immigration day

Having lived Down Under all my life, ticking “Australian citizen departing permanently” on the immigration form at Brisbane International Airport was about the scariest and most confronting thing I’ve ever done. There wasn’t any extra scrutiny at immigration in Brisbane though; I guess I’m not the only person to have ever immigrated somewhere.

Things were a little different on the US end though. Ordinarily you queue up with a million other smelly passengers at the immigration counters at LAX, have your photo and fingerprints taken digitally, answer some questions about the nature of your stay in the US and then get ushered through to baggage claim. This time the process for me was a bit more complex. I had my big packet of chest X-rays and the do-not-open-under-pain-of-death visa envelope in my hands, and my immigration officer knew exactly what I was there for.

He was a cheery guy whose nametag read Camareno and he gave me a warm congratulations on winning the lottery. He told me he didn’t need my incoming traveler card (the Virgin flight crew made all passengers take one, but evidently new permanent residents don’t need it) or my X-rays before scanning my right-hand fingerprints and taking a photo. Then he picked up my yellow envelope from the embassy and my passport, handed them to me and told me we were going to “take a walk”. Along the way he asked me where I’m heading, whether I have friends or family meeting me, who my football team is and how long it took me to get through the visa process.

He dropped me at the far right end of the immigration gates at an area that said “New Immigrants and Asylees” with another immigration officer he referred to as Yoda. Yoda took my right index fingerprint, stamped each side of a form and told me to take a seat while he put it all together.

About five minutes later he called me over, handed me my passport and a slip of paper explaining that the stamp next to my temporary visa sticker was a stand-in for my physical green card, usable for one year. It said my green card will be mailed to the address I nominated “in approximately six months”. And that was basically it – my grand “welcome to the USA” entrance was actually fairly anti-climactic.

About two weeks later I received my Social Security Number in the mail at the address I specified on my forms. The SSN is essentially the US version of Australia’s tax file number – can’t get paid without one. At the time of writing, three weeks after my entry as a permanent resident, I haven’t received my green card yet. I’m sure it’ll arrive sooner or later.

22 thoughts on “immigration day

    1. Unfortunately not as yet mate; it’s not quite been two months since my date of entry (November 24) so I’m not sure whether I’ve waited long enough yet. I’ll probably give them a buzz in the next week or two though as I’d like to have it in my hands!

    1. I can’t even remember who opened it; whether it was the first immigration officer I saw at LAX or the second guy around the corner he led me to. Either way, I couldn’t really have cared less to be honest.

  1. I enjoy reading your column in the KJ and this blog. One of my daughters spent a semester at U Melbourne. She was wise and found time to travel and to spend time at the Great Barrier Reef and other spectacular natural wonders of Down Under. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us here in Maine.

  2. Great info Mate and really helps others like me in preparing, have a question thou, did you purchase a one way ticket or return on your first enrty after the win?

    1. Hey Kit, thanks for reading.

      I had a one-way ticket, but that was something of a calculated gamble. My interview was in November, but by that point I’d been in the U.S. for over two months, and all my affairs in Australia were tidied up. Basically I was totally confident that I’d be getting the green card (since I had a low case number and all my paperwork squared away), so once I got my interview date I went ahead and bought my flight back to the U.S.

      I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way, of course, because it’s a dangerous game to play, and most of the people I’ve come across in the lottery over the past year haven’t been immediately ready to move as soon as they were approved. I was, since I’d been banking on that eventuality since May, and didn’t have to pack up a house or give notice at a job or whatever because I took care of all of that in August then headed to the U.S. on a tourist visa. I basically spent three weeks at home for the interview and seeing friends and family.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Definitely will keep that in mind, my question was more to do with the requirements of the first trip over and whether that was something that is required as it will be my first time in the USA, i.e. do I Have to buy a one way ticket or a return ticket, I have families there so accomodation is no problems

      2. Hey Kit, apologies for the delay. I wrote you a reply on my phone on Sunday but I guess it didn’t send.

        As far as your move is concerned, you’ll have no problems with security in buying a one-way ticket. You’re immigrating after all, with a permanent resident visa. If you don’t intend to return to Australia any time soon, then your return flight will just be a waste of money. Good luck!

  3. Hey I recently received my approval for the visa and am travelling to the US with the DV- visa in a few days. However, the address I put for them to send my visa is the place im living at in the US now which I will probably move out of in august…. Is that going to be a problem if I dont get my green card in the mail by then? Im moving to another US apt in august which seems like a bit of a problem for that 3 month timeframe..

    1. Hey Josh, what you should do is immediately chant your address with USCIS (via the website is easiest) as soon as you know where your new place is. The USPS also offers a free 12-month postal redirect, so anything that gets sent to your old address will automatically be forwarded to your new one. That oughta get it to you just fine. It’s tough to say how quickly it’ll be sent out – mine took four or so months.

  4. Hi mate,

    Love all the info. I just have a question in regards to the fee for the greencard. ($165 one) Did you pay it prior, at the airport or after your arrival?? I get there in two days and wanted to know if I should pay it now?

    Many thanks,


      1. Thanks mate! I actually paid for it while in transit in FiJi on my way over. Arrived yesterday. Super exciting but so much to prep. Do I need to visit the Social Security office myself or do they send it to my nominated address. When I filled out all the forms I said that I needed one. Nothing was asked of me at the airport so I’m hoping its on its way. How did you get yours?

  5. Hi there,

    Great info on your blog!

    Once your visa has been approved is there a time limit to when you have to move over to the US?

    1. They put a temporary visa (I-1551) into your Australian passport, which is valid for a year. Your medical is only valid for six months, so you have six months from that date to enter for the first time. This activates your I-1551 for the 12 months, and notifies USCIS to start making your actual green card, which will be sent to the nominated address.

      After your initial entry, you can leave again for anywhere up to 12 months (technically) before relocating permanently, although I wouldn’t leave it that long.

      You don’t need the physical green card to re-enter within that first 12 months, which is lucky because it can take months to arrive at the address you nominate. I entered in late November 2013 and it didn’t show up until the end of February 2014, so unless you’re ready to move, you’re probably not gonna be hanging around waiting for it. The 12 months on the I-1551 starts as soon as you enter for the first time after your interview, but all the advice says to not use the whole year. USCIS can deny entry as it sees fit, based on as little as “hmmm why did we give this person permanent residency if they’re not going to show up for a whole year,” so it’s wise not to take that chance. Realistically if you can enter before the 9-month point, you’re safe as houses.

  6. Hey adrain,
    Saw your wonderful blog and wanted to ask u something. Actually I am from nepal and I arrived here at dallas texas a few days back. Still havent recieved my SSN and my USCIS online status shows that immigrant visa fee recieved on 14 th feb 2017. I entered US on 20th feb 2017. I just want to ask u when does this uscis online status really change to accepted. I mean it should change after I enter the US right or is it like this. I am just worried whether my file was forwarded or not and whether I m looking at the right website or not.
    Thanking u in advance.

    1. Don’t worry too much about it Deepesh. It took almost two weeks for my SSN to arrive and your USCIS status online doesn’t even matter, if I recall correctly. If you’re worried about your SSN you can always call your local office and see if they have any information in the system, but even if you go to an office to get one issued, it’s still going to take several days to arrive. Hang tight my friend.

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