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Archive for the ‘Immigration’ category

Having acquired all of the necessary supporting evidence to make my case for being issued a spousal settlement visa by UK immigration, last week Tuesday James and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to submit my application online and see if we could make an appointment at the British Consulate in Chicago for Monday morning given that we would be in the vicinity anyway on our way back from a weekend with my family in Iowa. We were able to schedule an appointment for 10:00 on Monday morning, even at such short notice. So at the appointed time we made our way to the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue, took the elevator to the 13th floor of the south tower, made our way through security, and sat ourselves down in the rather stark waiting room, listening for our number to be called.

When they called our number, we went up to the window and turned in our packet of evidence, then sat and waited for another 20 minutes or so. We had Martha Stewart for distraction, cooking up some lovely looking cauliflower orrechiette and cucumber salad with her guest chef. (Mmm. Must give those recipes a go…) We were finally summoned for a second time only to be told that everything looked in order but we were too early. They are unable to issue visas for more than three months out which wouldn’t be that much of a problem, but since we’ve been married for fewer than four years, the visa would be a provisional one that would have to be renewed after two years. Thus I’d essentially have two months of a valid visa that I wouldn’t be able to use. I appreciated their desire for me to get as much use out of my provisional visa as possible before having to renew it, but I wish they had been a little more clear about the timing limitations on their website. In any case, we were told that I wouldn’t have to reapply (or pay again, thank goodness, given that the application fee is a hefty USD $520!) but we still need to bring our packet of evidence back to the Chicago consulate in a few months to get the actual visa.

In other happy news, we managed to snag 18th row center seats for The Arcade Fire at the Chicago Theatre on Sunday, May 20th. WOO!!!

I can hardly believe it, but it’s already time to make plans to go the other way.

Yep, James and I are moving to England. So just a few short years after navigating the UK-to-US immigration labyrinth, we now get to experience the joys of US-to-UK immigration. I’ve been told that it’s not as complicated or time consuming as immigrating to the US (in fact, I was amused that the British Embassy website admonishes applicants to submit one’s application in good time since not all visas are issued on the same day that the application is received), but I guess we’ll see, eh? The application instructions and requirements are, I admit, a little intimidating. But hey – we were successful with James’ US immigration, and that certainly had its intimidating forms and procedures too. Not to mention the hulking guy in the little cubicle at the Detroit immigration office.

So over the next ten months or so we need to get the house ready to sell, decide which furniture and other belongings to take and which to sell or otherwise get rid of, sell our car, find a place to live in the UK, find jobs in the UK, hire an international moving company, and take care of that pesky settlement visa. There will of course be many other details to think about. And to complicate matters, we’re also planning a trip around the world that will take up about six weeks of next summer. Tentative stops include cities in New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. We’ll send our stuff east, and we’ll head west to the other side of the world, meeting back up with our stuff in England sometime in August, of course in time for Greenbelt.

Don’t expect a sudden rash of blogging from me, but over the next year I hope to be cataloguing our onging immigration adventures. And then there will probably be plenty to write about as I adjust to life as an expat.

Today was the day that James had his Adjustment of Status interview in Detroit (the adjustment being to Legal Permanent Resident). I am happy to report that it all went swimmingly, and eleven months after marrying me (and just over ten months after submitting the application), James is now the possessor of a provisional green card.

We did lots and lots of preparation for this. We assembled all of the paperwork that they said to bring and then some, plus duplicates of everything. My main cause for worry going into it was that I have somehow misplaced the copies of my federal tax returns from 2002 and 2003 – documents that they included in the list of ‘what you should bring’. We were hoping that the fact that we had already submitted them would be sufficient. In the end it was.

Since our appointment was set for 8:00 a.m. in downtown Detroit, we decided to stay overnight in Detroit rather than getting up at 4:00 in the morning to drive there. This worked out well especially since it appeared that the location of the interview was less than two miles from our hotel. As it turned out, we had the wrong location. Note to anyone who is going to Detroit for an interview with Citizenship and Immigration Services: 333 Eliot is NOT the same as 333 Mount Elliott. They are in two completely different parts of the city. We accidentally walked to the first – arriving there promptly at 8:00 to discover that there wasn’t a 333 Eliot. There was in the general vicinity a Hospice of Michigan branch and outside of it was a lovely gentleman who was clearly accustomed to redirecting lost souls who were looking for the Immigration Office. Seeing my distress, he very kindly ushered us inside and asked the receptionist to call us a cab. The cab arrived not soon after and ferried us to 333 Mt. Elliott, getting us there by about 8:15 a.m.

