Wednesday, August 24, 2016

About My (Legal) Immigration Experience

Disclaimer: This post is based on our personal experiences. It is not meant to be (and cannot  be treated as) an immigration procedure guide. To learn the details on visas, immigration regulations, including current filing fees, you need to go to uscis.gov.


I have decided to write this post as none of our American acquaintances who we talked to, had any idea about the (legal) immigration procedure. They all assumed, since so called 'undocumented person' can have quite a good life here, being a legal immigrant must be even easier. A piece of cake. Well, the reality is totally different.

At the time when we were planning our life together, we did not know anything about the immigration laws either. We discovered them gradually, step by step.

Having quite a naive vision: marriage in Poland and then we leave the country together, we did not have the faintest idea how complicated the entire procedure would be. Anyway, if you are interested, here is our story...



Marriage

At first, we wanted to get married in Poland so that all my Polish family could attend the ceremony. However, according to the Polish legal rules, my fiance, a foreigner, would have had to have a document certifying that he was legally able to enter the marriage. The problem was, that the US do not issue such certificates to their citizens. An equivalent (to establish that legal ability) could have been a year long legal case at a Polish court. It was impossible both because of economical and practical reasons. My Texan would have had to live in Poland to be able to come for the court hearings again and again. That was why, we started searching information on what we should do to get married in the USA. And we started working on a K1 visa. That kind of visa allows one time entrance to the United States. Then, within ninety days, the engaged couple have to get married. If it does not happen, the visa expires and alien fiancee/ fiance has to leave the country.

Step 1: My Texan Applies for Us


The documents which  he sent to the Immigration Office were:
  • 127F form + attachments such as
  • G325A form - his data and 'shortened life story',
  • G325A form - my data and my 'shortened life story',
  • copy of birth certificate,
  • passport photo,
  • affidavit of (my) support - form i134,
  • evidence to prove that we have met personally within two years before the application day,
  • + some more.
Filing fee: $340

No sooner did I start doing my part than his documents were officially accepted.

The most important piece of my attachments were the medical exam and test results. To have them done, I had to go to a health center designated by the Embassy. The closest such place was in a city situated about 500 km away from my home. Needless to say, before the medical appointment day, I also needed to book a hotel room there. Obviously, I did not want to sleep at a railway station. The tests included chest X-ray, blood (syphilis) test (!) and general examination. The cost of the medical part is not covered by insurance so I had to pay for it myself.

Having had the X-ray done, I went for the blood test. Frankly speaking, I found that part rather embarrassing. Having my blood checked to prove that I was not a syphilis carrier. I had never had such a test. Why should I? I shared my thoughts with the nurse who was drawing my blood. To my surprise, she answered: 'You never know what you can learn about yourself.' It made me speechless. She had a point but, on the other hand, I knew my life story and no way the result of the test could be positive! And it was not of course.

Afterwards, I met the doctor, who appeared to be a nice lady. She interviewed and examined me. Besides, I had to provide some proof on all the vaccinations I had had in my life. Luckily, I had kept (just a keepsake) my childhood years medical documentation, so there was no problem with that thing either.

In the afternoon, I had to come back to the health center. The test results were ready then and I also met the doctor again. She filled out some special forms (in English) and packed everything into a big envelope, which she sealed and stamped as well. I was not to open the envelope in any case. I did not. It was all posted (with other papers) to the American Embassy.

The documents were:
  • no-criminal records certificate,
  • passport photos (2, I think),
  • birth certificate.


Before my visa interview was scheduled, I also had to complete an online visa form.
After a long awaiting time, our papers were officially accepted and the day of the visa appointment/interview was set. I need to mention, that there is neither American Embassy nor Consulate in my home city. That was why I had to go for the interview to the capital of Poland. And again, I booked a hotel room in Warsaw and came to the city a day before the appointment. Next day, early in the morning, I went from my hotel place to the Embassy.

I am not sure how much the K1 visa cost then/how much I paid. Anyway, nowadays it is $265.

The Step 1 processing (and awaiting period) lasted about nine months, since the day when my Texan filed his application. After that time, I received my visa.

After the Marriage


The persons who have been transferred to the USA by their employers/company most often do not need to take care of their immigration matters. Everything is done by the company lawyers and the employer covers the cost of the procedure as well. The immigrant employees, not being aware of all the procedure difficulties, have no idea how lucky they are.


My husband and myself did everything (including the paper work) on our own. Without any support from anybody. Someone would say: 'What a bid deal? How hard can filling out some forms and sending documents be?'

