I woke up at 5am even though we would not leave for another three hours. My housemate Becky arrived two weeks earlier than me and and was already settled and working. Her office was in the front with the design engineers. My placement was near the assembly line with the manufacturing engineers. But before I got there I would have to make it past Human Resources.
With no US driver’s license, a foreign passport with an expired student visa and a Social Security card stamped with red text VALID FOR WORK WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION ONLY, I could only pray for a miracle. But I was already here. I had moved into the house being paid for by the company. There was no way I could be sent back now.
I waited in a room that was more like a hallway, two chairs along a wall and a rectangular table with a vase of flowers directly in front. At 9 o'clock a smiling woman came from the adjacent office and held out her hand to shake mine. She said she was very happy that I was there and asked how to pronounce my name. After repeating it three times she still was unable to say it correctly. I gave up and just smiled and nodded.
Heather explained that it was her first day on the job and her boss was away until the end of the month. She asked me to bear with her for taking extra long. I smiled and nodded some more, my racing heart slowing down slightly. She explained the company policies on clocking in and taking breaks. She talked about how important diversity was and about the culture of inclusion. She smiled nervously. I smiled back.
I had a stack of forms to fill out and Heather seemed to be under the impression that I was familiar with them and so, sat at her computer scrolling away waiting for me to complete the task. One in particular, the I-9 form stated in bold that it was to be completed by the employer, not me and required proof of work authorization. I kept a steady hand. In the space asking for proof of work authorization, I wrote my student visa number as neatly as I could manage. In the space beneath asking for the expiration date I drew a heavy line. I moved on.
The next form said W-4, Department of the Treasury. I scanned it and noticing there was no question about Work Authorization, I showed it to Heather and asked if she knew how I should fill it out. “I’m not really allowed to tell you what number to put,” she said apologetically, “But when I filled out mine, I put one allowance.” I thanked her and did the same. These forms meant nothing to me. As instructed, I tore a check out of my checkbook, scribbled VOID across it and secured it with the paperclip on the top of the stack of forms. Handing them back to her I said a mental prayer “Dear God, Please let this work,” and instead of a simple “Amen.” to send it up to the heavens, I went a step further, and channeled my grandmother, the most religious person I knew, and signed off in her manner “In Jesus’ precious and holy name, Amen!”.
Heather skimmed over each form and nodded when she got to the last one. “Looks like we’re all set!” she said in a cheerful tone that made me question her sincerity.
“All the best, and i’m always here if you have any questions.”
I wasn't sure what questions I could possibly have for her but I smiled, thanks her and almost raced out of her office into the hallway where I would wait for someone to take me to the manufacturing plant.
I had not been found out.