Here’s another tip about going into Federal Buildings: they don’t let you take camera phones inside. Since James had his, we didn’t have a car to put it in, and security guard was not being very helpful about the situation, James walked outside to find a place to store it. Thinking that it might not be a great idea to have the outer security guard spot him hiding a small electronic device outside a federal building, he asked what he should do with it, and they suggested bringing it to a shop across the street and asking if they would hold onto it for him. James reports that the shop owner must do this a lot because he took one look at James’ phone and put it in a drawer.

Since we arrived at the Immigration Office late, we were afraid that we might have a long wait, but in fact it was only about 20-25 minutes of tense anticipation before we heard the name “James Stewart” called out. I had another moment of panic when I saw the rather gruff looking man who had called for us, but it turned out that friendly immigration officer Steve was just dealing with a little morning grogginess as we were his first interview of the day. He walked us back to his cubicle (which immediately reminded me of Bob’s cubicle in The Incredibles – big guy in a tiny, cramped space), sat us down, and I pulled out our piles of well-ordered, well-labeled documents. As it turned out, the only things he ever asked for were James’ passport, state ID, social security card, and employment authorization card. None of the other documents that we had so painstakingly assembled! Sheesh.

Steve had in front of him a thick file folder containing all of the forms and supporting evidence that we had previously submitted. He flipped through that a bit, made notes and checked boxes on some forms, looked through all my federal tax returns (the ones I had freaked out about not being able to find) and nodded approvingly, re-asked James all the questions about whether or not he planned to engage in polygamy, illicit drug sales, or overthrowing the government and stuff like that. After not more than 15-20 minutes of being in Steve’s cubicle, James had his stamp in his passport and strict instructions to remember to file for his permanent green card 90 days before the provisional one expires (which happens on April 18, 2007).

We walked out looking at each other with both great relief and more than a little disbelief. Was it really that easy?? Apparently it was. We walked back to our hotel, got our car, and took the tunnel to Canada to take James’ new stamp for a little test drive. They let us in and even told us where to find some good restaurants for lunch. We ended up at a lovely little cafe called Chanoso’s and had a very nice celebratory lunch. We also observed that Windsor (at least the part we saw of it) is much nicer than downtown Detroit. (Side story: as we were pulling out of the parking garage in Windsor, the attendant exclaimed, “We have a new pope!” She had a little TV on in her booth and saw the white smoke. That’s how we found out about the election of Pope Benedict XVI.)

We are now home, exhausted and relieved to have this part of the process completed. And very much looking forward to arriving in the UK on May 25!


As James has already blogged, we at long last have a Permanent Residency interview date!

The very quick processing of James’ Employment Authorization got our hopes up that the Permanent Residency process would also be expedient. Our receipt letter had stated that Permanent Residency processing was taking 120-180 days. In actuality, from the time they received our petition (June 29, 2004) to the day we got our Notice of Action letter (February 3, 2005), it took 219 days. Our interview will be on April 19 (another 75 days). And there’s no telling how long after that we’ll have to wait to get the actual green card. A Permanent Residency petitioner used to get an “Approved” passport stamp at the interview which allowed for travel out of the country in the intervening time while waiting for the actual green card to arrive. We’re not exactly sure what the procedure is now, and at the rate things in this racket change, even if we knew how they were doing things now, there’s no guarantee that they would still happen that way in 2 1/2 months.

Still, we’re better off than our friends Jenna and Trevor in Nashville who are looking at more than 2 1/2 half years wait for their permanent residency interview. The fact that processing times in different states vary by that much is absolutely indefensible. Trevor and Jenna are working with their congressman and starting a letter writing campaign. If you’re interested in helping out, let me know and I can get you in touch with them.

