Tag Archives: citizenship
August 15, 2007

Naturalization IV: Passports

Looks like I’ve cleaned up a little bit since my pasty convict days...

Oksana and I are hoping to go to Australia this November, but we’ve been putting off purchasing tickets for a long time.  There’s a lot we have to do first: Arrange for time off from work, get visas, buy the plane tickets.  Before we could do any of that, we had to resolve our passport situation.

Primarily, we were biding our time until Oksana received her U.S. citizenship, but I needed to renew my own passport, as well.  I got my first passport in 1997 (a decade ago!) for a Language and Culture of Mexico class and it’s set to expire in December.  While technically it expires after our planned vacation, Australia would prefer I have at least six months remaining on it.

Oksana received her U.S. Naturalization certificate on Friday, July 27th, and we briefly considered submitted the paperwork for our passports within the hour.

We didn’t know for sure beforehand, but she would have been able to apply for her passport immediately after the oath ceremony. She would have had to send off her valuable, original naturalization certificate without making copies of it (but like a birth certificate, you’re not supposed to, anyway. You’re not legally allowed to make any copies of that document.)

We already had our passport photos, so all we had to do over the weekend was fill out the online applications supplied by the state department website. Oksana filled hers out, I filled out a separate renewal form. On the very next business day after the ceremony, Monday on our lunch break, we met to stand in line together at the post office.

It took our entire lunch to get our forms mailed off, but we were happy to do it. Both Oksana and I paid extra to have our passports expedited – we’d read about the horror stories in the news. If our passports were stuck in processing for much more than a month, I doubt we’d be able to arrange our trip to Australia in time. The postal employee who took our certified, tracked, and insured envelopes confidently assured us we’d have our new passports in three weeks. Fair enough.

That was Monday. On Saturday, Oksana’s new passport was sitting in our post office box.  Of course, there was no sign of my passport anywhere, but that’s okay because I figured the renewal process used a different queue. In fact, my passport arrived only five days after hers. Praise be to the Seattle Regional Passport Agency!

We still have to work out all those logistics before we can go to Australia, but I’m looking forward to the prospect of traveling under the same passport as Oksana. Easier visas! Sharing lines through immigration checkpoints! RFID chip vulnerabilities!

August 10, 2007

Naturalization III: Guitar Heros & Party

Guitar Heroes

Oksana and I thought it would have been cool to walk straight downstairs to the post office after the oath ceremony and submit the paperwork for her passport.  Earlier in the week we even went so far as to take new passport photos at home and get them printed at Fred Meyers.  We didn’t know for sure if she’d actually receive her certificate of naturalization at the ceremony or if it would take weeks to receive it by mail.  The latter seemed likely, so we didn’t plan on standing in the post office line.  Besides, my parents were with us and it wouldn’t be fair to have them wait around.

Oksana had to take care of one or two financial crisises at work, so she dropped us off at the hotel.  I ran over to McDonald’s for drinks and passed the time talking with my mom.  Oksana was back with us barely a half hour later and we were off to go shopping.

Home Depot was first, but we didn’t do much more than browse.  Don opted to stay in the car; he’d brought a book.  We left Home Depot for Auke Bay, to drop off Don before more shopping.  Oksana opened up our apartment and turned on the PlayStation for him, just in case he wanted to fell like a Guitar Hero.  When she got back to the car, my mom asked if we could stop real quick at a convenience store to buy my step-dad something to drink.  Took us maybe 5 minutes.  Just before she went back into our apartment, she grinned and said, “If he’s playing the game, I’m going to buy it for him.”

She walked in, he was playing Guitar Hero.  “Do you really like that game, Don?”

He didn’t miss a beat.  “Buy one!  Go buy it!  Just make sure you get two guitars!”  We added Fred Meyer on our list of stores to visit that afternoon.


August 9, 2007

Naturalization II: The Oath Ceremony

Oksana’s speech

I think I spent most of Friday in Oksana’s car.  It sure felt that way after all the back-and-forth.

We started with breakfast at the Southeast Waffle Company.  After carbo-loading, we had an hour to kill, so we went to our apartment.  I sat my mom down in front of the PlayStation 2, put a Guitar Hero II controller into her hands, and forced her to play through the first two tutorials.  She missed a few notes; I was concerned when her frustration began to show.  But after she successfully finished the tutorial, I put another guitar into my step-dad’s hands and encouraged them to try playing a song together.  Their first attempt went poorly because they started on the first song they recognized — You Really Got Me, by Van Halen — a tough one.  Oksana and I suggested the ubiquitous Surrender and they managed to stumble their way through the entire song.  They appeared more flustered than anything, and I thought they were about to give up entirely.  Then they looked at each other and exclaimed, “That was so cool!” 

