Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fingerprinting for naturalization

This morning, my wife and I went to get fingerprinted as part of our naturalization process. We sent the naturalization application on Jan 3rd, and got a confirmation letter about a week later, and a summons for the fingerprinting on Jan 17 (so, two weeks after sending out the paperwork). Surprisingly, my wife got her summons for the 24th, while I got mine for Feb 7th. My date conflicted with a scheduled medical procedure I had, so I decided to come with her to hers, and hope that they take me in as a walk-in (internet forum posts said it was almost always OK to do).

We live in Seattle, so our USCIS center is in 12500 Tukwila International BLVD, which is close to the Boeing museum of flight in south Seattle. We got there on time, on a Thursday in January, at 1pm, and the place was nearly empty. The building has a parking lot that charges $7 flat and appears to have plenty of room, though it’s a bit far from the building. We had the standard security sweep at the building’s entrance, and I showed the guard a Leatherman I had. He said he can’t check it for me, so he could either confiscate it, or I could take it to the car. I’m a lazy mofo, so I went out the building and hid it in the front yard, between a set of large blocks. When I went back in, the guard told me that I have to take it ALL the way to the car (remember that the lot is pretty far, incl. a huge flight of stairs and quite a bit of Seattle rain). “We have tons of security cameras around, so we could see you hide it”, she said. A tad embarrassing, but I went back and put the thing in the car. During this, the guard told my wife that most people try to hide their item 3 times on average before giving up and going to the car, so I’m at least a bit better off...

As part of the security scan, the guard asked to see our invitation paper, but didn’t notice that mine was dated differently than my wife’s, and let us both through. After passing the security scan, we went into the fingerprinting hall, where we were given forms to fill (they give you pencils, but I’d advise bringing good-quality pens with you). The forms are a simple ½ pager with name, address, A#, SSN, application number (the NBC* number given by USCIS as part of the application process) and some more generic stuff. You’re supposed to have your Green-Card with you, so the A# and most of the details were easy, but if like many people you don’t remember your SSN by heart, bring it with you. We actually didn’t remember it, but the clerk accepted the forms without it, so maybe it’s not a big deal.

With the filled forms, you go into the waiting hall, which has plenty of room, but other than the two of us, there were only about 5 people in line, so it went through in about 5 minutes. The clerk, a young woman, was nice, and when we told her I was earlier than my scheduled date because I had a conflicting medical procedure, agreed to let me in. She checked our paperwork (invitation letter, form, green card) and took a look at our hands (presumably to see if we have any skin problems or something else that would be a problem for fingerprinting) and gave us each a number. She asked us to come inside the fingerprinting room and wait.

The fingerprinting room has a row of about 8 seats, where we sat and waited our turn. I can only guess that on busy days, some people wait outside for their turn. In the back of the room, they had 4 computerized fingerprinting machines (yeah…no messy ink these days). We waited about 5 minutes for our turn and they called us in separately, as each machine has one operator that has her own queue.

At the machine, the operator (mine was a young woman, and my wife’s an older woman, who said she’s been doing this work for 11 years) sprayed water on a piece of cloth and wiped the finger scanner, and my hand. She scanned my right hand (4 fingers at once) and then my left. She then scanned my fingers individually in a rolling motion that captures more than just the front of the finger, as the flat scan did earlier. As can be expected, some of the scans were a tad blurry, so she had to redo several of the fingers, but the entire process took less than 10 minutes. After the fingerprinting, the operator took my picture (it will be used on your Naturalization Certificate, so better dress nicely, shave and make a nice face). The operator then gave me a booklet that should help me prepare for the naturalization test that I would be taking in the future (also includes an Audio CD!), as well as an extra page that alerts me to some changes in the info that’s in the booklet, following the 2012 elections. She also gave me a feedback card, which I was all too happy to tick with “excellent” on all counts. The entire adventure, from parking to getting back to the car took 40 minutes. Now we wait for the summons for the interview. The same building is also where the interview will be taking place, and it’s also where we’ll be taking the oath and getting naturalized afterwards. Some internet forum posts and friends say it would be about 2 months until then, though the processing times schedule published by the USCIS says its 5 months total. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

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