Three of us shared a ride back to the embassy. We were admitted through a side gate and ushered into an anti-room where we sat until the rest of the group showed up. It took about half an hour and several more panic attacks before we were all reunited. Then the fun began.
My briefcase had become a burden. I’d not opened it all day and I’d schlepped it all over London pending inspection by the US authorities. It seemed that all my best efforts retrieving documents from marriage, previous divorce, current living situation, banks, lawyers etc, had been for nothing. No one wanted to see it. I’d heard nothing but horror stories all day about friends of some of the applicants in my group who’d married US citizens and been visited regularly by the INS,(Immigration and Naturalization Service), just to see if they were still living with one another. This hadn’t happened to me just yet and I was hopeful it wouldn’t. Of course mine wasn’t a ‘marriage of convenience’ as some of the other’s had been.
The roll call began. 3 at a time they began calling applicants towards the very same desks we’d stood some 6 hours earlier. One by one they received yellow papers, X-ray’s and a large brown envelope. Sweaty palms became sweaty bums as the countdown to my calling got closer. I could see that so far everyone was smiling. No one had been refused on medical grounds. Then it arrived, that call, MY call. I was stunned at first, woken from my thoughts, but within milliseconds I was at the desk and being told I’d passed. Relief, total relief was the only feeling that came to mind, but before I’d had a chance to celebrate I was forced to concentrate for several minutes more as the officer explained the next procedure. He ran through the do’s and don’ts and then handed me an envelope, the same brown envelope everyone else had received. As he handed it over he shook my hand and said “Welcome to the United States.” Happiness!
The do’s were simple. I had to return to the US within 6 months. I had to enter through a special channel, even though I lived there, had a house and business there, and even though I paid tax there, I still had to comply. I was told that my green card would become permanent within 6 months and that the stamp they’d placed in my British passport would suffice until the card arrived by mail. I was free to go in and out of the country as often as I liked and as long as I returned within 6 months of each departure, paid my taxes and remained a good boy, I would be able to keep my green card for ten years without renewal.
The don’ts,well, they were simple. Don’t commit any crime. Don’t screw the IRS. Don’t get divorced before two years of marriage were completed. Don’t piss off the US government and don’t, whatever you do, lose the damn card!
With all said and done, I left, sorry, we ALL left the embassy. Time to celebrate. It was 4PM and I was going home, not to the US quite yet, but home to my place in the London suburb of Epsom. I would call my wife, see my son and generally have a very happy evening. The trials and tribulations of not only that day but the days and years prior to that had really been exhausting. It was so hard to explain to anyone how difficult this process had been and now how worthwhile it had become. The elation and relief of that moment went hand in hand with the disappointment of the length of time required to do this properly and more importantly, legally! I could never go through that again, or so I believed, but I certainly didn’t have to. I could never have gone through the illegal channel for fear of being caught and then deported leaving me with no chance to recover and try again. I felt a belonging, an affinity to those millions who’d come through Ellis Island, to those who’d come the right way, not the wrong way, and most of all I felt I’d fulfilled a dream or at least part of.
My next task was to return home to America. I booked a flight that night and with my HIV free certificate in my hand, I went to sleep knowing part of my journey was now complete.