Hook, line, and sinker!  I think they would have played all day if we didn’t have a naturalization ceremony to attend.  We piled back into Oksana’s car and drove downtown.

The oath was to be given in the Federal Courtroom in the Federal Building.  We went through the two metal detectors Oksana and I were so familiar with from previous visits.  Again, we surrendered all our electronic items, but at least we were allowed to keep our cameras this time.  About 5 minutes before our 10:15 appointment, we filed into the courtroom.  We found seats near the back while Oksana was ushered to the front.  She, along with the other 37 soon-to-be U.S. citizens, turned in their green cards and verified the information on their new citizenship certificates.

Mr. Lee, our INS agent for the day, announced to the courtroom how the ceremony would proceed.  The only thing each new citizen needed to know was that at some point they will be called to the podium.  The only requirementwas to say their name and their country of origin.  “Take 3 seconds or 15 minutes.  This is your day and you can use your time at the podium to say whatever you like.”  I scanned the list of names.  If everyone used up 15 minutes, we’d be there over nine hours!


August 7, 2007

Naturalization I: Surprise!

Illegal to copy, print, or photograph... but not to redraw by hand!

Friday, July 27th, was Oksana’s big day.  The oath ceremony, where she would be sworn in as a U.S. citizen, was scheduled for the morning, and we were planning a party at the Thane Ore House for her that evening.  What she didn’t know was that I had a surprise lined up for her on Thursday night!

We’d been talking about the after-party for weeks, coming up with a location, deciding who to invite.  Oksana said more than a couple times that it would have been nice if my parents could have come up from Ketchikan for the ceremony.  Of course, they already had plane tickets, but I didn’t tell her that.  I always kept a straight face and said, “Well, why don’t you call them and ask?”  She never did.

I’m good at keeping secrets, but for some reason I came close to slipping up a dozen times with this one.  The worst was just an hour or so before the big reveal when I mentioned that I’d need to swing by work sometime tomorrow before the party to pick up some stuff.  Oksana wondered aloud why I couldn’t just pick up my stuff while I was at work.  Which would make sense… if I hadn’t arranged to take the day off to spend with her and my parents.

Fortunately, she didn’t think much of it, and the plan went down just like my mom and I had planned it.  With the invaluable help our friends Mike and Leah, here’s what happened:

My parents arrived at about 8pm on Thursday night.  I wouldn’t have been able to slip away without arrousing suspicion, so Mike and Leah picked them up at the airport and took them to a nearby restaurant.  Mike did an awesome job executing our plan earlier that day with an innocuous e-mail inviting us to go see Rattatouie.  It would have to be the late show for them, he wrote, and they were thinking about going to dinner beforehand at either the Broiler or the Hot Bite.  (Our plan was always the Broiler — he’d overheard Oksana express her disappointment with the Hot Bite before.)   The only concern I had was that Oksana might balk at a late show on a week night.  I needn’t have worried; she’d planned to take the next morning off to get ready for the naturalization ceremony.

That evening, Oksana decided to take a walk after work.  Which was perfect, as it allowed me to check on the flight and realize it was late.  I called Mike and we decided to tell Oksana that they were running late, that we would meet up for dinner a half hour later than planned.  Turns out the flight actually landed early — Thanks Alaskaair.com! — but Mike and Leah made it in time and simply waited with my parents at the Broiler.  Oksana and I left our apartment at about 8:25pm and I pretended to be interested in small talk during the drive.  It was torture; I had to concentrate not to let an anticipatory smile slip out.

I opened the door to the restuarant and ushered Oksana in ahead of me.  She glanced around the tables, looking for Mike and Leah.  When she spotted them, she smiled, waved, and said “Hiiii…,” while walking toward their table.  I made sure to fix my stare on her face, to see her reaction.  There was a moment of confusion — why are there people sitting at the table with them? — and then her mouth dropped open.  All the way.  And stayed that way until after she’d hugged both my mom and step-dad.  There were tears in her eyes, and all she could say was “Wow!” and “Oh my God!” and “I can’t believe this!”

So totally worth the effort.

We all had a nice dinner and explained the New Plan to Oksana.  My parents were only in town for about 36 hours, but it was long enough to go to the citizenship ceremony and after-party.  I would be taking Friday off to hang out with them.  When I asked if Oksana could maybe take part of the afternoon off from work, she said, “Well screw that, I’m taking the day off, too!”

