Life Care Center employee completes 15-year-long journey to U.S. citizenship

After a 15-year process, Kaveri Pant said it was “bittersweet” to finally stand in the courtroom and officially accept her U.S. citizenship only a week ago.

“East Tennessee was starting to feel like home,” Pant said. “This was where I saw us in the next 15, 20 years.”

The bittersweet part comes from the one caveat: The U.S. offers dual-citizenship options with many different countries. India is not one of them. Meaning, in order to become an American citizen, Pant had to revoke her Indian citizenship.

Born in Rookiee, India, roughly four hours from New Delhi, Pant originally came to the states in 2002 under a work visa. After working for a number of years, she eventually moved to Indiana, where she then got married. After that, they moved again, this time to Johnson City.

She applied for her green card in 2008.

“A work visa is tied to a company, and you can only renew it a certain number of times,” she said. “A green card is a permanent residency.”

A green card, however, is only good for 10 years, and as the time approached to renew it, she said it was time to make a choice.

“I had lived here for roughly 15 years. My kids were born here,” Pant said.

A citizenship application is a two-step process, with months of waiting in between. First, after applying online, Pant had to go to an office in Greeneville and set up her biometric information, including fingerprints. That took place in February 2018.

A few months later, it was time for the second step: an interview/examination. Originally, the entire state of Tennessee required applicants to go to a facility in Memphis, but a new location had recently opened in Nashville, so that was where the government sent Pant. Trouble was, it being a new facility, there was a bit of backlog to go through as they set up shop, so Pant said it actually took a bit longer to set up the interview, which took place in November 2018.

“There are civics questions, like who your Senators are, and they test you on your English skills,” Pant said. “They test you on your written English and spoken English.”

Pant said applicants sometimes have to wait several weeks for the results, but they told her almost immediately she had done well and that she most likely passed.

Her oath to officially become a citizen took place last week.

“You hear stories of people finding a lack of acceptance in American communities,” Pant said. “I did not experience that. People were willing to welcome us.”

A decade and a half of work led Pant to a rehab position at Life Care Center of Elizabethton on Highway 19E in 2011, where she said her co-workers were supportive at every stage of her citizenship process.

“A lot of times, support is quiet,” Pant said. “They have been with me for the whole process.”

When the word came out she has passed the final step, the staff threw her a red, white and blue party to celebrate, giving her flowers and a crown to commemorate the achievement.

Pant’s achievement comes during a time where debates on immigration policy dominate budget conversations among lawmakers. Pant said her experience was not equivalent to those trying to flee to the U.S.

“I can definitely sympathize with them,” she said. “I was not running from war or violence like that, but if I was, I would want to get away somehow.”

She said coming to the states legally is not only better, but she said the process is easier when compared to other countries’ immigration policies.

“Coming through legal actions is the best way,” Pant said. “It is not for everyone, but it is not impossible.”

She said the long wait many immigrants often face is worth the prize at the end.

“It may take time, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Pant said. “As a citizen, I have the right to vote.”

She said while she was on the work visa and green card, she had to contribute to Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, but she could not collect from it. Now, as a full citizen, she can.

Pant said she still visits her family back in India frequently, and they often visit her in the U.S.

“In my heart, I am still from India,” Pant said. “It is always there.”

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