Tag Archives: Green Card

USCIS Round Eight… Green Card Interview

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven

Before I left my office I asked my boss, “Any last minute advice?”

“Don’t get mad at the interview. Try to separate everything that has happened and the interview itself.”

Probably wise advice.

As we were driving to the interview P echoed my boss’s sentiments, “Try not to say too much.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you like to say too much sometimes, give too much background, and tell the whole story. Let’s just keep it simple. This person doesn’t need to know the whole saga. We don’t need to complicate things.”

I guess that was true too.

We got to the Lawrence office, walked through the metal detector, and up to the counter where a man with small glasses and a plaid shirt was sitting at reception (I thought back to my comment to Extension 7654 Man about the woman with gray hair, and wondered if she was the regular person or a substitute. Maybe he thought I was telling a story?) I told the reception guy, “We had an appointment for 9am, but it was rescheduled for 1pm today, here is our original notice.”

He looked at the schedule and said, “Yep, rescheduled, please have a seat around the corner in the waiting room and the agent that will help you will call your name.” He started walking away with the interview notice in his hand and I called out, “Do we need that? Will we get it back? Should we have a photocopy?”

“No, it goes in your file and the agent uses it. You no longer need it.”

“Okay.” I said, and wondered if I was asking too many questions, or if I looked anxious or suspicious. I didn’t want anything to screw up our chances.

P and I sat in the waiting area. There were several others already there, including a college-aged-looking Asian man dressed in a black suit.

“Some people are really dressed up, huh?” P said, looking down at the informal collared shirt and gray sweater he threw on in the morning. I was wearing pants and a shorter kurta top with pote and sweater, something I threw on thinking I was just going to the office for the day.

We waited about half an hour. Every time an “agent” came to the door I held my breath to see if they would call “P P?”

Finally a large white woman with short brown hair called P, and we both got up and walked over to the door.

“Do you want both of us, or just one of us?” I asked.

“I’ll just bring you back first.” She said to me, “Then I’ll call P later. Please bring all your documents.”

I started worrying again. I was thinking too much about everything. I thought, Maybe they need to bring me back first because they found a problem with my record? I had to submit three years’ worth of tax paperwork as part of the application, maybe they found an exemption I did wrong a few years ago, or a misfiled piece of paperwork?

I walked back to the woman’s office and she had me raise my right hand and swear an oath that everything I was going to say was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. “Yes,” I responded, “Um, so help me god? Or, um, just yes?”

Breath C, chill out.

The woman smiled and opened the file. She asked to see my driver’s license, and asked me my name and address, verified my social security number and mine and P’s place of work, checking each answer off on my application with a red pen.

“I see you got married here and abroad?” she asked. I had included pictures of both our July 9th Nepali wedding and our July 10th American wedding as proof of our real marriage (instead of a fake marriage for immigration documents) in our Green Card application, but was careful to label everything on the 9th as a “cultural wedding” and everything on the 10th as a “legal wedding.”

“No—we got married only in the US, we did both Nepali and American ceremonies but both in Massachusetts. July 10th was our legal wedding where we signed our paperwork.”

The woman used her red pen to check something else off the application, “Ah yes, I see. So, how did you meet?”

We went to undergraduate together, and have known each other a long time.”

“And where was that?” she asked. I answered and she checked more things off the application with her pen.

“Did he propose marriage to you, or did you just get married one day?” This question made me nervous. As an international student advisor I know that F-1 student visas are non-immigrant intent, so I know if (technically) your intention to immigrate changes—such as proposing marriage to an American citizen— then you can’t really leave the country and come back in the same F-1 status. But our engagement was so long, P had traveled a few times. I took an oath, so I knew I couldn’t lie, but I was also worried this question would get us in trouble, and I knew if I said something different then the truth, if they asked P the same question and he answered it differently, then we would be in trouble anyway.

“He informally proposed in 2008 while on a cross-country road trip. We were in Arches National Park, Utah. But we were together for a long time after that without any concrete marriage plans until just recently.” Even though the “informal” part was stretching the truth a little, I hoped that this answered the question well enough. I felt my stomach doing flip flops.

Her: “Do you have any additional documents or proof of marriage you want to show me today?”

Me: “Everything I have in my own file is a photocopy of all the documentation in your file. We have a CD of wedding photos if you want to see it, and extra notarized copies of our marriage certificate, but otherwise you have everything. Do you need to see anything else?”

Her: “Do you have any extra passport photos of yourself for the immigration file?”

