My State I.D. arrived today, and, as predicted, the photo is horrendous! Woot!
My State I.D. arrived today, and, as predicted, the photo is horrendous! Woot!
We went back to the NCDMV today to re-submit my (totally fine and not at all expired) immigration papers, and that seemed to go smoothly. Of course, it seemed to go smoothly last time as well, but the examiner this time was aware that it had already been messed up once so he got a colleague to come and double-check his work before submitting it. He also apologised for the inconvenience and thanked me for my patience; I said it was just one of those things, so it didn't seem worth getting het up about, but, if it made better material for teasing the other guy, that he should say I totally flipped out about it.
I have to say I wasn't best pleased about having my photo taken again today, because I didn't bother to put any make-up on this morning. So the photo is bound to be even worse than the last one. Oh well, these things are not meant to be flattering are they?
On the way back we stopped to get some Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. It always takes me slightly longer to make a decision than Doc C so he ordered his first, then the lady behind the counter turned to me and asked "And you? What are you having?" To which Doc C chirpily replied "It's a girl!" to her evident confusion, because she couldn't actually see my bump over the counter and meant what doughnut did I want. Hilarity ensued, and I don't think I stopped giggling to myself for the next hour.
Doc C is on a hair-trigger as far as questions about the baby go, clearly!
I seriously feel like the state of North Carolina is messing with me.
First of all my old town sent me a letter calling me for jury duty practically on the day I move to a different county, and it's for the 13th of August (so, in case you haven't been keeping track, just at the point where my waters could break any minute). Oh, AND, in any case, I'm a resident alien, which is not an American citizen, so why I'm being called for jury duty I do not know. Ugh.
The court's letter had a series of tick boxes for reasons that you could be excused without needing to actually go to the court house and explain yourself to the judge. Not being a citizen wasn't one of them, so I went with what seemed like the easy option; not being a resident of the county. As proof of this they require a driver's licence, which I don't have, so last Monday we went to the NC Department of Motor Vehicles to get a State ID for me. To do this I queued, I smiled nicely at NCDMV employees, I provided the relevant paperworks and proofs, I signed things, I paid $10 and then I posed for what is bound to be a really unflattering photo.
Today I got a letter from the NCDMV saying there was a problem, and that to resolve the issue I needed to supply non-expired immigration paperwork. My Permanent Resident Card doesn't expire until 2019, so I was slightly perplexed by this request as you may imagine.
So I called the number on the NCDMV's letter to ask what they meant, and that number didn't work. Of course. So I called the main number, navigated the automated torture system and, after being kept on hold for half an hour and being bounced around between three different NCDMV employees, I was eventually told that my details had been entered in the wrong place in the computer - So I have to go back and resubmit them! It's their mistake, I didn't do anything wrong, all of my paperwork is in perfect order but I have to go back to their office and start the process from scratch. The really frustrating part is that the NCDMV can see that the right forms were submitted by me, but they can't correct the mistake they made without me going back to their office. Ugh.
Which wouldn't be so problematic if I didn't need to get back to the court by the 6th with a solid reason why I can't sit on the jury, so we really needed the State ID to be ready this week. Ugh.
At this point I called the court clerk's office and explained the situation. There was bemused silence, and then the woman at the other end of the phone line said "Well, just fill out the form and return it". OK, but the tick boxes don't cover two of the three reasons I'm asking to be excused because of, and the third reason I don't have the required proof for. Silence. Should I just write a letter and attach it to the form? Yeah... Do that, yeah.
So I did, my letter says:
Please excuse Jennifer from Jury Duty, because a) she doesn't live in your county, b) she is, like, SO pregnant and c) she is NOT a citizen and is therefore not allowed to bloody well serve on a jury you muppets! UGH!
Ok, I paraphrase slightly but you get the idea. Hopefully that will take care of the jury duty, but I'm not holding my breath on that one.
As for the State ID, at this point I'd be inclined to say bugger it because I don't really need it, but I paid $10 in cold hard cash for the thing (that was another thing - the NCDMV don't take cards, only cash or cheques but they don't tell you that until you go to pay. At which point you are directed a couple of miles up the roud to the nearest bank!); and, ok, it does get a little tedious explaining the permanent resident card every time I want to buy a beer.
Still. Ugh NC, UGH!
As you may remember I had my appointment to capture my biometrics, back in September, and it was a very swift process on the day. Since then I've just been waiting for my new Permanent Resident Card, and it arrived yesterday!
It's pretty much the same as the temporary visa, except the new one is a IR1 and the expired one is a CR1, but the difference in the pictures is hilarious.
On the original my photo somehow become stretched and seemed to have a rosier skin tone to it; the more recent portrait is much better but oddly yellow. It's unfortunate that maintaining my secret identity precludes me from showing you the actual photos; so instead I've approximated the effect with head-shots of the Green Queen.
My Biometric Capturing Appointment was at 11am this morning, and we got to the USCIS office at about 10:15. I took my camera. phone and iPod out of my hand bag to leave locked in the car, because it quite clearly said on the letter that all such recording devices were not allowed. I don't know why I still believe that when I read, no-one checked my bag or anything.
There really weren't many other people there, so it was all very quick, I filled out a form with all of my information for the nine millionth time and handed it in. I was then given a number, just like the delicatessen counter at the supermarket, and there were only three people ahead of me. Yay!
When my number was called I walked up to the front desk where I was met by a very sweet Spanish lady. She took me over to this, um, photocopier thingy to take my finger prints electronically. There was a little monitor that you could see the finger prints appearing on as my finger were rolled over the scanner. On the side of the screen the scores for my fingerprints came up, and I know that this wasn't a test or anything, but it was still pleasing when a print got a good mark.
Then I had to sign my name on an electronic pad, again, just like at the supermarket. Finally I had my picture taken. And that was it. The nice Spanish lady gave me a customer survey to fill out and I was free to go. We asked the police lady at the door for directions to the nearest mall, and we were on the road by 11:08.
It seems almost too easy somehow.
Today is Biometrics Day!
We are in the car and on our way to the USCIS office in Charlotte for my appointment this morning.
In the PO Box today were two things for me; one was a text book, and the other was a letter from the USCIS scheduling my appointment to got to the Application Support Center in Charlotte so that they can "capture" my biometrics and it's in four weeks time. Considering the last letter I got from USCIS indicated it could take up to twelve months for this to be scheduled, getting the appointment so quickly was quite a surprise.
However my favourite part of the letter has to be the postscript which specifically says that "If you have open wounds or bandages/casts when you appear, the USCIS may reschedule your appointment if it is determined you injuries will interfere with taking your biometrics". Noted.
This afternoon I hand-delivered documents to Human Resources and the Graduate School that confirm which courses I'll be taking for my MA and request a fee waiver because I'm a university staff member. Yay for free university courses!
At the same time I also took the letter I recently received from the Immigration Service, which acknowledges receipt of my application for my visa to be extended. This is because my initial visa was for two years, and it runs out at the end of October. To extend my visa I had to apply 90 days before the expiration date, but not earlier than that. The letter of receipt is important because it is also an extension of my visa. The really crucial thing being that it allows me to work and travel for another year, whilst I'm waiting for another letter which will give me an appointment time for biometric processing. I wanted to make sure that the University had copies of the letter in a couple of different places, so that there are no problems in October with either my paying gig or my continued education.
