Getting to America by Ed

@ Corte Madera
Ed & Noah flying over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco with a Scotland flag and a rainbow trail
📷 Photograph: Rose and Ed Henderson
Ed & Noah flying over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco with a Scotland flag and a rainbow trail
📷 Photograph: Rose and Ed Henderson

The family and I are now safely settled in California, things have calmed down now as we have got the basics like a house, car, school sorted out (more on that later). Now time to reflect back on what has been a tumultuous few months with this post which has taken me around six weeks to write on and off.

Getting to America took five (on paper) simple, yet what turned out to be, astoundingly complex and time consuming steps:

  1. Finding a job and a wonderful employer who is willing to sponsor you
  2. File an H–1B petition (using form I–129) and wait for an answer — this involves a lot of form filling, scanning stuff to prove who you are, family background, history, CV. Basically every piece of information you can give, you will give. If successful you get an I-797.
  3. Then apply in person for an H–1B Visa (and 4 x H4 Visas for the family) — this involves filling in DS–160 forms (similar to the forms in stage 1, i.e. same level of information and detail required but slightly different), giving fingerprints and attending an interview at a US Consulate (we went to Belfast), where you leave your passport.
  4. If successful you get your passport back with your H–1B (and H4) visas stuck inside.
  5. Arriving at a USA entry point with all of the approved paperwork and hoping they let you in.

Advice — get a US Attorney to help. While we have been fortunate enough to have my employers help pay for it, they have been invaluable (ours was Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP).

In the time we waited for the Petition to be processed (over two months), we eventually managed to sell our house, fourth time lucky (the first three purchasers had to pull out due to finance problems).

We have this ridiculous situation in Scotland where a Lender will not progress with a mortgage application from a Buyer unless an Offer has been accepted by the Seller. This means as a Seller you have to take a gamble when you accept an Offer as you have absolutely no inkling as to a potential Buyer’s financial status (most likely the Buyer doesn’t know either).

There is then a wait of around a month while the Buyer applies for the Mortgage (your house is then off the market) and then the Lender decides to refuse. Buyer pulls out then you are back to square one.

This happened to us three times.

So we reached the end of July, our two months processing time was up for the H–1B Petition and still we had heard nothing back from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). They have a handy website where you can check on the progress of your application and find out their estimated processing times. We then found out that that website was wrong and it was likely to be another two months.

You can imagine how frustrating this was? We had sold the house, sold our possessions and were planning to move into temporary accomodation until the 1 October, our target date for being in California.

Upon speaking to our US Attorney we (quite by chance) discovered the Premium Processing Queue. Essentially this meant that for an additional fee of $1575 (correct as of September 2012) there was a guaranteed turnaround of 15 days. We bit the bullet and paid the extra to get things moving again. I just wish we had known about this from the start as we think it was well worth the money to find out the decision quickly.

Fast forward eleven days and we got a decision on our H–1B Petition, it was a YES. Such an amazing response and an absolutely fantastic weight off our minds. Full steam ahead now.

Rose and I had now spent the best part of four months selling everything we owned. We had decided to not take anything with us (well apart from some family herilooms, knick-knacks, Jack Draws Anything and some kids stuff). All furniture, toys, clothes and anything that would cost more to ship than buy over there was gone.

Most of it went through a Facebook group which specialised in this kind of thing — For Sale or Wanted in East Lothian - a real variety of people and characters make up this soap opera of a community. At times it was painful but the good outweighed the bad and it meant we could simply take a photo of something, post it on the Wall and later that day someone would buy it (and come pick it up).

Eventually the time came to go to Belfast. We managed to convince Rose’s Mum to look after the boys while we flew to Northern Ireland one evening, stayed in a rather creepy B&B (no names no packdrill) and then went to the US Consulate in Belfast armed with every document we ever owned.

There was tight security at the Gate (in fact the Irish security guard was only a little racist about Welsh people being stupid before I informed him my wife was mostly Welsh). After that, the next 3 hours sped by in super slow motion while we sat in what could only be described as a grey waiting room from the 1980s with twenty or so other contestants.

Slowly but surely the ladies behind the counters called everyones names and everyone was duly processed. At the end, there was an amazing anti-climax as the lady just say ok, thats you, thanks for coming. Rose and I had to double check it was a yes, she sighed and said yes, its all good.

To her, it was her five hundredth YES, to us, it was our first (well, and our second, third, fourth and fifth), so off out we went high as a cloud!

We got back to Scotland, got the boys, sold the rest of our stuff, and moved into Seton Sands Holiday Park (my Gran’s caravan) for the next five weeks. The less said about that the better but suffice to say, its an OK place for a weekend away, not somewhere you live for over a month. It did the job so thank you to my Gran.

So the big day came, we had said our goodbyes, sold more stuff and were off. A Last Supper at Rose’s Mums and the night in a Premier Inn in Livingston (classy). It did the job, a safe quiet bed for the night near Edinburgh Airport. In fact it was so close, it allowed our taxi from said hotel to Airport to go back to allow me to pick up the green folder with all our passports, documentation and visas I had left in the room.

Our flight over with British Airways from Heathrow (we had first flown Edinburgh to Heathrow) was average at best. Flight itself went reasonably quick but 3/5 of our televisions were broken, row behind us were loud drunken Geordies and the entire flight was packed. On the plus side, the kids were ok with their two iPads (thank you Grandma) and a carefully manoeuvred seat rotation system.

We arrived at San Francisco Airport at 3pm (local time), 11pm boys time and they were still running around Immigration, swinging on Emergency Exits, riding on luggage carts but all in all we convinced Officer Lee to let us into the country.

We have now been here one month and life is only just beginning to take on some resemblance of normality. For us Scottish folk, especially the kids, everything is the same, but different. We have managed so far and with more time, will get a little better.