This page chronicles
our journy down the rocky US immigration road
|When Briana and I decided to
marry, we looked into which country we would live in. This proved
difficult, as both Australia and the US have very difficult immigration
restrictions. After many discussions, we decided that it would be
easier for me to move to the US than for her to move to AU, especially
since I'd basically walked out with just the clothes on my back from my
old marriage, and thus my possesions could be packed into just four
boxes. Hereafter follows our tale of tribulation. I've written this as
a guide to new people entering this difficult path, so any old hands,
bear with me as I cover some of the basics here... If you are only
after our timeline, go to the bottom of the page.
After asking around, we came upon the wonderfull mine of usefull information at the newsgroup alt.visa.us.marriage-based. The nice people there helped us work out our future path.
For marriage based visas, there are two officially sanctioned methods of getting into the US legally. The first is to file a request for a fiance visa BEFORE getting married, jumping through the official hoops, and entering the country on your new fiance (K1) visa, and then marrying and settling down for that happily ever after. The other method is to marry overseas, and then apply for a married dependant visa. The problem with both these officially sanctioned methods is the process takes from 2 to 4 years from application to completion. During which your loved one is not allowed into the US at all. So you must either live overseas with them, or be apart for that long.
We decided on the K1 route, and to marry hopefiully the summer after our projected paperwork would be processed... August 2002 or so. So we sent off for the paperwork and resigned ourselves to a long, long long distance relationship I had already met her folks, when I escorted her home from her visit to Australia in July 2001, and our plans were underway.
Then September 11th, 2001 came along. Briana's apartment complex overlooks the Pentagon. She could see the big column of smoke rising just 3 miles away. We moved my Christmas visit up to October, so I could be with her and give her what company and comfort I could. I arrived in the US in October 2001. We spent a couple of weeks holding each other and watching the news. Suddenly, the thought of being parted again was too painful to bear.
So we researched, asked around, and the folks at alt.visa.us.marriage-based (bless 'em) told us there is a third, not officially sanctioned way of doing things. It is possible to marry in the US, and then process the paperwork while living together. As long as your partner enters the US legally, as a tourist, student, whatever, you can get married on the spur of the moment and then apply for what is referred to as an Adjustment of Status (AOS). This method takes just as long, and it will NOT get you around problems with aproval (criminal record, etc) but at least you can live togther in the meantime.
Our advisors told us this method has one extra hazard... if INS suspect you planned your marriage in advance, your spouse can be deported and it would take a special miricle to get them back into the country. The marriage MUST be spontaneous.
Well hell, what could be more spontaneous than THIS situation! So... deep breath, take the plunge.. We were married in a civil ceremony in the county courthouse on November 8th, 2001. The wedding was a real disapointment.. a lawyer had us in and out of his office so fast our friends didn't even have a chance to unpack a camera! But we were married!
So then I had to go through the nightmare of closing my flat in Australia by remote control, using my kids to do the legwork, and to get my cats out of the boarding house and onto a plane, again by phone..closing utilities etc.. it was hard but at least we were together. Now to face the INS music.
We were very very lucky to live where we did, as Northern Virginia is attached to the Washington DC INS office (actually located in Arlington, VA). This is one of the few offices that still allow walk in applications. I'm not sure how things would have gone has we been forced to deal with Vermont Service Center via mail, as you will see in our saga below.
We applied for AoS just after New Year in 2002, where we filed a HUGE packet of forms and fees.. over $500us worth of fees. To our surprise we recieved a packet back inside of four weeks with our interview date.. November that year! Since we'd been told it would take a couple of years, we were stunned and extatic. We also recieved notice for me to show up in person at the Arlington office for my Employment Authotisation Document (EAD) on the 19th. This was good news as funds were running low and I needed to find work. EAD in hand, I could also then get a Social Security Number... stamped with "only valid with Work Authorization" on it. but at least I could work.
We did not bother with the document that allows you to leave the country while "in process" (advanced parole), as that was another $120us and I had no plans to leave the country.
I had my fingerprints taken in July 2002, along with a medical I found later I should have left till much closer to the interview.. they are only are good for 12 months.
One of the requirements for your AoS is a criminal background check from your country of orign. If it is not perfectly clean, INS require court transcripts and dispositions for the convictions on record. Since I had some stuff on my record from 15 years before, I was trying to get these records from the Australian courts in question via phone.. very difficult to do by remote. The interview was approaching and I had not gathered the paperwork as yet. So I wrote to INS, certified mail, too, requesting a rescheduling of the AoS interview to give me time to gather this paperwork. So I did not show up for my November 6th, 2002 interview. BIG MISTAKE, as I found later.