Funnily enough the graduate director for the English department sympathised with me this week about all of the red tape that I needed to deal with to get onto the English Lit MA program. Really though that seemed like almost nothing compared with getting and maintaining my alien spouse visa.
The only problem with really fun weekends is that the next working day is particularly painful. I know I'm hardly being original here, but OMG I hate Mondays.
Monday 3rd August 2009
Went to the gym, this morning and did my cardio.
My main task today has been continuing my forensic examination of the filing cabinets. Today's best find was a selection of different colour samples of heavy paper for a brochure printed in 1998.
Mid-morning I went with Doc to get a soy latte, and discovered today was Mayan Chocolate Brioche Day at the best bakery in town. Much rejoicing.
At lunch time I took care of some errands; paid my credit card bill, booked a hair cut, all that kind of stuff. I also went to the USCIS website to see what I need to do to remove the temporary status from my visa, which is mandatory 90 days before the two year anniversary of being granted the temporary permanent resident card. Was slightly disappointed to note there is a filing fee of several hundred dollars.
Is it any wonder that Mondays get such bad reviews? Excepting the brioche of course, because that was freakishly delicious. Apart from enjoying that pastry goodness with a banana for lunch, I must admit to having been fairly mardy pretty much from 8:30 this morning to 5:35 this evening, which was when my gorgeous husband whisked me away.
By the way, I really like the word "Mardy", but I realise it's probably not widely used in the US. Actually, I did some research (I googled it - And I'm aware they hate people using the name as a verb like that, but I care not) I found it on the Urban Dictionary . Apparently the word is local to Derbyshire, which is where I went to University. I'd like to suggest that more people add it to their vocabulary, along with the equally evocative "Numpty".
Congratulations Ella, you correctly identified our Mystery Amigurumi as the Alien Spouse from the banner! Look, she's there now!
I have your e-mail address, so I shall be in touch later today about how best to get her to you.
I'm very pleased to say that the Typepad engineers have fixed the issue I've been having with some of the categories.
Even better they managed to connect the broken links (or whatever had happened) so the Green Card and Visa Category points back at all 64 of the posts I'd designated as falling under that heading. I was really not looking forward to trawling the archives to re-categorise those posts, and now I don't have to! Hooray!
Even better Typepad are giving me a free month of blogging to compensate for the issues I've been having, which I really wasn't expecting them to do.
All in all I feel particularly warm and fuzzy towards the Typepad help-desk, and their good friends the IT genii today. They rock.
I wore my Union Jack T-Shirt to help prepare people for my accent, and we all had Obama stickers on too.
We had clipboards with registration forms and just had to say "Hi! Are you registered to vote in this county?" with a big cheesy smile. For the most part people said they were registered, or that they didn't live in this county which was fine. I did find it odd that several people said "No, Thank you!" in answer to that question.
"No, Thank you" to what? Your right to vote? Most of the people who said this were women, which is perhaps not surprising, but have they seriously not heard of the Suffragettes? Those women fought hard, and some even died, to get us this right, we should exercise it at every opportunity!
Of course I currently cannot vote because I am a resident alien and therefore not a citizen of the United States, but if I could I so would.
Someone actually got to Alien Spouse by googling "if i'm under sofa can I get an alien registration card".
Well, my guess would be that if you are under the sofa you are either a) trapped b) agoraphobic or c) a cat, but I do know that you will definitely need to come out from under the sofa to get anything done in life, particularly emigrating to a new country.
(You may not be able to read the screen grab here, but if you click on it you will get a bigger image. Promise. I haven't looked at the two other websites listed here, so I can't comment on their content, sofa related or otherwise.)
Having popped back to HR and been given all the forms I need to sign. I then had to phone a Department of Homeland Security Immigration Status Verifier and have a chat with them.
Having given the Verifier all my details I was put on hold for a bit. Then they came back to ask me to hold for a bit longer.
Then they came back and verbally verified that everything is fine. They thought maybe something had been typed in incorrectly (which is what I had suspected it would turn out to be), but that they would correct that and my records on the system will be updated within 24 hours.
So that's one thing less to worry about.
I mentioned a few days ago that Doc's Ma was in hospital. We weren't too worried, but unfortunately she needed some minor surgery. Which the surgeon performing then screwed up.
She now has to choose between two far more invasive procedures, and she's understandably shaken by the whole experience. Five of her children still live very close to her, so they are looking after her very well, I'm sure. Of course The Doc is still fairly worried, and we are considering driving to Boston over the Easter break.
On top of that, I got a call from HR yesterday saying that when they had plugged my alien ID number into the on-line forms they needed to fill out for the immigration and visa people. A report came back saying that I was ineligible to work.
I think you will find I have jumped through all the correct hoops, dotted all i's and crossed all the t's. We have done everything required of us, and paid some exorbitant fees for the privilege. Fortunately I have in my possession at least two pieces of very official paper that say I am allowed to work in the United States.
So I'm going in early today to fill in a form to contest this.
Needless to say Doc C is fretting like no-one's business about all this happening at once, and he has exams to mark too. He's a bit stressed. So when the boys next door turned the stereo all the way up to eleven last night, I had some words with them. Very polite English words, but as it turned out highly effective.
I'm getting really good at this complaining thing.
***Postscript: I'd arranged to go back to the HR office at 12.30 today to fill out the forms I needed to, but the woman who I'd made that appointment with wasn't there. She'd gone to lunch.
Updates as they happen, but you can take it as read that the Doc's blood pressure is pretty damn high right now.
I've noticed a lot of hits on Alien Spouse coming from people doing a Google search on "I've Got My Green Card But I'm Still Waiting for My Social Security Number", or variations on that theme.
I was in that very position for months, and I sympathise.
Essentially the problem is that there has recently been an unprecedented and massive spike in immigration and citizenship requests. This is having a knock on effect on the time it takes to issue Social Security Numbers to immigrants, because someone thought it would be a good idea to tie that additional piece of red tape into the immigration process.
Basically the attempt to streamline the system has backfired somewhat, and it's entirely possible to be waiting for months for your SSN.
My advice is two fold.
First if you are calling the main SSN helpline make sure you have someone to hand who already has their own Social Security Number. The automated system will not allow you to speak to an actual person without that number. Once you are through to a real live person in a real live call centre, they will only be able to tell you if your Social Security Number has already been processed and is on it's way, nothing else.
Secondly use this webpage from the Social Security website to locate contact details for your nearest Social Security office. Call that office, and specifically ask if you should come in person to see them and perhaps fill out another SSN application form. They will not suggest this course of action themselves, you must ask if that is the best thing to do in your particular case.
In my case going to the local Social Security Office got me my SSN in exactly seven days, but obviously times will vary according to the individual circumstance.
I've written about my experiences of trying to get a Social Security Number a couple of times, you can find those posts in the Green Card and Visa Category (which this post is now part of), and also on the page How I Became an Alien Spouse.