I didn’t even think of extra passport photos, but luckily when I got my picture taken for the original application I printed a few extras so I would have one for my Nepali visa, and additional pictures on hand just in case. I pulled out two photos and handed them over. Then I remembered why they needed photos of me… they used the only one I had attached to the application to put on P’s Advanced Parole. She didn’t say anything about that, and I didn’t either. I remembered P’s advice and bit my tongue.

“Thank you C, please wait here while I go get P.”

I sat for a few minutes while she went to the waiting room and returned with P. My stomach was still doing backflips as P sat down.

“Can you please tell me your name and address and verify your social security number?” She asked P, check marking things off our application with her red pen.

“Can you tell me your wife’s birthday?” Red check. Good boy.

“Where did you live before your current address? When did you move to your current address? Where did you live in 2006?” Red check, red check, red check.

“Are you working? Where are you working?” Two more red checks.

She asked P the long list of crazy questions that he already answered in his I-485 PR application, looking him in the eye as he answered, and checking them off as she went. The questions included things like:

Do you intend to engage in espionage in the United States?

Do you intend to engage in any activity that would attempt the control or overthrow of the US Government?

Have you ever ordered, incited, called for, committed, assisted, helped with, or otherwise participated in a) acts of torture or genocide, b) killing any person, c) engaging in any kind of sexual contact or relations with any person who was being forced or threatened? d) limited or denied any person’s ability to exercise religious beliefs?

Have you ever been a member of a vigilante unit, rebel group, guerrilla group or militia?

The list goes on, but it’s almost comical to hear these things asked of P, whose nature is so gentle. I also thought about people who might make an application to the US that do fall in these categories, like former child soldiers… do they say yes? What’s the follow up question?

Once the lady was satisfied with all her red check marks she smiled, shut the file and said, “I am recommending that your Permanent Residency application is approved. It will be approved from today, although you will not receive the card for up to 4 weeks in the mail. Two years from today you will have to file a renewal since an initial family based permanent residency application is conditional, then you can reapply for a ten year card. Three years from today, if you so wish, Mr. P, you will be eligible to apply for US citizenship.”

And just like that, everything was over. The application was approved.

She collected P’s I-94 card, his EAD work authorization that we received while in Nepal, and the stamped Advanced Parole document that created so much drama in the past month. She put all these things in his file, smiled again and stood up. “You are all set.” And lead us out of her office into the waiting area.

I felt so jovial in the car… such a huge release. I guess kind of like when a woman is giving birth— while in labor she feels so much pain, and thinks “this is crazy, never again, how can I do this?” but then once the baby is born, all the pain of the labor is nearly forgotten—if the mothers out there reading can forgive my comparison—I almost felt similar, like, I’m so happy we have the card, I don’t even care about all the other frustrations leading up to it now that we have it!

[Although, as my boss recommended, I plan to write a letter to the USCIS ombudsmen about this experience.]

We drove home; planning a celebratory dinner at a new restaurant in town (we still don’t have electricity from the storm anyway).

When I got back to the office my boss said, “So? Did you get it?”

“Yes! I feel so relieved!”

“And they stamped his passport with the temporary authorization until his card comes in the mail?”

My eyes grew wide, “I don’t think they did anything to his passport except take out the I-94 card.” I ran out to the car and pulled out P’s passport and flipped through every page. No new stamps. I showed the passport to my boss.

“Maybe they don’t do that anymore.” He tried to comfort me, “But if you think about it logically, they collected all his documents, right? His I-94 [which proved his legal entry into the US], his Advanced Parole [which also proved his legal entry and immigration status in the US], and his work permit. So right now on paper P has no legal status. He can’t prove to anyone he has Permanent Residency other than you saying, ‘USICS told us he does!’ until the card comes in the mail in up to 4 weeks, and with your luck, it will definitely be 4 weeks.”

The immigration lawyer we know at work was out on Monday, but we called him on Tuesday to double check. Apparently USCIS stopped stamping temporary Permanent Residency into passports a few years back because there was too much fraud, and that USCIS actually does leave you without any documented proof of your status until your Green Card comes in the mail. If P got a new job tomorrow, he couldn’t prove to the company that he is eligible to work, even though he is. My boss advised me not to have P tell his university that he has a Green Card until it comes in the mail, because they could potentially make him stop working and stop paying his research stipend until it comes.

My sister had other advice, “Just don’t go to Arizona.”

So—P is now a Permanent Resident in the United States, although we have to wait a little longer for documented proof.

I’ll let you know when it arrives.

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USCIS Round Seven… “But I saw it with my own eyes!”

