Oct 082014
 

Having lived in the US for over a decade there are quite a few cost of living differences I notice when I return to visit Canada. One of the more obvious differences between the two counties is the treatment of alcohol. The first and most obvious difference is how one purchases liquor or beer. In many US states liquor is commonly available at any corner store. In Canada, up until relatively recently all liquor had to be purchased through Provincially owned and controlled stores. This history also means that even the privately run liquor stores are typically quite clean, modern, and tidy – one never sees run down malt beverage shops which occasionally dot the landscape of poorer zip codes in the US.

The second big difference is in price. The price difference is primarily due to higher “sin” taxes in Canada. However, there is a secondary effect when it comes to imports as higher duty charges also take effect. While visiting this summer I took a look to see what was available in one of the larger stores in Prince George. While domestically produced spirits seemed to be about the same price one would pay for them in the US, some imported liquor appears to be dramatically marked up. The one which surprised me the most was Old Pulteney Scotch 12 Year – this is a nice Scotch which is typically under $40 in the US ($35.99 as of the time of my writing in San Diego). However, at this LCBBC the price was an eye watering $79.99. I guess I’ll be sticking to Canadian rye when I visit.

Old Pulteney Scotch 12 Year Canadian Pricing

Feb 262011
 

I intended to do a write-up about my experience becoming a US Citizen last year. However, as is frequently the case, if I don’t start on a post right away it never happens. Fortunately, Dafna Linzer wrote up a article on Slate that captures a lot of the things I was going to write about:

The Problem With Question 36: Why are so many of the answers on the U.S. citizenship test wrong?

In addition to the sometimes puzzling questions and answers posed by the test (we have a free market economy, really?) I thought she did a good job giving an overview of the interview tone and the swearing-in ceremony emotions. It was very touching to see in people’s reactions just how far they had come, and how much joy that moment gave them. If you ever feel a bit depressed, get yourself invited to a swearing in ceremony. It is hard to leave without a lump in your throat and a changed heart.

Nov 112008
 

Though I’ve lived in the US for 7 years, it feels a little odd to be working today. Today is Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth (Veterans Day in the US). Many in Canada attend ceremonies today to see or place wreaths laid to honour the fallen. It is common to wear a red poppy on your lapel and the day tends to be reserved and respectful. I miss it here. That’s a funny thing with traditions and I – easily adopt new ones, but hate to drop old ones.

Sep 012007
 

I am finally a permanent permanent resident of the US. Confused? I was just a conditional permanent (haha) resident because Anna and I had not been married for two years before we applied for my residency (see here for my summary of the I-485 experience). To do this, I had to file I-751 (Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence) 90 days before the expiration of my residency. They ask for all sorts of proof that we have integrated our lives since then. So we sent loads of paperwork (taxes, banking, etc) and photos. One thing that was weird about this application is that we needed at least two signed and certified affidavits from people that knew us before and after we were married. It feels a bit strange to ask someone “So… mind signing/writing a statement saying we aren’t trying to scam the govt with a sham marriage?”

The timing of my expiration was quite fortuitous. A week after my expiration date, the application costs jumped from just under $300, to just under $600. Our paperwork all packaged up, I submitted it to Laguna Niguel via USPS on June 10th, with tracking and a signature required. The tracking worked. The signature delivery, not so much – it took a month and a half to get back to me. I didn’t hear anything for a while, but they cashed my check, so I figured I had done something right. July 20th I finally received a receipt for submitting my application. Three days later I received a biometric appointment card for August 17th. I’m not exactly sure why I needed to go through this again… it wasn’t like my fingerprints changed much over the course of two years. One learns efficiency isn’t one of USCIS’s strong points.

I lined up with all the other applicants at the application support center on El Cajon Blvd. Your idea of an “appointment” probably doesn’t match the USCIS’s idea of an appointment – fifty other people in line with the exact same appointment, take a number. The mix seemed to be mostly Mexican, with a smattering of Filipino and North African judging by the passports everyone had out. We all filed in, filled out paper work, and then got in line for photos and fingerprinting. On the plus side, they were much faster than the last time I was here. The whole process only took about 25 minutes.

A week after baring my hands and face, and a two and a half months after giving up our privacy, I received a letter in the mail congratulating me for becoming a permanent resident. Yesterday I finally received my new resident card. It has an expiration date ten years from now, but I’m hoping it will be less pain than these last ones to renew.

