This Side of the Pond – May 2

By Sarah Pridgeon

I have now been fingerprinted for a second time by the government of my new homeland and taken another step along the long and winding road to citizenship. They already had my fingerprints on record but decided to repeat the exercise, presumably on the off-chance that I have replaced myself with a look-alike and snuck back to England.

The first time my biometrics were recorded, I arrived at the Rapid City office with a large file of documents and was promptly turned away on the basis that I hadn’t brought the one thing they needed: my marriage certificate. I returned home, scowling in defeat, because that was also the only document not mentioned in the appointment letter.

It was probably for the best, because they would have had a hard time taking my fingerprints. We had recently adopted our kitten and she was busily proving us mistaken in thinking her a placid, loving creature. My fingerprints, on that particular day, had been all but scratched to smithereens.

We repeated the journey a week later and were greeted by an inexplicably flustered employee. She wished us a good afternoon in the middle of the morning and, having increased her agitation by doing so, locked herself out of her own computer.

Once she had composed both herself and her instruments, she explained that she would be spraying my hands with water. This was necessary to remove traces of dust before she pressed my digits onto the excitingly newfangled fingerprinting machine.

It wasn’t until my forearms were dripping with liquid that she noticed she was actually holding a bottle of Windex. Not to worry, I said, I can give the screen a good clean while we’re at it.

Though it was an experience worth recounting, it was also one of the less painful parts of my immigration journey – Windex lady was pleasant, helpful and full of good cheer. I did not come away bleeding and nobody cried, which is not something I can claim for the rest of the process.

Back in London, I was asked to visit a doctor for a once-over to check I wouldn’t be spreading contagion across North America. In preparation, I was given a list of necessary inoculations.

Cringing, I realized there were approximately six hundred injections between me and my visa and only two months to get them done. My poor nurse wept as she stabbed me fifteen times in each shoulder for the third week in a row and watched me limp away, arms dangling uselessly by my side.

At the appointment, the doctor’s brow furrowed as she stared at my nurse’s tear-stained confession. Once again, the appointment invitation had let me down: I had apparently not only filled myself with the inoculations for a woman of my age from industrialized Europe, I had also stocked up on immunity to virtually every disease that might affect a premature baby or a resident of the African jungle.

My next trial was to attend the U.S. Embassy in the centre of London at 7 a.m. on a weekday morning. Electronic equipment is not allowed anywhere near the building unless you’re willing to deal with the army of rifle-bearing gate guards, but no sane human being would willingly navigate the transportation system at that time of the morning without even a cell phone to guide them. Most trains and buses had yet to begin running and the route was troublesome at the best of times, especially if one is incapable of memorizing timetables.

To make matters worse, I had experienced a chilled realization the night before: my passport photographs were not to U.S. standards and I would need to somehow retake them at 5 o’clock in the morning. I could only find one place in the entire city that was able to achieve such wizardry.

Not to mention that I had left one of my forms at work. I would somehow need to coordinate a drive-by collection at a pre-determined time with a colleague who had volunteered to drive to the office in the middle of the night to collect it.

I think you will agree that I deserve praise for my Herculean efforts and for arriving at the embassy with several minutes to spare. I joined the line of pale-faced Brits, each one eyeing the guards worriedly.

Sadly, it was not the end of my torture. The stadium-sized room was filled with people hoping to visit the States, but only five of us were planning to marry someone once we got here.

Ahead of me was a girl of no more than 18 years old, accompanied by her fussing parents; as she turned back from the final appointment window, she was sobbing loudly. I later discovered that her visa had been turned down because she was too young to be making such a life-altering decision, but at that moment, not knowing what they were planning to do to me once I got there, you’d have needed a crowbar and a trolley to move me towards the window.

I thought my penance had been paid when delivery of my visa was delayed until literally hours before my flight, but I was wrong. Once here, I was asked to visit yet another doctor to validate my inoculations.

For some reason, the doctor was much more interested in asking to see my legs and arms, one by one – a mystery I have never managed to solve. He then refused to believe I was immune to tuberculosis, an illness that ceased to plague the United Kingdom a couple of decades ago, and forced me to travel back and forth to Gillette to prove myself through testing. And then there was the fingerprinting, and then the filling out of many forms, and then eventually the interview…

Finally, it was all over and my green card was granted – until now. I am currently embroiled in the latest phase, through which they will remove the restrictions on my residency that make me entirely dependent on my husband. This mainly seems to involve repeating everything I’ve already done.

Nevertheless, my return visit to the fingerprinting office went smoothly, despite being administered once again by the Windex woman. Upon arrival, I was asked to show my green card to identify myself, at which point she laughed and asked if I’d been in a particularly bad mood when they’d taken the photograph. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she’d been the one to take it.