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven, Round Eight

Yesterday morning P and I woke up, got ready, and at 7:35 (I gave the USCIS office staff 5 minutes to get inside, take off their coats, get a cup of coffee and boot up their computers) I called the Lawrence USCIS Field Office.

When I called on Friday afternoon I heard a recording that stated their business hours were 7:30am-3:30pm Monday through Friday, so I figured that was why I got the recording (It was 3:31pm on Friday). However I got the same recording at 7:35 Monday morning. I slowed down and listened to the whole message and realized that it gave me 4 options: 1) if I had someone’s direct extension we could dial it and potentially reach a real human being, 2) if we had to schedule an appointment we could call the 1-800-misinformation number, 3) if we had information about something suspicious I could call a different number, or 4) if we don’t fit into any of these categories, tough luck.

After listening two or three times I realized that “Terry” from Friday afternoon did not give P a direct extension, so even though we had a phone number to this impenetrable office we were still stuck.

I wasn’t sure what to do, so in a stroke of crazed frustration/genius I said to P, “Let’s start dialing random extensions to see if we can get a real person.”

I first tried “0” for a potential operator (that works for some numbers) then I tried “1,” “11,” and “111” to see if that might get us into a phone tree, or perhaps give me an idea of the number of digits in an extension. After a few four digit combos I finally pressed “7654” and Hallelujah, the phone rang!

A man picked up the phone and said, “USCIS, how can I help you?”

What I probably should have done was ask for “Terry” from Friday, but instead I briefly launched into my story about how we had a Green Card interview scheduled for Oct 31st at 9am and we got a call at the very end of the day Friday October 28th saying that my husband’s immigration file had been “misplaced” and that our interview “might” have to be rescheduled.

“I’m not sure where this leaves us or what to do next!” I said, “We didn’t have an extension and got your number through random chance, but I was hoping you could help give us some insight.”

The man said he would check the system and put me on hold for five minutes. Then he came back on and said, “Our computers show that your husband’s immigration file was never at our office. The appointment will have to be rescheduled once we receive his file.”

Whoa, wait a minute, never in their office? I knew with 100% certainty that this was not true.

“But sir, I was at the Lawrence Office on October 11th with a different issue and I spoke to someone with my husband’s file. He had P’s file right in front of me, and we looked through it at the front desk together. I know it was there. I saw it with my own eyes.” (I kept repeating this last phrase, hoping it would make the man on the phone realize that his computer was wrong, but it probably just made me sound crazy.)

“I’m sorry ma’am, but our computers have no record of his file ever being here, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“But I know that’s wrong! I saw it with my own eyes!

He sighed and said, “I don’t know what to tell you, the computer says…”

“Okay… I understand that perhaps the file might not be there now, but it was there on October 11th. I just want to know maybe what happened to it. If it was sent back to the USCIS National Benefits Center, or if it has been misplaced within your office, or something.” I could tell I was starting to lose the guy on the phone, so I tried to think of every detail… “When I walked into the Lawrence office on October 11th, I went through the metal detector, and spoke to the woman with gray hair at the front desk and showed her the UPS tracking number sent to me by USCIS for what I thought was an envelope with an immigration document delivered erroneously to your office for my husband. The packaged was signed for by someone named O’Gorman. The front desk woman went and got that guy from the back, and he said the tracking number USCIS gave me was actually for a 15 pound box full of immigration files and he got a man who he described as the ‘Number 2 man in the office’ to come out and answer my questions. The ‘Number 2 man’ had my husband’s file with him and we looked at it together. If you find Mr. O’Gorman, or the ‘Number 2 man in the office’ I’m sure they will remember this incident since I think it’s relatively unusual. Do you know who the ‘Number 2 man in the office’ is?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “Can you describe him?”

“He was pretty non-descript. Medium height, brown hair, I don’t think he had a mustache, maybe glasses. I remember he had a small dark mark like an ‘x’ near his right thumb, like a tattoo or something, but maybe it was marker, I don’t know. That’s all I noticed about him was the mark on his right hand.”

“I don’t know anyone with a small tattoo on his hand.” He said.

“I don’t know his name!” I cursed myself for not asking him when I was there, or making note of more details, I pride myself on remember details. The more I tried to see his face, the more it looked blurry in my memory. “But find O’Gorman. I know his name, it was on the UPS tracking slip. He should be able to tell you.”

The guy told me to hold for a bit, and then he put me on hold—with cheesy elevator music in the background—for an hour.

