I have wanted to do this post for a while now, but following requests from Heidi I have not until now (she has ok’d this though). I have wanted to talk about the process of obtaining my Green Card as I know a lot of my family and friends have questeions about what happens during the process. It is surprising to know that so many people go through this same process yet each and every case will be different. My case while not unique, felt not so easy. Most of you know how we got married, most of you know that I do in fact love my wife (and she loves me as well funnily enough). You also may know how I got over here to the USA, now you can learn how I get to stay.
The whole Permanent Residency (PR) process is a lenghthy one and I can tell you now, we were not expecting it to take so long. When we got engaged, we knew that we would have a road ahead of us to get it all donem however we expected a few months to get it all done, we did not expect the lengthy road of almost a year! My situation was a little bit easier compared to some other people in the fact that I was already in the USA when we got engaged, if I had been outside of the country, that’s a whole other story. As my original work visa doesn’t allow “Dual Intent” it meant that if I had left the country and tried to come back with the “Intent to immigrate”, that’s a no entry situation. What it meant was that I was stuck here in the USA till things got fixed up.
The process for me to get my PR begins with plenty of paperwork and i mean plenty. Our original filing was almost 130 pages of forms and supporting documents. Then later on followed up by about another 100 or more pages. It isn’t just forms but proof of an ongoing relationship/marriage. So you need to prove everything to the government. You need to show how you met, what you did, did you travel together, did you move in together. You also need to show bills and shared expenses. Now Heidi and I had only been together 9 months when this all started so I am sure had it been for more than that, our documentation might of been bigger, but this was big enough. The one thing that surprised me about what was required was legal statements from our friends and family about how they know us, how we met etc. This was not something we expected, nor where we prepared for. Thankfully our friends were willing to help us out! It also required a doctors visit to get a specific set of paperwork signed off after tests were run. I was also legally required to get a flu shot and a few other vaccination boosters (my MMR was done in school and thus not recorded in my yellow book, so to prove to the government I had it, I had to do it again). They ran blood work (I can say I am free of Syphilus!) and the usual kinds of tests and all it got me was a signed, sealed envelope that said I was perfectly healthy.
The biggest hurdle was getting all this information together. Originally we were going to do this ourselves, however that was not working. Heidi and I are both very different people in life. Heidi can be very logical at times, but the majority of the time she follows the Yellow (social) brain. This means (and this is in no way an insult) that she flicks between following along, to wanting to do things a certain way. This is very evident when it comes to forms and anything where her teacher brain comes into play. Unfortunately for this instance it was not something what would help combat my 100% Blue (logic) brain. In the end we gave up battling each other (we fought more over this stupid PR) than we ever did our entire relationship) and got some help from a laywer. It wasn’t cheap but it was worth it in the end because all we had to do is point to what the laywer said and anything that we had to do was because the laywer said so (it didn’t end the flighting, but it sure did cut it WAY down).
Once you send in all the paperwork, be prepared to wait. Wait, wait and wait some more. I wanted so badly for this whole process to speed up but it wasn’t going to. The good thing with the US Government is that they know that it will take a while for the whole process, so rather than make you sit in some limbo status (which when you are adjusting from a work visa to a PR you are in no mans land) they send you an EAD and an AP. The EAD stands for Employment Authorisation Document and the AP stands for Advanced Parole. The EAD allows you to work, the AP allows you to travel. The AP doesn’t mean you can just leave and come back when you want. It really just means if you need to travel for work or something, you can come back into the country as a Parolee (yes… I was a parolee after I came back from Germany). The EAD lets you work so that you can support yourself/family. It meant I could jump out from the sinking ship that was work and move on with my life to find something else.
The EAD took about 2 months or so to process from our filing date, and from that date on, you just need to be patient. The EAD is valid a year and hopefully that meant I could get the interview before that time before having to try to renew it. I had seen online wait times of several months We prepared so much extra evidence that (and multiple copies as requested) that it took up 3 document wallets! That did not even include the almost 60 photos which were hand labelled with dates, locations etc. It was not an easy task. There was even quizzing back and forth between me and Heidi to make sure we were prepared for any question (and in case anyone asks, yes I know Heidi’s birthday and our anniversary off the top of my head, her phone number though, that is a tough one). We almost didn’t make the interview with both of us having to juggle our schedules to make sure we could go (not that I had a choice since it is legally required). In the end stuff worked out but it was not without stress.
