Last Thursday morning was like most other mornings since I started my new job three months (!) ago: Snooze the third alarm, try to quietly roll out of bed and stagger to the couch to kick-start my brain before getting ready for work.
Part of that process involves checking what my calendar looks like for the day (how grown-up of me) and sifting through whatever emails landed overnight, hoping to god there were none heralding some fatal flaw on the multi-million-dollar company’s website I’m entrusted with maintaining.
On that particular morning there was one in my personal inbox that caught my eye.
As far as emails go, it was pretty innocuous, given its ability to significantly change my life, my identity, at least a sliver of my sense of self. The sender read “no-reply” and all I could read of the subject line on my phone was “We have taken an action on,” for Chrissakes. Not exactly attention-grabbing.
It was so vague, in fact, that I initially assumed it was spam and almost swiped to delete it. It was probably lucky I didn’t, because it was alerting me to the fact that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wanted to notify me of something, and it could only be one thing: The next step.
The email wouldn’t tell me what exactly what action the bureaucracy had taken, but implored me to log in to my case file and see for myself.
I duly navigated my way to the USCIS website, entered the security code and proceeded to the notifications tab, where I saw the words that made my heart skip a beat even though I knew they were coming: We scheduled your interview.
Holy shit. Considering the last contact I’d had with a person at USCIS had been last September, and the “estimated case completion time” field in my file had not budged from “November 2019” since then, it all felt a lot more real than ever.
I guess the last time I wrote about this process, I’d just filled out all my forms five times and sent them off into the ether. That was Aug. 27 of last year, and a mere four days later I received notice that the immigration department had scheduled me a timeslot to submit my biometrics — a fancy way of saying “fingerprints and a photo” — for a background check.
That day, I left my house around 7:30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. appointment nine miles away. When I arrived, I find an incredibly nondescript office with one-way glass windows in the middle of a strip mall. Inside I found your standard government waiting room: shitty chairs, a queue of people longer than one would expect at that hour of the morning, and minimal staff in attendance to process them.
I was acutely aware of my privilege that morning: I was the only white man in the room and, judging by the sheafs of documents carried by so many people in line ahead of me, it appeared I had had a much easier journey to get to this point, so tantalizingly close to bonafide citizenship.
I wanted to take better notes of my experience in the room, but it turned out that the staff enforced the “absolutely no cell phones” rule incredibly sternly. Two guys were asked to leave for texting and, considering it had taken me five years to get into this room at all, I figured Twitter could wait for an hour.
That hour stretched into two as I sat in a plastic chair waiting for my number to be called. Eventually it was, and I submitted to a digital fingerprint scan and sat for a photo. The case officer was more generous than I probably would’ve been if I’d had to see 300 people that day, and allowed me a re-do on my photo after the first one left me looking like a hot dog that’d been dropped in a barbershop.
After she gave me a handbook on American civics to study ahead of my naturalization interview, I asked her what the likely timeframe was for the next step in the process, arrogantly assuming it might arrive during the three weeks Alex and I were going to be in Australia in November. Since when do the wheels of government turn that quickly?
Of course the answer wasn’t nearly as positive as I’d hoped: “About 12 months” was the estimate, which…sure. I didn’t really have anything to complain about, since my green card is still good through 2023, but I really had hoped that I could have it out of the way sooner rather than later.
With that out of the way, all I could do was wait. I tweeted that I’d paid $725 and all I got in return was homework, I got a Lyft home, then went back to work, assuming I’d worry about it closer to the date.
And wouldn’t you know it? Now it’s closer to the date. From the time of writing, we’re just over a month away from the second-to-last step: the naturalization interview.
It’s set for April 10 at 10 a.m. and will include such fun stuff as proving to an immigration official that I can read, write and speak clear English and display some level of knowledge about the basic workings of the country I’m about to become a dual citizen of.
Again, I have no doubt in my mind that I come into this appointment with a healthy dose of white privilege. I’m young(ish), I come from a Western English-speaking nation and I have plenty of time and tools at my disposal to learn the material vaguely required to pass the test.
But it won’t be official until I take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony, although it’s unclear at this point whether that’ll be on the day (I imagine unlikely) or at a later date, which will probably feel like an anticlimax, although it’ll give me more opportunity to plan a day off work to celebrate (and rent an Uncle Sam costume for the inevitable party.)
We spent this past weekend in Cincinnati with Alex’s family and, even after telling this whole story breathlessly twice, I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. And I’m sure it probably won’t until I’m standing in a sparsely furnished government office an hour to the south of my apartment in a few short weeks.
But at the same time as it feels like a milestone moment in my adult life, part of me feels as though it’s “just a formality” and not that big of a deal. Perhaps it’s because I’ve felt for five years and change that this country is home now, or because I don’t have to denounce my Australian citizenship to take on U.S. status.
Whatever it is, I think it just makes official something that’s been part of my identity for more than a decade now. And that’s a pretty cool feeling.