— Passports. Why are you coming to the USA today, mam’ ?
The heavyweight officer looks up to me suspiciously. Can’t blame him. It’s 7 am on a cold November morning and we look like a mismatched pair of sleepy runaway
— Please step out of the vehicle and follow me.
He leaves inside the border station with our passports in hand while we’re parking the car on the small parking lot.
What am I supposed to say ? Today, I’m doing the “Buffalo shuffle”. In Prescott.
Never heard of the “Buffalo shuttle” ? The Buffalo Shuffle is to immigrants in Canada what the Midnight Express is to imprisoned foreigners in Turkey. It’s the end of the worries, the ultimate freedom, the bye bye immigration solution.
A lot of immigrants apply for Permanent Residence within Canada while being on a work visa. However, the process can be extremely long, up to 3 years. Some have found a way to bypass the problem, they stay in Canada while the visa application is processed outside Canada, usually in their home country. This is usually much faster. That’s what I had chosen : I sent my application to the Canadian embassy in Paris while I was on a work visa in Canada.
However this system has two mains downsides :
- If an interview is needed, it has to take place in the embassy that processes the application.
- If the application is successful, the visa is delivered at the embassy where it was processed and must be validated upon arrival in Canada. The closest borders and visa office in Ontario are Buffalo and Prescott… hence the name.
I was lucky enough not to be interviewed. However, when I got the news my visa was ready to be picked-up in Paris, I had to sent my passport to my mum since I was in Ottawa. She picked up the visa for me and sent my passport back. I then had to exit Canada and re-enter in order to officially become a “landed immigrant”.
We sit on the wooden bench inside the border station and I wait to be called. A huge portrait of G.W Bush in front of me like an omniscient Big Bother forced me to look somewhere else. An “America’s Most Wanted” poster was pinned on my left, a picture of Bin Laden prominently displayed reminded me that “the world was at war”. Then on second though, it reminded me of the stupidity of the whole thing. Was Bin Laden going to cross in Prescott today ? Hum… Oh well, at least we would be able to spot it, thanks to this wonderful poster promoting the man hunt.
By the time I’m finally called by the officer, I know all the bad guys in the USA.
— What is the purpose of your visit in the US today ?
I explain that I just need to exit Canada and re-enter to get my landed immigrant status and the officer nods in appreciation. I’m not sure whether it’s because he’s familiar with the process or because he’s relieved not to have to submit me to all the fingerprinting picture taking so early in the morning. I spell my name a couple of thousands of time and he enters all my information in his computer.
— This is the documentation you need, he says handing me a piece of paper, you can now head back to Canada.
I look at the paper in my hand. “Zhu, refused alien”. I’m a fucking refused alien. Could that be any weirder ? “Only in the US”, I guess.
We cross the iron bridge back to Prescott where I finally become a Permanent Resident. The whole process took less than an hour and I was able to go back to Ottawa as a semi-Canadian. Priceless.
A couple weeks ago, two close friends of mine went through the same process. I tagged along and we even drove to the Thousand Island, in the small town of Alexandria Bay in the state of New York.