When the interview day finally rolled around I was an absolute mess. I was stressing myself more the previous few days than I had ever stressed in my entire life. All the “What If” scenarios were playing in my head and they just would not stop. By the time we got to the USCIS building I could not stop fidgeting or stop my hand from shaking. I had gone from stressing to nerves kicking in, something that I have not had that bad in years. When I was younger, even though I loved flying, the morning of a flight I would throw up because I was nervous (not sure what about). That doesn’t happen anymore but it was that level of nerves. Having Heidi by my side the whole time did help (I didn’t puke, just so everyone knows).
We met up with our laywer before the interivew and then met him again at the USCIS building (parking is cash only folks… thats a tip you will probably never need, but it is a necessary one). We were there at the same time as an Oath Ceremony for a whole lot of citizens, so it was REALLY busy. There was a couple of hundred people I would say there to see the ceremony and it meant lines were huge, so thankful we got there early. It did mean a lot of waiting (but isn’t that what you get when dealing with the government?). It was so “Hurry up and Wait” it wasn’t funny. The interview was late starting (who didn’t see that coming), but Heidi kept me calm and before you knew it my name was called.
The whole interview was a non event in the end. We had a really nice guy, who turned out to be an ex navy pilot. His first question to me after my name was “What is my favorite plane”. Thinking it was a trick question, I gave him a question back of “Civilian or Military” and it just went on from there. The interview was mainly going through to see that I would answer the same to the large list of usual questions when you enter a country. No I’m not a terrorist or a member of the communist party, no I have never commited espionage, stuff like that. Heidi had like maybe one or two questions, but the interviewer had advised her upfront she was there more as a “prop” as he put it. Heidi did get one question that she loved which was when the interview turned to her and said “So what irritates you most about him”. It was as if the flood gates opened and out came the dirty laundry! All while we were under oath as well. Great :/
The interview was over in about 10 minutes or less and the laywer did not say a word. He just sat in the back listening and getting paid. But he had told us going in that his goal in the whole process is to not say a word as if he has to talk, well then something isn’t going well. The interviewer outlined the process of what will happen and we must have gotten someone senior because rather than having to recommend approval and someone else approve it, he was rubber stamping me on the spot (not literally) and saying that they will start issuing my Green Card.
The Green Card (which really is green) took about 2 weeks to show up from the interview (probably less actually) and it’s valid for 2 years to begin with. We then have to go back to the USCIS and prove we are still together and put in another couple of hundred pages of paperwork and then they make me a PR for good. Then the cards are good for 10 years after that, like a passport). Speaking of a passport, it is time to discuss citizenship. The next logical step after PR is Nationalization right? I still need to look into the whole process more but before I can even apply for it I need to be a PR and in the country for 3 straight years. Sure I can go away for a couple of weeks, but not for a couple of months (so no big round the world trips for 6 months, sorry Heidi!). It will mean more paperwork, some studying and some testing but eventually I will probably do it, more for the fact that it will make both of our lives easier.
So there you have it, from start to finish for my PR status. It was a long long road but it was something that both Heidi and I went through for each other. But now for a couple of tips that I know will help anyone else who might be going through the process:
GET A LAYWER. It may seem expensive but it is worth it, trust me on this. Your relationship will thank you.
Submit everything you can think of, and when you have done that, throw in some more.
Proof, Proof and more proof. Photos, bills, paperwork from leases etc all of it! Nothing is to small if you both paid for it. Photos of you two making out somewhere special, throw it in, I know we did!
Be patient, it is a long and lengthy process but it will be worth it in the end.
Don’t be afriad, just take it as it comes. Don’t worry to much about the interview, if you come prepared it won’t be a hassle at all.
So now you all know what we went through, hopefully you can get a real understanding of what the last year of our lives has been like and what we have gone through. I don’t for any minute have any regrets of the whole process and it sure worked out in the end.