It was a late dinner, so afterwards we said goodbye and thank you to Mike and Leah and checked my parents into their hotel with plans to meet them for breakfast in the morning.  Oksana wasn’t disappointed about missing the movie.  I don’t think she even remembered we had once planned to go.

(to be continued)

June 7, 2007

Citizenship Exam

The Seal of the United States.Pop quiz:  Which amendments to the United States Constitution address voting rights?  Who said, “Give me liberty or give me death?”  What where the original 13 states? 

If you recall, Oksana received an INS “don’t call us, we’ll call you” letter with a year-long expiration date last November.  She was commanded to appear for fingerprints in February, but there was no new information about the citizenship process.  Just over a month ago, we finally received a citizenship-related letter in the mail.  With six months left to go!  Who says our government isn’t efficient?

The letter gave us a new date to look forward to, June 6th.  That was the day, yesterday actually, that Oksana was to appear at the federal building, ready for her citizenship exam.  In the middle of her workday, she was told to allow up to two hours for the interview and exam.  She visited the INS website and downloaded the appropriate study materials.

One evening, when friends were over, she pulled out the 100-question study guide and quizzed all us American-born citizens.  Would we be able to pass the test?

The vast majority of the questions were concerning things we all knew by the end of junior high (How many branches of the government are there, for how long is a senator elected, how many stripes are there on the flag, what was the 49th state added to the union, what is the Declaration of Independence, what’s the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America?)  Some tripped us up individually (Who is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, what where the original 13 states, what are the requirements to be eligible for president?)  Only a couple questions stumped all of us (such at the example above about voting rights).

By the time I was quizzing Oksana on the ride to the federal building, she could answer every single one of them.  Bring it on!


February 22, 2007

Fingerprint Notification

See the ornate banner at the top?  Looks like a dollar bill, to me.Yesterday we received a letter from the INS.

Wait a minute, back up.

Back in November, after four years of marriage, the INS finally allowed Oksana to apply for U.S. citizenship.  She spent a number of hours filling out applications, gathering supporting documents, and writing checks for something like $400 in form filing fees.  Then we packaged it all up in a manilla envelope and mailed it off to Nebraska.  A month or so later, we received a nice form letter in the mail.  “Thank you for applying for ___U.S. Citizenship___.  You can expect to hear from us within __365___ days.  Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”  The wording was different, but that was the exact message, honest.  We resolved ourselves to a long wait.

So yesterday, when an official envelope arrived, I thought it was going to be time for Oksana to start reading up on the Civil War.  After scanning the letter (which, by the way, curiously uses design elements cribbed from our currency), however, I realized that it was just notifying us that she had to get fingerprinted.  Again.

I don’t know how many times she’s been fingerprinted for this naturalization process.  This might be the third time.  I have a question:  Isn’t one of the reasons we use fingerprints as a form of identification because THEY DON’T CHANGE?  What are they hoping to accomplish here?

Also, isn’t it just like a government agency to notify you that they’ve scheduled your appointment without consulting you?  “You are hearby commanded to appear at the official INS office at 3pm on March 6th.”  Fine, but what if we’d been on vacation or something?  I’m just glad she doesn’t have to fly to Anchorage again as a part of the process.  (Something tells me they don’t actually offer the citizenship test here in Juneau, so it looks like the cost of another trip to Anchorage or Seattle will be added to her citizenship’s bottom line.)

But, hey.  Someday it’ll be cool.  Oksana will be able to vote for the president, get a federal job, or whatever.  I’m just looking forward to the day when we can both travel under the same passport.

November 11, 2005

Green Card

Oksana\'s Green Card PhotoA continuation of this journal.

You’d think that, 38 months after our wedding, we would be all through with the expenses. Not true, when you marry an alien.

Oksana has been keeping an eye on the calendar and, back in February, it was time for her to submit another INS form. Her temporary green card (i.e., her permission to work in the U.S.) was about to expire and she needed to apply for the permanent extension. We fired up the internet, sussed out the appropriate I-551 form, and started to compile the appropriate paperwork. We wrote a check for the form submission fee ($200!) and packaged it up in an envelope with 20 pages of supporting documents. It was mailed off to Anchorage on February 3rd ($4.30).

A couple months later, we received notification that our paperwork was in process – that was a good thing, because Oksana’s temporary green card would have expired in May.

In late August we received another letter from the Anchorage INS office informing us that her petition for a permanent green card (for the INS, permanent apparently means “ten years”) had been approved and that she only need to do a couple things to make it official.

Step One: Provide three passport-sized photos.
Step Two: Submit the photos. In person… at the Anchorage office.