Sunday, February 27, 2011

All I want is a non US citizen bank account!

You’d think it would be easy!  Having jumped through all the hoops presented to me by the USCIS in order to get my immigration visa, I rather naively expected it wouldn’t be too much of a problem getting a non US citizen bank account.  Especially as all I wanted was to be added to my wife, Abby’s account as a joint account holder.  But when Abby rang up her branch’s information hotline to ask them what I.D. we should take along to our local branch, the people at the other end seemed bewildered.  Yes, I was a resident but not a citizen, she told them.  No, I didn’t have a social security number, but I could prove my identity and legal entry to the country with my passport and visa stamp.  Yes, we had a marriage licence to prove that we had recently been married in the US (Florida).

After a conversation that went on for nearly thirty minutes, with Abby being passed around five different departments, she was finally told that provided we took along my passport and visa, plus our marriage certificate and my wife’s social security card, the branch would add me to her bank account.  As Abby works fulltime, the only time we could make it to the bank was Saturday morning.  We got there, with all our documents and information not foreseeing any problems, but the young woman who served us seemed completely confused and uncomfortable.  We went through the same questions that my wife had answered during her 30 minute phone call with our young server getting more and more uneasy.  You’ve heard of the expression, “rabbit in the headlamps”?  Anyway, eventually she disappeared for ten minutes.  When she came back she told us that she’d spoken to the deputy manager and I couldn’t have a bank account unless I had both a US Social Security Card and a US green card, because of the Patriot Act.  That was it.

I looked it up when I got home, using the website, which is my bible on immigration matters.  Rather than going into the ins and outs of the Patriot Act, I’ll quote from “Under the Patriot Act, banks are required to 'know their customers' as part of anti-money laundering provisions. Most banks have adopted policies that require at least a Social Security Number before you can open a bank account IF YOU ARE A US CITIZEN, along with some other forms of identification and proof of residence. Citizens of other countries have different procedures, such as passport numbers or drivers licenses or other things to prove they are who they are.”  According to the problem of immigrants wrongly being turned down for accounts is really common, with lots of American bank workers not knowing their own rules!

Me with my British bank card.  I naively expected that getting an American one wouldn’t be too much of a problem.

There is no direct equivalent of a social security number in the UK (where I’m from).  The nearest equivalent is probably our National Insurance number, but we only really use that for when we get a job, pay tax, or claim benefits.  The US social security number (SSN) is used much more extensively.  As well as being used for jobs and benefits and tax, the US Social Security Card is also used as proof of ID for many, many things, including opening a bank account, if you’re an American citizen.  I decided to go about getting one.

The Social Security office was pretty similar to a British one in most respects, with an atmosphere of dowdiness, boredom and despair hanging over it.  The only two differences were that firstly you are checked over for guns before you entered (I am beginning to realise that this is a regular occurrence in USA, they even made us go through airport-style security before we were married!) and secondly, the overwhelming proportion of claimants were Afro-Americans (which maybe says something about the general structure of the US socio-economically?).  Anyway, after a long wait, they called my number and all went well.  I received my social security card 10 days later.  Yippee.  But what I really wanted was a bank account!

Three weeks after our first attempt to get a joint account and armed with the same I.D. as last time plus my brand new social security card, we set off to Abby’s bank.  Following our treatment the last time, however, we elected to go to a different branch on this occasion.  The difference in our experience was remarkable.  Our server this time was a friendly chap called Marcus.  He was relaxed and seemed to know what he was doing.  He photocopied our forms, got us to sign some printouts and that was it.  Apparently, I will be sent a bank card very soon.  I won’t believe it until I’m holding it in my hands though!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Red Tape Blues – My experience of the K-1 Fiance Visa process

Making the leap

One of the toughest things about moving to another country is the bureaucracy that you have to deal with.  Abby and I knew that we’d have to jump through hoops to get me over to the USA, but we didn’t quite appreciate how time-consuming, expensive and downright frustrating  my experience of the K-1 fiance visa process would turn out to be!