Meanwhile P and I were getting ready. I was already late for work, and we debated between staying in the house and finishing the conversation (P’s vote—“What if they find it and we have to leave immediately for the interview?”) and heading out the door for work while still cradling my cell phone between my ear and my shoulder because the phone call wasn’t getting us anywhere and there was no point missing work if nothing would happen (my vote). As we started heading out the door I asked P to try and call Extension 7654 again  on his phone to see if someone would pick up the same line so we could figure out what was happening, but no one did.

When you are on hold for so long its tough, because you don’t know what is happening on the other end. I was simultaneously imagining a trio of high level staffers standing over the “on hold” phone having a serious conversation about the gravity of losing a file and brainstorming a solution, and  a bunch of staffers chatting “The Office” style around a water cooler with coffee mugs talking about the big snow storm over the weekend and giggling about Halloween costumes.

P and I got in the car and I dropped him at a coffee shop near his work while I borrowed his cell phone to try different extensions when he was inside buying tea (for him) and hot chocolate (for me). I started dialing numbers up and down from the extension that worked. No one was picking up the phone, although they were all ringing. Finally someone did pick up, a guy with an accent.

“Hello USCIS.”

“Hello, I’m sorry to bother you, I called an hour ago to extension 7654 with a question about our immigration interview that was set for today, but I have been on hold for an hour. Is there some way to know what is happening? Should I hang up? Could you check with that extension?”

The guy barked back at me, “We don’t answer immigration questions over the phone. You have to come to our office to find out information.”

“I understand.” I said, “But I have been on hold with your office for an hour. Someone was going to answer the question but disappeared…”

I said you have to come to our office. We do not answer questions over the phone!

“I understand but…”

Click.

He hung up on me! I wanted to cry again. I just wanted to know why I was on hold. Stupid bastards.

I hung up both P’s phone and my phone that had been listening to the same elevator music for an hour and cracked the crook in my neck.

P came back with my hot chocolate and I told him what happened. I said I’d keep calling the extension I had back every hour if I had to in order to figure out what was going on. P, always less emotional and considerably calmer than me, told me that we would sort it out, and not to worry. I dropped him and Sampson off at work and drove off toward my office.

We had a freak snow storm over the weekend that left 12 inches of snow, and knocked down a bunch of trees and tree branches. A fair chunk of the city was without power (ourselves included). As I drove across the city, it looked like a war zone. I dodged tree branches while dialing back the number and extension of the guy who had me on hold for an hour and left a message for him to call me back as soon he heard something (please, please!)

When I got in to the office my boss was curious to hear more about what had happened (being that we both work with USCIS as international student advisors). I explained and he chuckled saying, “It’s not funny, but you know, when you went to their office on October 11th I bet they pulled that box out of their normal processing queue and that’s why P’s file isn’t logged in to the computers, then when they put P’s file back, the box got wedged in a corner somewhere. I bet they have a bunch of files missing right now, because you messed up P’s file and all the others in the box too!”

“So do you think it is probably at the office?” I asked.

“I bet it is, they just don’t know where, and maybe they don’t realize they have it.”

Half an hour later P called saying he finally got back in touch with “Terry” from Friday and she said that they were trying to “track the package” and that it should be back in the office “in a few days.” P explained to her that he was having knee surgery on November 8th and the surgery was scheduled, in part, around the interview, and that if it was delayed too long it would be tough for him to come in with a cast, crutches, etc. He also explained that we called in the morning and were placed on hold for an hour.

“I’m terribly sorry that happened to you.” She said, “I don’t know why someone would put you on hold for an hour. And certainly, we can try to get you in before your surgery; you shouldn’t have to add that to your worries.”

I was getting ready to call back Mr. Extension 7654 when P called me back again, he said that “Terry” was able to (miraculously!) locate his file.

“You mean it was there the whole time?” I asked.

“I guess so.” He said, “They want us to come in today at 1pm for our interview.”

“Book it!” I said, and yelled out to my boss, “They found his file! I’m sorry I have to leave you, but we got to finish this!”

“I told you so!” my boss called back from the other room, “By all means go, let’s close the book on this issue.”

It was about 10:30 in the morning. I had to get home, get all the photocopies of our documents and application papers together, our passports, marriage certificate, wedding photos, anything that they could possibly ask for. I picked up P and off we drove for an hour to the Lawrence office…

And had we not been persistent pains-in-the-butt, our application might still be missing!

USCIS Round Six… Green Card File Apparently “Misplaced”

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven, Round Eight

For those of you following the “Great Green Card Saga of 2011,” USCIS surprised us with a new frustration right at the end of the day today.

