A few years ago I changed nationality.
Changing nationality is not as easy as, say, changing your underwear or changing a lightbulb. No. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of money, it takes determination.
And patience. Lots of patience.
Not to mention the endless paperwork and government requirements to meet, and the evidence you have to provide. And so many fingerprints. Each time I was requested to give yet more fingerprints I felt more and more like a criminal.
It took me five years to change nationality, during which time I had got married, had two children and completed a degree.
It isn’t like getting a new haircut; changing nationality is a permanent thing. It’s a Really Big Deal.
So why change nationality?
I did it for love.
I married an American citizen; our children were born in the United States so they were automatically American citizens, and I wanted to be the same as them.
It was a strange feeling, rising to my feet during the ceremony, swearing an oath to the United States of America.
It was strange receiving a welcome letter from President Obama.
It was strange getting a new passport.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t develop an American accent overnight, or suddenly understand the rules of American Football.
But I did feel different. Like I somehow belonged an exclusive club or special cohort of people.
I had become an immigrant.
When people discuss immigrants these days it is usually in a political context, about trying to reduce the number of immigrants, about how we are somehow worth less than other people.
When people look at me they probably don’t see me as an immigrant; I am white and English is my first language. I do not fit the stereotype.
We currently live in the UK, and it is my wife’s turn to be the immigrant. People don’t think of her as an immigrant either; because we’ve been married for a decade and have two kids, they assume that it is easy for us to move here from the US.
It is not easy. We, too, have to jump through the immigration hoops, pay the fees, submit the evidence.
We, too, hear the anti-immigration narratives in the media, and it affects us.
Moving to another country is not a decision people make lightly. It takes effort. It takes money. It takes determination. It takes patience.
Usually, it is for love. Love for a partner, or children or family. You leave one place to go to another to be with your loved ones. To help them, to protect them, to love them.
Leaving your country of birth to start a new life elsewhere is one of the biggest challenges there are. For this reason, immigrants ought to be respected, admired, welcomed and supported. Not derided.