Our Immigration Story, Part 1
Kevin and I always knew that we would not be staying in Alberta. The two cities we lived in were always temporary. We didn't know where we were going but that gave us the freedom to be open. The first place that did open up to us was Wisconsin. I didn't think I would come to love such a small state, and yet I have. After three years of living here, this place is home and we want roots. We want a house to call ours and the knowledge that life is stable. When it comes to stability it's not just about money, it's also about our status as immigrants.
For the most part, Kevin and the company he works for have taken care of everything, and I haven't needed to pay attention. We are extremely privileged to be in the situation we are in. Not only is Kevin's job paying him well enough that I don't have to work, but they are also taking care of the legal aspects of becoming permanent residents. Recently I've come to realize that I need to be more active in the process and that I should be paying attention to what is being done. Part of this is looking back over the information that has already passed hands and preparing for future meetings with immigration. To get started, the first thing we did when we began this process was provide a lot of documents to his work.
Who We Are - birth certificates, passports (current and previous), driver license, social insurance number (this is the Canadian equivalent of a US social security number), current address, previous addresses, work history, marriage certificate.
Family Background - full names of parents, where they were born and to whom, birth dates, social insurance numbers, addresses.
Education Backgrounds - diploma, transcripts, letter from university.
His work took care of the paperwork needed for us to enter the US. The visa Kevin crossed with is called a TN-1 (part of NAFTA) and I was crossing under him as a TD. When we first got to the border we realized an error in our excitement to pack up and begin our new lives. The dates on the visas were for five days from the day we showed up at the border. We weren't allowed to cross until that date. So if you ever get a visa, my first recommendation is to verify your dates. For us it meant that changing our route and driving across Canada instead of entering and driving across the US. We spent a few extra days just exploring Thunder Bay before being allowed to cross and settle in.
Settling into a new place is a unique adventure as there are always things you never think about. The easiest thing was getting cellphones, we walked into T-Mobile and bought cheap android phones to start. The first two problems we ran into were a bank account and address. As we had no credit history, finding a place to live was semi-complicated. Once we found a place, we had to get the application approved by providing extra documents. In our case, we needed a letter from his work that stated his salary and a US bank account. To open a bank account we needed a US address. We got lucky and had two people who were willing to work with each other and us, allowing us to do both simultaneously. Once we had an address and a bank account everything else just fell into place; drivers licenses, car, insurance, social security number.
Getting a US drivers was relatively easy. We walked in, filled out the forms, got our picture taken and that was it. They didn't ask us any questions, didn't check our passports. Just punched our Canadian licenses VOID and sent us on our way. Apparently a Canadian license works as an out-of-state license. The car was possible because we had a down payment, Kevin's work letter, and a local address. However our loan options were limited to leasing to the length of our visas, which meant driving with a mile limit. Something that I was annoyed with but we just didn't do a lot of travel those first two years. Insurance was simple as well; one phone call to a local agent and done. We didn't have to go anywhere or provide anything. When it came to getting the social security number, Kevin handled it on his own. He went in one day and went through the wait but got it relatively quickly. Because of my dependency status there was no card for me to apply for.
Eventually, Kevin's status changed from an TN-1 to H-1B. This was also something that was handle through Kevin's work. With his change my status also changed to an H4. These changes just moved us one step closure to being allowed to apply for permanent residence but didn't change anything in regards to rules to follow or my ability to work.
A Few Things
There are lots of rules when it comes to being on these visas. One is every time you leave the country, any current visa applications may be reset which can cause delays in you moving to the next step or just add extra paperwork. So early on in our time here we made the decision to not leave the States until our status here was finalized. We are working towards becoming citizens and if not travelling makes this easier, than it seems smarter to just not travel. This also makes it easier whenever answering questions regarding our status as we never have to remember dates we've left.
There is a lot of privilege that can be found in this immigration story. Having a sponsor who takes care of the cost and paperwork is the biggest privilege of all. That sponsor also pays my husband enough that affording our life is possible without me working. Beyond that is the privilege of being white and having white names. I never used to put a lot of stock in a name but name biases are real and I think it has made immigration treat us differently than how minorities are treated. Based on my experiences at border crossings, airports, and the immigration office, my privilege has allowed me to bypass many of the things one could be asked. While I am thankful for things not being complicated, I am aware that this is a huge privilege and that change needs to happen so that all can have a similar experience. The ACLU is an organization that helps fight for minority rights. If you have the ability, please consider donating to them.