By Leslie Fandrich // Themes: Immigration, New Beginnings // Category: Life Stories
Today I am driving to the Bronx to be fingerprinted by the FBI.
It's not what you think. Unless you've been following my updates about applying for American citizenship. Then it's totally what you think.
I finally finished my application and mailed it in about a month ago. It took a while to complete, partly because I had to list every single trip I have taken out of the country since I gained permanent residence status ten years ago. That would be exact dates on more than 20 trips. I've never been so glad that I take digital pictures in my entire life. Those time stamped photos told me almost everything I needed to know. I also discovered that in the last five years I have been out of the country a total of 130 days. I love facts like that. Random.
Fingerprinting and capturing my "biometrics" is the second step of the process. Once I clear the FBI background check, I'll be interviewed and I will have to verbally answer ten civics questions. I pass if I get at least six correct. Here's the online study aid, how well can you do?
Some people have asked me why I'm doing this. Well, it's easy. It's for my kids. So they can watch me vote and participate in the political process, so I can be like them. I will still be Canadian. I will always be Canadian, but I'm looking forward to being American too. I never meant to stay here, but now it's my home and I want to make it official.
Today I want to share my first entry in my new Life Stories category, an essay about the first time I entered the United States on a work Visa.
June 12, 1998 - US Immigration - Calgary International Airport
I wait at the red line for the next available agent. My stomach is fluttering, my life in my suitcase. I sent three boxes full of my most cherished possessions ahead of me. I had a job waiting for me. I'd be reunited with my boyfriend after a long distance relationship lasting more than a year. I had carefully reviewed all the paperwork and requirements to make sure that this moment would go well, but still, it might not. Some people hired lawyers for this. Maybe I forgot something, or answered a question wrong. Everything was hanging in midair – suspended in place and time – just waiting for the approval stamp. Once that stamp hit the paper, time could continue and my life would change.
The light above agent number three illuminates. He looks at me warily and waves me over. I take a deep breath – filling my lungs with calm and confidence – and begin walking forward.
The counter is unusually high, I can’t rest my arms on it and the agent is also elevated, looking down at me without a smile. I feel guilty, even though I am not, and I struggle to smile.
“Where are you traveling to today?” he asks in a tone that is tired and impatient.
“I’m flying to Minneapolis. I have a job there and I need to apply for a VISA.”
He looks at me earnestly then and nodding his head, he points to a glass door at the far side of the room with a sign on it that says United States Customs and Immigration. I take my thick packet of paperwork, containing my letter of employment, college diploma, birth certificate, three referrals and any other piece of official embossed paper that I could find, and I walk confidently toward that door.
As my heels click on the floor, I go over everything in my head again. I’ve arrived three full hours before my flight, which should give me plenty of time. I did all the research and homework I could have possibly done. I had all the paperwork and fees. I met all the requirements. I had letters of referral stating that I took design courses and was qualified for the design position I had landed at a prestigious ad agency. There was no reason why my visa application should be denied. Still, I just didn't know. I had read so many stories about others who had been denied based on a technicality or a forgotten piece of paperwork. Being granted a Visa wasn't a sure thing, even though in all the preparations, you had to act like it was.
I open the door, entering into the room where my fate will be decided, and sit down in a chair. A clock ticks loudly on the wall. I wait.
I’ve never wanted anything more in my life. If I have to turn around and walk back out that door without a VISA, I don’t know what I'll do. Everything is in the United States. Canada is not where I'm supposed to be.
Agents bustle around, shuffling papers and closing doors. I wait for my future to be decided by one person. It feels so strange to have my fate in someone else's hands, but I have no choice. This is what I must do to change my life. Two completely different futures loom before me, one filled with hope and opportunities and one filled with what feels like limited options. I smile again and resolve myself to positive thinking. This is going to work. It has to.
I hear my name being called and I stand up and approach the desk. The agent smiles and seems friendlier than the one I first encountered. I hand him all my paperwork and he tells me to sit back down. It’s all up to the immigration agent now. All I need is for him to approve my application. He disappears into the back and I wait again, watching the second hand tick around the clock. It feels like forever and a day.
Finally, he returns and calls me back up to the desk. He's got all my paperwork.
He looks at me and asks, "So you have a job in Minneapolis?"
I answer, "Yes, I do."
Then he stamps my passport and starts filling out the stamp. I'm holding my breath, pretty sure that my Visa has just been approved despite the fact that he hasn't actually said it yet. He pulls a work permit card out from under the desk, fills it out and staples it in the back of my passport. I'm still not breathing, trying my best to contain my glee. I don't want to chat or ask any questions in case all of a sudden he decides to change his mind. With a smile, he hands everything back to me and says, "Welcome to the United States."
I gather up my papers and push open the glass door of the Immigration office feeling triumphant and completely full of joy. I'm stunned at how smoothly it all went.
It takes almost everything I've got to not skip and jump and scream, but I don't. I walk out of there with the air and confidence of someone who knew all along that her Visa would be approved. It takes a moment to realize that all the things I've been imagining the last few years, all the dreams I've dreamed and all the hopes and wishes, solidified into reality in that moment. Every single one of them became my future and I couldn't be more excited about what that meant.