The process began a year ago after we both decided that enough was enough and that it was finally time for one of us to make the leap and emigrate.  Abby and I had been seeing each other for three years by then and although webcams and cross-Atlantic trips are useful and great fun, eventually pretty much all long distance relationships require that one or both members of a couple move so that they can be physically together on an everyday basis.  After some discussion, it was decided that I would the one to move, Abby has the complication of having a thirteen year old child, whereas I am childless, plus I fancied the adventure of a major life change.  So we downloaded the K1 visa application forms and begin the visa application process.

Abby and I in 2007 - My First Trip to Florida!

Filling out the forms

There are 22 different types of US visas for people wanting to go to there.  I opted for the K1 fiance visa.  Work and study visas are more common and easier to get, but the K1 fiance visa was appropriate for me because as well as allowing me to marry Abby in the US, it is also an immigrant visa – that means that once I’ve gone through the entire process (including an Adjustment of Status in the US) I can live in the US indefinitely.  With a work visa, I could get into the US okay (provided I’d sorted out a job there) but then I could only stay if I continued to do that specific job, if I lost it, or wanted another job, I’d have to leave the country and then apply for another visa!

Most of the questions on the visa application forms were pretty much what I expected.  They were repetitive and a little intrusive, but I appreciated that the US Government was bound to be careful about who they let into their country.  A couple of the questions did make me smile, however.  The first was one that enquired whether I had experience of bomb-making, chemical warfare, or nuclear technology?  The jester in me was tempted to joke on the form that I had built a couple of nuclear bombs in my spare time when I was at college, but I managed to restrain myself.  The second was one asking me what the name of my “tribe” was?  Us country folk from the wilds of northern England are used to being labelled “sheep-shaggers”, but we did manage to progress beyond our tribal stage some time ago!  I therefore stated, rather emphatically, that I was without a tribe (which provided my embassy interviewer with some amusement later!)

Once all the forms were in, Abby and I waited for 2 months while they were checked over in the US.  When that was done they sent all the forms to the American Embassy in London (I’m a Brit, remember!)  Then we waited around for another 6 months before the embassy sent me a letter inviting me to book a k1 fiance visa medical exam.

The Medical

The penultimate stage of the process involved me taking a K1 Fiance Visa medical examThis meant me booking a day off work, making the 200 mile train journey down to London, finding my way to the expensive district where the medical practise is base, sitting around in their waiting room for ages, paying them £200 for a 15 minute examination and a chest x-ray, then going back home on the train that evening so that I could be at work the next morning.  (By the way, 200 miles is a long way for English people, I know it’s just a mini jaunt in the USA! Hehe!)

The medical went well, anyway.  I discovered that I didn’t have tuberculosis, my blood pressure was normal, and my private parts were all in good order!

The American Embassy

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I got my letter from the American Embassy inviting me for a K1 fiance visa interview.  This signalled that I was into the final straight!  My idea of the embassy was somewhat romantic, however.  In my mind’s eye, it was a rather grand place, a hangout for sophisticated diplomats, where I would be summoned into a plush office and grilled by a pair of smart men in dark suits…

The US Embassy, London (source: Veedar

The reality was rather different, of course.  The building looked somewhat grim and grey from the outside, with only the famous eagle attached to the front to give it any gravitas.  On top of that, it was surrounded by anti car bomb defences and mean-looking cops with semi-automatics, (understandable, I suppose, given that the building is probably pretty high on Al Qaeda’s hitlist, but still intimidating!)  Once I’d served my 30 minutes in the queue outside, I discovered that the inside was no better.  The experience reminded me of sitting in a rather run down and soulless British social security office.  You get your ticket with the number on it and you wait and wait and wait…

When I did finally get my visa interview it was at a stand-up hatch, not in a private room, and the person who dealt with me looked more like an office worker, than a dapper CIA agent.  My papers were gone through, then I went back to my seat for another long wait.  Eventually, I handed over a few hundred more quid (I'd lost count by then!) and they told me that my papers would be despatched to me by post.

