It’s been a little over five years since I moved from Birmingham, England, to Ventura County. While my accent still turns a few heads, I have only recently become a citizen of the United States.
Coming from a — for now — European country, the freedom to cross borders had always been a somewhat nonchalant affair for us Brits. Work a summer in the Swiss Alps or commute to Paris on the Eurostar; the freedom to live, work or seek a relationship between borders would not leave one with an expensive dose of anxiety, unlike here in the U.S.
When applying for a tourist “ESTA” visa on my first visit to the U.S. in 2011, I was asked whether between the years 1939 and 1945 I was directly involved with the Nazi government (I was born in 1991). But despite the perturbed questions, the trip introduced to me to my future husband. What romantic Hollywood movies don’t tell you are the hoops and hurdles U.S. immigration have installed for fresh faced couples like us to live happily ever after.
Many months and many tears and papercuts from visa filing later, I arrived at LAX on Feb. 1, 2014, on a “K-1”, otherwise known as a “fiancé visa,” first applied for in April of 2013. We had spent thousands of dollars and forwarded every picture, letter and email between us to immigration as proof of our relationship to make it to this point, our wedding day — three weeks after my arrival. This was just phase one of a long chain of temporary visas and green cards we would apply for over the next five years.
I applied the first day I legally could to become a U.S. citizen — three years after our marriage. It was a no-brainer for me. I had applied for my 10-year green card months before my two-year green card had set to expire and, a year and a half later, I still hadn’t received it. Sure, I had a somewhat official looking piece of paper from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) to state that I was still legal but in the event of having to explain to law enforcement that a flimsy piece of paper which they’d probably never seen before meant I was a verified resident increased my anxiety drastically.
One year later, my citizenship was approved on the same day as my 10-year green card (then almost two years gone since first applying). Two months later and it rained the day of my oath ceremony (which was very British of it to do so). There were a wealth of people from all corners of the world there and despite the sea of umbrellas and damp coats, no one could stop smiling, it was as though you could hear the sighs of relief. And while our path to citizenship concluded in the auditorium of the Pasadena Convention Centre on Jan. 16, our individual journeys couldn’t have been more different.
I’m a white ciswoman from another first-world western country, my native tongue is English, I got the first job I ever applied for when I moved here (full-time, full benefits) and got the first house we applied for and have lived a comfortable life ever since. This wasn’t luck. A few weeks into my first job in the U.S. an older African-American male, upon hearing me pronounce the “t’s in ‘bottle,” asked me the usual “where are you from” questions which I was regularly asked by customers. “Are they treating you well here, in the U.S.?” he wondered. “Yes, everyone’s been super friendly,” I responded. “Ah, well, of course” he chuckled to himself, “that’s because you’re a white girl”.
While my own path to citizenship was a long, expensive and frustrating process at best, my privileges meant that it didn’t take years or decades of worry to get to where I am today. I was unaffected by Trump’s travel ban and able to fly back to the UK countless times to visit family and celebrate friends’ weddings. I did not live in fear of ICE busting open my door in the middle of the night. I’m even able to still obtain my British status, making me a dual citizen.
If you’re a resident of the U.S. and are thinking about applying for citizenship, prepare for a long ride. Though it’s likely the journey you’ve already taken to get to where you are today has been much rockier.
Note: Bec O’Neal’s husband is VCReporter Staff Writer Chris O’Neal.
Applications filed and their equivalent 2019 filing fees, plus an $85 biometrics fee where required, include:
I-129F: Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) – $535 (filed in 2013)
I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status – $1,225
I-765: Application for Employment Authorization – $410
I-131: Application for Travel Document- $660
I-751: Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence – $680
N-400: Application for Naturalization – $725 (filed in 2018).
Total: Approximately $4,200