Sunday, August 2, 2009

Welcome to Our County! Sort of.

This week we talk of our immigration experiences. What was your experience?

I applied for citizenship in 2002 my thought being that after 9/11 they might start chucking every immigrant out who disagreed with George Bush. Typically, the application coincided with my ten-year green card expiring. I didn’t even know it could run out, but since my paperwork had been “mislaid” twice before, I hired a lawyer to keep track of things. Boy was that the wrong thing to do.

Come the day of my interview, we were herded around as usual, then shown into a tiny room where “Officer” what’s-his-name took an instant dislike to me on account of aforementioned lawyer sitting in the corner taking notes. You have to learn 100 questions about the USA, and answer 6 out of 10 correctly. He asked me the hardest questions, and even though I got the first 6 correct, the ba***rd continued to ask four more. He then interrogated me as to why my Texas marriage license didn’t have any witnesses, despite the statement on the certificate that no witnesses were required. I was then reprimanded for not applying sooner for citizenship. At the end of the interview, instead of shaking my hand and congratulating me, he said I would hear in about 6 weeks, because “you never know what the FBI will kick out” at which point everything went a bit dream-like.

What he should have said was that because they were now actually carrying out more thorough FBI background checks, there was of course, a huge backlog. But no. That would’ve been too civil. I then became convinced that the marriage in Dallas was null and void and that I was about to be featured on CNN as the latest tragic deportee. (Not that I minded going back to England, but taking the family would have been the plan.)

Happily, my paperwork came through in about 4 weeks and I was invited to the swearing in ceremony downtown. We were warned, on pain of not being sworn in, to arrive at least an hour beforehand, which of course, I did. We were all herded (again) into a large room, where we sat for about 45 minutes. Very strange. At that time, about ten more people were let into the room and I bristled at the “special people” who were allowed to be late. The judge, himself the son of Mexican immigrants, mentioned something about not everyone “loving this country as much as we do” and I thought he was referring to the events of 9/11.

Leaving the building afterwards, I noticed the place was crawling with press. Surely they don’t make this much fuss every time people are sworn in, I thought as I dodged mike booms and cameras. It was only on watching the news later that I realized some idiot had entered the building with explosives in his backpack/rucksack, intending to blow up the entire place – while I was stuck on the 29th floor.



I moved to Britain by coming over to visit my fiancée, marrying her and just never going home. We got a bit of stick for it when we went for my Leave To Remain, but mostly no one minded. That was seven years ago, however; try that now and you'll find yourself on the first boat back to where ever you came from.

When my five-year apprenticeship ended, I applied for citizenship, received it with very little fuss and attended a warm and sincere welcoming in ceremony hosted by the local Lord Lieutenant. They even provided snacks.

However, the current trend in immigration rules—be they for spouses, students, workers or Anglophiles—are not something I keep a close eye on (after all it's no longer relevant to me) but I understand it is getting steadily more expensive to get into the United Kingdom no matter how you do it. The last time I did a loose mental calculation was when my wife's cousin married an American, and it was in the thousands.

I don't recall having to pay that much. Truth be told, I don't recall how much I paid at all, so it can't have been a lot. Even my "Can You Speak English Well Enough To Pass This Test?" entry exam was only £40. I paid more than that to get my driver's license. And when you consider that Bill Bryson mentions in one of his many books that his immigration experience basically involved finding England an agreeable place to live and deciding to remain, you can't deny that admission requirements (as well as the cover charge) to club Britain are rising.

Even so, it's still way easier to get into the UK than into the US, and I have to wonder why that is. The US has gangs of room (plus that poem on the Statue of Liberty about sending over your huddled masses yearning to breathe free that I bet they wish they could blank out) whereas the UK is a bit full up. With 640 people per square mile, compared to the US's 80, I don't think it's out of line for them to raise the bar a little.

