Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Social Insecurity

One of the most important pieces of paper you can have in the United States is a Social Security number. Without a number, you practically don't exist: it's more difficult to get paid, you can't rent an apartment, you have some trouble opening a bank account.

Being issued with a number should be a simple matter of turning up at the local Social Security Office, taking a number and waiting in line, proving you have a right to work in the US and then waiting the standard two weeks for the documentation to be issued.

It should be that simple, but of course it's not.

I was advised to wait ten days after arriving in the country before applying, so that my visa entry details would have been sent from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Social Security. Even in this electronic age it takes a while for the data to go down the pipe, it would seem. Apparently if you get the Social Security office before your details do, the two bodies talk to each other on paper instead, and the whole process can take up to three months!

So I waited the recommended amount of time before wandering along to the relevant building. I skillfully negotiated the airport style security, and found myself waiting in a room full of New York's finest misfits for an appointment at a window.

My number was duly called, I presented my form and passport details, and the lady wrote down all my information as the computer system was offline. She informed me that the process should take two weeks to complete.

I waited by the mail slot for the magic number to arrive.

After almost precisely two weeks, a rather dishevelled letter arrived informing me that my application couldn't be processed as the Agent had failed to take copies of my documents (or more likely hadn't entered them into the computer once it came back online).

Back to the Social Security office, then.

This time round I had a little more time to observe the scene, as my number was considerably higher that the one currently indicated on the Laser Display Screen.

I noticed:
  • a sign banning firearms from the premises
  • a sign banning the use of cell phones
  • the security guard who had just told someone to turn off their cell phone looking around furtively and then covertly texting under his desk
  • another sign indicating that it was an offense to kill, kidnap, injure, or abuse an Agent whilst they were attending to your enquiry

They processed my application. Again. And I guess I'll have to wait two weeks to see whether I will eventually exist on American soil.

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