If you think so, it means you know nothing about it. Surely, it is not enough that two honest people love each other and they really want to be together. It is difficult to express/describe the stress connected with dealing with all the procedure. Collecting numerous documents again and again, the necessity of proving (again and again) that we did not get married only to get a green card for me. Although our intentions were true and sincere, at every stage, when the time came to study the official instructions and fill out another form, I felt a kind of cramp in my stomach. No, it was not because of the English language itself. It was the legal vocabulary of the forms and questions included in them which caused confusion. Since neither of us had had any training in the immigration laws, sometimes it was not easy to comprehend what certain expressions/phrases meant. It was all so stressful.  In case if had made a mistake while filling out a form, missed a filing date/deadline, forgotten about some attachments, it could have resulted in rejecting our case. Then I would have had to leave the country of course.  I am so happy we did manage! Despite all odds.


 

Step 2: Adjustment of My Status


A legal alien spouse of a citizen can apply for a conditional green card, which is valid for two years only.

Our paper work included:

Hubby
  • i130 form - petition for alien relative,
  • G325A form  - shortened life story,
  • Affidavit of (my financial) support - another form,
  • passport photo (again), birth certificate (copy) + some more papers.
Filing fee: $420

Me
  • i485 form (6 pages),
  • G325A form,
  • 2 passport photos,
  • my birth certificate translated into English,
  • copy of my passport pages,
  • copy of our marriage certificate,
  • evidence of our life together as a married couple - quite a lot of it - too much to mention here ...
Filing fee: $985 + Biometrics $85

Biometrics accompany all the application stages. Every time, it included an appointment at a special office where I had to fill out a short form. Then a photo of my face was taken and the fingerprinting part was done. As my fingerprints happen to be light, I had to reappear at the office and had all the fingerprinting procedure done again.

My fingerprints had always been light. When I was 20, my sister and me went to a local fortune teller for some palm reading. To my surprise, the lady did not read my palm then - she said I had no lines.

Anyway, at that time I also applied for a work permit (and sent additional passport photos). That was accepted really fast and I was granted the permit soon.


Nonetheless, the processing of other forms lasted much longer - a few months. Finally, we received a letter with the date of our green card interview. Following the formal requirements, we went for the meeting prepared - with a suitcase of papers - to be able to prove that we had been married and lived together. Unfortunately, it was not enough. Apparently my light fingerprint were the matter of concern - we were told to bring the document (to prove I had no criminal records) issued by the main police station in the city where we lived at that time. We got really stressed - well, my records were clean but we had to go back to our city (40 minute drive at good traffic conditions) and find that police station. We had no idea where the place was. Neither did we not know whether we would manage to find it on time and how long we would need to wait for the paper. We were also nervous because we did not know whether we would manage to come back to the Office before the closing time and hand in the document to 'our' Officer.

Luckily, we succeeded. We did find the right police station and the requisite certificate was issued with almost no awaiting time. Fortunately, there was no traffic jam on our way back to the Office either. And we delivered the document on time.

Theoretically, we could have done it on another day, but, very possibly, our case would have been suspended then for who knows how long.

All in all, afterwards, we were totally exhausted but we were also very happy when I received the conditional green card, two weeks later.


 

Step 3: Marriage Registration in Poland

 

The time came to study Polish legal regulations - to find out what we should do and what documents we would be required, to register our marriage in a civil record office in Poland. I learned that, first of all we would need to obtain the Apostille (and what it is) for our marriage certificate. Apostille is an official international confirmation of a document. In the USA such confirmation is done by the Secretary of State. That part was easy: a short form + a certified copy of the marriage certificate + fee posted to the State Office. Before long we received the Appostille in the return mail.

Apostille fee: $15

We also needed a notarized translation (from English into Polish) of our marriage certificate. Polish is not a popular language in Texas, just the opposite. That was a reason why it was hard to find a registered Polish-English translator in the area we lived in. To make the story short, thanks to the data published by the Polish Consulate in Los Angeles, we got in touch with the right person. As a result of it, we received the translation of our documents certified by a notary.

Translation fees:
Notarized translation of my birthday certificate - from Polish into English = $50
Notarized translation of our marriage certificate - from English into Polish = $150

Subsequently, we registered our marriage in Poland with the help of the Polish Consulate. Not long after filing, we acquired (by mail) a Polish marriage certificate. It means that we are recognized as a married couple not only here, in the States, but also in Poland.