As I noted before, P’s advanced parole was finally correctly delivered and I DHLed it to Nepal in time for him to catch his 10/19 evening flight out of KTM. I actually expected a big hassle at the airport when he went through the customs and immigration line on 10/20, but he breezed through with no issues. I thought that was a positive sign that our luck was changing. Why is it whenever I start to think things are going okay, I get whapped again by my bad-luck-juju?

P’s Green Card interview was set for October 31st at 9am at the same USCIS Field Office in Lawrence, Massachusetts that I drove to in Round Four. As a refresher, that was the time I went in search of a tracking number (that was wrong) which supposedly went to an envelope that held P’s advanced parole, but instead was the tracking number for a fifteen pound box that included P’s immigration file for his Green Card interview. I actually saw the file with my own eyes. The person from the office leafed through the file in front of me looking for P’s advanced parole. I could have reached out and touched it. I guess I should have grabbed it and run.

So anyway… we thought we were good to go. We are having a Bhai Tikka dinner tonight at our house, we planned to stay cozy inside for the weekend (our area is due for a snow storm on Saturday night!) and I had already taken half a day off of work on Monday morning so that P and I could drive the hour to Lawrence, do the interview, and hopefully be through this next set of hurdles.

But instead, a woman named Terry from the Lawrence office called P at 3:25pm on Friday afternoon to say, “We might have to reschedule your interview, we seem to have misplaced your permanent resident application file.”

Again, I’m utterly shocked. If I was as careless with my student records at my work, the Department of Homeland Security could take away the ability of my university to host international students.

“But my wife was there two weeks ago and she saw my file with her own eyes! Are you sure it’s missing?” P asked.

“We are unable to locate it at this time. We might have to cancel.”

He asked if I could call her back right away to explain how I had been there and seen the file, to see if it could help clear up the situation. She said that their office was closing in a few minutes, but said she would pick up the phone if we called right back, and she gave him the number.

He called me, explained the situation, and was on the phone for a grand total of 1 minute, I looked up the date I was at the office (October 11th) and P’s Alien # and called right back. The clock read 3:30pm exactly.

I got the office’s automated voicemail saying that it was closed for the day.

What the eff again!

So now we have to wait all weekend, call the office at 7:30 in the morning on Monday, and try to figure out what is going on/beg them to do the interview. I can’t believe they messed up again. And the extra stinky part is—P is having knee surgery on November 8th, so if they delay too much longer we will be trekking to Lawrence with crutches and a cast after the surgery.

As you can probably tell, I’m a bit upset with USCIS again. Happy Friday.

USCIS Immigration Paperwork Frustrations, Round Two

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven, Round Eight

I think the universe decided to play a cruel joke on us since I had the gall to say in my last USCIS related post, “USCIS can make you want to tear your hair out, but sometimes things actually work out” Ha, ha, ha.

So P and I departed the US for Nepal last Friday with the understanding that P’s I-131 Advanced Parole travel documents had been approved by USCIS, that his authorization card had been printed, and was making its way to us through the mail. This allows P to travel outside the US while he has an application for Permanent Residence (Green Card) pending without worry that his application will be affected/abandoned due to his departure from the country.

On Sunday our friend D, who was charged with checking our mail for P’s USCIS documents while we were gone and Fedex-ing them to Nepal, sent me an email that said, “So I checked the mail…you received his Employment Authorization Card. I checked it to make sure that the name and DOB are correct. But I also found that it says ‘NOT VALID FOR REENTRY TO US’. Was it supposed to be like that? Please confirm.”

What the hell…

I figured he must be reading it wrong, there had to be Advanced Parole information on that freaking card after harassing our local congressman for nearly a month to get the paperwork properly processed. I asked our friend to send us a scan of the card, and it included those unfortunate words, “Not valid for re-entry to the US.”

So I quickly fired off an email to the congressional liaison who I had contacted before to expedite P’s Advanced Parole, as well as the immigration lawyer that I originally asked advice from, indicating I would call on Monday morning their time.

At 10am US time I called the congressional liaison, and of course she didn’t pick up the phone, so I left a message. I called the immigration lawyer’s office next, and was told he didn’t work on Mondays.

Next, out of desperation, I called the Customer Service Number on the USCIS website.

I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic to do this. My boss jokingly refers to that number as “1-800-miss-information” since the people who answer the phone have very limited details about any particular case. Generally the person who answers will ask for your case number and pretty much type the case number into the “check my status” section of the USCIS website (the same website that you just accessed to look up the USCIS Customer Service Number), and read the screen off to you. I can do that from Nepal myself for far cheaper than the 2 Nepali Rupees a minute it was going to cost me to call their 1-800 number.

