What if, when people asked, “How are you?” You said, “Pending.” That’s how I’d like to respond. Decisions are Pending. Actions are Pending. Everything feels Pending.
Becoming a stranger in a strange land will do that. Applying for permanent residency in New Zealand will do that. I hired a highly-recommended immigration advisor, who gave me long lists of documents to compile. Plus, the kids and I would need medical exams. I was blood tested for tuberculosis, syphilis, AIDS, and liver problems (among other ailments), had a chest x-ray and even had my waist measured, to ensure I wasn’t too fat to immigrate. The kids had simpler physicals, minus x-rays, blood work (thank God) or waist measurements because they’re under age eleven. I got a certificate from the FBI stating I've never stuffed a corpse into a freezer or failed to pay parking tickets. Pete has provided copies of his New Zealand and British passports, plus notarized affidavits stating we’re in a relationship. All that’s missing is the kilo of flesh. Or the videotape of me and my beloved engaging in relations (which Immigration has not asked for – yet, though I’m starting to wonder…).
The case went into the hopper in November. We were assigned a case manager within a couple months.
Because the rental we live in had a six-week move-out clause (it’s a holiday home and the owners take it over for part of the summer), we needed somewhere to go in late December and all of January. Pete and I plus kids traveled New Zealand for three weeks. We spent another two weeks visiting the grandparents without Pete, who had to work. We met my Dad and his wife in Hawaii.
Bad idea, because the Case Manager (upper case, as she’s become my nightmare headmaster/judge/jailer) wants records of correspondence between Pete and me during our two weeks apart. And she wants to know if I’ve sold my Spokane house (no, but I tried). And she wants to know why our residence and our mailing addresses are different (because our landlord doesn’t want a letter box at her summer home). This was starting to feel – intrusive. Like punishment. Couldn't I just travel to Hamilton, bend over, receive my forty bum whacks with a strap and get this over with?
My immigration advisor, Sarah, tells me not to worry, that I will get residency; the CM is just doing her job. I picture CM, tucked behind a cubicle, talking to office mates: “Can you believe this American wants to live permanently in New Zealand? Stuff that! If I keep stalling her application, maybe she’ll go away…” Not to paint Kiwis as Yankee-haters – we have heaps of good friends here, the kind of friends who’ll put you up in their homes and feed you, organize girls’ weekends away and take you for runs on trails along the beach (which tantalize with their views and nearly kill with their trip-worthy rocks and tiny mounds of grass waiting to grab clumsy toes).
It’s just that the one person holding the key to my future Down Under must’ve gotten hold of a bad Big Mac. Damn McDonald’s. I am not ‘Lovin’ it.’
In Hawaii, away from my beloved’s reassuring arms, I pour myself a magnum of red wine and sniff my story to Pete via Skype. I’d send record of our call to the CM, but my Skype account isn’t cooperating and won’t produce it. Instead, I cut and paste two week’s worth of Facebook messages sent between Pete and me. I include mushy stuff. Plus, slightly raunchy stuff, like the picture of a sandman who looks to be sitting on a tripod. I’ll let Sarah decide what to send through.
Last week, Sarah says my CM wants to know how I got my Irish citizenship (through my grandfather, because ten years ago, I thought I might someday want to live in the European Union). Today, Valentine’s day, Sarah says my CM wants an Irish police certificate – proof I’m not wanted in Ireland and presumably not part of the Irish Republican Army or Ulster Union (I’m not). I’ve been to Ireland twice, for a total of three weeks. The biggest trouble I caused was snagging a free pint of cider at Dick Mack’s after the bartender mistakenly thought I’d asked for a third pint (I didn’t). Maybe that’s part of my permanent record.
To get this Irish police certificate, I must complete a form, send a copy of my passport, and – this is the hard part – send six euros, thirty-five cents (about $8.50 US, or ten New Zealand dollars) to cover administrative costs. The local post office and my bank tell me they don’t have international money orders, and a wire transfer would cost 30-40 dollars. My bank has no euros. I nearly cry when the woman behind the counter empathizes with my plight, saying, “I can’t believe they’re making you do this – It’s ridiculous!”
Yes, it is. But all I can do is send money and forms to Ireland, along with a prayer that some administrator doesn’t reject my money and my request. Where is that police certificate? Pending.
Also, today, a meeting I’d scheduled with a local video production house was postponed. “I thought it was last Thursday,” said my potential rendez-vous. After I got off the phone, I re-checked my calendar. I’d noted that I’d called him last Thursday. He didn’t say, “Meet me today.” We’ve rescheduled the meeting to next week. It’s Pending. As is another informational job-related meeting, postponed from earlier this week. Pending.
Also, we’re looking for a new place to live. The six-week holiday move-out was disastrous. Pete talked to the landlord, who said we could leave our furniture here and only take what was valuable (most of the furniture in this place belongs to the owners, but some of it, such as dressers and a large sofa, are ours). Landlord was livid – beside herself with rage – that her tenants (who pay rent on time, every time) would fail to remove every stick of furniture, every picture, every object – for six weeks. Even though we have our ocean view rental nearly ‘til the end of 2013, it’s time to find a new place. And move. For the sixth time in a year. We’re just starting our housing search. A new place which we can call home for an entire year – (say it with me) – is Pending.
To fulfill some masochistic urge, I click on the Immigration website so see what it says about my residency application. “Pending.”
Never-ending, this Pending.
I take stock of what, rather who I do have. Who’s here and not Pending? The kids. Loud, present, accounted for. Pete. Strong, handsome, funny. Despite and due to the struggle to stay, I’m still smitten. But why couldn’t I have fallen for someone living somewhere I’m allowed to live? Like the US. Or nearly all of Europe. Do not fall for someone outside your home country. Unless he’s a diplomat. I bet they can hang their hats anywhere without triplicate forms or peeing into a cup.
Being a Pending person makes one feel like a member of a lower caste. We can’t access the national health system (without paying full fees, which are much lower than American health care costs). I can’t work beyond June 21st unless I’m able to renew my work visa. The kids can’t go to school as domestic (non fee-paying) students unless we renew their student visas. Unless we get residency. But it’s Pending. Most people think Pete and I would bolster our case by getting married. Not so, says my advisor. And now, who wants to marry someone whose status is Pending?
Plenty of people around the world suffer similar policy purgatories. The States is notorious for whipping new migrants with the supervisory stick. My friend, Phoebe, who’s Canadian, struggles with governmental migraines trying to get a driver’s license in Spokane. Her husband has a work visa, but no green card, which means she can’t get a work visa. Or, apparently, a driver’s license, unless she sits by the phone for two weeks waiting for a bureaucrat’s call. Taking time off to be a full-time mom is fantastic, until someone tells you MUST be a full-time mom, because you’re not allowed to work. Think of all the cab drivers and construction workers who used to be doctors and engineers in their home countries. Many of them can’t practice their skills because they lack the paperwork, money, or both to convert licenses and certificates in their new homes.
Should I prepare myself for the possibility Immigration will throw me a curve ball I can’t hit? I envision a new, impossible request: “We need you to produce the birth certificate of your second cousin twice-removed while giving blood and peeing into two cups at once.” What would we do? Where would we go? What’s Plan B?