In Febuary 2003, when my EAD was expiring, I went to Arlington to renew it and I discovered that my case had been closed due to my non-appearance for the AoS interview. This was rather a big shock!. A note to anyone new going through this process..SHOW UP for your AoS interview, even if you have to be wheeled in on a stretcher! I was told later that the paperwork I was waiting for was not an issue, I could have sent it in afterwards, but the interview is a MUST DO step. If you miss your interview, they close the case automatically and DO NOT notify you of this.
Now, I'm sitting in a waiting room at the INS office, no EAD because my case is closed, NO CASE, and to top it all off, this other young man is called into the inner office.. to be led out 10 minutes later in handcufs! Man, I was in a panic. However, thanks to the intervention of a rather nice official, (THANKS, Mr S!) the case was reopened, my EAD was issued, and a new interview date set up
Only.. no papers ever showed up with the new date. I wait until March and go back to INS. No joy, no helpful people anywhere to be found. You can't phone these people either, INS refuse to allow clients to call except though their less-than-great call center. I was forced to leave a note with the info desk, requesting info on when my new date would arrive.
By April 2003, I was getting very worried again.. My fairy-god-bureaucrat had warned me I was on my "last chance". I'd learned from a friendly lawyer in that waiting room that this INS office only does marriage related AoS interviews twice a year... May and November. If I didn't have my interview this year I'd not get another EAD next year. Then my employer needed me in Canada for a rush job, and offered to pay for my advanced parole document if I went down and applied that day. I asked at the same time about my Interview date.. No record of any such thing. Fortunately I was able to locate my fairy-god-bureaucrat again, and he arranged a new interview date on the spot. Two weeks later another packet arrived, with a date for interview in November 2003.
November came along, and we were nervous as all get-gone for the week before.. Still, we were NOT going to miss this interview. Well, after all the horror stories I'd read about other people's AoS interviews, ours was a breeze! Scheduled for 12:30, we got there about 11:00, expecting to have to wait in line for hours. We were sent right up to the third floor interview room complex, and had to wait only about 30 minutes before our names were called. A very nice, warm hearted young lady interviewed us, explaining that we were called in early because her first FIVE apointments that day were no-shows. She went through our paperwork, looked at the pictures, wanted one of the pix for her file, and that was that! She said we were very obviously married, and that she'd give us her decision about 4 weeks after she recieved the extra paperwork she wanted us to get together. The interview was very relaxed, lots of smiles, and pretty informal. It must have looked funny, us digging through all these piles of paperwork for this bit or that bit she requested.
She also mentioned that we were lucky on another front. As yet another check on "marriages of convenience", INS issue restricted, temporary green cards to people who have been married less than two years. Our interview fell 2 DAYS before our second aniversary, but since I needed to provide extra paperwork I would be approved, if ever, after two years and so would go directly onto a full blown green card and would not need to apply (and pay huge fees for) the lifting of the restrictions.
The interviewer had requested some extra things:
Well, new years eve, 2003... we opened the mail to find a slim letter from INS. My heart sank.. surely an approval would have more in it than a single pice of paper... Only to find those lovely, lovely words:
"Your application for permanant legal residence satus has been APPROVED" Your green card will be mailed some time in the next 12 months. YAY! YAY! YAY! No more worrying that I'd be deported!
So thanks for reading, and I hope you got some usefull information out of our saga. We were very lucky, INS Washington DC seem to be much faster than the large mail-only service centers, and actually contain some real, flesh-and-blood people instead of people with rule books where their hearts used to be. I'll be updating the site when/if more events occur.
The guy with the official, Us-Govt issued Green alien tentacles!
Mark & Briana Lambert's INS timeline:
|Arrived In Country
(visa waiver program from Australia)
||October 28th, 2001
||November 8th, 2001
|Applied for AoS
|Notice of Interview recieved
|Employment Authorisation recieved
||Febuary 19th, 2002
|AoS Interview (missed)
||November 6th, 2002
|Renew EAD and found case closed
||Feb 19th, 2003
|Return visit to find what
happened to promised AoS interview reschedule
|Second visit to find what
happened to promised AoS interview
|Applied for/recieved advanced parole||April 2003|
|Second Notice of AoS interview
||November 6th 2003
|Sent in extra paperwork INS
||December 5th, 2003
||December 29th, 2003
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