I type “British embassy + Washington, D.C.” into the Google search function of my computer. With one click, I am immediately thrust into a world of immigration, visas, employment regulations, and tips for foreign travelers.
“Welcome to the Consular and Passport Services section of the website. In this section, you will find information about applying for or renewing a British passport and about the services we provide for British citizens in the USA.”
I click on the Application Form and wait for the document to download before spying the Dual Nationality for Adults and Children link.
“Although acquisition or use of US citizenship does not of itself jeopardize retention of British citizenship, and there is no objection on the part of British authorities to a dual citizen using a US passport, it should not be assumed the reverse is true. The US authorities expect dual citizens to travel out of and into United States territory only on US passports. British citizens who are also US citizens are therefore advised to consult the US State Department (or if overseas a US Consul) before taking any action which might be regarded as inconsistent with their status as US citizens.”
Does this mean that if I obtain a British passport after all these years, I may lose my US citizenship? Frantically, I click through the pages to find the British Embassy’s phone number and dial the D.C. number. A tinny automated woman’s voice answers.
“Good morning, and welcome to the Embassy of Great Britain. If you are inquiring about a visa, press one. If you have lost your passport or if it has been stolen, press two. For citizenship inquiries, press three.”
Suddenly nervous about making this phone call bordered precariously between the legal and the criminal, I cradle the receiver between my shoulder and my ear and repeatedly press three. A male voice abruptly ricochets across the line. I scribble the man’s answers to my questions on a handful of post-it notes and thank him for his time, printing out another application before the dial tone buzzes in my ear. My application is in the afternoon mail.
Each day when the mail comes, I leap to the front door like a dog expecting its master and flick through the ads, and the credit card offers only to discover that nothing from the British Embassy has arrived. Again.
One day, after a month had passed, there is a letter.
I am heartsick. Instead of a shiny new passport, the letter has a list of requests. Another call to the British Embassy and another thirty minutes in the phone queue produced a bit of reassurance. I type another letter – signed, sealed, and mailed – I wait.
Less than a week passes, and there is a response from the British embassy in a crisp, white envelope with another list of requests, including school records covering as many years as possible, a clear copy of my resident alien card or US passport, and a letter on letterhead paper from a professional person such as my doctor, dentist, teacher, religious instructor, etc. stating how long this person has known me and in what capacity. This person must also sign a photo of me attesting to the face. This photo is a true likeness.
School records. How the hell am I supposed to get my grade school records as my grade school is now an assisted living community; the chances of obtaining my grade for French and Reading in the fourth grade are slim to none. I have my college and high school diplomas and transcripts. I spend another day making phone calls and collecting the information requested that I already had in hand. The letter to the British Embassy flies off my keyboard without effort.
Six weeks after my initial application, my British passport arrives with little fanfare in a tightly sealed envelope requiring confirmation of its receipt. On the cherry red cover, the words European Union, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Passport are sandwiched between the United Kingdom’s lion and unicorn insignias. Inside, the first page, emblazoned with a gold inscription with a copy of my photograph pasted next to block letters, reads,
Given Names: Anna Irena
Nationality: British citizen
No longer on a treasure hunt, in my hands, I am holding gold. With this passport’s addition to complement my American one, I am now legally entitled to travel on two passports and work anywhere in the European Union.
A passport may only be a ticket into a country, not a culture, but now I have the opportunity to claim both.