When the computerized system answered the phone I tried to “Press 1 for English” but the system wasn’t recognizing the prompt from P’s dad’s cell phone. So I had to sit through the menu three times before finally being connected to the default Spanish language line. Once the agent picked up my held call he started introducing himself in Spanish. I had to stop him and explain, “I am calling from Nepal, the system is not registering the numbers I am pressing, I need to speak to someone about a problem with my husband’s Advance Parole document.”

He asked me for P’s case number, and like I expected, he probably typed this into USCIS.gov website and read to me what was on the screen, the same screen I too was looking at. I stopped him right there, explaining:

There is more to this issue than what the USCIS website is saying—

On September 14th I received an email from the [USCIS] Missouri Service Center, forwarded from our congressional representative, that stated that both my husband’s I-131 Advanced Parole and I-765 work authorization applications had been approved and that their authorizations were being printing and sent to us shortly.

It indicated in the email that a single card [known as a “combo card’] would be sent that had both the traditional I-765 (work authorization) information as well as a notification at the bottom of the card that says, ‘Serves as I-512 Advanced Parole.’

However after this email was sent, when we checked the USCIS website it only said the I-765 has been approved, and that the I-131 application was still pending. At the time we didn’t think much of this since we knew the Combo Cards came on an amended I-765 and figured this was the reason for the conflicting information on the USCIS website.

But we received an authorization card in the mail on Saturday, and it is only a traditional I-765 card that says ‘Not valid for re-entry to the US,’ not a combo card that includes his Advance Parole.

So does this mean there has been a mistake and USCIS sent us the wrong thing? Or is a second card coming? Has the I-131 even been approved, because we left the US with the understanding that his travel authorization had been approved.

The agent supposedly made notes in P’s record then said he had to forward my call to the regular customer service line for more information. While I was on hold waiting for the call to transfer, P’s dad’s phone ran out of credit and disconnected me.

After P’s dad added more credit I had to call back and start from scratch, again automatically connecting to the Spanish language line. After explaining that I had just called and was disconnected and that someone had made notes in my husband’s record (and because it is P’s application, not mine, I had to keep putting him on the phone to verify, “Yes, I’m P P and I am her husband, and she has permission to talk to you about my paperwork.”) the new agent said she still had to hear the issue, make notes and transfer me.

So I launched into my speech a second time.

And again, as I suspected, she had to transfer me to the main customer service line. I asked her if the next person will know about my situation, or would I have to explain again, and she said I would have to explain again.

I was put on hold for a good fifteen minutes (so now I’ve been calling the US long distance from KTM for about forty five minutes) before another woman picked up the phone. Added to the fact that I had to completely explain myself again, and put P on the phone for authorization to talk on his behalf, this woman also couldn’t hear me properly, saying the line was disturbed, but that she couldn’t give me a direct line to call her back. If I hung up and reconnected I would have to start from scratch again with the Spanish line. I pleaded with her that I was calling from Nepal, had already been on the phone 45 minutes, and couldn’t bare to start again, and started yelling into the phone so she could understand me.

After explaining everything in detail, she, of course, also had no additional information, and had to connect me to someone else who would “have more information on this specific case.” I was put on hold for about fifteen-twenty more minutes.

The next person I was connected to had an even harder time understanding me, causing me to have to yell louder into the phone (mind you it’s quite late in the evening in Nepal at this point). Again I had to explain the situation, and put P on the phone for authorization. Added to all of this, this particular agent was talking to me like I was a crazed idiot.

“Of course his I-131 was approved.” He chided.

ME: “But sir, we have conflicting information—from the service center and from USCIS.gov.”

“No, it’s approved.” He said curtly, “You should know, you already received his card.”

ME: “But we were sent the wrong card, it is only his work authorization—I-765—not his Advanced Parole.”

“Why do you think it is not also his Advanced Parole? It should be, the combo card has both authorizations.”

ME: “That is the problem, it is not a combo card.”

“How do you know?”

ME: “It says, ‘not authorized for re-entry to the US.’”

“It shouldn’t say that, it should say, ‘Serves as Advanced Parole’ Are you sure it doesn’t say that.”

ME: “It doesn’t say anything about Advanced Parole anywhere on the whole document, that’s the problem! [I then read the authorization card word for word] So are they sending another card or do we need to do something to have another card reissued?”

He put me on hold for another ten minutes before returning.

