05 May, 2006

Immigration, part 3: the interview

We went to Charlotte for a green card interview on Wednesday. That's a 4-hour drive, so we drove up Tuesday night and slept in a motel overnight. I've decided that while Motel 6 is just fine for me when I sleep alone, I never again want to keep my family there. There was nothing particularly wrong with the place; I just don't think my family should be sleeping in worse places than I do when I'm traveling for work.

My wife is reading this as I write, and she's going to disagree with me. Russians who are not New Russians love to save money almost as much as I do. (My wife confirms the crimson jacket fashion in the Wikipedia article.)

My wife's appointment was at 10am, so we showed up around 9ish. The building is a relatively new brick building in the suburbs of Charlotte. Across from the street is a some sort of Military installation; I no longer remember exactly what.

Two pairs of doors face the parking lot. One is labeled, EMERGENCY EXIT. Two others are labeled, EXIT ONLY. The fourth door wasn't labeled as an entrance; it merely gave some information about hours. I thought that made it an entrace, but I wasn't willing to chance opening the door paired with EMERGENCY EXIT. Fortunately, a black-clothed woman was smoking a cigarette outside, and she was happy to tell me that the entrance was that fourth door.

Upon entering, one is greeted by a blue-shirted guard. We had to pass through a metal detector, and our bags were X-rayed. I thought it odd that the government worries that terrorists might strike an office where America welcomes the world. Of course, not all terrorists are foreigners.

Four guards stood there. They were extremely polite, and two of them joked with our son. Seeing all the pens in my shirt pocket, one of them said, You must be an engineer! My pocket was a little exaggerated that day; I had a red pen, a blue pen, a green pen, a black pen, and a mechanical pencil. In addition, a USB key hung from a lanyard in that pocket, and it was further weighted down by my wallet. The same gentleman gave our son a high-five. My wife remarked later that she appreciated this friendliness very much. In Russia, she points out, guards are universally dour. You always feel that you are guilty, she explains, even if you are a saint. I don't know why. Oh, I do know why. It's in our genes.

I don't think it's in their genes. The faces of Russian security officers make me uncomfortable, too.

The interior of the building was bright and light-colored. Its inside resembled its outside in this respect; except for the X-ray machine, you would not think it any different from an ordinary office building. There was even a double door in the distance labeled, "EMPLOYEES ONLY".

At this point, a man at a desk asked, Are you here for an appointment?

Yes, sir, I answered. He asked for the letters that notified us of the appointment. My wife was holding them — they had been checked a moment before by the man at the X-ray machine — and she gave them to the guard. He looked them over and wrote the time of our arrival on them. First door on the left, he directed, and pointed. Attached to the wall above a door a little ways on the left was a black placard, "APPOINTMENTS".

We entered a large, square waiting room. Plastic, blue folding chairs had been laid out in the room; there must have been several hundred. Most of them were not filled, but my wife and I agree that more than fifty people were waiting. Most sat in little groups that resembled families, watching a television mounted on the wall near the entrance. The television was playing CNN; if I recall correctly, they were reporting on the immigration debate playing out now. I can't resist the temptation to point out again that, despite some of the rhetoric, this is a debate about illegal immigration, and not about people like my wife and child, my mother, or many of my friends and colleagues.

Upon entering the room, I was struck by the variety of people. Spread out through the room were people who looked as though they were from southeast Asia, from Africa, and from Latin America. I don't recall anyone from the Middle East. Several mixed couples were present. Aside from us, one other family looked European; we recognized them from earlier that morning when we stopped for breakfast at McDonald's.

(Blush. Not a good husband & father, perhaps, feeding my family at McDonald's! My wife defends me, though. It was fine; I ate salad. Indeed she had a fruit and walnut salad.)

At least one of the families sat with a man who looked as if he were an immigration lawyer. He spoke with them as if he were reviewing the case data with his clients.

From time to time, someone would walk in and announce a name. They had difficulty pronouncing most names. One family was not present.

The officer who called us arrived 15 minutes after our appointment. He escorted us to an office, where he asked a few questions, asked for a few documents, looked at a few more, and smiled at the photos we brought to help document our status as a genuinely married couple. My wife tried to show him the document for our car purchase, but he declined.

I was surprised to hear my wife explain with a proud, shy smile, It's my first car. I can't drive it, but it's mine, and I'm very excited.

He did ask our son if he was in school, and if he liked it.

The officer was extremely pleasant and kind. He made an effort to make some friendly conversation to break the awkward silences while he entered information on the computer.

It's a beautiful day today, he observed.

It's too green, my wife replied.

You might have guessed that my wife was nervous. Stress had plagued her for months, mounting steadily in the last weeks. She had read what other Russians say online about their interviews, and worried that the officer might find some oversight — anything at all — which he could use as an excuse to deny her and our son green cards. She had asked several times what we would do if he denied one of them a green card.

I was fairly nervous myself, although I'd tried not to show it. We men aren't very sympathetic characters, are we?

After about 30 minutes, he informed us that the green cards would arrive within two weeks, perhaps even one. This is a permanent residency, albeit conditional; since we've been married less than three years, we'll have to reapply for the unconditional permanent residency in two years.

It was over. The gentleman escorted us out. It was that "easy". I put that in quotes because it wasn't really that easy, but after all the anxiety and effort of the last few months, it certainly seemed easy.


Anonymous said...

Congradulations! The USA immigration system sounds much more efficient than our system... ;)

jack perry said...

Can you explain more?

Brandon said...

Congratulations; it must be a relief having finished such a key stage in the process. It would be too much to expect these bureaucratic hurdles to be what one could call 'enjoyable', but it's always nice (and heartening) when it is relatively painless to get through.

Anonymous said...

We have a lot of paper work, I would think much more than the USA. Our big governements love paperwork because it justifies high taxes and give them much more power over citizens.

Another problem is that a lot of immigrants don't find jobs that are at their skills level and end yp doing low skills jobs.


jack perry said...

Thanks to everyone for the congratulations. :-) I am incredibly behind on blogging, as you may have guessed.

Our big governements love paperwork because it justifies high taxes and give them much more power over citizens.

See another post of mine about that (I just wrote it). It would be interesting to sit down and compare Canadian paperwork with US paperwork. I haven't the time for it, unfortunately.