Dec 122005
 

I’ve already wrote a bit on my experiences with US immigration and visas. But, since I have two friends going through the permanent residency process, I figured there would be some other people out there that might find this information useful. Some notes to start us out:

– I didn’t use a lawyer. Some people do, but I saw the process as doable by myself.
– The lingo of the applications follows this format: Petitioner = me (Canadian), Sponsor = Anna (American)
– The forms all have pretty good explanations on requirements. You will need a number of passport photos, as well as certified copies of your birth certificates (you and sponsor/spouse). You also will need to bring your passport the with I-94 attached.
– The sumittal fees for forms and additional permits for work and travel add up to over $1000. Not a big deal for me, but there is little doubt that indentured servitude is alive and well in the USA.
– To speak with an Immigration Information Officer (to start the I-485 filing process) you must make an appointment via the Internet at www.infopass.uscis.gov. You must bring the printout of your INFOPASS appointment and a photo ID with you. Expect everyone that works there to be a bit pissy with you.
– 1-800-375-5283 is the USCIS help line. They are very helpful for figuring out the form requirements and special case type questions.

The whole application for residency really boils down to two main forms, and their dependencies:

I-130 – Petition for Alien Relative $190

G-325A – Biographic Information – One for the petitioner, one for the sponsor

I-485 – Application To Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status $325

G-325A – I used my existing G-325A from above
I-693 – Medical Examination of Aliens Seeking Adjustment of Status – It is best if you do this before you submit your paperwork. It cost me around $130, as you have to use one of their civil surgeons (click here to find). The doctor will give you a sealed I-693 to be submitted along with the I-485. Best if you have your vaccination history, or you may need to get some shots.
I-864 – Affidavit of Support – “To show that an intending immigrant has adequate means of financial support and is not likely to become a public charge.” In other words, to show your spouse can support your sorry ass, even if that’s not the current situation.
I-765 – Application for Employment Authorization $180 – You probably want to work while your application is being processed, you need to do this one.
I-131 – Advance Parole (Travel Document) $170 – This lets you travel out of the US while your application is being processed. Once your I-131 application is approved, you will be sent two copies of form I-512 (took a couple months for me). You must carry both copies when you travel out of the US for the first time. On your first entry back into the states, the USCIS office will take one of the copies. Keep the other copy for future travel.

Think you’re all done? Hahah, no. After you file, you will receive a notice in the mail from the USCIS to go get finger printed. It is $70 and relatively quick.

Some time later, you may be called in to be interviewed. Click here to read about my super happy fun time experience with that.

Eventually, a wait of nine months in my case, you will receive a card in the mail saying you are a permanent resident. If you had been married less than two years, you also get to be interviewed in two years to make sure you are legit. Good times.

Aug 122005
 

Back in June, Anna and I went to the main San Diego INS/USCIS office in Chula Vista to be interviewed for my residency application. We weren’t sure what to expect. Would they separate us and interrogate to expose our choice of toothpaste? Well, no. Nothing like any sort of movie description happened. But, it was a bit weird. She went through the expected questions at the start. When did you meet, where were you married, did family come to the wedding, etc. She asked us if we had our rings inscribed (no, is that normal?) or if we brought our wedding album with us (uh, no). We replied that our wedding photos were all on our web site, and she could use the computer in front of her to check them out if she wanted. She said they weren’t allowed to use the internet. Homeland security issues I guess.

The interview changed in tone and she started asking questions like: Are we going to have kids? If not, then why? Why did you (asking me) marry someone older than you? Why do you like her? Does it bother you that she might not have kids? At this point I was thinking, jez, you’re kind of being a dick. She abruptly stopped, and gave us a sheet of paper outlining things we bring back to show as proof that we were married. Wedding photos, photographs together, proof of travel together, joint taxes or holdings, proof we live together, etc. She was apparently not convinced we were married and we had no clue why. We were frustrated. The interview letter only said to bring our existing forums and official documents. If we had thought we would have needed any of this ‘proof’, we would have brought it. Why weren’t we told to bring it anyway?