“If that is the case, USCIS will issue a new card by October 11, and if you do not receive anything call USCIS back. You will receive a notice in the mail to explain what to do. Is this all today ma’am?”

ME: “I’m not completely clear. Is there something I need to do to get the new card or is the card printing automatic?”

“You will receive a mailing, I suggest you wait for the mailing, and call us on October 11 if you do not receive anything.”

ME: “So sir, the card should arrive by the 11th or the instructions to get the card?”

“Wait until October 11th” he said, sounding increasingly more agitated as he went along until this last statement when he promptly hung up on me. I had been on the phone for almost two complete hours calling long distance from the other side of the world. The least this guy could do was wait until I understood.

The whole time P’s parents sat in the room with us, listening to the conversation and fretting that P’s documents were in grave jeopardy. While I was on hold, I would try to explain P’s situation to them.

So now we don’t know. Our friend D is still on USCIS paperwork lookout duty, but it is possible P won’t be able to come back with me now. He will be stuck in Nepal until the correct “combo card” is printed and sent.

Boo :(

The Ups and Downs of USCIS

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven, Round Eight

Sorry, I couldn’t help but leave with a teaser before. Lots of stuff going on in the AmericaNepali Household behind the scenes…

P and I had hoped to travel to Nepal before the end of 2011.

The debate before we got married was that we wanted to travel for Dashain, thinking it would be really nice to be with P’s grandfather for our first married Dashain and very special to take our first married tikka from him. However with the timeframes of green card applications and travel documents (called “advanced parole” which allows a green card petitioner to travel abroad while an application for permanent residence is still pending), we didn’t think there would be enough time between filing the paperwork after our July wedding, and the festival in early October. The alternative was to have a secret “court marriage” a month or two in advance so we could start the green card paperwork early, and our marriage certificate would reflect a different legal date than when we held the ceremonies with our friends and families. That seemed like too much trouble to travel for a festival, so we laid our plans to rest and figured we would try to travel around Christmas time when I had more time off from work, in the hopes that his immigration paperwork would be settled by then.

But then an unexpected research/presentation opportunity came up for P, and an organization asked him to come to Nepal (and would pay for a ticket!) near the end of September… a week before Dashain.

Immediately I called an immigration attorney colleague (the same who gave me advice about the green card application) and asked how I could expedite P’s advanced parole application. He recommended two thing: move up P’s biometrics appointment (originally scheduled by USCIS for August 29th), and contact our local congressperson to pressure USCIS to speed along the application.

The biometrics (photograph, fingerprint) was the first key, because that triggers the FBI background check on an applicant, and nothing starts on a green card/advanced parole application before that.

We sent P to the Boston USCIS office armed with an invitation letter from the organization in Kathmandu, some airline reservations, and his USCIS notice for his biometrics appointment on Aug 29th. With all these documents the Boston USCIS office allowed him to take his biometrics on Aug 16th, so we could get the ball rolling.

On Aug 19th I contacted my local congressman’s office and was connected with his staffer who works with immigration issues. She asked me to write a cover letter explaining the situation and to send a fax with all of our USCIS receipt notices, his biometrics document with processing stamp, letter of invitation from Nepali organization, and travel itinerary.

For the next three and a half weeks I either called or emailed her office every other day (and eventually every day) to check on the application status, most days with absolutely no response at all. It didn’t help that Hurricane Irene blew through and caused damaged to areas in the Congressman’s district, and a week and a half later remnants of another tropical storm caused flooding in our city (water nearly up to the bottom of my car on my way to work!). She told me at one point that Hurricane Irene was taking up most of their energies that week, which I interpreted as, “You are low priority lady. Your husband will just have to travel at another time.”

Last week I figured it was do-or-die week, and by Friday the only response I had from the congressional liaison was, “Your husband’s application is sitting on a supervisor’s desk at the [USCIS] Missouri Service Center.”

I think it was doubly (triply?) infuriating because I also work with USCIS as part of my international student advisor job, and I just couldn’t FATHAM why this woman couldn’t find out more information. Or maybe I was just frustrated because I knew my fate was in her hands and I couldn’t do anything to change it, and she seemed so “distracted.”

My boss said that USCIS doesn’t like people thinking that congressional intervention helps. I guess it is annoying when congressional representatives start bugging the USCIS processing centers with application expedition requests. I get that. “But,” my boss continued, “P’s application wouldn’t be ‘on a supervisor’s desk’ had you not contacted the congressional liaison. I  think it is a good sign.”

Monday I emailed—no updates.