Marriage registration fee: $87

At that time (more or less), my Polish passport expired. According to Polish law, you apply for passport personally. It is not possible to do it by mail. Since there is no Polish Embassy or Consulate in Texas, I had to wait till the LA Consulate persons came to our area to deal with passport matters  (they usually do it twice a year). We did not know that it would be possible to have a passport photo done during the Consulate meeting, so we went to a local photo kiosk to have it taken. We asked for a Polish passport photograph. Although we gave the photo size details (its size is different from of an American one), the store clerk looked for the Polish passport photo options on the computer. There were names of other countries (including France) but Poland was not included in the software. To our disappointment, we heard: 'Sorry, we do not do such photos'. We came back home and I checked (on the Internet) that French passport picture size is the same as the one we needed. Off to the store again - we asked for a 'French passport photo'. I had it taken then but the problem was, the kiosk ruler/cutter was set for inches not centimeters. So we had to cut out the pictures ourselves - at home.


A trivial thing - having passport photos taken - which usually lasts a few minutes, took us half a day. Anyway, thanks to the fact that we had those pictures ready, we did not need to wait long in the passport line on the Consulate appointment day.

Polish passport filing fee: $119

Step 4: Conditions Removal


Two years later, within 90 days before my conditional green card expiration day, I applied for the conditions removal.

We collected all the required papers and posted them to the Office. Quite naively, since our marriage is true and honest, we thought there would be no problems and the permanent residence status would be granted to me more or less automatically. Well, we were wrong.

What I sent then:
  • i751 form (11 pages),
  • written affidavit by two persons who had known us, to confirm that we really had been together as a couple,
  • various documents to confirm the same as above - bank statements, bills + some more,
  • certificate of my non-criminal records (just in case if it was needed again).

Filing fee: $505 + Biometrics: $85

Some time later, I received a formal letter. The message was - the papers which I had posted did not convince the Office that we entered our marriage in good faith (= according to that, our intentions were not honest). Apart from that, I was informed that if I would not convince the Office our marriage had been true by (the date was given), our case would be rejected + myself deported.

How I did feel then, it is difficult too express. How can I convince those Officers that I love my husband, he loves me and we have been going through all the paper procedure because we are honest, and we want to be legally and lawfully together?

My husband got so nervous then that he was not able to eat anything till the end of that day.
What could we do? We collected even more documents - bills and such - packed them all into a very large envelope and sent them by mail at the given address. We hoped that would be enough to prove our good intentions.

During the time while my case was pending, my conditional card expired. One day, I needed to do some errands at a local bank. I took the expired card and the Official Letter informing that my stay in the States had been legally expanded and - shortly speaking - that 'I was legal'.

Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain anything in the bank. The Official Letter which I brought was read but it did not do any good. The bank rules required having a valid ID with a picture not a letter. And my card was not valid. Sitting in front of a bank clerk, being quite helpless, I felt like crying then. Despite being a legal immigrant, I was not able to achieve anything. Sadly, the only thing which I could do was to leave the bank. I was unhappy but I did so.

Anyway, to our relief, our papers were accepted. Around nine months after the Step 3 application day, I received the permanent resident card.

Step 5 - Getting Closer to the Big Ceremony Day

 


Three years passed since my first card was issued. It was time to apply for Naturalization. I studied the information on the immigration procedure very carefully, not to omit/miss anything.

The proper form (20 pages) to which I attached two passport photos, copies of my cards issued by the Office, copies of some of my passport pages, documents proving that we were/had been married + some more. I simply did not want any doubts on our marriage (and troubles again).

A very thick envelope was mailed.

Filing fees $595 + Biometrics $85

At that stage, everything went surprisingly quickly. After a month time, I had my biometrics appointment. About four months later, there was my civics test + meeting with an Officer. I answered all the test questions correctly. All was well. We were happy. Two weeks after that, the Big Ceremony day came. It was scheduled very early in the morning so we left our home a few minutes after 6am, to be at the Place on time.

The Ceremony was solemn but nice as well. I could hardly believe that, after all the struggle, we reached the Big Day.
Well, we are really happy and proud of course. We managed! Despite all the stress and turbulence which we had experienced. We are proud of what we achieved. I am proud to be an American.

To sum up, the entire procedure, including the time when I was still in Poland, lasted about 5 years. Almost as long as university studies. I am so very glad it is over  and we can simply enjoy our life now, not thinking about papers and stuff.

In the post I did not include the expenses connected with obtaining passport photos, certified document copies, postal service fees, traveling expenses, the initial medical part and the hotel accommodation price. Generally speaking, summarizing everything (including the fees given above), it all cost us more than $4000. The amount of stress which we experienced and which many times reached its peak, is not measurable in any way. At any rate, it is so very good we can spend our money and energy on other things now.

To make it clear: while being a legal alien spouse, I did not qualify for any benefits such as gov. financial support or food stamps. Actually, neither of us was allowed to apply for those.


Disclaimer: This post is based on our personal experiences. It is not meant to be (and cannot  be treated as) an immigration procedure guide. To learn the details on visas, immigration regulations and current filing fees you need to go to uscis.gov.


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