Much has been said lately about immigration and immigrants. But I dare to say that most people understand very little about the immigration process. I came to the United States from Germany in 1994 through marriage. When I talk about it, the general assumption is that this can hardly be more than a formality, and all I can say is “au contraire”.
I worked in the US for IBM on a special work visa from 1989 to 1994. I met a colleague who became my husband in 1994. Assuming, as we did then, that this could not possibly be difficult, we went to apply for the permanent residency permit, known as Green Card. The paperwork that arrived was daunting. Pages and pages of legalize, documentation to provide, and the, then, all-important question whether I was or ever had been a member of the communist party. Off to the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) it went with a check for the prerequisite fee. Since I still had some things to attend to in Germany, and so I went there to get it done. That was in July.
Only six weeks later my husband received mail from the INS. Impressed about the speed of processing, he opened it eagerly only to find that the entire paperwork had been mailed back. The processing fee had been increased by $5, and he was to re-submit the papers again! In the meantime, I had arranged what needed to be done with typical German efficiency. So then I waited. And waited. And waited.
By the immigration rules, there cannot be a dual status. Since my husband had submitted a request for permanent resident status, I could not travel to the US as a tourist without being in violation of the law.
Eventually, I heard from the American embassy in Frankfurt where I needed to go for an interview. They needed a medical exam and a criminal background check. I was then to go the American embassy again to complete the paperwork.
During any interview in that timeframe, my motives for coming to the US were questioned and seemed to be met with suspicion. I was made to feel inferior and like a beggar. I felt completely at the mercy of authorities.
All in all, I arrived in the United States the day before Thanksgiving 1994, four and a half months after the application had started. I still remember getting into Atlanta which was my port of entry and where the last bit of paperwork was to be stamped and sealed. The last days in Germany had been very stressful because I hardly knew for when to book a flight. I was literally sick as a dog and felt sorry for the passengers who were sitting anywhere near me. I remember that big banner in the arrival lounge saying “Welcome to the United States” and felt a pang of doubt whether it was really so.
That was almost 23 years ago. Much has changed in the immigration processes since then but it is safe to say that is has not been made any easier. Recent immigrants only smile at my story and comment how fast it had been processed.
I became a citizen in 2000 (that’s another story). I love being here. It is my home.