I don't know how much practical help any of what I've written will actually be to anyone, but I hope it might make you feel a bit better about it all.
As you know I got my Social Security Number on Monday, Hoorah! Which means, this week I have been mostly job hunting.
So far I've got a couple of great leads on sandwich making vacancies. In one of those I would be eligible to operate the beef slicer, and after working for a full year I would be entitled to one whole week of paid holiday time. Wow.
With that in mind I'm focusing mainly on the University, so I came to campus with Doc this morning and popped into the human resources centre to let them know I now have my social security number and could start work tomorrow if necessary. There's not a lot on offer at the moment, but I'm going to keep an eye on the website and pop into the HR centre occasionally to make sure I'm not missing anything.
Keep your fingers crossed for me!
Last night after dinner and on our way to a talk at the University, we went to the post office. I quickly ran in to check our PO Box.
There was a letter from the main Social Security Administration office in Baltimore (if only we'd known it was there when visited in December...) addressed to me.
It was my Social Security Number.
It took a week, from our applying at the local office to it's being delivered into my hot little hand.
We know for a fact it was the paperwork we filled in last Monday that came through, due to the simple fact that we purposely gave the PO box on the application this time because we'd used our home address on the previous application.
I applied on-line for three jobs at the University before I went to bed last night.
I now fully appreciate why the avoidance of queueing at a Social Security office was stressed as an advantage of the simultaneous application for an SSN and a visa.
This morning we arrived at the Social Security office half an hour before they opened, and we were the first people there. Doc C made a joke that if I saw a coach load of senior citizens I was to jump out of our car, run to the door of the office and not let anyone get in front of me, because otherwise we would never get in. At least I thought it was a joke. As we were waiting three or four other cars pulled into the car park, and at five to nine we got out of our car to wait by the door. One of the ladies, who had arrived after us, speed-walked to make sure she got to the door before us, which I regard as normal, if petty, queueing behaviour.
As we were standing there behind her, three other people walked up and stood chatting behind us. Then one of them, a woman in her 60's, just nonchalantly walked past us to be second in the queue! I couldn't quite believe it, but hey if it's that important to you lady... However when the man behind us started making a move to do exactly the same thing, I looked him straight in the eye and moved up to make it clear that the Doc and I were definitely next in line. I may be British and the most I will ever do in this type of circumstance is audibly tut, but that means I'm polite, not that I am stupid.
At 9 the doors were opened and we filed into the office, where we then waited to be assigned numbers. It turned out the gentleman who had contemplated queue jumping was there with his daughter, and when she saw four people were ahead of her, she said in a loud whine "Oh! We don't have to wait in line do we?". Um, yes you do Princess. That's how this works.
Anyway we saw the officer (and by the way our number was called first, take that you queue hopping grannies!) and I explained that I was a legal alien, who'd been waiting for an SSN for three months. He simply handed me a new application to fill out, put my details into the system, gave me a receipt of application and advised me it would take 3 to 4 weeks before I'd get my number. It took ten minutes at most.
When we got to the Doc's office we called our building supervisor to check on the lino situation. It turns out they won't be getting to our flat until sometime this afternoon, maybe. Why? Well, they have to pick up the new lino and then, inexplicably, they'll be doing one of the other flats before they get to us. Is the other flat sufffering some type of lino emergency, why are they being done before us? Who knew even flats could queue jump?
This will probably be a fairly long post by Alien Spouse standards, so are you sitting comfortably? Good, then we shall begin.
I'm still waiting for my Social Security number, without which I cannot get a job, I have been waiting since the end of October so it's been three months now. The Doc suggested I give someone a call and see if we can find out what is going on, when last we asked about this we were told there was currently a delay of about fifteen weeks.
I looked up the Social Security website and found the section for immigrants. Essentially the system for immigrants is now that we apply for a SSN at the same time as our visas, and I particularly love the section on the website that explains why this is a better system, which states:
- Find a Social Security office near your new home;
- Go in person to the Social Security office;
- Wait in line;
- Apply for a Social Security number; or
- Wait for the Social Security number card to come in the mail.
Instead, the U.S. government will use the same information that you give to apply for an immigrant visa to apply for an SSN. Then, once you arrive in the U.S., you can expect your SSN card at your mailing address in about 3 weeks.
One less thing to worry about as you settle in your new country!
Hmmm... That sounds really sensible, until you've literally been sitting around for three months waiting for your SSN, and getting really quite worried about it. Particularly as you can't apply for a job, or open a bank account, or do anything else to "...settle in your new country!" without a SSN, it is that fundamental a requirement to every day life in the United States.
Anyway, the website listed a number to call if you had entered the country more then three weeks ago and were still waiting for your SSN. Which would definitely be me.
So I called that number, and as could only be expected I got an automated service asking me to press, or say, 1 for English, 2 for Spanish or 9 if I was afraid of keypads and needed counselling about that.
I worked my way through to the point where the automated lady said "Ok, I'll put you through to someone who can help. First I need your social security number, please enter it on your keypad or say it slowly."
I tried not pressing any buttons on the keypad, whilst not saying anything, and I also tried not pressing any buttons on the keypad but saying clearly "I don't have a number, that's why I'm calling", in both case I got the automated response.
"I'm sorry I didn't understand you. Please enter your Social Security Number now..."
I tried everything, twice, and there honestly wasn't any way around this, the automated lady is really insistent that you give her you SSN. So I e-mailed a nice polite complaint about being directed to a system that won't accept I don't have a Social Security number, when I'm calling precisely because I want to find out why I don't have that number in the first place.
Then I looked up the phone number for our local Social Security office, and worked my way through the automated system there. I actually managed to speak to a real person, who was super nice but totally unhelpful. She couldn't seem to get her head around my last name being hyphenated, "Could we have put [that] as your middle name?", Oh, I really hope not. So although she couldn't find my name in the system (which was apparently all she could do for me anyway) I wasn't exactly a hundred percent convinced she'd actually searched for anything like my name. I also asked about the fifteen week delay and she said that they "...hadn't heard any different.", which has to be one of the most back covering statements in recent history, and she didn't offer any other suggestions except that I call back in a few weeks.
By this point I'd spent a fairly frustrating hour on the phone, and had no new information to show for it. When the Doc came home, I explained the situation to him as best I could without resorting to language ill-befitting a lady.
Being a problem-solving man, Doc C decided that he would call the automated harridan on the main SSN helpline. He got deeply frustrated with her very quickly, and he also couldn't find a way round giving them a Social Security number and eventually gave them his own just to talk to someone with a pulse. He then waited for ten minutes listening to what he felt was the worst on-hold music ever. When he did speak to a real live person all that that person could do was to check if I was already in the system as having been assigned a number. Which I haven't been.
Then the Doc tried a different tack, could we go to the local Social Security office with all the bits of paper we need and ask them to look it up? Yes, we could do that. And if I didn't already have a SSN, could they process my request then? Yes, but we'd probably have to queue and they wouldn't give me the number then and there. They'd have to post the number to me, and that takes a few days.
