American life

Nearly 18 years ago The Husband and I gave away our dog, sold our rusty car, stored our few bits of furniture under friends’ houses and took two toddlers across the planet to live in America.

He wanted to do some advanced training with world experts in his field.

So he called on his connections and wrote letters and polished his curriculum vitae and snagged a plumb position at IUPUI University Hospital in Indianapolis.

The position didn’t pay much, but with a bit of corporate sponsorship we managed. Just.

New home

We found somewhere to live, bought a car, begged a preschool place for the three-year-old and made sense of a supermarket which sold food by the pound.

We learned how to drive on the other side of the road and how to elongate our vowels and emphasise our ‘r’s to be understood.

We bought ex-rental furniture and children’s bikes from Goodwill.

We discovered the local parks and explored the museums and the zoo.

But as winter settled in and the days grew short, I became lonely and bored.

Working

I’d quit my job for this big adventure and found life stuck inside a concrete box with two small children pretty miserable.

I also wanted to top up the family coffers, maybe making a trip to the supermarket slightly less stressful.

I was sick of weighing my fruit and veggies and keeping a running tally of my grocery shopping to avoid embarrassment at the checkout.

So I looked into getting a work permit.

Making inquiries

Now, this was 18 years ago remember. The internet was in its infancy.

I was connected, of course. I’d bought a 486 within days of arriving and had my cathode ray tube monitor propped up on phone books until I could afford a desk.

And despite having no credit history in the United States, which is tantamount to being invisible, I convinced the local phone company to let me access dial-up.

But while I had the technology sorted, there wasn’t much to connect to back then.

Internet banking wasn’t available and online application forms were in their infancy.

The most my research on work permits uncovered  was a phone number.

So I called it. And called again. And again, and again.

Each time the phone would ring and there would be a message and I’d be put on hold.

So I’d wait. And wait. And wait.

Eventually it dawned on me I’d have to go into an office in person.

The office

Having already obtained a local driver’s licence from the Department of Motor Vehicles (every joke you’ve ever heard about the DMV is true), I knew I’d have to get there early.

So on the appointed day I packed a bag with snacks and toys. I bundled the girls into their coats and gloves, scraped the ice from the car’s windscreen, then strapped us all in for the trek down Meridian Street to get my work permit.

It was still dark, just before 8am, but I felt good. It was early, we wouldn’t have to line up for long. This would be taken care of before morning tea.

Or not.

It’s so long ago now I can’t remember exactly what happened in that office.

I only remember it being very uncomfortable and the girls finishing all their snacks and growing bored and fretful.

Just like all the phone calls, we waited and waited and waited and waited.

What I do remember is when I finally got to talk to someone I was given a form to fill in and told to return it by mail. So. All that effort and waiting to be simply handed a form.

And when I completed the form and submitted it I waited again.

This time for nearly six months.

It took them six months to decide it was ok for me to work.

Not important

There are no votes in taking care of visitors.

The visitors don’t vote and people who do vote aren’t interested in the immigration bureaucracy.

These services are likely to be chronically underfunded and staffed by overworked discontents.

But not ugly

While my experience was frustrating and disheartening, it pales compared to the story told by Australian author Mem Fox about her treatment by immigration officials at the Los Angeles airport recently.

In this Trump era, it appears brutality has replaced indifference at the immigration office.

Although perhaps the underlying issue is the same. There are no votes in visitors.

The upside

When my work permit finally arrived we were half way through our two year adventure.

I’d become more accustomed to being a stay-at-home mom, so instead of hunting for a job and childcare I got pregnant again.

In some ways, The Ballerina owes her existence to an inefficient immigration department.

And I’ve tasted sweet revenge, having given birth to a United States citizen.

copywriting me

Angela Bensted is Brisbane-based freelance writer who likes to listen first and struggle with syntax later. She pitches stories to magazines, sometimes successfully, and helps businesses produce compelling copy for print and online.

More here