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.