Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Becoming socially secure

The queue on arrival
Today was the day of the first of many administrative tasks ahead of us: applying for my social security number (SSN). This involved getting up early to arrive about an hour before the office opened (as per the advice on the K-1 process flow chart), queuing in the already-formed, reasonably-sized line, and then getting a ticket number and waiting for an officer to call you. It was very much like the visa interview process up until this point, just without the security screening.

Initially, we were all in a single line, until a lovely, friendly lady started to open up the office, and organised us all into three separate lines: those with appointments; those who needed replacement cards; and AOB (disability allowance, retirement etc.). Obviously this reassured my agitated inner Brit, who was subconsciously checking for any "pushers in", with the ever-increasing threat of a passive-aggressive glare spontaneously emerging on my face. It was fine, though, as the lines were very easily sorted and separated, and we ended up being the first in our category, too. Once that was done, the doors were opened properly, and we all shuffled in, in our respective lines, after having been asked whether or not we had any weapons on our person (they're not allowed), told that we cannot take phone calls in the waiting room, and asked not to eat or drink anything while waiting for our appointments.

Our ticket number
The lady of aforementioned queue organising success was the same person who checked us into the waiting room and gave us a ticket number. It was then a case of sitting and waiting for our number to be called - Argos for visas all over again. The interesting thing for me, as an English girl used to English office routines, was seeing the office open about 40 minutes early in order to organise the people waiting in time for business to start at 9AM, the time the office officially starts processing social security documents. It's not unheard of in Britain to have an office do this, I guess, but it's hardly usual. If the opening hours are 9-3, you won't get anyone helping you before 9, or after 3. So, all in all, I was pleasantly surprised! We'd hardly sat down for five minutes after getting our ticket number when we were called to a booth around the corner from the waiting room. It took about fifteen minutes for the official to type in my details from the SS-5 form I had filled in the day before (you can get them online and print them off at home, which is helpful), check my passport, visa and I-94, and ask me a few questions about my previous trips to the US, whether I had a bank account (which was a bit weird, because you can't get a US bank account without an SSN, to my knowledge), and whether I was currently employed. I then had to affirm all the answers I had given were true to my knowledge, and we were issued a receipt, told it would take 7-10 days to receive my card in the post, and shown on our way. We were out by 9:15!

The perfect SSN application celebration
So, the obvious thing to do next was refuel, with coffee and bagels, which we did very successfully - the perfect reward for the early start and successful trip. Not to mention the fact that it's the only part of the whole administration process of making me a permanent alien that's entirely free! It was a gorgeous, sunny autumn morning, so we grabbed some Starbucks coffee (I am slightly addicted to skinny, extra-strong vanilla lattes) and spinach and cheese omelette bagels from Bruegger's, and sat in the sun, contemplating my imminent social security, and the fact that we are now almost at stage 17 on the flow chart: applying for a marriage license. Woohoo!

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