Embracing the American Dream

A Clements Ferry resident’s journey to citizenship
On May 21, Kate Shaw found herself at the Charleston field office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in a room brimming with people from 40 different countries, all awaiting their moment to become a U.S. citizen.
Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, the 29-year-old Clements Ferry Road resident had waited seven years to get to this point, taking a path to becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen that wasn’t as easy as first thought.

Her American adventure started in 2015, when she took a gap year and moved to the United States to become an au pair.
“I had two opportunities, as most South Africans do: you either become a ‘yachty’ or an au pair,” she said. “I chose child care because I wanted to help a family in need and have a memorable gap year.”
Little did she know, her decision would lead her to build a life and home, far from her native South Africa.
After her gap year, she studied at St. John’s University in New York, where her first impressions of the United States were one of culture shock as she encountered language barriers and the quirks of American English. 
“You say ‘Band-Aid,’ we say ‘plaster’; you say ‘diaper,’ we say ‘nappy,’” she laughed.
Landing in New York on a snowy March day, she recalled her arrival in flip-flops and rolled-up jeans. “I was freezing, but so happy to start my new adventure.”
The initial excitement gave way to the reality of navigating the complex U.S. immigration system soon after marrying her husband, a U.S. citizen. She learned she had to secure her own legal status if she wanted to stay here.
“Our process was far from easy,” Shaw admitted. “We had a turn of events where our case was denied, our previous lawyer did nothing to help us, and we lacked evidence and information. After spending thousands of dollars and waiting almost 18 months with no hope, we were defeated.” 
Her husband, Joshua Whalen, took matters into his own hands, persistently calling the USCIS office and finally setting up a meeting with a field office agent. Their persistence paid off when their conditional green card was approved in 2019, a pivotal moment that allowed Shaw to stay in the U.S. legally.
The approval allowed her to reunite with her family in South Africa after nearly two-and-a-half years apart. From start to finish, the naturalization process took seven years, but Shaw said the reward was well worth it.
Much of her success in navigating the complex immigration process is attributed to her immigration lawyer, Kristen Ness Ayers, with the Ayers Immigration Law Firm. The Charleston-based lawyer was always one phone call away, Shaw said, and guided the couple through the hoops it took to obtain citizenship.
Ayers explained how long the road to naturalization can take, highlighting Shaw’s patience during the process.
“An immigrant must first become a permanent resident of the U.S. – or a green card holder – before applying for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen,” Ayers said. “This two-step process can take anywhere from four to 10-plus years.
“Once a person becomes a lawful permanent resident, they must wait three to five years to even be eligible to apply for naturalization. The application process can take another six months to a year from the time of filing to the date of the final interview and oath ceremony.”
As an immigration lawyer for over 20 years, Ayers has watched some families wait years for their application to be processed.
“Many of these processes are backlogged,” she said. “The most challenging part is working with a system that is outdated, both the actual application process and the overall immigration regulations and laws, which are long overdue for reform.”
However, the rewards are immense. Ayers said helping clients like Shaw, who waded through years of government red tape and a worldwide pandemic, makes the job worth it.
“It was such a thrill to attend Kate’s naturalization ceremony and watch her take the oath,” she said. “In that one room, people from 40 different countries had each gone through years of various processes to become a U.S. citizen. It reminded me how lucky I am to be an American, simply by being born here. Our country is still seen by so many people around the world as the land of opportunity and freedom.”
To Shaw, May 21, 2024, will forever mark the beginning of a new chapter. As a U.S. citizen now, she’s already applied to vote, she recently received her U.S. passport, and she’s planning a trip to Canada in a few weeks.
Living on Clements Ferry with her husband Joshua and their golden retriever, Blu, Shaw fully embraces American life, spending weekends on their boat and hunting for shark teeth. She works as a full-time nanny for a family on Daniel Island and shares her career and travel adventures on her Instagram page, @auntiekatetravels.
Shaw said the best part of her new citizenship is being able to reap the rewards of her hard work.
“Coming from a Second World country, I could work hard and never be able to afford a home, my dream car, and multiple trips a year. America and my hard work have given me financial freedom to have all those things and more, which I’m so grateful for.”

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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