Life crazier than fiction or my epic quest to get a Green Card – Part 1

Green Card

I had a bad allergic reaction to a spider bite (my foot swell up to double its normal size), and I’m pumped full of corticosteroids and antihistamine pills which make me so loopy I have the attention span of a gnat. So I have decided that trying to write a serious post about my writing process would be a bad idea in this condition. Instead, I will share a small personal anecdote. Who said that life never got crazier than fiction? Read on. I might just prove you wrong.

I am a US Air Force wife. I met my husband while he was stationed in Camp Darby, Italy, and I lived and worked in Geneva, Switzerland (it’s not that far actually, only a four hour drive). The story of how we met and got married is worth another blog post. I might even get to that someday.

Anyway, we had been married for about 6 months when he got orders to be stationed back State side. We were both excited to finally be closer to his family and be able to see the kids more often. But we were also hit with the realization that I needed to apply for and get a Green Card (or Permanent Resident Card, as they call it now), and we only had about 6 months to get it all done. Little did we know that this process would turn into an epic quest from some video game, complete with several levels and boss battles.

Level 1

Level 1: paperwork

Boss battle: bureaucracy.

I could never have imagined the amount of paperwork I had to submit to even apply for the card.

There is the application itself, which is about 20 pages long; where every “t” has to be crossed and every “i” has to be dotted, and which has to be filled out EXACTLY AS SHOWN, or it will be rejected. Oh, and you have to include a check for about $700 with the application, and that money is non-refundable even if your application is rejected. You will have to pay another $700 if you want to start the process again.

Then there are all the supporting documents. Some of them made sense, like a copy of my birth certificate, proof of my Swiss citizenship, our marriage certificate and the copies of previous divorce decrees for both of us. I could also understand the need for my husband’s birth certificate, military ID and copy of his Orders. We were applying for the accelerated process for military spouses after all.

But why the heck would they need a copy of my high school diploma or my Bachelor’s Degree? And what’s the need for an extensive questionnaire about my parents, including where they were born, where they lived and who their parents were? Thank god, they didn’t ask for supporting documents on those. Both my parents were born right in the middle of WWII in Russia. I’m not even sure they ever had a birth certificate. Plus I didn’t want to make two seventy years-old have to drive all over Moscow and stand 5-7 hours in line in different governmental agencies just to be told to come back another day.

Oh and all those documents had to be translated into English by an accredited translation agency and legalized.

Which brings me to the first Boss fight – Bureaucracy.

It’s bad enough when you have to deal with just one country; imagine when you have to deal with three? I was born in Russia, so my birth certificate is in Russian, but I became a Swiss citizen when I turned 18, so the rest of my paperwork is in French… Yeah, fun times were had by everyone involved in this little merry-go-round.

But I managed to beat that boss by the skin of my teeth and moved to the next level.

Level 2

Level 2: medical and vaccination records.

Boss battle: nurse with a syringe at the base clinic.

Apparently, whether you live in a peaceful European country or in a small village in the African bush, the medical records need to be just as extensive. Not to mention that you have to be vaccinated against about every disease under the sun.

I was able to get ahold of my current medical records from Geneva with little to no problems, but getting my childhood records from Russia, a country I had last visited when I was 16 and couldn’t travel to anymore without a visa, that proved to be just as painful as pulling teeth without anesthesia. And just as fruitless. In the end, I had to give up on that idea, because the Russian embassy simply refused to cooperate with me. This sucked, because that’s where most of my childhood vaccination records were. And, as I said before, they were required.

Boss fight: nurse with a syringe.

In my desperation, I went to the base clinic and shared my plight with the nurse on duty.

“That’s not a problem, hon,” she said with a cheerful smile. “We can just give you all the shots right now.”

When she came back with the syringes and a bunch of vials, I was in for a load of pain… And I was right. Both my arms hurt for a week after that barbaric procedure, and I ran a mild fever for days. But I had won yet another boss fight on the road to my Green Card.

We had finally gathered all the required documents, triple-checked all the forms and sent everything to Immigration. Thus began the long wait. At first, we weren’t too worried, because we had been warned that the process took about 4 months. But after five and a half months of radio silence and our PCS date fast approaching, my stress levels shot through the roof. I really didn’t want to be left behind to try and deal with this on my own.

I became a daily visitor at the immigration office at Camp Darby. And I want to give special thanks to the immigration officer who was there to see my through that ordeal. She had been very supporting and an absolute sweetheart. I would have lost it without her support and all the cups of coffee we drank just chatting about nothing at all, passing time.

Then two weeks before we were scheduled to fly out of Italy, when we were already packed up and staying in TLF on base, the letter with the interview date at the American Embassy in Naples finally arrived. The interview was scheduled for 2 days before we were supposed to leave. That was cutting it awfully close, but we really didn’t have a choice, did we?

To find out what happens at Level 3: the Embassy, come back next Monday! *Evil laughter*. And I totally meant to finish this post in a cliffhanger, it’s not the antihistamine speaking, no sir. Oh, squirrel!

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