Saturday, March 05, 2005

An anticlimax

as you know, today was my appointment with INS. Now you have to understand that before one embarks upon such a large change as emigrating to another country one of the things one does is research everything including the immigration laws. Saying that is rather like saying before diving into water you take a breath.

The internet is one obvious resource but only a fool believes everything he reads on the 'net. However, I personally know another Australian here in Phoenix who's going through the same process (I worked with her husband back in Melbourne in the 1990's); one of my workmates was married to an Australian going through the process and my wife's ex-boss is still going through the process. Based on anecdotal evidence from all three I expected most of my day to be spent at INS for 10 minutes of formality. According to my wife's ex-boss he used to have to queue at 4:00 AM to be sure of an interview that day. This jibes with the internet anecdotes. Things have changed much since then! Phoenix now makes appointments through their website. One makes an appointment 2 or 3 weeks hence and prints the confirmation web page.

Thus I made my appointment using the Phoenix INS website 2 weeks ago; for 1:15 PM. As I've previously written, I did the necessary searching for the building last week. Even so, I arrived an hour early. The appointment letter warns that they won't let you in earlier than 15 minutes before the appointment and based on today that seems to be true; they were asking everyone what their appointed time was. So I went for a walk to kill time and arrived back at 12:59 PM.

Airport style security; the only difference being that you don't have to take off your shoes. Otherwise it was identical! Then stand in line until I can hand over my appointment letter. She confirmed the date, checked the number and stapled a tag to the letter. I'm appointment E791 for the day. Up the stairs to the waiting room and watch the number board. They were up to E782. It dings every time the number changes so I was free to read my book (L'Assomoir by Emile Zola). It's now 1:12 PM.

Incidentally, I was pleased to notice in France that even the digital alarm clock in my hotel room is 24 hour; and all times I saw printed on, for example, the restaurant windows, were in 24 hour format. Very civilised. But I digress.

At 1:49 PM my number dinged! Fronted up at the desk and launched into the 'g'day' routine. She opens my passport and says 'oh, you're an Australian'. I couldn't deny it! 'I bet you don't see many of us here'. She admitted she didn't. Then she noticed the logo on my windcheater. I bought it at Mannys Beach Club down in Mexico on a cold night a couple of years ago. Her face lit up. 'Did you like Mannys Beach Club?'. Again, I couldn't deny it. 'A lot of fun' said I.

Then she takes my photos, the appointment letter aforesaid and tells me to go to the door down there. Sign a form on both sides and she takes my fingerprint. Not plural; just my right forefinger. She got prints she was happy with the first time. When I came through LA in November 2002 to activate my immigrant visa the guy there took at least 20 prints before he was happy with em. It seems that when you're not used to being fingerprinted your muscles resist and it smudges the prints. The guy at LA told me to stare into the distance and ignore what he was doing with my hand; try as I might I couldn't relax enough. (And when I had my full fingerprints taken in April 2002 for the Australia wide police check required for a US immigration visa the cop who did it said it was obvious I'd never before been printed. When I asked why he said 'you can always tell if someone's used to being printed - they know to roll their fingers').

Prints taken it was back to the main window. She stamped my passport with a years extension and it was over. Total elapsed time? About 6 minutes. I was outside the building and enjoying a smoke at 1:57 PM.

She advised that it might take from 6 to 8 months for my 10 year greencard to arrive; but based on how quickly my first greencard arrived, 2 weeks, I suspect it'll be earlier. If not, I'll probably have filed my N400 (application for citizenship) before it arrives.

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