Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tripped up by a "technicality" in our search for Lucy’s citizenship

Through the wonders of modern communications and transport, we received all of our documents on time for Lucy’s citizenship appointment at 11 a.m. today. The most amazing event was receiving the apostille for her FBI report, which was picked up in Washington DC yesterday morning and given to Federal Express in the afternoon. Somehow it made it to our hotel lobby this morning at 7 a.m.

Lucy at the Consulate
I went over each of the 26 pages of documents (or 52, if you consider that we must provide a copy of each page) several times to make sure I had everything in order. I re-read the directions, which gave the requirements. I had a money order in hand ready to make out to the Italian Consulate. I re-checked the address and route. We arrived an hour early.

And then, because of one tiny little digit, we failed to receive Lucy’s citizenship. One tiny little but all-important digit, a seven instead of a six. It seems that correct digits are vital when they are used in the year of one’s application appointment, which turned out to be August 2, 2017, not August 2, 2016. We were exactly one year early! The lady in charge of the citizenship by marriage was not even at work today, and there was no possible way an exception could be made.

What the heck? How could I have been so incredibly stupid! In looking back at the website where the appointments are booked, I saw how I made the mistake. Back on May 23, when I made the appointment, the first month that showed on the calendar was June, which I assumed was the next month. It was full, and so was July, but there was one open date in August. That’s a busy time of year for my business, and I also thought that might be too short a time to get all our documents together, so I clicked ahead month-by-month to the following June. I found that every other day was booked for a year ahead of June, so I clicked backwards to August and reserved the only date open.

What I didn’t notice in all this clicking was that the calendar program had taken me to June of 2017, not 2016. I had just assumed that I was looking at this year’s calendar, but not so. It seems that the Consulate staff is incredibly busy  (they serve seven states), because now when I look at calendar, I see that it starts with August 2017, and every date between then and August 2018 is already reserved. It’s not yet possible to make reservations for September 2018, so essentially there is not a single open date for the next two years.

Looking at it from this perspective, I’m still fortunate to have an appointment only one year away. If I had waited until I had every document and then tried to get a date, I would have had to check back regularly just get an appointment at least two years in the future. Yes, I wasted some money on express mail delivery, and we took a somewhat pointless trip, but hey, it’s still San Francisco. We’re having a good time, and this is kind of an anniversary celebration for us, since we worked right through our 42nd anniversary on July 13.
At least we're in San Francisco . . .

I probably would be less embarrassed if I hadn’t written that blog on the train two days ago, because then fewer people would have been aware of my incredible blunder. Oh well, everyone who knows me already is aware that I can be absent minded, and now all my blog readers know the same thing.

After the shock of learning we were there a year early, Lucy and I walked to the North Beach, the city’s large Italian district. We drowned our sorrows in substantial bowls of gelato while we walked around pretending we were in Tuscany. We’ll fly home tomorrow afternoon and have a whole year to plan our next vacation in the City by the Bay.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Will Lucy successfully become an Italian citizen? Maybe so . . .

When I obtained my Italian citizenship in 2010, Lucy automatically became eligible to become a dual citizen as well, since we already met the requirement of being married for at least three years. But with no compelling reason to do so and a list of somewhat confusing requirements, we put it off. Now we have a compelling reason, and we’re currently on a train to San Francisco to try our luck at the Italian Consulate.

Outside our home in Montecarlo, 49 via Roma.
The compelling reason is to avoid property taxes on our Italian house. We put the house in both of our names, not realizing the tax ramifications. Italians are allowed to own one house tax free, so I pay no property taxes on my half, but Lucy must pay on hers because she is a straniera, a foreigner. Besides that, there will be other benefits in the future, including medical care when the need arises. So we went to the website of the Italian Consulate in San Francisco to read the requirements.

They didn’t sound too difficult. We needed to get a copy of Lucy’s birth certificate from Detroit and an extract of our Italian marriage registration from Pescia, Italy. We weren’t married in Pescia, but that’s the home city I chose to hold my documents when I became a citizen. We also needed statements that Lucy had a clean criminal record from the local police, state police and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Each of these documents, except the one from Pescia, had to be accompanied by an apostille to verify its authenticity. We had obtained apostilles from Olympia, our state capital, for my birth and marriage certificates and other official documents for my dad and nonno when I submitted my citizenship application. We knew that we could mail in the documents or pay an extra fee to get them done immediately in the secretary of state’s office, so that would be no problem.

