Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Journey to America

Today, I am an American citizen. It's been a long road to get there.

01/2006 - TN visa.
10/2006 - H-1B visa.
04/2007 - Priority Date - EB3 ROW.
07/2007 - Applied for Employment-based green card. I-140 / I-485, per the July 2007 visa bulletin fiasco.
08/2009 - H-1B visa extension.
10/2009 - Forced switch to EAD/AP.
09/2010 - Switched to Family-based green card application. I-130 / I-485, IR.
12/2010 - Green card, CR6.
09/2012 - Applied to remove conditions. I-751.
06/2013 - Green card, IR6.
10/2013 - Applied N-400.
02/2014 - Naturalization interview.
02/2014 - Naturalization oath.

It's hard to express to someone who's not been through this process how nerve-wracking it can be. Even while fully within the bounds of the law, my status at times has been backed by nothing more than a payment receipt from USCIS and copies of internal memos describing their significance. No matter how well-documented, I was still at the mercy of border guards to interpret my fate (per 10/2009, they can make some pretty serious mistakes). My status could process in weeks or decades, based on dates that moved largely at random both forwards and backwards. All the while, filing dozens of pages of paperwork and spending thousands of dollars (okay... maybe it was Microsoft spending the money) every single year to keep a myriad of documents and redundant statuses in sync. Waiting in countless beige USCIS waiting rooms for hours for processing. And in the end, the knowledge that even if I survived all this, that a single misstep could undo and see me deported back to the wilds of Canada.

... though what I think scares me even more, is that I had it better by far than most other immigrants.

Today, that ends. I'm an American now. It's exciting: I finally have a fundamental right to live in the place where my family, my home, and my job reside. I will soon have personal representation for all those US taxes I've been paying for the past twelve years.

I'm very excited for the ability to vote, and the implied rights of political engagement this permits (eg. signing petitions). Politics in the US are always exciting, and my background makes for some interesting perspectives - for example on immigration... and of course health care.

Some interesting FAQs:
  • This makes me a triple citizen: Canada, UK, USA. Yes, this is permitted by all three countries.
  • I will be able to vote in US Elections at all levels, and intend to do so at every opportunity.
  • I cannot currently vote in Canadian or UK elections. The former would appear to directly contradict the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • I'll still be cheering for Team Canada for hockey. Sorry, I can't help it, I was born this way.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

US Naturalization interview

I was scared of the naturalization interview. Not because of the civics test, but because of what other random things they could want to know about my life and habits. The long list of documents (originals AND copies, of course) they say are required can't help but drive a little paranoia.

But, for me, it was quick and painless. I will describe my own experience, so that others will have a better idea what to expect. Keep in mind, each case is different, and your experience may vary significantly. I generally have an easy time with USCIS, so maybe I just got off easy.

First off the documents. What they DID need to see:
  • Green card (for naturalization eligibility).
  • Washington State photo ID (to establish residence/jurisdiction).
  • Passports from all my claimed nationalities.
What they notably DIDN'T want to see:
  • Originals of any documents I submitted copies of with my N-400. This includes documentation on spouse's status, children, evidence of bona-fide marriage, of current address, etc.
  • Tax returns or transcript.
  • Photos. In fact, they had my originals on-hand (which I had to sign), plus digital copies.
  • ANY copies of anything. I did not leave a single piece of paper with them.
I shredded several HUNDRED pages of copied documents after the interview.

The first step was a review of my application (the N-400). This part is no joke! They will go through every page, testing your knowledge, the accuracy, and filling in details. The hardest part was when I was expected to recite my anniversary, my wife's birthday, and my daughter's birthday in short succession (they're close together and easy to mix up).

One specific step that worries some people are the list of trips outside the country. They certainly did ask me about these, but my perception was that they weren't looking to trip me up on technicalities at the interview stage. They asked me to briefly talk about a couple of my trips (notably the ones not to Canada), but didn't really have any clarifying questions. Notably, they never asked me about specific date ranges or to account for my totals for number of days outside the country.

English was trivial. Read "Who can vote?". Told to write the answer "Citizens can vote." Six words. I was disappointed that they do not automatically make every Canadian write a sentence with the word 'color' in it.

Civics and History test - well it's exactly what they tell you it is. You already know the possible questions and answers. Study and it will be fine. 6/6 for me.

After the interview is finished, they give you a form N-652, documenting whether you passed/failed and the disposition of your application. For me, they recommended approval on the spot, which from looking around the lobby crowd seemed to be a common outcome. What I didn't expect is that they handed me my notice for the naturalization ceremony right there at the interview. The bigger surprise - they scheduled my naturalization ceremony for THE SAME DAY! My interview was at 8:20am, my ceremony at 11:40am. This did not seem to be a coincidence, as I recognized several people at the oath ceremony (total ceremony was about 60 people) who had been in the testing waiting area that morning.

So yes, I left to Tukwika expecting a morning at the central bureaucracy, and left a citizen.