Tuesday I called—no updates.

By Tuesday night I was finally loosing hope. I actually drafted a long desperate sounding letter to email directly to the congressman–and emailed it too–but my email bounced back since I had the address wrong. There were only ten days left until the proposed departure date. It just didn’t seem possible that his paperwork would come through.

Then Wednesday, mid-morning, I received an email from the congressional staffer I had been harassing for almost a month, “Case MSC______________, Form I-131 was approved on 9/14/11. The applicant should receive their card in 2-3 weeks from USCIS.”

Hallelujah!

I jumped clear out of my seat at work and practically yodeled I was so excited. I called P right away and he, of course, didn’t pick up the phone, so I sent him a google chat.

9:39 AM me: MERRRRR
9:40 AM P: ?
me: IT WAS APPROVED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
P: what?
me: your advanced parole!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
P: how do you know
???
:)
????
9:41 AM me: [congressional staffer] just emailed me!!!!
P: forward the email???
seriously??
can’t believe it
i had lost hope

So now we are buying tickets to go to Nepal next Friday.

Now, if you were following closely, you noticed that the congressional representative said, “document will be mailed in 2-3 weeks.” Yes, this could be a potential logistical hurdle.

Since P has been officially approved for advanced parole he can leave the country without incident, but he will not be able to re-enter unless he has his advanced parole document in hand. We are hoping this document will arrive before we depart, but I’m not necessarily expecting it to. We will give our mail key to our friend D who will be on the lookout for his documents and will Fedex to Nepal when they arrive. P might have to change his ticket if there is a delay in his documents, but at this point, we have to travel and hope for the best.

But the moral of the story is, USCIS can make you want to tear your hair out, but sometimes things actually work out. K-k-k-k-k-k-Kathmandu, here I come!

The American Baby and the Indian Baby

After the Green Card post, NavajoKeti mentioned that her Nepali bf was born in the US so luckily they don’t need to deal with all these frustrating immigration hurdles, and it reminded me of a story.

One of our Indian friends is currently in the process of getting her Green Card. Out of the five people in her family, she was the last to make it to the Green Card/Citizenship chapter.

When her parents were a young married couple, her father came to the US as a graduate student. After some time her mother had a baby, her first child, my friend’s elder sister. Since her child was born in the US the baby was automatically an American citizen.

A few years after that, her mother was pregnant again. Perhaps being a bit nostalgic for home, she decided, “I already have my American baby, but I would really like to have an Indian baby.” So she traveled back to India to be with her family and have her second child, our friend. Due to her birth in India, our friend had Indian and only Indian citizenship. Once the baby was old enough to travel and had all the visa documents needed, our friend’s mother traveled back to America—American baby and Indian baby in tow.

Eventually her father finished his program/work in the United States and the entire family moved back to India, where several years later their final child, our friend’s younger brother, was born. A second Indian baby.

This is where my details in the story get a bit hazy, but somewhere along the line the family was able to apply for Green Cards (I think through her father’s work, even though they were still in India). At the time our friend was in college back in the US, and was already on an F-1 student visa. Even though her parents submitted the paperwork for her to be included on the family’s Green Card, she “timed out” of being able to apply with the family because she turned 21 and was no longer considered a “minor” and had to be put in a different  Green Card category (unmarried child, not a minor) with a much much longer wait. Her younger brother, as the younger child, didn’t “time out” and was able to get his Green Card along with his parents.

So now the family had 1 American Citizen, 3 Permanent Residents, and 1 Indian Baby.

Of course life in the US without citizenship or a Green Card feels more precarious. Certainly lots of people are in this category, but to know you could have had citizenship or potentially a Green Card probably feels a bit unfair (although I am certainly adlibbing her potential feelings). Instead she had to worry about applying for her F-1 student OPT work authorization in order to be eligible to work, finding a job that would be willing to sponsor an H1B work visa, and the stress of the economic crisis where people were losing jobs left and right—there are no “grace periods” with H1B, technically if you lose your job, you lose your H1B status immediately unless the company makes some sort of provision for you in your compensation package, and without status, you are illegal in the US or you have to leave the US immediately.

Luckily our “Indian baby” friend weathered all the storms, and relatively recently had a visa number for her Green Card become available after years and years of waiting. She has been able to start the process, which again could be lengthy, but at least she is in the queue.

It’s kind of interesting to think though that most of this stemmed from her mother’s nostalgic idea of having an “Indian baby.” I’m sure 30 years ago people didn’t necessarily think about immigration repercussions in the same way.

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!