James and I are now considering a trip to England in late May but much depends on finances (i.e. what kind of work James can get … need someone to do web development??) and also whether we’re up for taking the risk of purchasing flights before the permanent residency interview.

As always, stay tuned and we’ll keep you posted. Maybe.

James just got an email notifying him that his Employment Authorization has been approved! That went really fast. The timeline was as follows:

  • June 16 – Mailed application
  • July 10 – Received notification of receipt (which stated they had received the application on June 29 – or July 8 if you believe the website instead) which stated that processing would take 30-90 days
  • August 6 – Received notice of approval (via email)

Ironically, the USCIS website states that they are currently processing EAD applications received on February 1. Which renders the USCIS processing times table pretty much useless.

Oh well. We’re pretty excited! And have renewed faith in the timeliness of the USCIS.

There is a lot of confusing information out there about whether or not someone who is in the U.S. on a fiance visa can get a Social Security Number. The bottom line is that you can.

James blogs about his adventures getting an SSN here.

…the more confusing they are!

As the USCIS keeps changing the process for securing employment authorization and getting permanent residency, we weren’t quite sure what to expect when we mailed in James’ applications on June 16. When we sent in our fiance visa application on December 17, 2003, we had a notice of receipt within five days. Twenty-three days after mailing the I-485: Application To Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status and the I-765: Application for Employment Authorization we still hadn’t gotten anything notifying us that our application had been received. What’s more the checks we had sent with the applications – $315 and $175 respectively – hadn’t shown up in our account.

Needless to say, we were rather relieved when we arrived home Saturday evening from a trip to Chicago to discover two envelopes in the mail from the USCIS (actually, I think the stationery they print everything on still says “Department of Justice” and “Immigration and Naturalization Services”): one receipt for the I-485 and one for the I-765. We think the hold-up was the new procedure which requires the Detroit field office (to which we mailed our applications) to forward everything on to the National Benefits Center rather than processing the applications themselves. Anyway, we now have a case number which we can use to track the status of our applications.

According to the USCIS website, the employment authorization process is currently taking 30-90 days and the permanent residency process is taking 120-180 days. While we wish those numbers were smaller, it’s still less time than we were told it could take.

Of course, everything could change again within the next sixth months. Or tomorrow, for that matter. With bureaucracy you just never know.

James has blogged about his visit to the US Embassy to get his fiance visa. You can read all about it here and see the actual visa itself.

Only two more days until he comes!

James was issued the fiance visa by the US Embassy in London yesterday. Yippeeee!!

He said there was a lot of sitting around and waiting – some of it which felt rather pointless and inefficient. But it all went smoothly, the embassy official who interviewed him just asked a few routine questions, and James was done with everything (the medical and interview) in just over four hours.

So where are we going from here, you may ask?

James is planning to fly to the US on May 23 (details yet to be worked out with Expedia). My father will marry us in a little ceremony on our back deck on May 29. James’ mum is also hoping to fly here on May 28 so she can be with us for the weekend. We’re so glad she’s going to be able to come!

We’re still planning to do the big ceremony and celebration on October 22 complete with wedding dress, attendants, flowers, music, vows, and the whole bit. We’ll just be legally married before then. We see ourselves as fitting into traditions – both current traditions from other cultures (including Persian) and more historical Western traditions – that stretch out the wedding celebration and often include more than one ceremony. James promises to blog about it at more length soon.

We’re going to do our best to be intentional about celebrating each step in the process and making each special in its own way. With our families and dear friends by our sides, we’re confident that we will and excited about what’s to come!

UPDATE: James’ mum has reserved her ticket and is in fact going to be flying to Chicago on the 28th, going back to the UK on the 31st. It’ll be a quick trip (not much hope of adjusting to the time zone…) but we’re really glad she can come at all!

It's a date!

6:23 a.m. Saturday morning. The phone woke me up.

I looked at my alarm clock and thought, “That had better be James and he’d better be calling with good news!”

Sure enough! James got his packet from the US Embassy on Saturday morning. (Well, it arrived at his parents’ home and his mum called with the news.) His interview is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. this Friday – May 14. Yay!! What a good way to wake up on a Saturday morning! 🙂

He’s pulling together the last of the bits of information that he needs for that such as vaccination records. And