The more we thought about it afterwards, the more it seemed that the woman didn’t know what to make of us. We may have been a pretty big anomaly for her personally as well as professionally. I would guess about 90% of the people going through this USCIS office is (or was) Mexican. Marring older in life, with an age gap in the opposite direction (woman older than the man), having a minimal wedding, and having kids late in life (or possibly not at all), are not exactly usual things for most people that come through this office. Who knows, maybe we are reading too much into this. It is just hard to shake, her questions and reactions seemed so unusual.

We rounded up all the information she wanted and dropped it off at the office a few months back. All was silent until last week. Finally they wanted me to come in, get my passport stamped, and wait for my permanent resident card. I did that yesterday morning. My resident card, once I recieve it, will not be permanent. It is only good for two years. At that time we have to reapply, and I assume, prove we are still married. I just hope I get my card before I have to renew my passport (early next year). I was told the stamp could not be re-issued, and to keep my old passport. There is a problem with that though. Canada requires that I submit my old passport to apply for a new one. Maybe I will ‘loose’ it if I have to. Fun fun.

As a side note, if you do happen to be in Chula Vista on 3rd Ave, I highly recommend a visit to Tropicana 100 for some nice fruit, sandwiches, and smoothies. I think the Mexican-American businesses do fresh fruit better than anyone else. You can almost always be assured that the fruit will be the ripest and sweetest possible. Though I gotta say, I’m not a fan of the Mexican Papaya (Carica) which frequents the fruit mixes (Hawaiian is fine). To me (though others seem to like it), it has a bile-ish smell and aftertaste. Maybe I need more chili and lemon. It is too bad really, because the giant fruit is cheap and easy to come by in the markets around my house.

Jul 312005
 

(I’m back in town and my skin is slowly hydrating. I always forget how dry Calgary & BC can be)

First, a little background as to why I was talking to homeland security in Canada – Calgary has a full service (as far as I can tell) US customs and immigration office in the airport. On US bound flights, you have to go through them before you get to US departure gates. It has always seemed a bit odd to me that Canada would give up that much sovereignty. At the same time it would really suck to get to the US and be turned back for whatever reason.

I had my multi-entry parole for an alien papers on hand (gained by filling out an I-131 and paying a couple hundred bucks), and based on my Mexico/US border experiences, expected a swipe of my passport, a glance at the papers, and a wave. This was not the case in Calgary. They had me fill out a new I-94, which I thought my multi-entry parole make obsolete, then proceeded to run 15 minutes worth of background checks on me. I still must be Canada, the Esquire in the waiting room had nipples showing. After being called up from the empty waiting room they slapped some stamps on my new I-94 and parole (first time it had been stamped) and I was done. I’m not sure what to think. Is the US/Mex border protocol that much more slack? Or is it just that the guys in Canada are so bored that they like to do everything possible?

On the airport security end of things they didn�t seem to give a damn about my shoes, which is all the rage at SAN right now (regardless of whether or not they set off the metal detector). No mechanized chemical sniffers here either – though security had us walk around them in San Diego anyway. They did plance a squinty eye on electronics, inspecting laptops and asking about cameras. My bag was flagged and I was waved over. �You have folding scissors in your bag sir.� I replied that I was pretty sure I didn�t. She showed me the x-ray screen that showed my microtool. �Ah�, I said, and showed that the key chain tool had no knife blade. It makes itself useful by with a couple of small screwdriver heads and some very small pliers. Full sized tools are not allowed of flights of course, because of their clubbing/stabbing potential. Small tools, like eyeglass repair kits, are supposed to be allowed according to the TSA. I had specifically bought the microtool so that I could carry it on (I never check my bag), and had been doing so for about 10 flights over this last year.

�No tools�, she said, and dropped it into a box of knives and lighters. Bugger. I briefly tried to reason with her on TSA regulations, but quickly thought better of that as as it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to happen. Of course, she told me I could have it shipped for the same price I bought it for. Maybe she gets commission. I want to see the financials of the shipping company at the airport. That�s got to be the sickest profit margin around. So anyway, I guess a screwdriver an inch long is a deadly weapon. Maybe they are afraid of me MacGyvering my seat console to show porn on the TV screens. I can see the 24 hour news headline: Moral Terrorist cripples aircraft, 36 offended.

It seems to me that these two events have two possible lessons. One – you are at the mercy of the security person’s interpretation of regulations. Or Two – the system is so broken that it takes a while before someone does the correct action, surprising you. Either way, it doesn’t give one much confidence in the system.