Dept. of Motor Vehicles ORG XMIT: 120050 (Tom Allen/The Washington Post)

Peter Britton lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard the American axiom, “Play by the rules and you get rewarded; break the rules and you get punished.” Generally, I believed that to be true.

Until this spring, that is.

Here’s my story. I live on the west coast of Canada. I am a Canadian citizen, born and bred. My career is in direct marketing. While there are some employment opportunities in my field in Canada, the vast majority of positions are in the United States. Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities and offers to work in the States, and for some, I was able to use the North American Free Trade Agreement’s professional visa program for short-term work. But the door to long-term, full-time employment has been locked to me because of my citizenship.

My big brother lives not far from Houston. He was born in Canada but moved to the United States many years ago. He applied for and attained U.S. citizenship in the 1990s.

A few years ago — January 2011 to be exact — we discussed a way I could gain a foothold into the United States. He could sponsor me, as his brother, to come south as a legal immigrant. This would allow me to seek and accept employment here.

So we filed the required paperwork and paid the $400 fee.

For the next four years, nothing happened. The application was sent to an immigration office in California, where it moved through the processing line. I imagined the paperwork walking through one of those mazes you see at the DMV.

Finally, this February, my brother and I received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security, telling us that the copy of my brother’s birth certificate he sent was illegible and asking if he could please send a clearer version. So he did.

We received a congratulatory letter about three weeks later. The application was approved and moving on to the National Visa Center in New Jersey for processing. Once that was complete, there would be an interview at the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver, and then the visa could be issued. I was told the National Visa Center would send me a letter confirming its participation in the process.

Sure enough, 30 days later, a letter arrived. It told me that the center is on the case but that I should not make too many plans for my move to the United States, as there is a waiting time for processing. I was instructed to go to the State Department’s Web site to check on wait times, which it bases on the “priority date” of my application. My priority date was Jan. 9, 2011, the date we filed the original paperwork.

After a few clicks I discovered that, for Americans sponsoring siblings from Canada, the wait time is about nine more years.

Yes, that’s right: 13 years total processing time. They are now processing priority dates of March 2002, and with my priority date of January 2011, they should get to me by March 2024.

Let me quote a former U.S. president: “Our protection is in our fraternity, our armor is our faith; the tie that binds more firmly year by year is ever-increasing acquaintance and comradeship through interchange of citizens and the compact not of perishable parchment, but of fair and honorable dealing, which, God grant, shall continue for all time.”

Warren G. Harding spoke those words on a visit to Vancouver on July 26, 1923. He was the first U.S. president to visit Canada.

“Interchange of citizens”? “Fair and honorable dealing”?

It would seem, in the United States, for one attempting legal emigration from your next-door neighbor to the north, there is a new definition of “fair and honorable.”

My brother will turn 74 on his next birthday. For my application to get final approval, he must still be alive. In nine years, he will be 83. I wrote to him the other day, reminding him to eat well, take his vitamins and get some exercise. I would hate for this entire wait to be a waste.

Oh, and one last thing: I am glad I do not live in the Philippines. Applicants from that country in the same category — sponsored by a brother — have a wait time of 23 years.

So much for playing by the rules.