My Optional Practical Training (OPT) Story - The Emotional Journey Part 2
My OPT Story
I called USPS again and I kept getting transferred to everyone sounding like they were hearing about my case for the first time. On the 26th of January at about 11:36pm, USPS updated the tracking information which showed that the mail was in Pittsburgh.
Let me stop at this point and give a special shout-out to my parents! I seriously don't know how I could have gone through this without them. I also have amazing brothers, friends and loved ones who called to check on me, prayed and encouraged me.
Back to the story, it was actually my dad that first saw the change in the USPS tracking website. He had been refreshing and checking with me the entire time. He called me from Nigeria and excitedly announced the mail had been found. I couldn't sleep that night. I felt like the end of this tunnel was close; I could taste coming out on the other side. Pittsburgh is approximately 3 hours by road from me, so I imagined it wouldn't take any longer to get a hold of it. The following morning on the 27th, I got an email from the postmaster at my local post office stating my mail was being processed at Pittsburgh and would be intercepted and returned back to my local post office via express mail. I also got a phone call by another USPS official stating the same.
I was relieved and optimistic; I honestly believed that the OPT card would arrive that same day on the 27th or the next day, or latest the following Monday. All those days came and passed without the mail showing up. The tracking information started updating automatically every day from the 27th with something vague "in transit to destination". Again, I was back to the place where I wasn't getting any information.
On Monday the 29th, my USCIS case status changed to "New Card Ordered". I was too excited. The disappointment that was creeping up dissipated again; I was optimistic. I wasn't sure of exactly what led to the ordering of a new card, but I was so grateful for this unexplained miracle. Judging from the last time, a new card was ordered on the 4th and sent on the 9th, I estimated I should have my new OPT card within a week. The wait started again.
The next week was filled with me refreshing my case status and checking my mailbox like a crazy person. Oh, the USPS tracking information changed to 'arrived at Missouri' on the 29th. I tried to make sense of how the mail that was heading to me via express mail ended up in Missouri but I drew wide blanks. Google helped me identify that a Department of Homeland Security office was in Missouri. I emailed the postmaster to inquire how an express from Pittsburgh to me, ended up in Missouri; I am still waiting for a response till today.
The moment I saw a new OPT card was ordered, I let go of the old one in my heart. I just felt that I would never be able to figure out what was going on, and the strange things I was experiencing with USPS. It was saner for me to look forward to a new one. On the 5th of February, my status changed to "Card Returned Undeliverable'.
On this day, I just felt so sick of everything. At first, I was so confused. Which card was undeliverable, old OPT or new OPT? I called USCIS and I was relieved to hear that the status referred to the old OPT card. Ladies and gentlemen, the old OPT card was finally returned! I breathed a sigh of relief and inquired about the "new" card or what I thought was one as evidenced by the change of status on the 29th. To which the customer service agent, responded like I was speaking gibberish. I then asked to initiate a service request for the returned card to be sent back to me, as stated on the case status website. You won't believe what I was told...
The USCIS customer service agent said I couldn't do that because I had a similar service request on January 16th and I had to wait 30 days to send a new service request for the same issue. I was so lost; the case status just changed on the February 5th. I requested that my case is escalated to a higher official. The second customer service agent said, she would put in a service request and I should check back in 60 days. You read right, 60 DAYS!!!!
I had been praying and exercising faith this entire time, but after this call, I knew I was burnt out to the end. There was nothing that could be done that I hadn't done. I had practically lived on the phone over the past month going back and forth between USPS and USCIS. I just remember praying for a miracle; I had no idea how or when it would happen, but I desperately needed one.
January and February bills came; rent, electricity, phone, internet, etc. You hear that until things get tough, you don't know who God can be in situations. I saw God go ahead of me to meet the needs; I know what it feels to be in the most uncertain situation, and somehow still experience that peace that makes no sense.
I kept refreshing my case status and I noticed that there was no requested service requested showing up. So, from my experiences over the past few weeks, I had seen a few ways things worked. With a service request, you see an update when it is initiated, assigned to an officer, and completed. But following my call on the 5th, there was nothing. I gave it a couple of more days and by the 8th, I was unsettled. I hoped I was wrong, but I called anyway and complained. Rightfully so, someone put another service request and it showed up on my profile almost immediately. I was physically restraining myself from falling apart over the three days that felt lost.