But essentially, we can go to the office and get it all sorted out? All we have to do is QUEUE? That's all we have to do? I'm British for crying out loud, I was born queueing! It's one of those things we Brits are famously good at! Why did no-one tell us this before?
On Monday we intend to drive to the office, which is a mere 45 minutes away. Updates as they happen.
* * * * * Postscript * * * * *
For some reason Google tends to direct people to this post fairly frequently. So, for any new visitors who are wondering what happened, the story of my appointment at the Social Security Office can be found here, and the continuing saga of my applications for both my Visa and Social Security Number can be found here, and in a slightly different format here.
I don't know if any of this will be actually useful to anyone, but I hope it's at least moral support as you struggle with the system. You'll get there in the end.
I was looking at the the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service website to see who I should call about my Social Security number, just to get some idea of where I am in the process for that and maybe get an estimate on how much longer it might take.
Whilst on the website I read a report that basically says that over June, July and August 2007 USCIS had over three million applications, which is a massive increase. Usually they would expect to receive five hundred and thirty thousand a month.
I applied for my visa in March 2007. How lucky was that?
Before this spike the waiting time for a visa was on average seven months, it's now eighteen months.
The surge is attributed to both the rise in fees and the forthcoming presidential election, particularly as immigration has become such a political hot topic.
Oh and by the way, the system was recently changed so that people applying for a green card also applied for their Social Security number at the same time, so a spike in visa applications would therefore have a knock on effect on Social Security numbers.
So, I'm still waiting...
Today was very exciting. I actually put socks and shoes on. Then I went outside. I know, I couldn't quite believe it either, but it's true, I left my flat for the first time in three days.
I walked all the way to the end of the tarmacked communal drive way to the communal post boxes, and I unlocked our specific post box. Inside were two pieces of junk mail, not even addressed to a specific name just "resident".
I don't think I was honestly expecting my Social Security number to be there today, but it has to arrive at some stage and today would have been nice. I was doing all that positive visualisation malarkey on the walk from my flat to the post box, but to no avail.
I needn't have bothered putting shoes on at all.
It was the Doc's first day back at school today, he was a little bit nervous. What if the new kids don't like him? I don't think he needs to worry, but that is how the Doc likes to operate. An absolute nightmare of a worst case scenario tends to be in his head at all times, so that way he gets a pleasant surprise when things turn out to be actually ok.
One good thing is that he has a new timetable for this term, which means he isn't teaching any early morning classes. This is much better for two simple reasons, first of all the Doc really is not a morning person and it took a lot of pain and effort for him to be awake and fully functioning for those early classes. Second of all, students definitely aren't morning people and they would either not show up the day after a big football match or party, alternatively they would show up, stagger to their seats and then simply have a little zizz in class. Apparently one kid slept through most of last term, but he would turn up in the Doc's office later in the day to clarify anything he was snoring through and didn't understand from the notes (I hasten to point out that when the Doc is telling me amusing student stories he never identifies the student, so confidentiality is always respected).
It's going to be really weird getting used to hanging around the flat by myself all day again. To re-cap, I still don't have a Social Security number and, based on the 15 week delay we were told about in December, it's likely to be at least another couple of months before I get one, so that means I still can't look for a job. It's getting quite tedious. Not that I'm not loving the free time, but the lack of salary obviously then leads to trying to think of activities you can do for free, which in London or Brighton was actually pretty easy but here? Well, I think I've pretty much exhausted most of the possibilities already.
Fortunately Doc C came up with the brilliant notion of ordering the first three seasons of "The Wire" on DVD from Netflix, so that I can catch up and fully comprehend it's brilliance. That means I'll be spending the next few weeks in the company of Dominic West. So things aren't so bad.
I've written some very basic step-by-step notes on how I got my green card. The visa application process took almost the whole of 2007 and I've broken it down by month, to give an idea of what happened when and how long each stage took. This is by no means a definitive guide to the American immigration service, it's just how it worked for me and The Doc.
I've posted the notes as a separate page, which has a link on the left side panel under the title "How I Became an Alien Spouse".
As you can see the card has my finger print on it, but what you can't see is the picture of me, which was the extremely expensive one that I knew made me look weird. The process of putting the passport photo onto the card has stretched the picture slightly, which in this case means that I now have that serial killer look I've been going for. Doc said it looks like I would eat my victims, and he's not wrong. sigh.
I also got another Welcome Notice, exactly the same as the last one except for the date.
I feel really welcome now.
Today was a really good day. We got up late to find a beautiful clear blue sky, and most of the snow from yesterday melting away. We drove over to the next town to buy more cards (When I asked the Doc who we needed to send cards to he replied "I dunno", and then, after we'd bought cards, he suddenly remembered that he's the youngest in a family of roughly a bajillion. So we needed more cards.), and wandered along the picturesque streets drinking eggnog lattes and window shopping.
We were extremely happy to get this, because receiving the welcome notice indicates that my social security number shouldn't be too far behind. This letter says we should next hear from Homeland Security within thirty days, but I noticed the notice doesn't specify that this will be about a social security number. I'm also bearing in mind that when I spoke to someone at USCIS they told me there was currently quite a delay. So, once again, I'm not sure what time frame applies here.
Along with the welcome notice was another pre-approved credit card application, I'm pre-approved for a platinum card now. I wonder what they'll offer me when I have a job and a bank account of my very own...
Actually you look more like a bad-news-first kind of a crowd, so lets kick off with that.
We are still waiting for my social security number, and as previously discussed, this is necessary for me to provide when applying for jobs. The Doc has been fretting about this because, honestly, this whole immigration and moving continents process has been expensive, and I haven't worked for the past six months because it's been so disruptive to our lives. I'm sure you can do the necessary mental arithmetic to come to the answer that I need a job. Now.
We discovered I was supposed to have received a welcome card, and that was supposed to arrive thirty days after I became a permanent resident. I haven't got that card yet, and my social security number would follow that by a few weeks.
I phoned the helpline, and there was a recorded message saying due to a spike in applications there is currently a delay and it is taking up to fifteen weeks for paperwork to be processed. I hung on (and, by the way, the on hold music was hilariously interspersed with a grumpy sounding man saying various things like "Have you lost your card?", and "All charges are non-refundable"), and eventually spoke to two very nice gentleman who told me there is a delay and it's taking up to fifteen weeks for paperwork to be processed. So I asked, can I apply for jobs without having the social security number? Umm, well you can, but the prospective employers will probably want the social security number.
On to the good news. It's not that exciting, unless you are me, or my Mum and then it's wildly exciting.
At my medical I was weighed, and I was at 170 pounds. The doctor giving the medical advised that I try to lose 20 pounds, and "...not get caught up in American eating habits". I very unwillingly weighed myself today, and I am 157 pounds. Hoorah!
I've only been in North Carolina a very short time, but since actually moving here I've been sent three pre-approved credit card applications with dizzyingly high interest charges. I know you are probably thinking, "So what? I get five of those things every morning", which is true, I know I got them all the time in the UK and they are probably still being sent to the last 4 houses I lived in.
