A Jaunt Between Countries: More Adventures in Immigration

This last week was more adventure in immigration, and it involved a relatively short speed walk between countries.  This jaunt is called “doing a flag pole” by immigration officials on both sides of the border and is now another thing to add to my list of accomplishments.  Please forgive the lack of images with this post, since they tend to frown upon camera usage at the border.

The back story is that I needed to get a work permit for an upcoming job that I’ll post about later this week.  So stay tuned for that.  🙂  Now back to our story…  For some reason that must have made sense at some point to someone, to get a work visa one must first walk from Canada to the States, “do the flag pole,” walk back to Canada, and apply for the permit.  Other than ensuring that a person has the stamina to travel by foot from one country to the next, or to reinforce your complete powerlessness as an immigrant and the need to dance like a monkey on command, I’m truly not sure why this was required.  But this is our saga of the flagpole…

It began with an early morning ferry ride to the mainland where the three of us were gratefully met my Dave’s mom, our fellow adventurer for the day.  Then we drove to the border.  This was the closest I’ve been to my home country in almost a year, and even though I wasn’t actually going to enter the States, it was fun to get close to it again.  As we got closer I also started to get a bit nervous about how this was all going to play out.  When one’s immigration status is in question it can be a bit nerve wracking to leave one country for the next for fear of not being allowed back in.  So I took a deep breath, clutched my passport a little bit tighter, and prepared to dance.  That’s when things got interesting.

Most visitors at the border are simply trying to get from one side to the other.  They’re not trying to find a place to park in order to ask how one legally walks across international boundaries.  Needless to say we missed the tiny sign showing us where to park and ended up stuck in about 20 minutes of stopped traffic on the way to the States.  At this point we realized that we were about a block away from the actual border and that there was no where to go but forward, meaning that we were driving into the States.  This is also the time when we realize that the only person in the car with a passport is me, and Little Man has no documentation at all.  Nervous laughter ripples through the car.  We luckily spotted a “hail Mary” turnaround spot for people like us that just happen to make a wrong turn that could lead them to a different country.

Now we were pointed back towards Canada, figured we had at least one satellite watching our car for the lovely u-turn maneuver, and had the pleasure of sitting in another 20 minutes of stopped traffic to get back to the Canadian border.  At the border station we were “greeted” by the surliest Canadian any of us (the Canadians included) have ever encountered, and told that I have to go back the way I’ve come, but that there are no side walks so I need to be careful of the cars.  Great…  So now I need to “do the flagpole” and avoid being run over by someone desperate to get to Trader Joe’s and who sees me as literally standing between themselves and their $2 Chuck.

So off I go, traipsing between cars with a backpack full of documents while my family plays in the park behind me.  I try to avoid eye contact with any of the drivers, only thinking what a strange sight I must make walking down the street to the border, and feeling rather pilgrim-like.  Nothing like a 10 minute speed walk while inhaling the exhaust of countless cars to make one feel ready for the task at hand.

Once at the U.S. border office I asked a border agent about which line I should be in since I’m not actually trying to enter the country, but just need a work permit.  He said that for “a flag pole” I needed the back line.  The back line was a row of bench seating along the wall that looked like it hadn’t moved in about an hour.  I got in line, and eventually realized that I’m not in line at all, but am sitting with other people from other lines that simply got tired and needed a seat.  Once I realized my error and got into my line, I was second in line and was eventually asked to hand over my passport and take a seat.  Fifteen minutes later I was given my passport back with a stamp and told to walk back to Canada.  Apparently my “flag pole” did not involve an actual flag pole, and I have to say I’m a bit disappointed in that.

However, not one to question border agents who are letting you go, I left the building and started to walk around it the other way to continue my circuit back to Canada.  Who else can get lost trying to walk back to Canada?  Is it possible to miss an entire country?  I ended up in the loading dock and had to turn around.  A passing border agent looked at me, shook his head, and pointed the other way back to Canada.  Perhaps if you can’t even figure out the direction to walk back to Canada, the States isn’t particularly sad to see you go.