At about noon on the 8th of February, my case status changed again to "New Card Ordered". I was a little relieved, but not excited. I had been here before and it fell apart every single time. So, I tried again to be hopeful, as hopeful as I had any strength left to be. Minutes became hours which turned into days, and on the evening of February 12th, my status changed to "Card Was Mailed To Me".
It started to feel real at this point; the end, the actual end. I had learned from my experience that a tracking number could be gotten after your card has been mailed. First thing in the morning on February 13th, I called the USCIS office and requested a tracking number, for which I was told it was not ready, and I should check back the following day. Again from my last experience, it took roughly two days for it to get to my city, so I was worried I didn't have a tracking number yet. I called again on February 14th, and I was told it still wasn't available. I requested that my question is escalated to the next level of customer service. I was called back about an hour later and was told to verify my address, which I did. The lady over the phone then replied: "That's not what we have on file". I swallowed a lump in my throat, it felt like I was about to enter a nightmare, AGAIN!
The customer service agent followed up with asking if my address was confirmed before, and I explained I had received two mails from USCIS at my address, and they were correct both times. She then gave me the tracking number and said my mail was in Pittsburgh, and I should try track it down when it arrives at my city, so it doesn't get missing, AGAIN!
I probably felt hot and cold at the same time. I got off the phone and immediately called my dad to give him the update. He requested for the tracking number to join me in following it up, and the investigation resumed. About 5 minutes later, my dad called back and said judging from the last time, he had a feeling this mail was probably in my city already, and it wouldn't hurt to just go to the post office and check. The call wasn't even over before I started locking my apartment to leave.
On my way to the post office, my dad called back. He had been refreshing the USPS page since he got the tracking number, and caught it the moment the status changed to 'arrived' in my city. I was relieved as I hurriedly entered the post office. I explained everything and the person attending to me checked my tracking number and replied the mail had left with the dispatcher. I got nervous again because the address on the mail was wrong, and I worried what happened the last time will happen again. I was advised to check back in the evening.
I got into the car, and I got this idea to go to the wrong address on the mail and see if I will at least catch the dispatcher and intercept my mail. Thankfully, I did that and I saw the USPS truck parked around, but no one was in it. I parked close to the USPS truck and waited; silently hoping for a miracle. Lo and behold, the delivery man that walked out was the person I knew; he was in charge of delivering in my building too, and I had pestered him over the weeks about my missing mail. He had also constantly checked in with me, to see if the mail was found and returned. Some people in this life are truly nice!
Before I could get the words out of my mouth, he mentioned he just dropped a mail for me. I started explaining that the mail I was asking about was wrongly addressed, and he said he knew but he recognized my name and took it to my box. I left the delivery man, and my car and started running to my apartment. Halfway through the excited-run, I remembered all my keys were still in my car, and so I ran back and did the sane thing: drive home.
I opened my mailbox, and there it was, wrong address and all, but the card I needed to start this new phase of my life. I honestly can't remember if I jumped or cried or ran around, I know I dressed up and went to work within the next hour, and the rest, as they say, is history.
This experience made the start of the year emotionally intense for me. I was so afraid of what could have happened. I remember coming on my blog and reading 'My Visa Story' and 'Crazy Faith', and just being reminded that God will get me through. So I really wanted to share this story with you all and myself, because I know I'll need this reminder of God's goodness in the future.
To make the miracles clearer, here are some:
1) I never lacked a thing without a job for almost two months.
2) All my fears about my job were unfounded, everyone at my workplace was so supportive and understanding.
3) I came out of this, and in a sense redeemed time; it almost feels like I was never away at work.
4) I am a better woman because of this experience, plus I have tips/lessons to share from my experiences that will help someone.
I am creating an OPT checklist, that could help you avoid some of the troubles I went through. Sign Up below and I'll send it to your email address once it's completed.
I can't wait to read your comments.
P.S: I still get automated emails from USPS telling me, my mail has not been found. It amuses me, as I try to imagine what could have been.
Make it a Winning-Day
This post is a recount of my experiences based on my perspectives and understanding. I do not know what the standard processing policies in USPS/USCIS are, neither am I offering any absolutes on how cases are handled. Nothing in this post should be received as any form of legal advice, and your discretion should be applied in using the information shared in this post.
I don't know how to write disclaimers, but you get the gist.