The interesting thing about this is that the credit card applications are being sent to my home address, not my PO Box. Again not that odd, until you reflect that I do not ever give out my home address, because the post box we have at home is a tiny cubby hole in a communal mail-box. Of course it has a lock on it, but not one I'd put any faith in being unbreakable, and so I prefer to know that my post is being taken care of at the post office by the lovely Robin. The PO Box is therefore the address I give anyone who needs to know.
So who has my home address? Well, the only people I know have this address are the US Immigration Service, I honestly can't think of any other organisation that I've given this address to. How my address has got from them to the credit card companies, I do not know.
Having read my post yesterday about my having been in the States for a month now, I would imagine there are some of you who are thinking "You've been there a month, and there is still no mention of you finding a job? Well really, Young Lady! This is real life you know, not a round of the Campus Queen Board Game!" To which I would reply, "Whoa, harsh! But nice Campus Queen reference..."
Obviously when we decided to move from London to North Carolina, the Doc and I did discuss what on earth I would do for a living. Part of the frustration of the Visa process was that I couldn't apply for anything before the green card was approved and I actually got here.
Now I that have been here for a few weeks, of course I am looking for a job, but it needs to be the right job. I could flip burgers or pack bags tomorrow, but I would be earning very little and, really, that is not the right decision for our long term plan. The best thing right now would be for me to find some office admin work at the University.
There are a number of reasons why this would be good, for one thing it would be handy to work in roughly the same vicinity as Doc C. Secondly, I am intending to study for an MA whilst we are here, so that I can eventually teach. If I get a job with the University I would be allowed time off to attend one course a term, and I think that course would also be free.
The final job search problem is that I am still waiting for a social security number. The University is used to dealing with foreign professors who don't have their social security numbers yet, and so they know what forms to fill out in the interim. My guess would be most other employers would be totally thrown, because without a social security number you pretty much don't exist here. When am I expecting my social security number? Well, the website says it will take about three weeks, but during my Visa interview the time frame mentioned was between six to nine months. Basically I could get it tomorrow, or still be waiting for it in June. Like most of the visa process, it will happen when it happens.
So I have applied for temp work through the University's temping service, and I am applying for suitable full-time positions as they arise. As yet, I haven't heard anything, but I fully I intend to be gainfully employed as soon as possible.
I suddenly realised that I had missed the one month anniversary of my getting a Green Card and finally being able to just live with my husband in his home country. It was on Sunday.
Weird. Very weird.
I mentioned this to the Doc and we were talking about some friends of friends who had re-trained to be a teacher and a carpenter in order to move to New Zealand, because you need to demonstrate that you have skills that the government feel the job market is lacking to emigrate to there. This is not an easy process but they finally finished their respective courses, worked their way through the immigration service and moved to New Zealand. After six weeks they came back, because they were feeling homesick.
That is not likely to happen to me. I won't say that there aren't people I'm missing, and places I wish it were still fairly easy to get to, but I'm not pining for Great Britain. Maybe it's because I brought proper tea and Marmite with me, so if I ever do feel a bit out of place I can get centred again fairly easily. I am British, I am not going to lose my accent and that is final.
The internet has made a massive difference, I wouldn't feel quite so comfortable without being able to read the news on the BBC website, or knowing that I can easily get Lush cosmetics or Fortnum and Mason tea.
More importantly the internet means we have Skype so I can call my Mum for a chat. I can also see when she's read my blog, so I know she knows I'm ok and that makes a huge difference. The internet also means that I can e-mail or Facebook message friends and still feel like I have a vague idea of what's going on with them.
Of course, finally, I know that we are able to go back to the UK to visit, and that people will probably come and visit us. They'd better bloody had do anyway, it's only an eight hour flight and a two hour drive...
After an evening spent riding a Ghost Train, and being menaced by people in rubber fright-masks it's hardly surprising I had some pretty weird dreams last night.
The one I remember most clearly was about a team of contract killers, who I had to dispose of bodies for. I think. I didn't actually see anything gory in the dream, so it's odd that I had that very distinct impression of my role without handling actual corpses in the dream.
I was particularly concerned because I was certain I'd left a fingerprint somewhere, very specifically I'd left my right hand middle fingerprint on something, and I was worried. I was mainly concerned about the finger print because I knew the immigration department would be running checks on my prints, and if they were found to connect to an unsolved crime that would be bad.
It was a very odd dream, for lots of reasons obviously, but I like how my sub-conscious takes a really horrific starting point and then relates to the red tape of my visa application.
Oh, and in case anyone from the Immigration Service is reading this, I have never in actual fact seen a real live dead body, much less tried to dispose of one in an inappropriate or illegal manner. Brownie Guide honour.
My journey yesterday was quite a long one. I got out of bed in Norfolk at 5.30, and I finally got back into bed in North Carolina just over 24 hours later.
Mum drove me to the airport, and we made good time. Mum and I had already decided that we were not going to get all upset and tearful at the airport, so that was obviously all fine.
When I'd checked in, I went through the security checks and my bag was selected for searching, of course. It was all unpacked, and the electronic nose sniffed everything, a couple of things were x-rayed again.
There then followed the usual hanging around that gets done at an airport, I bought water, apple (I could only get sliced apple in a bag though, plain old fresh fruit was nowhere to be found) and a bottle of Paul Smith perfume, before headin to my gate.
I can report that I quite like transatlantic flights with North Western Airlines, the air crew were all really nice and efficient, the food was pretty good (for aircraft food, obviously), they had an excellent selection of films and cartoons to keep me entertained but more importantly, the leg room was very good and the head rests on the seats were the most comfortable I've encountered. The only problem is they don't fly directly to Charlotte, and the hassle of connecting flights is really not worth it.
At Detroit I handed over The-Envelope-That-Must-Not-Be-Opened to the officer at Immigration control. I was sent over to a desk set aside for Visa processing. The woman dealing with me opened The Envelope (which contained several of the forms I'd filled out, but I couldn't see what else was in there), she took my right index fingerprint, using a proper ink pad this time instead of the usual electronic pad thingy, and asked me to sign next to it. Then she stamped my passport with my temporary green card, and told me that I should expect to receive my social security number at some point in the next 6 to 9 moths.
And that was about it. I'd been told to bring a good book with me for this part of the process, because it would apparently take at least a couple of hours. I think it actually took less then ten minutes. I honestly don't know if that's normal, or if my application was so unusually straight forward that I was just very easy to deal with.
After I'd got my passport back, I had to collect all my luggage to be re-checked in for the connecting flight. This was actually quite handy, because it meant I could pack the perfume I'd bought at Gatwick, as well as the chest x-ray that I'd being carrying with me until the immigration officer explained that was actually for me to give to my doctor in the states, not part of the immigration paper work.
Then I had to go through security again and my bag was searched again.
This time I found out what was freaking them out. It was the scented candle with a silver lid that Mum had given to us as a wedding present. It obviously look a bit more sinister when viewed on an x-ray screen.
Once I knew I'd finally got my visa safely stamped, and all my bags re-checked in, I phoned Doc C and told him I was on my way.