Off I went again, this time swimming up current from the cars and on the side to Canada actually finding a sidewalk.  How civilized.  I should also point out that I hadn’t noticed the slight decline for my walk to the States, but the walk back to Canada was up hill all the way.  That’s when I started feeling all the sore muscles from the different yoga warrior positions, and the dolphins… those darn dolphins…

In about the same 10 minutes it took me to walk to the States, I walked back to Canada and was greeted again on the Canadian side by the same surly border agent as before.  This time he asked me more surly questions, scribbled something on a yellow ticket, told me to walk to the tree, turn left, enter the building and go to the second line.  While I may not have circled a flag pole in the States, I did circle a maple tree in Canada.  That somehow felt right.

It was on the Canadian side where things got interesting again.  They didn’t want to give me the permit since it was something I could get from an office on the island, even though there were no immigration offices on the island hence our ferry trip to the mainland, and I was missing some information they needed.  Specifically they needed the start and ending dates for my employment since the permit would only be good for that one job with that one employer.  The dates weren’t listed on my offer letter and I hadn’t come prepared to call the anthropology department, so I looked briefly at the offer letter’s letterhead and asked the border agent if I could call the office to get the dates.  I was given permission and dialed the number hoping the department secretary was not at lunch.  The person who answered the phone was not the department secretary, but instead the Department Chair who also just happened to be a former mentor of mine.  This is exactly the impression you want to give your future employer before you even start your job, that you are having immigration issues, and you need them to do write a memo and fax it to the border asap (please), and I look forward to seeing you again in the Fall.  Ugh.

The second issue that the border agent had with me was that she wanted to see my credentials that allowed me to do this job.  For this I was prepared.  I reached into my backpack, grasped the tome that is my dissertation and laid it down on the counter with a satisfying and resounding thunk.  Yes, it would have been easier to bring my diploma, but that is packed in on of the 20 boxes labeled “Office” while the dissertation was nicely displayed on my bookcase.  This is the most work my dissertation has had in years, being carted around from one country the next, and then placed with a pleasingly heavy thump on the border agent’s desk as evidence of my credentials.  Nerdishly satisfying.

In the end the fax came through, the dissertation was accepted, and the permit was awarded.  Little Man was given a paper Canadian flag, and off we went again with no sidewalks or crosswalks, trying to reach our car on the Canadian side so we could go home, dodging drivers anxious to leave the States with their Trader Joe’s bounty.

Later when we had reached Ruth and Joe’s home, had gotten Little Man down for a nap, and were all happily ensconced in the kitchen holding glasses of crimson refreshment, we regaled Joe with our adventures.  I had successfully power walked between countries, did “the flagpole” and am now one step closer to an upcoming job.  Just one more political hoop to jump through, but that’s an adventure for next week.  In the meantime, we’re enjoying the success of this initial foray, and hoping that I don’t have to do that particular immigration hoop again.  Please!


6 thoughts on “A Jaunt Between Countries: More Adventures in Immigration

  1. Marty

    That is hilarious!! When I moved to Canada in the 70s to take a position with the Bank of Montreal, there was no hassle at all. Just one question – “When do you intend to become a Canadian citizen?” Since at that time there was a five year waiting period, my smart-a&@$ response was “Not for at least five years!” They had no objection.

  2. Jen

    I am SO jealous you got to wield your dissertation in such an awesome and satisfying way. I fantasize about such a thing….

    1. TheSheepAreOut Post author

      I’m telling you, the thunk of that beast on the marble counter top was so fulfilling! 🙂 Although I did feel a bit vagabond-ish as I power walked from one country to the other with the diss flopping around in my backpack. Have diss, will travel… If luggage fees weren’t so crazy it could be fun to start the Sisterhood of the Traveling Dissertations. We could pose our dissertations in different countries…

  3. TheSheepAreOut Post author

    Nice! Oh, how I wish my immigration process had been that simple. At least these experiences are becoming good stories. 🙂 It often takes a good 24 hours before they seem funny.


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