There is no document that gives me palpitations quite like the FBI background check.
They warn you when you start your EPIK application that the FBI background check takes the longest amount of time to complete of all the required documents. When I tried to join EPIK in August 2013, I applied for it in November 2012. Two fingerprint rejections later, I received the completed document in June 2013, well after I needed it. I didn’t make it to South Korea in August 2013.
When I decided to apply for the February 2014 round of EPIK, all my documents were settled except for That One: to my great anxiety, my recruiter requested I obtain a fresh FBI background check. Just in case I’d committed any new crimes in the 6 months since the last one, I suppose. This time, I was determined to punch the FBI background check in (the face). It was the top priority of my life– turnarounds on my end would be swifter than most sneezes. The FBI and the US State Department could take their sweet time, but no lateness would be caused by ME.
The first step was to obtain fingerprints, which for other people I imagine to be easy. However, I am a small person with small hands and my job at the time involved too much paper. Apparently, paper pushing erodes the quality of your prints. (This explains white collar criminals only too well.)
To circumvent this, I thought to get electronic prints: my print takers could ensure that my fingerprints were usable before I sent them. I learned that the King County Sheriff at the King County Courthouse in Seattle could do them, so I woke up ridiculously early to get there when they opened. They refused me. They didn’t do prints for Seattle residents, only those who lived in King County BUT beyond the city limits. They refused even after I explained my fingerprint issues.
They told me to ask the Seattle PD a few blocks up. For the record, I wouldn’t go back to them if I could help it; their customer service is abysmal. But that morning, I had few other options. I bought two sets of prints, packed one up with the requested forms and sent them to the FBI. Then I waited.
FBI background checks take 6-8 weeks and they can only give you a status update around week 5. I called every week. I got to know their customer service rep (Was his name Les?) quite well. Nice guy, much more personable than the ladies at the Seattle PD. This was how I found out they weren’t able to charge my credit card because I’d cancelled it the week before. I asked my work at the time if I could print a new credit card form and fax it to the FBI. Within an hour of my phone call, they had my new credit card information.
After Thanksgiving, I got a phone call from my aunt saying that the FBI had sent me something. I was hoping it was the background check at last– it turned out to be a request for a new set of prints. Another rejection! Time horizons were shortening and I was filled with fear that I would miss the window for South Korea again.
I called Les at the FBI to check if sending more than one set of fingerprints this time would help my case. Poor guy: I vented (in the politest way I could muster) my frustrations around the FBI background check. If I had to send them three sets just to make sure it went through, then so be it! Les said it wouldn’t really help though. So the day after I received my rejection, I packed up the spare set I’d gotten and prayed that it would be enough.
I got a tip from a friend teaching in South Korea that I could get my Congressperson to help me out. This is how I learned that the amazing Adam Smith was my area’s representative. I called his office and got them in action about it. Now I scheduled weekly phone calls with my Congressman’s staff and the FBI’s customer service rep. Update after update that I got was, we can’t give you an update. It wasn’t in the system yet. After a few weeks of this, I called one senator’s office to see how many more of my government representatives I could throw at the issue. I was worried and doing everything I could think of. I was in the middle of filling out the forms for both Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray when I got an email from the FBI telling me it was finally en route to me.
Now it was time to obtain the apostille from the US State Department. Adam Smith’s people were also willing to help me on this, though they ultimately determined there wasn’t anything they could do to further expedite the process. I got in contact with a friend in Washington DC to see if that was a possible route. In the end, I Fedex-ed the forms to the US State Department with an envelope inside that would take the apostilled document straight to my recruiter in South Korea. Postage alone cost me about $90. I remember sitting in the Fed-ex office, chewing my brains out whether I was doing it correctly so that no more delays would occur.
Later that night, I realized that I’d forgotten to sign the check I used to pay for the apostille.
I called the US State Department the next morning. This had to be the worst waiting experience on a telephone I’ve ever had. Their phone message is about 2-3 minutes long before you can indicate to them what you want (to check on your apostille request) then they tell you that there isn’t an available customer service representative available. They play you a screechy loop of violins in the meantime. (Look, at least finish the song instead of playing the same section over and over again!) I lay in bed, groggy and gritting my teeth with that abominable noise on speaker phone (so I didn’t have to press it to my ear) for 40 minutes before a human being finally took my call. They had given me the option to leave them a message, but I wasn’t even going to risk that.
Thankfully the human on the other end told me that I would receive a courtesy call when the payment didn’t go through, and then I could pay for it with my credit card.
I called every other day trying to make that call happen. It wasn’t until I’d landed in the Philippines that I was able to get it handled. But the very next day, I saw the tracker on FedEx begin to move. I received an email Monday morning from my recruiter, saying she’d received my background check.
Thank you to everyone who helped me a long the way: to Linh for the tip about calling my government representatives, to Stephanie for offering to help me with the apostille, to the customer service guy at the FBI for his patience. Thanks to Mac with Adam Smith’s office for pulling whatever strings he pulled to get this to me, and the older Alice at Lake Union Drydocking Company for letting me use the fax machine.
Please don’t ask me to go through it again.