additional fee and a day of school missed so that my son could attend a biometrics appointment despite technically being a US citizen and definitely being under 14.  And lots of waiting.  Lots and lots of waiting.  But finally the waiting is at an end.  My son’s Green Card arrived in Friday’s post.  We could scarcely believe it.  Finally, over a year since we first pitched up in America, all five of us British Picts have our Green Cards.

Now we can progress with applying for the boys’ US passports.  I can hardly wait to find out what bureaucratic nightmares that holds in store for us.

Change of Address Cynicism

As a parcel of immigrants, one of the things the children and I have to do is notify USCIS of any change of address.  They need to track our whereabouts.  Mr Pict also has to notify them of a change of address because he is our sponsor.  They need to know where to find him should any of we immigrants turn out to be reprobates.  Therefore, one of the first things I had to do upon moving house was to notify USCIS, via their website, of our address changes.  One per person.  Tedious but necessary.  With print outs as evidence.

Here’s the thing though: the last time we notified USCIS of a change of address, they entirely ignored it, despite apparently and allegedly updating their records, and sent our documentation to the old address anyway – which was, at that point, an unoccupied, flood-damaged apartment.  That total cock-up was then compounded by the fact that the Postal Service who should have been redirecting all of our mail from that address to our actual address failed to forward the documentation pertaining to our oldest son.  He, therefore, ended up with no Social Security Number and – when it happened again – no Green Card.  We have now been legal permanent residents in America for eleven months and yet still my oldest son has not received his Green Card.  This was seriously frustrating but it became downright infuriating when USCIS, having admitted fault, then made us pay to have his Green Card reissued and required that our son attend a biometrics appointment.  Ridiculous.   And that was five months ago and STILL we have not received his Green Card.  The Green Card we have now paid for twice.

You will, therefore, understand my cynicism and degree of anxiety surrounding the likelihood of the Green Card making it to us given that we have changed address and have set up mail redirection again.  There is only so much incompetence one can dismiss as a small glitch or a temporary blip.  When it happens over and over, it does smack of incompetence.  I would, of course, be delighted if my cynicism this time was proved to be without foundation.  I will no doubt perform an epically embarrassing happy dance should the missing Green Card make it to us without further ado, drama, stressful hassle or – gulp – expense.  If, for once, all the bureaucracy that seems intent on thwarting our son’s possession of a Green Card actually synthesises into something that functions adequately enough to deliver that document then I will hold my hands up and admit that I was wrong to be so sceptical.

This time.

The Green Card Saga Rumbles On. And On.

When my husband took our oldest son to the Biometrics appointment, we thought we were at least mercifully close to the conclusion of the stressful saga that has been obtaining his Green Card.  But no.  No, no, no.  This appears to be an epic tale of woe without conclusion.  Mr Pict was told that the replacement card would be delivered in two or perhaps three weeks from the date of the appointment.  He double-checked that USCIS had everything they needed (you know, like sucking us dry of funds, making us deal with the brunt of their own incompetence since it was they who lost the Green Card in the first place) and was assured (too cynical to be reassured though) that they did indeed have everything required to issue the replacement card and that they would do so in a timely manner.

Two weeks passed and no Green Card arrived our mail box.  Three weeks and still there was nothing.  Then we got to a month and thought the time had come to chase them up.  I have to admit I was already starting to feel volcanic ire at the thought they might have dispatched it to the wrong address.  Again.

Instead, when Mr Pict phoned up USCIS to find out where the Green Card was, he was not-so-politely informed that he should never have been told it would be issued that quickly.  That issuing a replacement would take six months.  Six.  Whole.  Months.  As in half a year.  As in over a year from when my son first entered the country.  Ridiculous, no?  He was told that USCIS are still working on processing Green Card approvals from August 2013.  The kids and I were all approved in August 2013.  The rest of us got our Green Cards in January.  How on earth can they still be processing Green Cards from August when we are now almost in June?

We are, therefore, going to have to find some other means of proving our oldest son’s status as a resident in America so that we can progress with things like applying for US passports.  That will be a whole lot more bureaucracy.  And no doubt more ineptitude, mess and stress.

One day this saga has to end after all.  Doesn’t it?

Blasted Biometrics

In bringing my blog up to date with all of our travels and some of the more relevant excerpts from my art journal pages, I got so caught up in the happy, positive stuff that I completely forgot to write an update on our ongoing tussle with USCIS over our oldest son’s Green Card.

I won’t bore my readers by rehashing the whole abysmal saga again but suffice to say we were already reaching the limits of mental exhaustion with USCIS’s attitude towards the missing Green Card when, lo and behold, a letter arrived into our mailbox informing us that our son was legally obliged to attend an appointment at the nearest office in order to have his biometrics taken.  Tolerance threshold breached.

I had to undergo the whole biometrics thing in order to enter the US as a permanent resident but our four children did not because they were and still are under the age of 14.  But suddenly, because USCIS sent out the Green Cards to the wrong postal address and because one of those envelopes was subsequently lost, they felt it was important to put our oldest son through the biometrics process.  The date in the later was a fortnight hence and on a weekday afternoon which meant missing an afternoon of school and my husband having to take an afternoon off work in order to take our son to the appointment – as I had to be home for the other three children.

