Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I'm Giving Up Free Healthcare and Moving to 'Merica!

It feels like my US immigration case has been dragging on forever, but when things finally did happen, all of a sudden they actually happened. Really quickly. 

THE PHONE CALL


Tuesday morning arrived like any other Tuesday morning, without the fanfare of Friday but also free from the drudgery of Monday. Little did I know that afternoon I’d finally be receiving the phone call that would literally change my life (and for once I am using literally in the correct fashion). 15 months ago I applied for my US immigrant visa and, after many delays and tears of frustration, last week I officially received the most important stamp in my passport.

Finally receiving my green card to the US! Read more about my immigration story on the-lifestyle-project.com

Within minutes of having my documents in hand, I knew I wanted to leave by the weekend. Why not, right? My things have been in a state of half-unpacked since we left Ottawa so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to wrap up my remaining projects and possessions with a couple days’ notice. 

Um, yeah right. 

The clock began to count down and I felt the tension building in my shoulders whenever I thought about my to do list and the unanswered emails and wanting to see everyone one last time before I left and cleaning and seriously how was I going to fit everything in my car?

As I packed my clothing and knickknacks into suitcases and boxes I could feel more of my presence and personality begin to fade away from my bedroom. It was becoming blanker with every glance and my impending immigration started to feel very real very quickly. 

Despite the stress, I knew it was worth it to leave on Friday morning and get to spend the weekend wrapped up with my husband. Working in financial services, he had just finished his first tax season and was desperately looking forward to a two day weekend. I wanted to maximize the time off with him so instead of breaking the trip into multiple days I decided to drive straight through and arrive in Tennessee on Friday night. 

Clothing, linens, and the last of our unused wedding presents somehow found their way into my trusty Mazda 3. My dad helped me clean the car and made sure everything was in working order for the long drive (1200 km/745 miles). I spent the rest of Thursday afternoon filling out paperwork to import the car, wrapping up my immigration documents, paying the final fees, cleaning, printing backup maps, and transferring all my computer files onto my new laptop (I got a MacBook Pro! Yay! I’ve had it with all these PCs breaking on me every few years). 

Thursday night I had one last evening in Toronto with my girlfriends to say our “see you soons”. Since we’re all in our late 20s now, a night out isn’t nearly as raucous as it used to be but that was probably for the best. Friday morning I was up bright and early to begin my much awaited road trip.


THE BORDER


I decided to cross borders through Niagara Falls instead of going on the shortest route through Detroit. From my experience, the Customs & Border Patrol officers in Detroit are a lot gruffer and way more search-happy so it was totally worth it to drive an extra half hour out of my way and deal with pleasant and polite staff who actually congratulated me on “doing things the right way.” I didn’t expect kudos for following the law but hey  I’ll take it! Things were off to a good start. 

I knew to expect at least an hour at the border as they processed my paperwork, and it proved to be a little bit longer as a CBP supervisor was teaching three juniors how to handle an immigrant visa case. Always fun being the guinea pig, right? I had two rounds of fingerprints and another set of photos taken to verify that I was who I said I was. Next it was off to the customs section for an officer to import my car. Fortunately they didn’t search my belongings, something that I was quite grateful for as I didn’t want to replicate the magic that was my packed car.

90 minutes later I stepped outside with relief knowing that I was now considered a permanent resident of the United States. An alien resident, but permanent nonetheless. Just as I’d finished reading through the stack of paperwork they’d given to me and began to pull onto the highway, I received a phone call. An apologetic CBP supervisor was on the line begging me to come back as they’d mistakenly given me a whole bunch of documents that they were supposed to keep for their own records. Such is the life of a guinea pig.

A few minutes later I was finally — really!  on my way. Every time I saw someone pulled over on the side of the road fixing their flat tire I’d say a little prayer and give my car a pep talk that we wouldn’t be next (fortunately we weren’t). With pit stops and traffic, the drive ended up being almost 15 hours long but was rather uneventful, which is just how I like my solo road trips.

Becoming an expat again >> the-lifestyle-project.com

THE LAST CHAPTER OF MY IMMIGRATION STORY


My reunion with my husband was sweet and joy-filled and everything you’d expect it to be. We’re now able to live in the US together without a countdown ticking in our ears and I’m able to legally work here too once I get my social security number next month. My green card is valid for 10 years after which point it can be renewed and/or I can apply for citizenship (but I only have to wait three years to do that). Due to American immigration laws, I have to keep proof of my residency status on me at all times, which I’m admittedly already failing to do as it’s a giant pain in the butt to carry around your passport everywhere. I won’t physically be receiving my green card for three months but honestly I’m not too concerned about it. Everything seems very legitimate now.

So, I suppose this technically isn’t the last chapter in my immigration story but it feels like it anyway. I imagine that over the next decade my visa status will be relegated to the bottom of my priority list and far from the daily thoughts in my mind, except every two years or so when it’s time for an election and I realize that I’m unable to cast a vote. 

I haven’t given much thought to whether or not I will apply for American citizenship, but I do know that I’m not keen on giving up my Canadian passport. Being Canadian feels like an inherent part of my identity. 

But that’s neither here nor there. 

I have a new home now. I'm an expat again.

And I’m so freaking excited.

PS: Our immigration drama from the beginning, the middle, and the almost end

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