I have just managed to drag myself out of bed and into the kitchen. I made toast and Marmite, and some Fortnum and Mason's Green Earl Grey in my half litre Whittards tea cup. As you can see there is a corner of North Carolina that will be forever England.
I have much to tell you about the flights, the airports and, of course, the exciting finale to the whole Visa Extravaganza.
But for now I am tired, so let's just go for the succinct. I arrived safely.
I have filled one large green zip-up shoulder bag with just clothes, I have also filled one large wheelie bag with clothes, half my CD collection, my favourite Christmas decorations (They are die-cut cardboard cut outs of 1940's movie stars), a large number of Lush products, Jamie Oliver's new cookbook, an enormous jar of Marmite, a bottle of CK One, a bottle of Baedadas Original bubble bath and several books stuffed in the front pocket in case of literary emergency.
In the large soft wheelie bag I will be putting my file of important papers (No, Doc C, I am not referring to the papers I will need to hand over to the immigration officials. Those will be in my hand luggage.), red DM boots, black ballet flats, a cream wool coat, several hoodies, a v-shaped companion pillow, a cotton stars and moons blanket and whatever else I can squeeze in without danger of the thing bursting.
In the red courier bag I use for my carry-on luggage will be my immigration paperwork, a black skully mug, a Tate Modern Measurement glass, 3 mirrored glass tea light holders, a small present for Doc C and all of those things I deem necessary for transatlantic travel.
Is that everything I was hoping to take back with me this time? Frankly no, but there is only so much I can actually take on a plane anyway.
On my trip to London for The Visa Interview, I mainly spent the evening before in my hotel room reading through all my paperwork, and chanting the names of all 7 of Doc C's siblings, in chronological order, just in case there was a test on the live and times of Doctor C (There wasn't. As I worked through this process I increasingly found that the film "Green Card" (1990) is a very misleading text to draw information about the US immigration service from.)
The only other thing I did, that wasn't related to my Visa application, was to visit Waterstones flagship branch on Piccadilly. I used to work for Waterstones, they are still my favourite chain of bookshops and when they said Piccadilly was going to be a flagship bookshop they were so not kidding. It is magnificent.
I wanted an international Scrabble dictionary (meaning it's taken from the SOWPODS word lists), because that would have the most playable words as it draws from both the official American and British word lists, but I also wanted it to be the competitive version, as this also contains words expunged from the family edition word lists for being offensive. Doc C and I are not easily offended, unless we are prevented from making a killer move because a word might be considered slightly risque by Mary Whitehouse. I found they only had the Chambers British Scrabble word lists and dictionaries, and I asked if they stocked the international versions at all. The answer was no, as they had had virtually no-one requesting that.
I bought the Chambers dictionary, & made a joke about Doc C, as an American, having to accept the British dictionary rulings and the Book Seller said "Well, after all, we did invent the language!" and I thought about that and said, "True, but they invented the game".
All I can think about right now is: I have my visa. I can fly to Detroit on Thursday, hand over my Envelope-Which-I-May-Not-Open, fill in an application form for a Permanent Resident Card or "Green Card" (form I-551) and then I can catch my connecting flight to Charlotte.
Well, I'm thinking that and how awful After You've Gone is. It's got the BBC1, Friday night at 8.30 slot and it is just dire. Poor Celia Imrie, Poor Dani "Tracey Beaker" Harmer but what were they thinking signing up to a sit-com with Nicholas Lyndhurst? Did they not see "Goodnight Sweetheart"?
This is the envelope which I must not open, it's only to be opened by a United States Immigration or Public Health Service Officer.
This is my Visa. I must surrender it to a United States Immigration Officer at Port of Entry to the United States, which will be Detroit in a just under a week from now.
I won't pack this, I'll carry it in my hand.
Remember how the courier firm told me it would take 3 - 5 working days for my passport, visa and mysterious sealed envelope to be delivered? And they also said they'd send me a text when it was on it's way.
Well they didn't send the text, and they tried to deliver this morning when Mum and I were out for our morning stroll. The courier couldn't find the house (which admittedly is in the middle of a field, without many distinguishing features.) and phoned the land line number about 10 minutes after we had left.
Next morning is not 3 - 5 days. It is distinctly different from 3 - 5 days. It may well be better, but if you don't forewarn the recipient to be there, how are they supposed to know?
I don't have a watch, and without my mobile phone with me I couldn't say exactly what time I arrived at the Embassy. Why didn't I have my phone? Because it said in all of the letters I received that I must NOT take any electricals like mobile phones, mp3 players or digital cameras, so all of those things were in my luggage in the hotel reception. How annoyed was I when the girl in front of me had brought all of those things and was simply given a plastic zip lock bag to put them in? Pretty annoyed actually.
Once through the security checks, which are similar to airport security checks, you go to a reception desk where you are given a number and asked to take a seat. The seats all face two enormous screens which indicate where your ticket number is in the queue. It is exactly like Argos.
It felt like it took years, and my heart was going like the clappers for the whole thing, but eventually my number was called. I went to window one, and the woman dealing with the first part of the process was a little Chinese lady. She spoke very fast and very quietly, so I could barely make out what she was saying. It was extremely disconcerting. Fortunately I just had to hand her various forms in the order requested, and one of my 2 inch square photos. She gave me a scare because I hadn't made photocopies of all of my documents, I said I was sorry and she said "You will be sorry!". Then I remembered that the interview letter had said they could make copies of documents there, she said "Well yes. But it costs a pound for each copy and we don't encourage it!". Then she took my finger prints on an electronic pad, and sent me to pay my processing fee of $380 to the cashier. When I'd done that, she gave me a pink courier form to fill in and my chest x-ray from the medical examination a couple of weeks ago.
And here is my chest x-ray:
Isn't that cool? What other blog gives you chest x-rays? Alien Spouse for all your rib, spine and shoulder blade needs!
Then I had to sit in the waiting room again until my number was called a second time. This was quicker, but my heart was still racing. This time I had a very nice American lady, who I could hear clearly, and she looked at all of my forms.
Doc C had been getting particularly worked up about the tax forms he'd supplied as part of the affidavit of support, but she looked at those and said "Right, because he was living here for a few years". Then she looked at the pay slip and the letter from his employers, and smiled "Give your husband a gold star! He actually read the list of requirements, I've got everything here I need. That very rarely happens first go."
I signed something (I can't remember what it said. The American government wants my first born? Sure!) then I had to give my left hand finger prints again, finally I raised my right hand and swore the statements I had given were true.
Visa interview completed successfully. Assuming those fingerprints don't link me to any major unsolved crimes (which they won't, they never found the man I shot in Reno just to watch him die. Joke.), I'll be sent my passport with the visa inside and a sealed envelope which must not be opened before I give it, along with my chest x-ray, to the immigration officials when I get back to the States. That is actually the final hurdle of this process, so it's not 100% approved yet. It's more like 99.6% right now.
I went to pay for the courier to deliver my passport and visa in the next 3 to 5 working days, and then I left the Embassy. I was originally planning to noodle around London for a bit, but I suddenly felt so tired that I had to come straight home, and go to bed for several hours.
Where were we? I was heading to London when last we spoke I believe. The journey was without incident, and I made it to my hotel in excellent time.
When I went to check-in the receptionist asked for my credit card, and I explained that my Mother had already paid by credit card on-line. This apparently wasn't possible, and they needed to have authorisation and a copy of the card faxed through. There was some discussion about this as you may well imagine, but I rang Mum, and we got this organised. I had to wait in reception until the fax had come through, as soon as it did I was given my room key.
Having seen the room and dumped my bags, I went to get my Visa photo taken. These are similar to passport photos but the apparently crucial difference is that they are 2 inches square. And it costs £15 to get two done. I then went to Waterstones on Piccadilly and just generally walked around, finishing off by going to find the Embassy in preparation for the morning.
I spent the rest of the evening watching TV (Emmerdale had a very dramatic house fire, I don't watch regularly but it seems to me that soap opera is basically "lambing, lambing, lambing, DEATH AND DESTRUCTION, lambing".) and making sure all of my forms were filled in and properly organised in their plastic folders.
In the morning I was woken up at 5.15 by the sound of a newspaper being slipped under my door. The sound was a mere brushing of the carpet, but I was so keyed up that was enough to wake me.
I got dressed in a charcoal grey pencil skirt, white shirt and black tank top (That a sweater vest to any US readers), and pinned on my silver shield brooch, which is enigmatically inscribed "G.W.L.G., Hockey 1933-34". At 7.30 I went to check out.
The receptionist took my key, and I arranged with the concierge to leave my bags at reception. I turned to leave and the receptionist, who was a different person to the night before, called out "Excuse me! I need your credit card please". Well, frankly, I was stressed out this morning so it was not the morning to mess with me. I turned and said "NO. I've discussed this once already when I checked in. My Mother has paid for the room. A fax was sent last night with the authorisation, I wasn't given my room key until it arrived, so I know that is all in order.". The receptionist fiddled with the paperwork for my room, and I could see the fax of Mum's card on the bottom sheet, so I pointed that out to her. She said "Well yes, but it's a bit hard to read" and I stared at her with my bitch face on (I learnt that at the booth, it is one of my more important life skills). Then she said "I'll take the number from the authorisation form".
I left the hotel, still fuming slightly, had breakfast at Pret and then set off for the Embassy.
My interview is at 8.30 tomorrow morning, and to get there on time from Norwich would involve me catching a train at 5.00 in the morning.
And then I thought, but what would happen if the train was delayed for some reason? What if there were signal problems, or leaves on the line? So instead I'm booked into a hotel about ten minutes walk from the Embassy and I'm going to London this afternoon. It will mean I can, hopefully, get a bit more sleep so I'm not quite so jet lagged and it's one less thing to stress out about.
Doc C is practically having kittens about the whole thing, he's really worried that I don't have the right tax forms and just generally freaking out. I think he likes to have a good fret, he's definitely of the opinion that the glass is half-empty and what liquid is in the glass is filthy and disease ridden. I'd always prefer to check what's in the glass first, and if it's nice, well then the glass is half full.
I'm not taking the lap top with me, so I won't be posting the outcome of the interview until tomorrow evening, unless I happen across a nice internet cafe or something.
So, you remember how I was supposed to be connecting in Detroit? Didn't happen, but *Spoiler Warning* I did still manage to get to Norfolk safely.
My 4.10 flight from Charlotte was delayed with computer problems, at first it was just going to be an hour and I was assured I would make the Gatwick flight. Then it was a delay of three and a half hours and I was not going to be able to make the connection. Everyone on my flight who was connecting in Detroit had to phone a helpline number to see what they could do for you, and I was bumped from the North Western Detroit-Gatwick flight to the US Airways direct flight that was leaving from Charlotte at 7.50.
This was actually much better for me, because although I'd leave Charlotte three hours later than planned, without all the hanging around in Detroit, I'd get into Gatwick 2 hours sooner. We had looked at this flight but it was strangely expensive, so for me this seemed to be a win-win.
First though I had to get from one end of the airport, Concourse A for domestic flights, to the other end of the airport, Concourse D for international flights, to make sure the transfer between the airlines had gone smoothly. This was doubly important because I had no paper work, or even a reference number, to show that I could get on that flight.
So I jogged through the airport, and waited for the US Airways departure gate to open. Once it did, I explained my having been sent over from NW and, after 45 minutes of fiddling around with computers, they handed me a ticket. Then I asked about my luggage.
The lovely departure gate people at US phoned NW, and it turned out my luggage had been dumped on a carousel over in Concourse A. Of course no one had thought to mention this to me when I was over at the NW departure gate. I had to describe my luggage in detail (at which point my having sewn several distinctive Emily Strange patches on to my wheelie suitcase really came into it's own) so they could make sure it was still there. It was, so the departure gate people decided that the best thing to do, would be for me to go and get the bag and check it in at the main US Airways check-in desk.
I had 90 minutes before the flight, and I was told if it even looked like I might miss my flight to just drop everything and run, so I jogged back to Concourse A and miraculously found my bag really quickly. Then I had to go back to the main entrance to the airport and check in again, which was fine, the queue looked long but moved quickly.
Of course this also meant I had to go back through the security check point again, so I was chugging the litre bottle of water I'd bought whilst waiting at my original departure gate for my original flight. Just as I got to the x ray machines I was randomly selected for a security search. In my head I was thinking "Aaaaahhhh!!!!!!!!!! You have got to be kidding!!!!! Not now!!!!!!!!!!! I don't have time for this!!!!!!!!! I wouldn't have the first clue where to buy drugs!!!!!!!!! I am not a terrorist!!!!!!!!! Why Me?!?!?!?!?!? What is this profile Doc C and I fit?????? How should I dress to avoid it??????? AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!" but I kept a lid on it, and was very co-operative and friendly whilst my boots and bag were being electronically sniffed. I talked about my Visa application, which explained why I was travelling alone, and the homeland security people seemed to relax a bit.
I made it back to the departure gate 15 minutes before boarding.
Yesterday we went to Staples and I bought a zip-up ring binder and 50 plastic document holders. I then spent yesterday carefully organising all of my paperwork in the folder, so that it is in the order listed on the letter the embassy sent.
The folder fits perfectly in my cream shoulder bag (the one with the tree print, not the one with the skull and cross bones. I'm thinking that "pirate" is probably not the image I want to be projecting at the interview)
As Doc C said, they will either be very impressed with my organisational skills or very suspicious indeed.
Doc C and I were talking about how quickly my request for an interview was processed, and both of us had had excellent reasons to assume it was going to take some time. My very best case scenario involved it being in six weeks time, the Doc was just hoping I might make it to NC for Christmas.
We couldn't work out why this very slow process suddenly hit warp speed. And then I remembered.
On the bottom of the form you fill in when requesting the interview are two boxes. One box asks for the date of your medical, as it happened I wasn't able to book the medical before I filled out the form, because the surgery's computers had been down when I called and I needed to get this application in the post, with this in mind I wrote "T.B.C.".