The appointment was last Friday at 2pm.  Husband and son set off in the car with all the paperwork and documentation required.  At 1.45pm, my husband texted me to say that the whole operation was complete and they were heading home.  When they arrived at the office, they found a massive but empty room filled with chairs for a couple of hundred people but occupied by just a hand full.  There were more people manning the desks than there were people to process.  Consequently, they were taken early for the appointment.  My husband was required to fill out documents that fundamentally replicated all of the paperwork USCIS already had in their possession and that my husband had taken with him to the appointment.  Form-filling for the merry heck of it, in other words.  The biometrics bit of the appointment was so swift it was a blink and miss affair.

My husband enquired about the procedure for applying for a refund – given that we have now paid TWICE for our child to be issued with a Green Card and that the loss of the original card was due to a fault on USCIS’s part.  He was informed that there was no procedure for that and that this was the sole procedure for obtaining a replacement for a lost card.  No negotiations, no deviations, no exceptions.  We are not talking about small change here either.  We are left feeling as if we have been hustled.

I am now so pessimistic and cynical about the bureaucracy of USCIS that I am steeling myself for the next glitch in the process.  Perhaps they will send the Green Card out to a different random address this time and we can pay yet more money and attend yet more appointments, forever stuck in an endless loop of ineffectiveness.  But perhaps the Green Card will finally reach us and we can begin the process of applying for American passports for our four sons, thus effectively and officially putting their immigrant status behind them. 

And that will probably be a whole other bureaucratic mess for us to look forward to.

The Green Card Saga Continues

Almost exactly a month ago I wrote about a stressful bureaucratic mess regarding the difficulties we were having in getting USCIS to issue a replacement Green Card for our oldest son.  The email version of locking horns was getting us precisely nowhere so we decided to send off the required form with the requested extortionate fee but with a cover letter outlining our position and politely requesting that, with USCIS having admitted culpability, they not process the cheque.  It was the longest of long shots but they had us over a barrel and we needed the Green Card.

So we were not surprised but were still disappointed when a few days ago we got a letter from USCIS telling us that they were processing our request and had taken the fee.  I felt an odd balance of being enraged and resigned at the same time.  What is even more infuriating is that they informed us they might require our oldest son to attend an appointment to have his biometrics taken.  Since all of our children are under 14, this was not a requirement for their immigration.  The children were issued with visas and Green Cards without biometrics.  I am perplexed, therefore, as to why they have now decided that he needs to undergo this.  He will no doubt have to miss a day of school – perhaps all the kids will if the location of the appointment is too far away – and we will incur additional expenses and fees.  Yet the lack of a Green Card is entirely the fault of USCIS.

Lest we forget, my children are actually now technically and legally US Citizens.  Now that they and their USC parent are resident in America, they have that status.  We just have to formalise it by applying for passports for each of the boys.  So we are going through this ordeal to secure our oldest’s Permanent Resident status even though legally he now has the right to be here as a US citizen.

If we have to jump through any more flaming hoops to obtain his Green Card I will be spitting feathers.

Passing the Bureaucratic Buck

If you have been reading my blog for a while, then you will be aware that in an earlier rant I bemoaned the fact that some sort of snag along the way had led to my oldest son being missed out on being provided with all sorts of key documents.  We have been caught in a Kafkaesque mire of buck-passing since then.

We were required to have a co-sponsor when the kids and I applied for our visas because my husband (the US citizen) was not resident in America at that time.  A close family friend agreed to fulfil that role and, as such, when we went to our interview at the US Embassy in London and we needed to provide a US address, it was his that was selected.  Unfortunately for us but more so for our co-sponsor, his apartment was flooded shortly after our arrival in the US and he had to move out.  We set up with the Postal Service to have all of our mail redirected from that address as soon as our friend moved out.  However, two days after we arrived in the US, I had submitted the change of address forms that we, as aliens, are legally required to submit to USCIS to notify them of where we actually live.

However, it became apparent that they had not bothered to change the address as the social security cards and then the green cards arrived at our address through the postal forwarding system, having been sent to our friend’s former address.  Both were missing for my oldest son.  We got the Social Security office to issue him with an SSN with a modicum of hassle but no bureaucratic mess at least.  The same is not holding true for trying to get him a green card.

The Postal Service claim that they delivered it, at the end of December, along with all the other green cards for myself and the other three kids.  We, of course, know that it was not delivered because all of the other cards arrived in our mailbox together and that one was not among them.  USCIS state, therefore, that they will issue our oldest son with a replacement card since it has been lost but for a fee of $450.  Now this whole immigration process – the visa applications, the relocation expenses, the set-up costs and paying for properties on two sides of the Atlantic – has pretty much flat-lined our savings so I am not about to fork out $450 just to quickly resolve a problem that is not of my making.  We have, therefore, requested that they waive the fee and reissue the green card as a priority.  USCIS don’t want to do this as they claim that it was the Postal Service who were at fault since it seems most likely that they failed to put all five green cards through the proper forwarding process and that one errant green card was sent to the address originally on the envelope and has disappeared into the ether.  Except USCIS are at fault because they never should have marked the envelopes with that address in the first place since, yes, two days after arriving I submitted five forms informing them of our actual address, the one where they were supposed to send everything.  I took print outs of the forms as evidence at the time.  They have looked up the confirmation number and admit they received them.  They consequently cannot explain why they did not send the forms to our actual address.  

But they have still not said they will waive the fee and issue our son with his green card.  So we are in embattled positions and emails are flying back and forth between us, the postal service and immigration services trying to come to some acceptable resolution.  It is bureaucratic bedlam and no one is willing to cop to the responsibility of the stuff up that caused it.  Meanwhile my oldest son still does not have his green card.

Someone needs to accept responsibility, suck it up and find a route out of this labyrinth of red tape before I turn into the Minotaur.

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.