Besides, immigration over here is a lot different than in the US. Because we belong to the United States of Europe, anyone living in any of the other member states can come over whenever they want to and stay as long as they like, just as if you were moving from Minnesota to Mississippi. It's also just as hard to track them; the government, to stem the rising xenophobia, reports that the number of "non-British" EU citizens living in Britain is around 37, whereas The Daily Mail puts it somewhere nearer to 1.7 billion. So, being unable to keep EU Immigrants out, the government seems to be doing what it can to limit tangible immigration.

But it's still a doddle compared to what you have to do to get into America.

Got something you want us to address? E-mail your suggestion to us or just pop it into the comment box.


  1. I found both of these posts extremely interesting.
    I know someone who has just paid £1000 for British citizenship because she came from a rich country.
    Toni's American experience is a bit scary, while Mike had an easier time altogether.
    Maybe we should not be quite as easy on people being such a small island and not let in people who will be a complete drain on our resources.
    Obviously you are not, Mike! LOL!

  2. I've got two more years on my work permit visa before I have to apply for British Indefinite Leave to Remain, and it's not exactly easy. They now make you take the "About Britain" test even if you don't want citizenship. I'm sure it will be costly and arduous going through the process.

  3. Interesting. I'm here in the US on a spouse visa. Which basically makes life very difficult - no work permit, no social security number, although I can and now have applied for both these things. But until I get them, I feel as if I am treated as the lowest of the low, having no real ID or anything in my name. Things are not much better for my husband, who is actually employed here. And yet we have a perfectly legitimate reason for being here. I think the US needs to ensure that its various departments share the same data so that it can treat people who are here as legal aliens a little better.

    On the other side - A friend of mine in the UK, who is Malaysian, recently became a citizen and had to go through the most ridiculous amount of inquisition and examination, despite the fact that she has lived there since the age of 15 and worked for British companies in very senior positions her entire life.

    A little leeway on both sides would not go amiss.

  4. You inspired me to have a look at the citizenship info myself as I have not yet applied. OMG. Way outof my price range, Im afraid! Will have to save up and miss a couple of Christmases for that. Anyway, I had a go at the practice test and realised Im no good as a citizen anyway: I failed miserably. Ive posted about it and linked back here, hope thats ok!

  5. A couple of years ago I blogged about my experience of (and one reason for) applying for US citizenship back in 1999. I have friends who for various reasons have decided not to be US citizens - the cost is putting some of them off right now. I know it's gone up considerably. I think I paid a couple of hundred dollars. A reason for becoming a citizen that I didn't mention back then was that a non US citizen is limited in how much they can inherit tax-free from their American spouse. By the time you've added up retirement savings and the value of your house, I'm sure many people have quickly exceeded the tax-free limit.

  6. NVG: you can work with a spousal visa, assuming you have either a conditional or perm visa. I was working within a month of arriving from the UK with my US spouse. As for the SSN, there is often a communication glitch between Homeland security and SS office. The best bet is to go to your local office-they will collect your info and you'll have a number within 1-2 weeks. Check out the dive into america site for my details (if you're unfamiliar it's a site of UK/US couples who are moving from the UK to the US).

  7. I think it's much easier if your spouse is American. I too, was able to work from the get-go (hey). My English friend here though, had to wait about two years (until her English husband got a Greencard as opposed to just a work visa) before she could apply for a Social Security Card.

  8. Ahh, thanks, and my apologies if I jumped to conclusions. I had assumed the spouse was a USC which indeed makes is easier (I know lots of expats who've had the SSN issue).

    One surprise to me is how difficult it is for Americans to move to the UK--seems a work permit or spousal visa are the only options. My husband came over on a work visa and was tied to his job until he got is indefinite leave and then UK citizenship (by the time we married he had both). He felt such relief after securing indefinite leave as it enabled him to switch jobs and break free from his work permit.

    It seems that both countries do a good job of making it easy for some to move (such as the EU open-door policy or the US lottery) but impossible for others.

    I don't know that I'll ever become a US citizen for the tax reasons mentioned above. It would be nice to vote though.

  9. Toni. Typical. re: bomber. Amazing.

    Mike. Can you recite Monty Python or explain the rules of cricket? Surely a must for anyone coming in these days? :)

  10. Monty Python, yes; cricket, no ;)


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