Does it never end?

So I am now in the US and happily married.  But unfortunately my entanglement with red tape is not over yet.  I have to apply for an Adjustment of Status next.  At the time of writing I am waiting for a phone call I made to a doctor’s office to be returned.  I need to get my vaccination records, which were put together at my medical in London, validated by a doctor here in Florida.  There are more forms to fill out, more documentary evidence to collect, more time and money to spend.  Wish me luck!

Read me at Hubpages

Follow me at Twitter

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My new UK expat blog: I got my K1 Fiance Visa, now I'm living in the USA!


Welcome to my new UK expat blog!  It’s been a packed 6 weeks since I arrived to start my new life and began living in the USA.  Once I'd got through my K1 Fiance Visa interview and received my immigrant visa from the USA Embassy in the UK, my plan was to come over to Florida in time for Christmas.  But I nearly didn’t make it, due to the heavy snow in Europe and I had to spend an unscheduled extra 24 hours at Dublin Airport en route from the UK to Florida.  I should have guessed what was about to happen when I saw the flakes fluttering down onto the runway as we came in from Manchester.  The worst thing was that they made us board the plane (pictured below) and wait around, before ordering us off it again 2 hours later.  Then they told us that they were closing the airport down because of the weather and we had to leave the building complex.

It’s no fun being amongst a crowd of angry and upset people, especially when there are thousands of them, it’s snowing heavily outside, you don’t have a penny of the local currency, you’re lugging around two heavy suitcases, one carry-on and a large guitar, and you’ve no idea where you’re going to sleep that night!  On top of that there were people still arriving at the airport, unaware that the authorities were trying to evacuate it, due to fears of overcrowding!

Anyway, it all worked out in the end, I got a lift to a hotel in a van full of Americans and Irish and my plane was rescheduled for the next day.  Aer Lingus have since told me that they’re going to refund my accommodation expenses.  I’d always fancied visiting Dublin, but that wasn’t what I had in mind!


The journey to Orlando was uneventful after that and I came through customs without any problems, although it was pretty time-consuming.  Upon arriving in the US port of entry on a k1 fiance visa, the official kept telling me that I needed to get married within 90 days, or I’d be kicked out of the country.  I told him that I was aware of the US immigrant visa restrictions and that, despite not having fixed a date for the ceremony, I planned to get married very soon! 

Abby and I have been seeing each other for over three years, ever since we met on MySpace.  We were both involved with the poetry/writing scene there and became romantically involved, communicating with webcams on Skype each evening.  Six months later I flew over to the US and we met in person for the first time!  It was a little nerve-wracking, but luckily we hit it off.  After that we met up every 4 months, me visiting there and Abby and her daughter coming to the UK.  But living three thousand miles apart was never going to be a serious long-term option, so I applied for a fiancé visa.

We tied the knot a month ago in mid-January.

Money and Poetry

I had to give up a decent job to move over here (I worked for the library service back in Yorkshire) and am currently unemployed.  I brought some savings with me, but psychologically I feel a little self-conscious about not having any income coming in.  So I thought I’d look into ways of earning online and came across Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.  It looked interesting.  I’ve since blogged about it on hubpages (I’ve posted the cheesy pic I used for the blog below! Hehe!), basically you perform tasks on your computer and receive small payments that you exchange for Amazon giftcards.  The first day I tried it I did a dozen tasks and received the grand sum of 34 cents!  I now make about $9 on a good day, which usually takes up 2 or 3 hours of my morning.  It doesn’t make a massive difference to the household finances, but it does pay for a few little luxuries that we wouldn't have had otherwise! 

I’ve also been involving myself with the local writing and poetry scene, performing a couple of readings at a local café bar with Abby, and have also made moves to do some (unpaid) work with a local writer’s group, which I’m looking forward to!

Follow me on Twitter and Hubpages