Lauren In Tokyo

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

How not to treat guests

American immigration policy has been a terrible scar on what would otherwise be a relatively unremarkable national foreign policy. Where it's already failing in making friends with its international diplomacy, the American government implements an immigration policy that ensures that immigrants (both resident and non-resident immigrants) are made to feel unwelcome and unwanted.

For immigrants seeking green cards, the process begins and ends pretty much staring down a mountain of paperwork and about $500 in fees. Don't forget about the new law that requires you to submit a fingerprint sample! And after that ordeal, you spend the next 12-18 months unable to travel waiting for your permanent resident visa to arrive in the mail.

Unfortunately, that's only the Conditional Resident Visa and is only valid for 2 years. The conditional status can be removed for another couple hundred dollars by petitioning for its removal. If you forget to do this, you are no longer a legal permanent resident and you will be denied re-entry into this country the next time you try to cross an immigration port of entry.

The reasoning behind making things this strict is to prevent ephemeral visa-marriages and to keep out less than ideal immigrants. In practice, though, it simply puts immense pressure on already-difficult international marriages and near-insurmountable barriers to anyone else attempting to migrate otherwise. The people who would be prime candidates for permanent resident visas are exactly the type of people who aren't especially prone to migrate from their home countries in the first place.

But permanent residency petitions are only a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers of tourists that trudge through the lines of each of our ports of entry. They sit on the airplane filling out their customs declaration form and try to figure out exactly what kinds of things they need to declare. Are personal items required in the declaration? What about prescription medicine? What about baby food?

If our imaginary tourist friend is smart, he's already put checks in the correct boxes and fully declared his declarable items. He's read the entire CPB website and knows, for example, that meat is a prohibited item for import. He knows that they'll be taking his fingerprints at the immigration officer's booth. And he knows that being courteous to the officer (even in the face of outright rudeness and incivility on the officer's part) is his best bet to avoid being sent to the life-draining secondary processing room just out of view of the main immigration counters.

God forbid he forgot to declare something and suddenly risk having to pay a large fine. Or pity the poor American citizen who is forcefully separated from his non-American wife by zealous DHS officers who demand that "Americans must be in this line and everyone else must be in this other line!" Or imagine the shame of the tourist having to walk the red line to the secondary inspection room in full view of everyone else waiting in line.

It's enough to persuade someone to never visit the United States again. After all, there's always Canada, eh.


  • Actually if you use direct consular filing from outside the States (assuming you and your wife both live abroad), the process for a conditional permanent visa can take anywhere from two weeks to eight months (depending on which country you live in).

    Regardless, the process does indeed suck and much of it is pointless. All in all, the entire process is going to cost me roughly $1K. For that kind of money, my wife should be able to immediately join me in the States rather than wait 6+ months in Canada. Speaking of Canada, tourists get treated just as bad here if not worse than the U.S. Canada Border Patrol tried to ignore a little agreement called NAFTA when I moved here 2.5 years ago:| They tried to send me back to the U.S. for a couple of months until I called them on their BS.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:12 AM  

  • You're right, and anyone reading this should know right off the bat that direct consular filing in your home country is absolutely the fastest and easiest way to get a spousal permanent resident visa.

    However the situation was that my wife had already applied and received her conditional visa. Almost immediately after receiving it, I was sent over here to Japan to work on some local projects. It was during our stay (almost 4 years now) that the conditional status of the visa expired.

    Well, no problem. It's expired. There's no way anyone would expect it to still be active. She couldn't possibly use it to get through Immigration. So we just let it expire.

    Then something unexpected happened. We got a letter from DHS saying that the visa was approved and that she could stop in at the Seattle Immigration Bureau to get her new one.

    Their systems apparently didn't catch that we were living outside the U.S., that her Re-entry permit had expired without her ever having re-entered, and that we were paying zero taxes in the U.S. (foreign exemption).

    Upon arriving in the U.S. (LAX), we were subjected to some pretty harsh treatment, much of which was simply not called for at all. Piling on top of that, apparently we were supposed to renounce our intention of permanent residence before arriving in the U.S.

    Lesson learned. When the government slips up, they are going to slip right into you.

    By Blogger Lauren Smith, at 10:33 AM  

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