Teaching, Travel

In the bowels of bureaucracy

In the past 6 months, we have gotten: new passports, new drivers licenses, TSA precheck, Global Entry, FBI background checks, and Brazilian visas.

Applying for our Brazilian work visas was by far the hardest part.  We had to go through a process called apostille, which is basically an internationally recognized certification of documents that is recognized by other countries.  You have to get a document notarized by a notary, then certified by the county clerk, then apostilled by the secretary of the state you live in (not the national Secretary of State).  That’s three confusing government buildings and their correspondingly obscure parking lots.

But we did it!  After we had all of these documents apostilled, we mailed them to Brazil and eventually our visas were approved.  Then more paper work (and FBI background checks), and we sent all of that to the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta.  It’s a little scary to put your passports and your kids’ birth certificates into a mailbox.  But they got there, our visas were affixed, and they got back to us safely.

Everyone loves to have an opinion about bureaucracy, but I have a few thoughts of my own, now that I’ve spent some time navigating multiple levels within two national governments.

The Tennessee county clerk and secretary of state offices were clean, well run and easy to navigate.  People were kind and moved with efficiency.  I kept asking about where to go for an apostille like I didn’t quite believe it was a real thing (it is) and every time they knew exactly what I needed and how to give it to me.  It was also cheap, costing only 80 bucks to get 10 documents done.

The harder thing to apostille was our NYU and Columbia transcripts.  We have to submit those for our work visas because we are applying for a work visa as someone “highly qualified.”  We aren’t in NY state anymore, so we paid a company $150 (each, for David and me) to go get our transcripts and have them apostilled (notary –> county clerk –> secretary of state) and then mailed to us in Tennessee.

Oh, and once our visas were approved, and we mailed our passports to the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta, we had to include $1,450 in money orders .  Yes, $290 each for our visas.

I told a co-worker in a professional development session on mindfulness that we are becoming immigrants to another country.  That’s how Brazil sees us, and it’s correct.  But it’s a strange thing to think about as someone with an American passport, and may strike some as surprising.  She asked me how it felt to be an immigrant to another country.  That’s an interesting question.

First, it’s made me feel even more compassion for immigrants to the US.  We have a company guiding us through this and doing some of it on our behalf and it is still hard.  And I have 2 degrees, a solid income, and a support system.  The school in Brazil is reimbursing us for all visa-related expenses.  This is so hard in the best of circumstances.  And not the kind of thing you enter into lightly.

Second, I feel so lucky that I happened to be born in Ohio and was able to have the opportunities that led another country to consider me “highly qualified.”  It was the luck of the draw that I was well educated and was able to get 2 degrees from great universities and 11 years of teaching experience.  If I’d been born elsewhere, it’s likely that as a woman I would not have been educated or offered those same opportunities.  I’m very, very lucky.

And yet here I am leaving it.  That’s not lost on me.  I’m a very privileged immigrant with a passport to a country that exists and that I can return to and making a living in.  I’m not destitute or desperate.  I think about the images of bombed out buildings and people fleeing Syria.  They don’t have the luxury of smooth bureaucracy and duplicate copies of all their vital documents.

I feel fortunate to have bureaucracy.  Yes, the DMV took an hour and a half, but I got a license.  I have ID.  I can show someone who I am.  How many millions of refugees don’t have any records like that?  How many people live without documents?  Maybe these documents are lovely and this bureaucracy is a sign of privilege.  If so, I’ll take my labyrinthine hallways and always-full parking lots, if I get what I need at the end.

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