Monday, February 19, 2007

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout CookiesThis is another "it's not just in films" moment. It actually happens in real life. A girl scout friend of Emily's came to the door and sold us some "Girl Scout Cookies". But that's not all. When I'd seen this sort of thing on TV, I'd always just assumed that it's girl scouts selling biscuits (cookies), but that there's nothing special about the bickies themselves. As it turns out, girl scouts don't sell any old cookies. They sell Girl Scouts Cookies. Not only are they packaged especially for the Girl Scouts, but each biscuit has written on it "Girl Scouting is all about...", then the sentence is finished with a word like "Caring" or "Values" or "Leadership" etc...

As I eat them, I say to myself "Yep. I'm definitely in America."

Family Fun Night II

Emily, Lauren and friends at the Family Fun NightThe elementary school's annual Family Fun Night came round again. Last year both Emily and Lauren were at elementary school, but this year Emily started middle school. The four of us went and took a couple of Emily's friends with us. Lauren met some friends there.

Mark and I chatted, while the children went off to the various bouncy castles and stalls. Lauren and friend at the Family Fun NightThe highlights were a Tae Kwon Do demonstration and a man (I'm not sure what organization he was with) who'd brought several animals that the children could touch/pet, including a chimpanzee, a lemur and an alligator. The children would occasionally return to us for drinks, popcorn and pizza.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Taylor-Thomas Picnic

I haven't had much time to blog recently, so I thought I'd treat you to a Catherine Tate sketch. This sketch has caused the term "greedy-gobble-gannet" to enter my family's vocabulary whenever any of us -- well, whenever any of us is a greedy-gobble-gannet.

In for a penny, in for a pound. Here's one from before Fergus ingested the "infected dairy produce":

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Green Card Application Filed

The Greencard ApplicationLast week I took my Green Card application in to Duke International Office and walked back to my office with a spring in my step. This happy moment came after months of work on this application and a huge amount of time invested. The picture you see here is the application just before I took it in to the International Office. The amount of paperwork exceeded the size of my DPhil thesis. The days and weeks spent on this application were days and weeks sucked out of my research time, my family time, my sleep. I found the entire process unreasonably exhausting and sometimes depressing. So why did we go ahead with it?

At present, I am on an H1B visa. An H1B is employer-specific, i.e. your prospective employer sponsors you for this visa status so that you can work for them. An H1B holder can bring a family with him/her, all of whom will be H4 "dependants", a trailing spouse and children. Many who come to the USA to work remain in their H1B and H4 visa status until they return home. As an H1B or an H4, you are a "non-resident alien", which means that you are here for a temporary period only, and are not regarded as "resident", for immigration purposes at least. These visas give you three years from date of entry, and are renewable for a further three years, so you have six years in total. But you have the option of applying for "lawful permanent residence" (LPR, or more popularly "Green Card") at any point during that temporary stay, and this is what we have just filed. When granted, somewhere between six months and two years after filing, you become a "resident alien".

There are several advantages to filing for your Green Card. One of the most immediate is that it is possible for the H4 dependent, in this case Viola, to file at the same time for a temporary work permit. We have heard that the work permit is usually issued within two months of the Green Card application being filed, which means that Viola may be able to begin work in April. Apparently one has to take great care to make sure that the Green Card application is not what they call "frivolous" -- they only grant the work permit if they feel that you are taking the Green card application itself very seriously. A second advantage is that the Green card gives you much greater flexibility in the future. We are not bound to the USA for just that temporary period. A third advantage is that it will enable me to accept employment from others in the USA. At present, I can only receive payment from Duke, so when I give lectures elsewhere in the US, or read manuscripts, or write pieces for American publishers, or sit on PhD committees at other universities, I cannot accept payment. What I do at the moment in these circumstances is to ask the employer in question to donate my honorarium or fee to a charity of my choice, and so far they have always been happy to do that.

Those advantages made it pretty clear that we must go ahead and file for lawful permanent residency. The process, however, was so daunting that procrastination was often pretty tempting. I won't bore you with the details except to explain that there were two parts to the application, one our family's application and one the employer-sponsored part of the application. The latter was the most work. I am filing in category EB-1(B), which means that you have to demonstrate that you are what they call an "outstanding professor/researcher", and this involves the collection of piles and piles of paperwork of every kind imaginable. A couple of things made it bearable, though. Viola helped with a lot of the paperwork and so shared some of the frustration and anxiety. And Duke has an International Office that provided some fantastic support. One of the happiest of my several visits there was the first one where they took away at least half of the blank forms I was carrying and threw them into the recycling as forms I didn't need to worry about.

Oh, by the way, it also costs a fortune to do this. Including medical examinations, we have spent over $3,000 so far on filing. Here's hoping that it was all worth it.