The other box asks for the date of proposed travel to the States, now all the way through this process it is stressed that you must not make any travel plans because there is no way of knowing when your interview date will be, therefore it really shouldn't be possible to give a date as the answer to this question. I assumed it was virtually a trick question, because I should not have a specific date planned before knowing my interview date.
So I wrote "A.S.A.P.".
Today's photo is of the hallway that Doc C's office is on. Today is actually a school holiday, so we were pretty much the only people in the building.
I was planning to take some photos of autumnal leaves, or the vast quantities of pumpkins for sale at the fruit and veg stall round the corner, but frankly Doc C and I are just so stunned by this whole my-Visa-Interview-is-now-next-week scramble that we both feel really tired now.
So we had to come home and have a cup of tea. I am still British after all.
Doc C and I drove to the next town over today, which is chocolate box pretty and full of amazing Halloween kitsch, we had coffee and a muffin, and commenced wandering around the shops.
We were in an antiques shop when the Doc's phone rang, but he couldn't get to it in time. When he listened to the voice mail message it was from my Mum. This morning I'd got a letter from the embassy about my Visa interview.
And, oh yeah, it's next Wednesday.
We were both sort of stunned, and we rushed back to Doc's office so we could Skype Mum for further details. She read me the salient points of the letter, which are essentially come to the Embassy next Wednesday at 8.30 in the morning and don't be late.
The date on the letter was the 4th of October, but because of the postal strike it hadn't arrived until this morning. As you know we weren't expecting to even get this letter for at least another fortnight, and all the information we've read about the process has said that when you get the letter it will be about a month in advance of the interview. Heck, last time Doc C checked the embassy website he read that there was a three month backlog on interviews at the moment. That's why he flew me over here in the first place!
Obviously the next thing we did was to try and change the dates for my flight home, but it wasn't possible to do that, so we were forced to book a whole new ticket. And ticket prices have mysteriously doubled.
There's nothing else for it though, re-scheduling the Visa interview is really not an option, so we booked the cheapest flights we could (I am connecting in Detroit) and I leave on Sunday.
I'll have been in North Carolina for exactly one week.
Mum and Stu very kindly got up at a ridiculous hour to drive me to the airport, and we got there nice and early. Which was useful, because when I got to the check-in desk the line was actually really short and I zipped through, but the second I actually got to the desk ALL the computers crashed. I was quite relaxed knowing I was really early, and I chatted to the lovely check-in ladies. The queue grew and grew, and they were getting some really dirty looks, but I was so sympathetic that when it did get up and running again, I was only charged for one of my two extra bags. The moral is be nice, it's just pleasanter all round.
As I wrote yesterday I really hoped that I would be sat next to a nice lady, and I was very lucky indeed. The lady who did have the seat next to me was utterly delightful. When she sat down I noticed that she had a British passport, but her accent was very much American with the odd English phrase here and there. It turned out that she had moved to America 60 years earlier having married a GI at the end of WWII. She'd left Britain when she was 18, but always retained her British citizenship and seemed to be very happy with how the move had worked out. I think she is a very positive role model for Alien Spouses everywhere!
There were only a couple of films that I wanted to watch (I watched the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" which is really long, and overly complicated.), so I mainly listed to music or chatted to my flight companion. We did however still have plenty of drama, as we were sitting right behind the seating area reserved for the stewardesses (They get the bulk head seats, and a curtain across, so it's a really neat little cubicle) and, about two hours before we landed, they brought one of the passengers to sit there. He was having trouble breathing and had had chest pains that morning, so they put out the classic call "Is there a physician on the flight?". They were inundated, a woman who introduced herself as a general surgeon turned up first and got the gig, but very close on her heels was a man who said "I'm a dentist, but I have had some general medical training as well". I think I counted at least another four doctors who made themselves known. It was very reassuring.
As it turned out the poor man had been going through several very stressful and emotionally draining situations all at once, and was just completely stressed out. Combine that with a general fear of flying and you get a panic attack. He calmed down a lot, and by the time we landed he seemed a lot more comfortable.
We landed slightly early, and the line for immigration was quite short (we were the first flight to arrive after their lunch break) but again the second I walked up to the desk the computers all crashed. I think that worked in my favour because the immigration officer was a bit concerned that I'm currently unemployed and visiting my American husband. I had to reassure her several times that I am literally almost at the end of the visa process, I actually forgot that I had all of the paperwork with me in my courier bag but perhaps I otherwise I would have actually shown her that! Fortunately with the computer glitch and the growing queue she decided to let me go through without too much hassle.
When I got to the baggage carousel my bags were all there waiting for me, but it turns out the baggage trolleys at Charlotte are crucially smaller than the trolleys at Gatwick and there was just no way I could fit everything on. Whilst I was trying to re-stack the bags into some feasible configuration, I had one cop and one airport official each separately ask me what was in Doc C's guitar case, which is a long oblong box and not actually guitar shaped. I resisted the urge to say it was a high power rifle, smiled and explained it was a bass guitar.
Just when I thought I was going to have to balance something on my head to get it all through customs, a lovely airport employee, who was parking a wheel chair nearby, saw me struggling said "Do you need some help?" and took the trolley, so I could wheel the one bag that wouldn't fit on there.
We walked through customs, down a ramp and round a corner and there waiting for me on a seat by the window was Doc C. And he had roses with him
Doc C had to send me another Affidavit of Support, because he realised it needed to be notarised, he put the Affidavit in the post last week and it arrived this morning.
He also put a treat for me in the envelope, which he started to tell me about before I firmly shushed him. I didn't manage to stop him telling me it was something to do with Halloween, but he didn't tell me exactly what it was.
I guessed it wouldn't be novelty Halloween sweets, because they would be difficult to package properly for posting and I thought it was unlikely to be a plastic toy, for pretty much the same reason. I enjoyed speculating about what it might be, and decided it would probably be stickers of skeletons and black cats.
When I opened the envelope I was delighted to discover it was the Halloween edition of Martha Stewart Holiday magazine. It's amazing, plus she has more Halloween ideas up on her website, and they are so worth looking at.
Go now, learn how to carve pumpkins properly.
Doc C and I have had enough.
All this being thousands of miles apart? That stinks, It is completely unacceptable. I'm just waiting for my Visa interview now, and it won't be for at least six weeks, more likely two months.
So Doc C booked me a ticket to Charlotte, North Carolina. I fly out next Sunday, Doc C will meet me at the airport and I'm staying for a month.
Today Stu and Lee got back from New York, and I have to say they are remarkably alert for men who have literally just stepped off a trans-Atlantic flight. They come bearing new jeans, new books and a awe inspiring iPod Touch. It's like the future has been made pocket sized, and wafer thin. sigh.
We went into Brighton to have lunch at Wagamama's, and my friend Caitlin came to join us so we could go for coffee afterwards and catch up. It's always great to see Caitlin, who is beautiful, talented and thoroughly lovely. It's been ages since we last had a girly chat, and swapped gossip.
Of course, after lunch, all three of them were treated to the sight of the bruise on the crook of my arm where the blood was taken, if I have to suffer everyone is going to know about it. I also have an achey arm from the tetanus shot. They really make you work for this Visa thingy.