Filing for a Green Card

Gori Wife Life wrote a post today about her ordeal with her husband’s Green Card application. The poor American/Pakistani family suffered through the process for about four years before her husband’s card came in the mail. Today he was naturalized as a US Citizen (congrats to the GWL family!)

It’s so challenging because some people get through the process quickly with no problems (I’ve heard the “oh, it only took me four months” stories), and some people seem to hit every road block known to man (like GWL).

As an international student advisor I’m used to working with USCIS on a daily basis. In particular I interface with USCIS’s SEVIS system almost every day, and I help students file their OPT and CPT paperwork along with visa and travel advising, etc. I am not an immigration attorney, so I am not versed in every immigration status, but I feel pretty comfortable with the student statuses and paperwork I am generally responsible for. Yet even for someone who considers themselves a “student immigration specialist,” compiling a green card application can seem daunting, heck, let’s me honest, downright scary. Heaven forbid if you make one small mistake on the form, it could hold you up for ages in red tape.

I spent the first two weeks after our wedding organizing P’s Green Card paperwork. I compiled a cover letter listing all the documents needed for the application and it was literally two pages long. I contacted my mother for an “affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides” of our marriage, and her response was, “What? What in the world is that?” I sent her my cover letter detailing all the paperwork and she couldn’t believe it… “This is to become a citizen?” she asked. “No—just a permanent resident!” I responded.

In fact, I think it is hard for us “American by birth” people to realize how complicated the “Getting to America by other means” paths can be. I was talking once to an uncle about what P and I have to do after marriage. He thought that simply marrying an American was enough, that your marriage certificate pretty much guaranteed your new American citizenship. Whaaa? Maybe back in 1850. Or my Grandmother, who used to tell me that she wouldn’t marry my Irish born Grandfather until he became an American citizen. That was back in the early 1950s. A very different,  and  a few layers of red tape earlier, time in the US immigration world.

I was nervous when compiling P’s info because I was afraid I would leave something out. Luckily I occasionally work with an immigration attorney through programming at my university, and over a dinner earlier in the year he offered to quickly check my cover letter and offer suggestions if he saw any gaps in my documentation. I was relieved to have a second set of eyes double checking my work. So I thought it might be helpful to others in a similar situation if I put my laundry list of documents here.

I have to add the caveat that USCIS forms can change, so depending on when you are reading this fees or requirements might have changed. It is always important to carefully read through the instructions for each form before you start filling out paperwork. Also, USCIS is very picky about whether the version of the form you are submitting has expired—so double check that the forms you submit are current (dates are usually in the top or bottom right hand corner– trust me, I had a student’s I-765 returned because the form expired a month before even though not a single line of information on the form had changed). Lastly this Permanent Resident Application is based on an F-1 Student to PR Change of Status, not an H1B –>PR, so your significant other’s situation might also require additional/different paperwork as well if he/she is in a different status than my significant other.

So—what applications did I need to file?

The main three are the I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), the I-130 (Petition for an Alien Relative), and the I-864 (Affidavit of Support–did you know if you sponsor your spouse you are pledging to take care of them financially for ten years, even if you divorce!).

I also included an I-131 (Application for a Travel Document) and an I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) because the forms are free if you include them with your I-485 and $360 and $380, respectively, if you file them separately, plus we would ideally like to travel later in the year.

The I-485 also requires an I-693 (Civil Surgeon Medical Examination and Vaccination Record Report). This must be filled out by an approved civil surgeon and the documentation must be given to you in a sealed and initialed envelope or it will not be accepted by USCIS. You can search for a civil surgeon near you HERE.

The I-130 and the I-864 are essentially the American spouse’s paperwork, while the I-485 is the foreign born spouse’s paperwork.

The Cover letter:
(I like sending cover letters with immigration documents to keep everything organized:)

July 25, 2011
RE: P’s I-485 Application for Permanent Residence
To Whom It May Concern:

Within this packet are all the documents for P (A # ___-___-___)’s I-485 Application for Permanent Residence based on C’s I-130 Petition for Alien Relative through marriage.

