For those who have immigrated to the United States, you know that the process is not easy, even for those emigrating from a rich western nation. Weighing our options and deciding that Los Angeles would be the best fit for running my business, my wife set out to secure her Green Card after we got married, a process that ran smoothly until we hit a snare that would end up sending us to Africa for a month.
Heidi spent her gap year in South Africa working at a child orphanage. When filling out your application to immigrate to the USA you must indicate your past residences going back five years. At the time, in late 2014, it had been four years since she had lived in South Africa so Heidi naturally indicated that she had spent a year there.
No one at the American Consulate said anything about this and we even received a letter in the mail indicating that we could schedule a final interview that would result in the grant of a provisional Green Card.
Then an e-mail arrived, demanding that we provide proof that Heidi had not committed any crimes while she was in South Africa. That’s right, when it comes to immigrating to the USA you are guilty until proven innocent.
Although her gap year program was sponsored by the German Federal Government and she was under the care and direction of that authority, U.S. authorities insisted on a document from the South African government certifying that Heidi was “clean”.
We found South Africa did have a special office for these sorts of requests and submitted the document request via certified post, traveling first to the South African consulate in Munich for Heidi to be fingerprinted.
We heard nothing back for about a month and my apprehension began to grow as our tracking code from the German Postal Service continued to say only, “Arrived in Johannesburg.” I called the Police Clearance Records Office on an almost-daily basis and was told each day, “Sorry, we have not received your request.”
Then one day one of the employees in the records office said:
“Well, there has been a postal strike for several months so it is no surprise that we don’t have it yet.”
Hah, hah, hah.
We were faced with a choice – try it again with DHL or UPS or go down ourselves. “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” is more than a cliché and it did not take us long to decide that we would go down to South Africa on a one-way ticket and secure the document we needed.
I had a trip to the USA coming up so we made plans to go the following weekend. I booked Heidi a one-way ticket for about $450 on Ethiopian from Frankfurt to Johannesburg via Addis Ababa and I would travel from Houston to Johannesburg via Lagos. At the time, United was still operating its Houston to Lagos flight.
A few days later I did book a return ticket – one month later. I had to be back in LA so I redeemed some Virgin Atlantic miles for two Upper Class tickets from Cape Town to London, another route that has been suspended. Returning on award tickets gave us flexibility in case we needed to extend the stay or perhaps even come home early.
The plan was not to spend a month vacationing: I still had Award Expert to run so the primary goal was finding an affordable accommodation with Wi-Fi. We ended up not planning more than a couple days ahead, but you’ll read about how it all worked out.
We used Johannesburg and Pretoria as our base and did side trips as time allowed. Oh what a month we had! By the end of the month we had spent time in South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia.