Racing Full-Time In IndyCar While Getting Your Green Card Is No Easy Feat

Racing Full-Time In IndyCar While Getting Your Green Card Is No Easy Feat

Three years ago, New Zealander Scott McLaughlin made his transition from Australian Supercars to the American-based IndyCar series. But as he fought for track position, he was also fighting another battle: getting the legal ability to live and work in the United States. As someone whose spouse just jumped through the green card hoops, I had to know more about McLaughlin’s experience balancing a high-speed racing career with the demands of the government.

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Full Disclosure: XPEL invited me to Iowa Speedway for the Hy-Vee IndyCar weekend; the company organized my interview with Scott McLaughlin.

“That first year, all the visa stuff made it hard,” McLaughlin said of his rookie IndyCar season in 2021. “On top of that, you’re learning a new area, there’s COVID, there are elections — everything was going on. I was like, ‘America’s pretty full-on.’”

While I didn’t want to pry into the details of McLaughlin’s green card process, I do know that it took my husband and I just under four years from the time we applied for his green card to the time he finally received it. We went for the spouse visa, which some people consider simpler than pursuing green cards for work or education.

“It was amazing — the weight that was off my shoulders,” McLaughlin said of getting his green card near the end of 2021. “I’d finish a race and then instantly I’d be stressed: ‘I’ve gotta race, then I’ve gotta go get my biometrics, and I have to go for an interview, and hopefully I got all my evidence right for the green card.’”

Even acquiring a green card for a spouse is a process — a 12-step process, in fact. I had to submit a petition that detailed my information as well as my husband’s. I had to pay several different fees to process different forms of paperwork. I had to write a formidable novel, replete with photos, social media posts, photos of birthday cards, and more to prove that my husband and I both knew each other and intended to stay together — essentially, that this wasn’t just a marriage solely to get a green card. I had to provide financial information to prove that I was fiscally capable of providing for the two of us. I had to prove that I was an American citizen. When all that was processed, my husband had to complete an online application rehashing much of the same information. We had to upload more documents proving our marriage, our nationality, our work history, our finances. After almost four years, he finally got an interview appointment — but before we could go, he had to register for a courier service, undergo a physical from a certified physician, and organize the various copies of all of our previously submitted documents. Then, we had to travel from Toronto to Montreal for the interview… which took all of 30 minutes when all was said and done. A few weeks later, my husband had his green card.

It was a process, and it started in May of 2019 and finally finished when he crossed the border, officially, with his green card, in June of 2023. Now imagine balancing all of that while also moving, not just to a new country but to a new hemisphere. Imagine that while competing for what is easily the most prestigious IndyCar team on the grid. Imagine that while learning the ins and outs of an entirely new car in an entirely new form of racing, all at the age of 28, and after raising expectations to the moon after being fully dominant in your previous form of racing.

“It was a crazy time, but it’s also one that makes you strong mentally,” McLaughlin told me. “You’ve just gotta somehow switch that off — and we still got some pretty good results [on the track]. I learned it takes a lot to distract me, which is a nice feeling for me.”

In 2021, Tim Cindric and Roger Penske told McLaughlin to manage his expectations: Take in the experience of IndyCar and finish all the races, but don’t worry about competing hard for wins — or even for the Rookie of the Year title, for which he was competing against former Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean and seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson.

He did ultimately secure that Rookie of the Year title, in part because of his impressively strong finishes on oval tracks, which included a second place at Texas Motor Speedway and a fourth at Gateway.

The following year, in 2022, McLaughlin launched out of the gate with a win at the season opener in St. Pete, the first of three wins that season, which he was able to pair with three additional podiums. In 2021, McLaughlin ended the season in 14th overall. The following year, he had escalated to fourth.

“I’m thankful I took this journey after what I did in Australia,” McLaughlin said, referring to his formidable domination of the Supercars series. “I really understood what it takes to get to the top, but even then, there’s a lot of self doubt in your mind. It wasn’t until I won [in IndyCar] that I felt I could actually do this, and that doubt is the hardest thing to control.”