VISA Renewals and Grumpy Customs Officers

Last Friday I flew to Detroit with about 20lbs of paperwork to renew my working VISA in the US. I’m not gonna lie- I was a bit nervous despite the fact that my lawyer assured me that everything should be smooth as a freshly paved highway (something not too common in Detroit). Still, having grown up in a border town and crossed US customs hundreds of times, I have learned that a customs officer having a bad day can make your life miserable for no apparent reason.


Upon landing in Detroit, I get into my rental car and drive to the Detroit/Windsor crossing like my lawyer told me to. I cross into Canada (legally required for some reason) and then turn right around to cross back into the States and pull up to customs.



“Purpose of your visit?”

“I’m here to renew my L1 VISA.”

“Hmmm…the guy who processes those isn’t here today.”

Uh oh. I know the guy because he processed my VISA last year, and just processed Steve’s a couple months ago. My lawyer has dealt with him for years and years. He’s familiar with our case. I should also note that you can’t make appointments with these guys.

“Shall I come back on Monday?” I ask.

“There’s no guarantee he’ll be there on Monday. You need to go to the next border crossing.”

So I turn back around and go back into Canada. I drive to the next border crossing and go back into the States, sighing at the long line. I have the brilliant thought to call my lawyer to ensure that this is the right course of action. Voicemail. I leave a message telling him of my intentions.

I finally get through the line and enter the secondary customs area and go to sign in where I am told to, but there is no pen. There is a lady dressed in a customs uniform on the phone, and she doesn’t look happy as she barks at the person on the other end. Someone’s having a bad day, I think to myself. Finally she gets off the phone and with a scowl hands me a pen. I ask if I should fill out the rest of the form and she snarls, “No, of course not.”


I am told to wait for my name to be called, so I sit with my magazine in the next room. I am engrossed in an article when I hear someone bark what sounds like my name. I startle, but I think I must be hearing things. It sounded like an almost inhumane growl.

“Denise!” Again.

I jolt up and say, “Yup, right here!” as I go to the counter where I see the snarky woman. Uh oh. She appears to be the one processing my paperwork. Once again she doesn’t smile or greet me, merely holds out her hand for my paperwork. She grabs it and starts to go through it. I want to greet her or ask her how she’s doing but I am afraid she will think I’m sucking up (maybe I am) and she seems like the type who wouldn’t be down with that.

But I’m a little nervous. All my paperwork should be there. I mean, my lawyer has been doing cases like mine forever with a flawless track record. Still, this woman’s sour demeanor alone puts the fear of God in me.

She continues to go through the paperwork and when she sees the marketing material for our parent company, manufacturer of beautiful arbors and trellises, she pauses. She goes through the brochure slowly and mutters, “Wow, this is nice stuff.”

I exhale. Finally, some common ground. I milk this for all I can and start talking to her about the product and ask what kind of decor she has in her yard. I end up hearing about her gardens and landscaping and murmur the appropriate amounts of sympathy and rage when she tells me how the neighbor boy poisoned the beloved goldfish in her pond. No wonder she’s so hostile. (I suggest one of our privacy screens and she tells me she just might look it up online.)

I am feeling better about this now that she has warmed up to me considerably. But my confidence is over-optimistic. After our small talk, she informs me that I’m missing a piece of paper and that some numbers are wrong on another form. I am perplexed that my lawyer seems to have dropped the ball. She assures me that once I have that sorted out, my case will be fine. This causes me a small measure of comfort; after all, I can certainly get what she’s after, but it’s still a pain because I’m in Detroit needing to retrieve paperwork that I don’t have.

I get to my car to a voicemail from my lawyer that goes something like this: “Do not go to that border crossing. She will not approve your VISA because she requires paperwork that you don’t have because it’s not legally required. I would suggest waiting until the other officer is around, even if you have to stay in Detroit for a couple of days.”


I sigh and head to Port Huron, MI where I cross yet another border into Canada to visit my family for the weekend. On Monday morning I leave early and cross back into the States to drive to Detroit, then go back into Canada only to turn around back into the States, vaguely aware that I have just blown over $30 in border crossing tolls over the past couple days. Much to my relief, the officer I need to speak to is there. He greets me with a smile, asks how I like living in the States, reviews my paperwork, asks me a few questions pertinent to the business, and then approves my 2 year VISA with another smile as he says, “Welcome to America!”

The process takes 20 minutes.

So I’m still here legally, much to my relief. The red tape of being a foreigner here is pretty inconvenient, but it’s worth it, because we’re changing the world of do-it-yourself digless vinyl fence. With our vinyl fence you don’t need to dig holes or pour concrete. It’s WamBam fence, the only fence that’s fun to install.

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