On August 23rd, Jessica and I–armed with everything we thought we would need for our visa applications–boarded a plane headed to the United States. Our round trip ticket, purchased only a few weeks before, was scheduled to return to England on September 3rd. We planned to pay extra for faster processing and to submit our applications as soon as we landed on our home soil. Taking this into consideration, we figured we should be able to make the two week turnaround.
We were wrong.
After submitting our applications (which happened in the Chicago airport), we had to schedule a mandatory appointment for to we provided our fingerprints. Unfortunately, the earliest appointment was on the 30th of August. After that, we knew right away we would have reschedule our return flights. Even with priority processing, it would take five days from the date of our appointment to hear back about our visas. So, after our appointments, we mailed our passports and applications off to New York to be processed, and I called American Airlines.
We rescheduled our return flight to September 10th and waited.
On September 4th, we got an email that our application had been forwarded to the United Kingdom. This caught both of us by surprise. We figured that UK had our application back on the 30th. When we mailed everything off to be processed, we included the return label. Therefore, the one thing we did know was that once our passports were in the mail, they would be delivered the next business day by 10:30am. All we needed was to hear they had been dispatched by the evening of the 9th, and we would be able to make our evening flight on the 10th. It was still possible that we could leave as planned, but it was going to be tighter than expected. As we continued to wait, we began to wonder if our passports would be back in time.
We got our pre-flight COVID tests on the 8th and waited.
On the 9th, we tried reaching out to the company in New York that had our passports. We had heard nothing since the 4th. Even though we had paid over $600 to hear back within five business days, we were on working day eight. Even worse, there was no way now to know when we would have them back. There was no way to contact them but through email (which would take at least two business days for a reply). Nevertheless, we sent an email and refreshed the tracking for our return package every 10 minutes or so.
However, as the hours passed, “Label created” did not turn into “Item shipped.”
Finally, at the close of the business day in New York, I called American Airlines again: this time to cancel our flights. At this point, it felt equally possible that our passports could be in the mail in one day or in two weeks (or anything in between). We found post after post on forums of people who were weeks into their application with no word on the status of their application. In one terribly unfortunate story, someone had cancelled their application because they needed their passport back to travel. Even so, they had no way of contacting the company and were just stuck without their passport as no one had put it in the mail.
That night, Jessica and I began mentally preparing for another week in Phoenix. On the 10th, we did our best to forget that we were supposed to be flying out. We had a great dinner with the Steins and Grays and then a wonderful evening with Jonny and Allison. After euchre and much discussion about Biden, we finally returned to my in-law’s house for rest. As we were turning in, I refreshed the tracking on UPS to see if anything had changed for our return package.
Much to my surprise, the webpage updated and our passports had shipped! What followed was lots of excitement (and confusion as we had heard nothing from the company holding the passports or UK visas and immigration). We assumed good news, prayed for the best, and rebooked our flights for today, the 13th of September. Since the package had been mailed on a Friday, it would be delivered by 10:30am on Monday. Taking this into account, we booked flights out for 3:30pm: figuring that would give us plenty of time.
We were right! At 9:59am today, our passports arrived in the mail with our visas: good for the next three years! In a few hours, we leave Phoenix for Los Angeles, and then at 6:50pm tonight, we are flying from LA to London. Unfortunately, we will have to self-isolate when we arrive, so we will not be able to begin teaching until the following week, but it is so thrilling to know we are going back, to know we are going to be teaching, and to be able for the first time to officially say, “We have moved to England!”
Now we begin in earnest.
(Posted on September 13th and heavily edited on September 15th)