Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Long and Winding Road to US Cizitenship

Today I became a US citizen.

A naturalized one. Which means I am eligible to vote, run for office, serve on a jury. However, I'll never be a US President. But hey, I could be the Governor of California.

It was a cold, snowy day in early January of 1998, when I set foot on US soil for the first time. I landed in Minneapolis, where my brother lived at that time. The previous week I was a university student with an easy-going outlook on the future, the next week I was an exchange student from Hungary, working at a greenhouse in the north suburbs of Minneapolis.

I traveled a lot that year, thinking I might never be back to this country. I flew back home in March 1999, continued my studies at the university, which I paused for a year to improve my English and to see the world.

However, I visited Seattle and Vancouver, BC in the fall of 1999, just six months after I left the US. I remember landing in Seattle, standing in the middle of the airport terminal thinking "I am home".

I decided to pursue a Ph.D. degree after graduation. In retrospect, I was just buying time, trying to find a way to come back and live in the US.

My brother arranged a job interview with his former manager, who had a web design shop in Minneapolis. This small business owner thought if I am half as smart as my brother is, he was going to get the better end of the bargain. I got hired on the spot, but I had to find an exchange student visa to make my employment legal. I found one, and in 2001 May I moved to the United Sates for good.

The first year went by fairly fast, but my exchange student visa had an expiration date. I switched to a work visa which allowed me to stay and work in the country for up to 6 years.

I went from one company to the other, did my traveling journeyman phase of my professional career. We bought a house in May 2005, and three weeks after moving in I received a phone call from a headhunter, who was trying to find software engineers for a large, Fortune 500 company in the Cleveland, Ohio area. I decided to go through the hiring process, and the next thing I knew was selling our house after the mere 3 months of purchasing it, and we moved to Ohio.

I was put on a fast track with my permanent residency application, which was sponsored by my employer. I received my green card after 18 months. I was happy when I opened the mailbox finding the letter from USCIS notifying me about adjusting my status to a permanent resident.

I had to wait 5 years before I became eligible for US citizenship. In fact, I could have become one in 2012, but moving from Cleveland to Chicago was a big enough challenge for us at that time.

Last year, when we came back from Europe and we entered the country, we had to go through US immigration. Our children are US citizens, we had green cards, but we still had to wait in line with "the visitors" to enter into the country we called home. That was the moment we decided to do something about it. We filed our paperwork, we prepared for our civic test, went through the interview, and today we recited the oath to become part of this Nation.