One of my favorite attractions in the history of ever is the DMV. It’s like a roller coaster: you wait in line for two hours to get a three-minute thrill, and afterwards you feel a little nauseated. But it’s free, so technically better than a roller coaster. In the latest of a series of bureaucratic incidents that will inevitably happen to you whenever you move to another country, the DMV surprised me like a cockroach in my salad, if the cockroach then appears to have been dead for quite a while. You know, it’s an unpleasant surprise, but you’re left with the knowledge that it could have been worse. But first, let me set the mood.
As an expert in the idea of bureaucracy, I theoretically know the great paradox of how a bureaucracy works:
1. All the world is captured in protocols, so everybody knows what to do in every situation.
2. A new situation comes up, nobody knows what to do.
3. Computer says no.
4. We make new protocols and start over at point 1.
When walking through a process as complicated as migration, you encounter a lot of ‘number twos’ (pun intended). In the simplest of cases, it is a form you have to fill out that leaves so little wiggle room, there is no answer possible. As I was looking for a job before I moved here, I checked the ‘I want to work in the US’ check box on the form. The next question was for what company I meant, including the address. Clearly, if you don’t know where you’re going to work, you don’t want to work, or you’d have tried a little harder.
Cases can also get a bit more complicated. My visa, a K-1, allowed me to be in the country for 90 days before I got married, while already having done the major part of the application for a green card (and being eligible for a driver’s license, which is pretty handy). After receiving my visa, I had a six month window to get to the US, and on whatever day I’d choose to enter, the 90-day marrying window would open. As I entered on July 10, my window would close October 7. We got married August 24, send our marriage license to the Immigration service, got us a car, and me a fancy driver permit that expired October 7th. I learned how to drive in little over a month, and took the test on October 7th. They printed off a temporary driver’s license, and I went home to wait for my real card. Instead, I got a letter in the mail. As my I-94 had expired, they couldn’t send me my card just yet. I had to send them a new version of my I-94, the one that expired October 7th.
To recap: when I took the test, I had a I-94 and a K1 status. By the time the information got to the magical mount of paperwork, it had expired and the process was stopped. Protocol, you know. I have no status. I basically reside in the international waters of bureaucracy. I do want a license, however, so I called the central DMV office. ‘Sure’, they said, ‘just bring in your marriage license, that should do it.’ However, by the time I dropped the license on the lady’s desk, it could have been a half eaten bag of Skittles. ‘Now what do you want me to do with that?’ I explained the situation, she raised one eyebrow and tried not to laugh at me. ‘If you are not a permanent resident, and you don’t have an I-94, there is nothing I can do.’ So I grabbed the fire extinguisher from the wall and went postal. Wait, no. I made her call someone else, and the solution came to us like a plate of hors d’oeuvres on a cocktail party when you forgot to eat before drinking wine. It’s simple. We wait until my temporary license expires, then I come to the DMV (presumably flying on a magic carpet that requires no license), and they’ll renew my temporary license. Repeat bureaucratic madness until resident citizen.
The plot moistens… Read the aftermath.