Long, hard road to the American Dream

John and Anita Savage and their daughters, Scarlett-Angel, 4, and Katherin-Joyce, 2, are thrilled that Anita’s citizenship status cleared its final hurdle this year.

For many immigrants, the path to the American Dream is a long, hard road to travel. For Milaca residents John and Anita Savage, the journey began more than seven years ago when they began forming a relationship across Internet and Atlantic Ocean waves.

“It seems like a lifetime ago now,” the British-born Anita said.

They met through professional networks online. She ran Paranormal Tours in England, he operated a similar outfit out of Minnesota.

“And we just started talking,” John recalled.

Two years into their correspondence and budding romance, her home in the United Kingdom flooded and she struggled to find long-term housing.

“He said, ‘you know what, pack a bag, grab a flight, you’re coming over,’” Anita said.

Before they knew it, they were applying for a fiance visa for her to stay in the states. The next obstacle they would face would be deciding on where to get married. For most couples, that means searching for the perfect church or venue. For the Savages, it meant searching for the right nation that would perform a ceremony that the U.S. government would recognize.

Follow Green Card Street

“We called a travel agent and asked where we could get married,” Anita said. “We ended up in Cyprus.”

So, the couple exchanged their vows on the large Mediterranean island south of Turkey and west of Syria.

“It was awesome,” John said. “The hotel invited themselves to the wedding, otherwise it was just us.”

Anita returned to England and John returned to the United States where they waited for the visa to be processed. As their marriage invalidated the fiance visa, many more legal hurdles would need to be cleared before they could be reunited.

“The green card got lost somewhere in the government system,” Anita explained.

After months of searching, the London embassy finally found the missing documentation. But the interview and health exams needed to be completed in the country in which they were married. Cyprus officials wouldn’t conduct these final steps as she wasn’t a resident of that country. More months passed, then years. Finally, the U.S. Embassy in London used its authority to override the visa process and conduct this final phase themselves.

“After lots of grief, eventually London phoned with two days’ notice that they would do the interview and everything else,” Anita said.

She was living in Suffolk, two hours northeast of London. She raced to the capitol, answered hundreds of questions concerning every detail of the couple’s intimate relationship and was subjected to medical exams that ranged from making sure she was a woman to having all of her immunizations at once, “which made me violently ill,” she said. A criminal background check was also conducted at this time.

“It’s a lengthy thing to go through,” John said. “The immigration process is challenging to say the least.”

Yield at Citizenship Circle

During these years of limbo, the couple spent nearly $15,000 in flights, documentations, interviews and examinations. They also welcomed their daughter, Scarlett-Angel to the family, who was born in England, which makes her a citizen in both the U.K. and the U.S.

“Mommy’s a citizen now, too!” said the 4-year-old bouncing on Mom’s lap.

But that status did not come automatically with her new green card.

“The last leg of the paper work was going for citizenship,” John explained.

Anita would have to prove her knowledge of U.S. history on a lengthy exam.

“Half those questions even us natural born citizens couldn’t even answer,” John said.

“How I managed to score 100 percent, I’ll never know,” Anita said laughing. “I’ve never scored that high on a test in my life.”

A few weeks ago, the past five years of heartache, waiting, expenses and hurdles paid off during a swearing-in ceremony of new citizens in Minneapolis.

“It was the largest swearing-in in history and there were people from 100 countries,” Anita said. “I cried like a baby when they did the unofficial national anthem, ‘Proud to Be an American.’ It was unbelievable how many people were standing there crying.”

Before she would receive her full rights as a U.S. citizen, however, Anita Savage was asked to turn over her green card.

“That was really weird, having worked so hard for it,” she said. “I didn’t think I would feel differently, but I did. Just knowing that now I have a say.”

The timing of her official citizenship status on the heels of a presidential election has the recent immigrant looking at politics in a whole new light.

“I’ve been paying more attention now than I was before,” she said. “It was really annoying when people would knock on the door and ask if they could count on my vote.”

For the full story, see the Thursday, Sept. 27 print edition of the Times.