Incredibly, Wednesday marks five years since I first landed in Denver at the very beginning of my immigration experience.
That wasn’t technically the permanent move, since I still had to return home for my green card interview, but it was the biggest leap of faith I’d made in my life: quitting my job, selling most of my stuff, packing the rest of it and flying halfway across the world with not much more of a plan than “vacation until November.”
And, if you’ve been following along with this tale for even a fraction of the past four-and-a-half years, you’ll know that it turned out pretty well.
So well, in fact, that I decided long ago to make it officially official when the time came, and that date rolled around yesterday: the day I could apply for citizenship.
The benefits of citizenship are pretty straightforward. Assuming I’m approved, I’ll be eligible to vote at a local, state and federal level, and in this day and age I feel it’s more important than ever to have my say. I’ll also be able to receive federal benefits, sponsor family members for green cards (should they want one), apply for federal jobs (a cushy government job? Absolutely!), live outside the U.S. long-term if need be, and obviously be eligible for a passport.
The basic qualifier for naturalization eligibility requires that you spend five years as a legal permanent resident without leaving the country for more than six months at once.
Due to my self-defeating decision to remain in the newspaper business for all this time, “leaving the country for more than six months” has never been an option from a financial or time-off standpoint, so that made it all a little easier.
I knew my five-year anniversary of permanent residency was November 24, 2018, so I figured I’d just be watching the days tick away until Thanksgiving so I could submit my paperwork.
But one day earlier this year, as I was tooling around taking practice civics tests, I discovered that I could kick off the process 90 days before I reached the five-year mark. You best believe I hit Google straight away to figure out that date, which just so happened to be Sunday, Aug. 26. The finish line had moved ever so slightly forward.
After working an 18-hour day Friday and then pulling another, albeit shorter, shift on Saturday night, I elected to do a whole lot of nothing at all Sunday. I laid on the couch, ate pizza I brought home from work the night before specifically so I didn’t have to leave the house, watched Marvel movies and napped.
It wasn’t until around 4 p.m. that I remembered that today was The Day, so I hit the USCIS website to see if I couldn’t kick-start the process.
Of course, I was foiled from the get-go, because I couldn’t remember the password for my USCIS account to apply online. So I downloaded the PDF file and painstakingly filled it out (twice, because it didn’t save the first time. Terrific.)
Ultimately it echoed the rest of my immigration experience thus far — tedious in its attention to minute detail, but ultimately much more simple than I’m sure many others have it. As an unmarried white man with a full five years of constant employment history, no criminal record and no dependents, the biggest annoyance I could complain about was having to look up ZIP codes for old addresses and remember (fudge) the move-in and move-out dates. Thankfully, this blog happened to be just the trail of breadcrumbs I needed for a lot of those things.
It definitely appears as though the application (embedded below) hasn’t been updated since the Cold War, either, because I had to declare I wasn’t a member of the Communist Party, a terrorist or a number of other unsavory elements of society. But let’s be realistic: would those folks really be answering “Yes” to any of those questions to start with?
Eventually I lucked my way into remembering my password and I was able to fill out the whole form online with minimal fuss. It involved filling out every scrap of employment I’ve had over the past five years, including start and end dates, addresses and job titles. To my dismay, any downtime between positions (like, I dunno, while you move from Maine to Florida, or Florida to Colorado) had to be classified as “unemployment.”
That was a little nerve-wracking in the sense of “oh hell, what if they think I’ve got no work ethic,” even though it’s been approximately five months since I had two days off in a row, but if that’s the biggest thing I’ve got to worry about on my application, that’s probably pretty solid.
The last parts of the process, which I completed early this morning at work, were to upload scans of my green card and, of course, Pay The Man™. It wouldn’t be bureaucracy without an outsized fee! For the record, at the time of writing, the application fee was $640 and the biometrics, paid in advance, cost another $85. That will cover fingerprints and a background check once they schedule an appointment for me. From what I can gather, that takes anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months to eventuate.
It’s a strange feeling, knowing that I’ve got the wheels turning on the next (and final, honestly) phase of immigration. Stranger still, I’ve been anticipating this moment for the better part of five years, knowing it was going to come along eventually, and yet my heart really hasn’t stopped pounding since I hit the “submit” button.
I certainly don’t feel like I’ve made the wrong move, because it’s something I’ve always been comfortable with. But there’s definitely a certain gravity to the situation, the same way there was when I checked the “Australian resident departing permanently” box on the departure form at Brisbane International Airport on Nov. 23, 2013, when I flew out here for good.
But hey, at least the next couple of months’ worth of updates will be good blog fodder.