Friday, 29 July 2011

Poor form

OK enough serious, wannabe-grown-up, pretending-like-I-understand-the-issues, boring discussions about politics. And back to something that I know a bit more about, and that I am fairly sure everyone can unanimously agree on: That government forms are silly. I also think they are hopelessly and unnecessarily complex, but that is a failing I have already lamented in an earlier post. Today I want to concentrate on their silliness.

I don’t think this silliness is confined to government forms in the USA. In fact I have experienced first hand the silliness of government forms throughout the world. The application for a Kenyan passport is gloriously silly in places, asking the applicant to list their “Colour of eyes”, “Colour of hair” and “Special peculiarities”. Honestly, what are you meant to put for this last question? “Er…well…where do I start? I have an inexplicably ardent passion for golden raspberries, a phobia of Tuesdays, and…I am a little sensitive about it…but since you ask…I have really pointy ears that people always say make me look like an elf”. But the last silly government form I filled in was an American green card application, so American forms will bear the brunt of this savage assault.

Well actually, hopefully it’s not that savage (he said, tittering nervously, and hoping that the government official reviewing his pending green card application can’t somehow access his blog…).

But here are some questions that I had to answer in my form. For each of them you had to check either a “Yes” or a “No” box:

Question 4

“Have you ever engaged in, conspired to engage in, or do you intend to engage in, or have you ever solicited membership or funds for, or have you through any means ever assisted or provided any type of material support to any person or organization that has ever engaged or conspired to engage in sabotage, kidnapping, political assassination, hijacking, or any other form of terrorist activity?”

Who checks the “Yes” box to that question? You would have to be a pretty honest terrorist to own up on a government form, right? I don’t know which is sillier – the form’s na├»ve optimism that a former or aspiring terrorist will confess his crimes, or that an expensive attorney clearly racked up significant fees drafting a wording for the question that was absolutely watertight.

Attorney: “Aha! I’ve got it! We won’t just ask them if they have engaged in terrorism or if they intend to engage in terrorism. We will ask them if they have conspired to engage in terrorism as well!”
Government official: “That’s inspired!”
Attorney: “Why thank you my good man. (That will be $4,000 please)”

Question 5 a)

“Do you intend to engage in the United States in espionage?”

Honestly, you would have to be THE WORST SPY IN THE WORLD to answer Yes to that question. Surely that is the first thing they teach you in spy school. “Do not admit to being a spy, as this will blow your cover”. You might imagine particularly stupid spies getting caught up by this question if it is asked in a really clever, subtle way, and they have to give an answer really quickly. But the form asks it in a really obvious, straightforward way. And the form-filling spy has all the time in the world to answer it. At least we can reassure ourselves that, even if stupid spies get help from their spymasters in answering this question on the form, we can reasonably assume that they might be tripped up when they arrive at the US border:

[A man wearing a long trench-coat, a pair of dark glasses and an obviously fake moustache, and carrying a magnifying glass and a newspaper with two eye-shaped holes in it, approaches the immigration counter]
Immigration officer: “Hello…Mr…er…Schmidt. Now I want you to think very carefully before answering this question. Are you a spy?”
Herr Schmidt: “Yes”. [4 seconds elapse]. “Vait…Vait…Vait…I mean Nein. I mean No. I meant No.”
Immigration officer: “Sorry I am going to have to take your first answer. Which was that you are a spy. Please go and join that line over there, which is composed of other confessant spies, saboteurs, political assassins, hijackers and other terrorists.”
Herr Schmidt: “Scheize! Alvays the same qvestion every time!”

Question 7

“Did you during the period from March 23, 1933 to May 8, 1945, in association with either the Nazi Government of Germany or any organization or government associated or allied with the Nazi Government of Germany, ever order, incite, assist, or otherwise participate in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion?”

If you committed genocide on March 22, 1933, or May 11, 1945, in you come. (As long as you are not still spying for the Nazi Government of Germany – please see question 5a ).

And another silly thing about forms. They never leave enough space for your e-mail address. I am still waiting to hear back about my green card. And I am completely in the dark about whether that’s because I accidentally ticked “Yes” in the “Do you plan to indulge in espionage?” box, or because the e-mails they send to Jonathan.Pri_x@_____ keep bouncing back.


  1. Haha, too true. And there are even more ramifications of these questions on the nonimmigrant visa application (think whether your parents have coerced anyone into the sale of body parts or body tissues...).

  2. No good attorney in these United States would ever end with "my good man". Must've been a Brit.