The police reports were the most daunting part. I read the websites for all the agencies and started the process. Lucy had to go to an office across from the County-City Building in Tacoma to get fingerprinted and obtain a statement that she had no criminal record in Pierce County. They also gave her two sets of official fingerprints, a lucky thing, we would find out later.

We also sent a form to the Washington State Patrol to get another good citizen statement, and we sent one set of fingerprints to the FBI to request their clearance statement. In addition, I e-mailed the comune in Pescia to request the marriage extract, which I received about a month ago.

It then occurred to me that since we had set all these document requests in motion, I should find out how to make an appointment at the Consulate. I saw it was possible to do this online, but I was shocked to find that every day for the next 14 months was already booked – except for one day, August 2, 2016. Probably someone had booked it and then canceled, so I quickly grabbed it. Surely we could get all the documents together in the three months we had before the appointment, I reasoned. We booked a train trip down to San Francisco and a flight back, and Lucy arranged to stay at the San Francisco Worldmark for two nights.

We had obtained a letter from the county police on the spot, and the WSP letter came within a few weeks. We also had obtained Lucy’s birth certificate. We just needed the FBI statement and then we could take all the documents to Olympia for the apostilles. Or so I thought. Days, weeks and months passed, and still there was nothing from the FBI, with only a couple of weeks before our appointment. How does one call the FBI and complain about poor customer service?

We went online and found an agency that assists in obtaining FBI clearance and promised fast service. Lucy called the number and was told that people who send in requests on their own typically must wait three to four months. We had sent in our request in May 24, so the soonest we could expect it back would be August 24, three weeks after our San Francisco appointment. However, if we used the agency’s services and paid extra for express mail, we could get the report back in a week, leaving us another week to spare. Luckily, we had that extra set of fingerprints, or we would have had to send Lucy back to Tacoma for more. Then we could take all documents to Olympia at once for apostilles. We thought.

I went online to read more about the apostille process, and to my dismay I found that Lucy’s birth certificate could only receive an apostille from the state of Michigan. Lucy bought two overnight express envelopes and I dashed off a letter to the Michigan office imploring speedy processing and enclosing the express return envelope. We received the apostille back on Friday, two days before our train trip.

Meanwhile, Lucy took a trip to Olympia to get apostilles for her Pierce County and WSP documents, only to find that she had been sent the wrong documents. They had to be notarized letters from the county and State Patrol, not just statements. She drove back to Tacoma and then to the WSP and was able to get the notarized letters, and then she drove back to the capital and get the apostilles. She successfully did all this in one full and exhausting day.

I read even worse news about the FBI report, which we didn’t receive until a week before our trip to San Francisco. We would have to obtain an apostille from the State Department in Washington DC, and we had only five business days left to do that! We overnighted it to Randy on Monday, counting ourselves lucky to have a son who works in downtown DC. He received it Tuesday and took it to the State Department on Wednesday. They could get the apostille back in three days, which would be Monday—the day our train would arrive in San Francisco. Since Randy would be leaving for Myanmar on Friday, he arranged for a courier to pick up the apostille Monday morning and overnight it to us at our hotel in San Francisco. Whether it will arrive in time for our 11 a.m. appointment on Tuesday is our next drama.

We also paid for a professional translation of all the English language documents into Italian. I scanned them and sent them off for a rush translation that arrived three days ago.

I am a little worried that someone will ask why we don’t have a document from the Gig Harbor police, since our address says we live in Gig Harbor. The police wouldn’t issue a letter because we don’t live in the city limits. We did get them to write a letter explaining this, but we didn’t translate it and are not including it unless we are asked. No use muddying the waters needlessly.

The Consulate website had some contradictory information about how much the appointment will cost and how to pay the fee. We’ll try to get that clarified before our appointment. We also have to have copies of our passports and Lucy’s drivers license, and we need a utility bill that will help prove her residency in Gig Harbor. All the bills are in my name, so we had the Peninsula Light Company write a letter saying that she has been a long-time customer. We didn’t have the letter translated; hopefully, that won’t cause a problem. I didn’t read anything about the utility bill needing to be in Italian.

We have done about all that we can do, and now we’re relaxing on an all-day, all-night trip down the coast. Trains are pleasant and relaxing, so much nicer than air travel. We can walk around, get off at the major stops, eat in a dining car, enjoy the scenery and sleep with our legs stretched out. We would gladly take a train back if it didn’t mean missing another day of work.

A lot of things can still go wrong. It took me more than 10 years to get my citizenship, through a combination of my own errors and the slow pace of bureaucracy. However, I’ve learned a lot since then, and I feel the odds that we got things right this time are in our favor. But with the Italian government, one never knows.