Wednesday, April 4, 2012

immigration, part ii

I want to begin this entry with a  description about the process to enter the United States as a foreigner.  Only an elite few are permitted to enter without a  visa        (those from Western European countries, mostly),which can be very difficult and expensive to procure. It can require many items, such as letters from employers, police clearances, affidavits, medical examinations, all of which are expensive, can expire, and can be nearly impossible to retrieve.  As an American passport holder and semi-frequent traveler, I have been waved through customs more often than not.  If I am questioned, it is very briefly and with lack of interest, then stamped and permitted entry to each country I've visited. The single exception is when I visited Mexico in 2002, and was randomly chosen for a full-body and belongings search.  To go through customs with a person who is NOT an American citizen is a scarier beast.  I was not intimidated, but he was, and for good reason.

Jackei and I decided in mid 2010 that we wanted to take our relationship to the next level and get married.  We thought we'd have plenty of time to decide the details, because I was supposed to be volunteering in South Africa until September 2011 with possible extensions of duties, so we didn't really looking into how and where this togetherness would happen.  Halloween of that year changed everything, because that's when I had my accident and broke my leg.  This led to the early termination of my job and time in RSA, so we had to quickly decide what to do.  After searching through the US immigration visa options, we decided to apply for the fiancee visa for Jackei.  We wanted to do it while I was still there, so I could double check the details: that he signed and understood all the paperwork, had the proper attachments and photocopies. We didn't know when we would get to meet again.  I was being shipped back "home" and didn't have immediate plans for the future except to walk. December 4, I had our visa packet and meagre belongings packed and on the plane headed from Joburg to Charlotte, North Carolina. My parents moved here from Coloroado, and before that I lived in Oklahoma, so "home" wasn't really "home," but what was "home" anymore anyway?

Once I arrived in Charlotte, which was my first time there, my big task was to get into physical therapy so I could learn to walk again.  Second was to file Jackei's visa petition via U.S. mail to Dallas.   I was quickly able to file it because my sister kindly chauffered me around in her personal car.  This was a big deal because I had just spent 20 months taking only public transportation, which sometimes included waiting on the side of the road for an hour or more and riding in the back of pickup trucks to get somewhere.  It takes a lot of effort and time to get simple errands done when you're always waiting on transport.  Anyway, back to the visa.

I received a confirmation letter, which stated that immigration had received my request, sometime in January.   In between that time, I also discovered I was pregnant. I decided I wasn't ready for the USA and living with my parents again after ten years of living on my own, so I planned to go back to South Africa to say with Jackei for an undefined amount of time.  The idea was that he would get his visa while I was there, and we could return together.  Little did  know the process would take much, much longer.

Upon receiving that confirmation letter, we had to wait for the foreign post to contact us regarding the details for Jackei's interview.  He was nervous about the interview because he doesn't understand American English very well (South Africans have a British-sounding accent, as well do Indians and Bangladeshis who speak English), and he didn't know what kinds of questions they would ask.  Would I be permitted to go with him?  I couldn't wait for some undefined amount of time, so I began emailing every e-mail address I could locate asking questions.  This was no easy task because in order to use a computer, I had to hitch a ride or wait for a taxi or bus to go to the nearest town, trek across town on my gimpy, limpy leg, and hope one of the internet cafes had electricity or working online connection that day.  The 7 hour time change is also difficult, because that means you have to wait until the next day to receive a reply.  I did have an application for gmail on my cell phone, so I could easily check and read emails, but writing them using the cell phone was like sending an SMS; not easy and not professional-looking.  Can you imagine?  "dear consular rotfl :) so funny cheers jenneffer...i mean, not a good idea."

Someone at the Johannesburg consulate office did check e-mail frequently, which was a huge shock to me.  I had been accustomed to 20 months of little to no response via e-mail from businesspeople and non-profits alike in RSA.  Maybe people knew it was important to register for e-mail and have a business website, but not necessarily to check the e-mail and update the website regularly.  I received by e-mail a 40 page document with instructions on what to do before Jackei would be eligible for an interview.  Part of this included obtaining police clearance letters from countries he has lived since he was 16 years old, with an asterisk at the top and bottom of each page listing "do not bother getting certificates from these countries because they aren't what we need," and the 2 countries where he lived were on this list.  He had to get and pay for a medical exam, pay a fee in the sum of over $400 USD, and the petition I filed just to request his visa interview was about the same price, and sign many papers promising he is not a terrorist, isn't going to practice poligymy, and so many other items of that nature.  Then, when he called, he was told that yes, he did indeed have to get those police clearances, and he couldn't have the interview until they were obtained.  One he could receive in about a month's time, the other took over 3 months and many calls from me to the head office in the capital city, back to    the consulate office in South Africa,      emails and calls to Jackei.

I thought he would have his visa in a few months' time, but I was wrong.     He wasn't any closer by the time I was nearing my third trimester of pregnancy. While in RSA, I had one anti-natal checkup, with everything coming along just fine.  But, the nearest gynecology clinic was booked solid for months and was over two hours travel time away.  It was time for me to come back to the USA.  I was so anxious about this!  I didn't want to come back, I certainly didn't want to come back without Jackei, but I felt like I needed to be near good health facilities for my baby.  A good friend who was still serving his Peace Corps time agreed to accompany Jackei to his interview, providing it was scheduled while he would still be in the country, and I was really thankful for this.  Turns out, this was a HUGE help.  Jackei said he didn't understand hardly anything the American consulate officer told or asked him without our friend's assistance translating from American English to South African American English.  {Do you know this Ryan, we will never forget how much you helped our family to be together!}When I came back to the USA, my sister told me I didn't need to talk to our family members like they are stupid, that they understand me.  I was so used to South African American English, i.e. speaking very slowly and       clearly enunciating every word, I didn't realize I was doing it.  Since Ryan helped Jackei get through the interview, he realized his South African paperwork was not in order and ha dto go straighten that out before he could get the visa.  One stumbling block down, many more to go.

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