The States of Immigration

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This is my personal account of my experience undertaking an application for permanent residency through my spouse, an Australian citizen. Sadly, it is not a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are definitely not the products of the my imagination and have been used in a entirely truthful manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is probably pretty true of most encounters with governmental bureaucracy.

Application:

Step 1. Think about the application process for ages. “It can’t really be that bad, right? Those complainers, they had a hard time because they probably have no idea how to do things RIGHT. I’ve been through immigration stuff before, I know how it all works. Those other people are just whiners.”

With entirely too much self-assurance, you shrug off every horror story you’ve ever heard and read, and steel yourself to begin the saga. 

(At this point, you don’t actually believe it’s going to be a saga, so the extent to which you steel yourself is not nearly appropriate for what will eventually come. Doom, doom, doom.)

Step 2. Print off the paperwork! This may take several hours and you’ll probably run out of ink, but your positive spirit remains. The stack of paper is high, yes, but at this point it still looks nice and tidy and humanly achievable. We’re talking… 50 pages or so? Still, it’s only two forms. How bad can two forms be?

Oh, you just wait, you little optimistic bunny you. 

Step 3. Begin wading through the piles of paper. You’ll probably undertake this in stages, because a few hours of filling out mundane information several times over is enough to make enough the most dedicated office rat’s head spin.

Birth dates and immigration statuses – sometimes even passport numbers- for every member of both of your families, listings of all places of residence which means digging for old addresses in suburbs you can’t even remember… Even so, things are looking good. You’re in no rush, and you can probably send these suckers off in a few weeks! 

HA.

Step 4. Reach the last page of the infamous form 47SP, a record 30-page monster, and gasp with horror as you realize the extent of the additional paperwork you’re going to have to obtain.

We’re not just talking the basic birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport, visa type stuff that normally is asked for. No no no my friends, you’re going to have to include every last scrap of evidence that your relationship is “genuine and continuing.” What??

From the venerable 47SP:

There are 4 broad categories of evidence that you need to provide:

• financial aspects;

• the nature of the household;

• social context of the relationship; and

• the nature of your commitment to each other.

All relationships are different, so you should provide as much evidence as you can that you believe will support your claims.

The lists below are only a guide and are neither all inclusive or exclusive.


That ambiguous enough for you? These lists are a guide, every relationship is different,  but it’s probably in your best interests to look like a pretty damn normal couple. Basically, just provide every last scrap of documentation you have. I was also informed by a couple who went through this process a few years back that the well-meaning folks at immigration also used to request evidence for the ways in which you and your partner physically support each other. Physically? Excuse me? OVERKILL…

I included wedding photos, email transcripts, copies of birthday cards from years back, photos of us with the other’s families, proof of our mutual club memberships, even a copy of the weekly apartment “chore roster” to show that duties, at least on paper, are divided up in a supporting way.

Look! We’re normal! And supportive! Look at us in New Zealand! Here we are in New York City! Look at all the things we do together! Normal normal normal, nothing to look at here.

Step 5. Send off for all supplementary paperwork. We’re talking federal background checks for every country you’ve lived in, legal declarations from two Australian citizens who know you both and can attest to the validity of your relationship (this is actually quite hard to do when all of your mutual friends seem to be Irish, Kiwis or British…), get a $300 medical check and chest x-ray, personal accounts of the entirety of your relationship individually written by each of you… and don’t forget every single one of these bad boys needs to be notarized!

Step 5A. Hooooooold up. Obtaining any one of these items, such as a background check, takes its own amount of paperwork and time to process, all adding substantially to the time and cost of this fairly emotional process. 

Take a background check from the US, for instance. Obtaining one of these means getting your prints taken at a police station (there’s a charge), filling in appropriate paperwork, and sending off the official request (of course, another charge for this.) You then wait for the very ambiguous time of “up to 12 weeks” for these to come through. I made an international call (hi, expensive) to check on the status of my request and was informed by the overworked and under-customer serviced lady at the friendly FBI that “ma’am, we do not send out confirmation receipts as we get thousands of requests every day. If we receive it, we’ll process it and you should get it within 12 weeks.” 

Yeah thanks for that. 

Step 6. Amid this long-wrought, tumultuous process, you will call the Immigration “Information Hotline” repeatedly. You will never speak to the same person twice. You may not email anyone directly, as that information is not revealed to members of the public such as yourself. This means that every. single. call entails about a half-hour of hold time listening to the riveting statistics on how many applications are received daily by the immigration department. (It’s over 11,000, in case you were wondering. Does this affect my attitude towards the whole thing? Not a bit.)

Step 6A. While talking to the very friendly people at immigration, you will receive erroneous information on multiple occasions. This information will be given emphatically by each and every person you speak with, but will later be disproved by another employee nonetheless. 

Step 7. (In reality, this is more like step 247, but I digress.) Send that bad boy off! But first, make the painful bank withdrawal of $3,975. Then you’re REALLY ready. This amount is non-negotiable and non-refundable, regardless of the outcome. 

Step 8. Wait. And wait some more. Approximate processing time is currently around twelve months, during which time you will need to apply for a completely different travel visa if you’d like to leave the country for any reason.

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I started this blog to keep a firsthand account of what living abroad is like. Well, this is about as real as it gets. Immigration, visas, paperwork, red tape, unhelpful staff… this has nothing to do with Australia and everything to do with the high price you pay to experience life in another country. 

This is why it irks me when, in talking about illegal immigration, people so frequently object, “Why don’t they just go through the process? Why don’t they just do it the right way?”

I have a degree in communication, a high level of comprehension and  above-average knowledge of the English language, and none of these forms were easy or intuitive. I can’t imagine how many non-English speakers erroneously fill out the forms or worse, are swindled by imposters claiming to be lawyers. 

This is not a process you just “go through.” I’m lucky that I was even able to obtain the necessary supplementary documentation. This is not a case of filling out a few papers, paying a fee and being approved. There’s no magic button, there’s no magic door to residency. 

I realize that I took this responsibility upon  myself when I moved to this country, and becoming an Australian resident is a privilege. Regardless, people desperately seeking asylum due to a variety of reasons, mostly related to persecution, do not always have the avenues I do and I don’t think that’s fair. Nor is the fact that so many citizens (Australian and American alike) take their rights so casually and look with such disdain on those who would truly give everything to become a working, contributing member of a first-world country.

 Something to think about. We’re lucky, folks. Don’t take it for granted. And when to comes to paperwork, never go up against a government organization unprepared or on a deadline because you will never win. 

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