Well it took several years, a ton of repetitive paperwork, and a few thousand dollars, but I now have a Green Card and am officially a permanent resident of the United States of America (despite still living in the UK). Actually I have a “temporary I-551” until the real Green Card turns up in the post but it’s effectively the same thing.
Before we left London I was nervous about whether we should try to activate the Visa on this trip to Philadelphia as we’re only supposed to be here for a week; I’d heard several stories about people having to stay in the country for months or years in order not to invalidate their visa. Thankfully there is, of course, a website for people going through the US visa process and so I threw myself on their mercy and was reassured that it would be fine with my type of über-visa (IR-1). They sent me a link to a page called “Entering the US” which described what would happen to me on arrival. This guide was so accurate that it felt like deja-vu when it happened. We got to the airport, sailed through the US residents immigration channel, collected our bags and then handed over my exciting looking brown envelope. Sadly it was taken away for inspection so we never got to see what was in it. They called me back to take a good old-fashioned ink fingerprint and my crap signature. The next time he called me back it was to return my passport which had been stamped with a very ordinary looking stamp. The guy told me that it was effectively a green card and that the real green card would turn up in the post…and that was it.
“Is that it ?” I asked ?
“Yes.” he replied.
“So I can come and go and work and everything ?”
In the back of my mind perhaps I’d been expecting some sort of welcome speech, or a handshake, or a tattoo, or to be given a secret passphrase or something. But it’s a nice feeling knowing my options have widened massively in one sudden ink-based stamp.
The journey involved a lovely plane ride and two of the crappest cab journeys ever. We called a cab to the airport at 8am, assuming that even in rush-hour we would be able to get to Heathrow in 3 hours, and Michele carefully pointed out how to get to our house because in the past other, less reputable, cap companies, had regularly ballsed it up. However the reputable company we called had evidently run out of reputable cab drivers and sent us the store defective. At 8:15 we called back to enquire after our cab and were told by a confused sounding operator that he appeared to be waiting in a totally different road. Another 15 minutes passed and we went upstairs to wait by the entrance. Eventually we spotted to dozy looking bugger pathetically looking at house numbers in the street and confirmed he was our driver. He apologies and told us that the operator had given him the wrong information. As we climbed in, Michele noticed the little computer display was showing a precise rendering of her original instructions to the operator. But we set off, and the shitboy enabled his satnav.
Two and a half hours and three crossings of the Thames later, Michele was on the phone to BA explaining that we’d almost certainly be late and the driver hopelessly commented that the traffic usually isn’t this bad on the tiny, one-lane bicycle track he’d selected to get us there…in the rush hour… I was furious by this time and doing my mean face.
By some miracle we got to Terminal 4 with 2 minutes to go before the end of check-in. We had already checked-in using BA’s new on-line check-in service and so we only had to drop off our bags at the fast track bag drop. It turns out that this is just another name for a really bloody long queue with a person at the end who checks your passport and everything. Luckily, Michele is American and not afraid to ask if we can push in to the front and we got onto the plane. Her Americanness also came in handy there and she managed to:
- Move us to much better seats with loads of legroom and fold away TVs
- Get us a newspaper (albeit the Daily Mail)
- Sit us near a really friendly and chatty air hostess who looked after us.
So we had some yummy food, watched “the Devil wears Prada”, had a few drinks, had a kip, and woke up in time for afternoon tea and Philadelphia.
At the airport we took a cab a from a company called “Lying, Thieving, Bastard Cars” or something and were treated to a nice long tour of a large area very near to, but not quite, our destination as the clocked ticked up. All the time the driver pretended not to understand where we wanted to go and deliberately took wrong turnings just as we were nearly there.
Anyway we’re here now and there’s a nice ham in the fridge again so we’re happy.