Green Card Woes (Or Being Stuck in Customs)

Tower Bridge

“Excuse me, ma’am, you need to come with us.”

Those were not the words we were expecting when we arrived back in Atlanta after three weeks in the United Kingdom. But this group of three Americans and one British citizen was being stopped at the border entering the United States, and I had no idea why. I just wanted a big glass of sweet ice tea after spending my first real time out of the South. That and a nap. Yeah, a nap would have been nice.

As my new fiancée and I stood waiting on her parents who were in a back room at immigration at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, I was wondering why drug dogs suddenly were sniffing around my luggage. Turns out it was random, but at the time, with my future in-laws detained and some high-priced hounds putting their wet noses all over my luggage, I was a little confused.

This adventure way back in 1998 was my first overseas trip. It was a graduation present for my then-girlfriend from her parents. Despite having a British mother, Stacey had never been to England. I was fortunate that they invited me along. It was a trip of a lifetime for us, as we were both introduced to a country we now love, and a place we came home from engaged.


Fourteen years after getting engaged at this spot, we returned with our son.

My future mother-in-law’s situation turned out to be because her green card had expired. My in-laws met when he was stationed in England while in the U.S. Air Force. She was a member of the Royal Air Force. They met, fell in love, moved to the States and lived happily ever after on what was at the time a permanent green card for her.

Only many years later that permanent green card became a card that had to be renewed. My in-laws probably should have paid attention to the constant mail that told them that information. They didn’t, which is why we found ourselves standing around waiting, not knowing if she’d be allowed back home or would be shipped off to the U.K. forever after and a day.

To be honest, I’m not sure what happened officially, but I do know after about an hour we were on our way to get me my glass of sweet tea and 15 years later my British mother in law continues as a permanent resident of the United States, thanks to her green card.

Immigration has been a hot topic in the U.S. for years. But other than that one instance in the Atlanta airport, it hasn’t affected me. I haven’t had a reason to keep up with how and why it’s so difficult to live in the U.S., as well as other countries. That is until now.

Thanks to that British lineage, we’ve considered a temporary relocation to the U.K. My wife is considering working on gaining citizenship, which would make a move much easier. It seems there is a way women born to British mothers before 1983 can gain citizenship. Otherwise, one or both of us would need to get an employer to sponsor us before we could move there, at least if we wanted to make the move for longer than six months.

As I’ve gotten into travel writing more and have started following a lot of great travel bloggers, I’ve wondered how they are able to live in other countries. Obviously, a month here, a couple of months there is pretty easy to do as far as immigration is concerned. But what about people who want to relocate to another country for the long haul?

My mother-in-law had an easier path to living in the U.S.; she was married to a U.S. serviceman who was sent back to the States to continue his military career. But for other people looking to come into the country, I’m sure there is a lot of effort that has to go into gaining a green card.

As I wrote recently, we often travel places where we’ve wanted to consider relocating to. Immigration red tape can make that problematic if it’s another country, but as we’re determined to discover with the U.K., it’s possible. I love the idea of being an expat. I’m not sure if I’m ready for a permanent relocation, but I could handle a year or two. I’ll keep you posted on how things come along on the British citizenship front.

2 thoughts on “Green Card Woes (Or Being Stuck in Customs)

  1. This reminds me of the first time I left Australia. I obviously looked like a newby those many years ago because as I handed over my passport, the immigration officer turned to his colleague and said “Hey, we have one of those passports we have been looking for!” At the look on my face and sound of my knees buckling, they both broke into fits of laughter. The joke was on me.

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