Included here in:

I-130

  • 1 passport sized photo for C
  • 1 passport sized photo for P
  • $420 Filing Fee
  • Form G-325A (Biographic information) for C
  • Form G-325A for P
  • Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance)
  • Copy of C’s US birth certificate
  • Copy of C’s US passport [optional]
  • Copy of C and P’s US marriage certificate
  • Copy of our joint lease agreement [optional- although they like proof that you live together or have shared financials]
  • An affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides of C and P’s marriage from C’s mother Mrs ________[optional]
  • An affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides of C and P’s marriage from P’s father Mr. ________[optional]
  • Picture samples from C and P’s July 10, 2011 wedding[optional]

I-485

  • 2 passport sized photos of P
  • Biometrics fee $85
  • Filing fee $985
  • Sealed I-693 Medical Examination Form
  • P’s Form G-325A
  • Form G-1145
  • Copy of P’s Nepali birth certificate and a certified translation
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of C and P’s marriage certificate
  • Copy of P’s I-94 card
  • Copy of P’s most recent Form I-20 [not asked for, but recommended by the immigration attorney]
  • Copy of P’s unofficial phd transcript [not asked for, but recommended by the immigration attorney]
  • Form I-864 Affidavit of Support (see below)

I-864

  • Recent promotion letter with updated salary information from C’s employer [optional]
  • Six months of C’s work pay stubs
  • Copy of C’s Federal Tax Form 1040 and W-2 (2010)[REQUIRED]
  • Copy of C’s 1040 (2009)[optional, but the immigration attorney said that if you don’t submit the previous three years tax forms initially, but just the required first year, they generally ask for the two previous years anyway, so better to just send from the beginning to have less delay in the processing time]
  • Copy of C’s 1040 (2008)[optional—see above]
  • Copy of C’s most recent bank statement [optional]

I-131

  • No fee—filing with I-485
  • Form G-1145
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of P’s most recent I-20
  • Letter from P explaining the nature of his travel [phd research data collection]
  • 2 passport sized photos of P

I-765

  • No fee—filing with I-485
  • Copy of P’s I-94
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of P’s previously issued EAD
  • 2 passport sized photos of P

If you require any additional information please contact P at (___-___-___) or____@____.edu or C at (___-___-___) or ______@_____.com.

Sincerely,

C & P

—–

So the forms have been officially sent. Wish us luck in the process!

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8 responses to “Filing for a Green Card

  1. Once again, I do a happy dance for my lack of immigration paperwork…

  2. I respect anyone who has the courage to do it alone!! Once Jayesh and I were married we had the discussion of going at it ourselves or hiring an attorney. I was just so nervous that I would miss one ‘tiny’ requirement and that would send us off track. We opted for the ‘hiring an attorney’ route. I wouldn’t say it was much better than if we were to do it ourselves, because we were the ones always having to be proactive.

    They sent us the paperwork to fill out and what else we needed to send it… and we sent that in. A couple weeks went by and we didn’t hear anything, so we called to check, they realized they forgot to tell us to send a couple more things in… so we sent it in. Then we didn’t hear anything for another couple of weeks, so we called to check again, and they missed a couple of things for us to send in… so we sent that in as well.

    Keep in mind… my husband is a professor and we used the same attorney that the University uses for their international employees. You would think you were hiring the right person, eh? Think again! That lady cut it so close to when his OPT would be expiring that we thought he might have to stop working for a week or two until his paperwork came in… luckily everything worked right at the LAST second! But only because of us staying on top of it, doing our own research, and being proactive with our lawyer.

    Good luck with everything… you seem like a ‘get it done/stay on top of it’ kind of gal…. so I am sure you will make it happen!! :)

  3. wow i had no idea it was such a process and soo costly. My nepali bf was born in the U.S. while his father was here studying his masters so thankfully I don’t have to think about this. But his parents also expect him to support them and eventually bring them to the U.S. which seems like it would be the same process.
    All the best to you and P!

    • NavajoKeti– Very lucky! :)

      I want to tell the story sometime about an Indian friend of ours whose parents had an “American baby” and an “Indian baby” (in terms of citizenship/paperwork) and the troubles (for her) associated with that. Maybe that’s an activity for later today…

  4. wow. what a loooong process. I knew it must have been something like this because it took my family a few years to get a green card (but that wasn’t through marraige though!). But then we moved to Canada soon after and the Green card became invalid. We’re all Canadian citizens now.
    My fiance already has a Permanent Resident Satus in Canada and I’m on a working Visa in India at the moment. However, I will have to apply for a PIO card which is something like an Indian Green Card–hoping everything goes smoothly there!

  5. sigh. the most hated aspect of my life- immigration
    All the best to P :)

    • I was always under the impression that Australian and Canadian pathways to permanent residency were a lot easier than the US. After hearing some of your stories it doesn’t seem to be the case, at least with Australia. I’d be curious to know more about your process.

  6. My goodness that’s epic.
    I second Casey that immigration is awful. L had it all sorted before we started going out but he went through hell beforehand…errrr
    Good luck to P!

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