Once upon a time my husband and I were engaged :). Some of you know that I am an Indian and my husband is an American so after we got engaged and decided to live in the US, my green card process towered over us. We spoke to some friends who had gone through this process before and realized that it would be easier for us to get married in the US. It would be simpler to get our marriage recognized, which, in turn would expedite my green card process.
I bookmarked this page on my computer: uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-through-family and followed all the steps listed.
Other sites that were helpful:
The information on those links might seem like a whole lot but read on and you will see that it’s not that difficult to get through the process as long as you are paying attention.
My fiancé had returned to the US after our engagement and that served to our advantage because he was able to submit the initial intent of marriage and other supporting documents to the US immigration services in the US. You can find the list of documents on the USCIS webpage but two things seemed important:
- Proof of income/employment in the US – This included salary details and a letter from the employer. Therefore, proof that I wouldn’t waltz into the US and ask the government to support us.
- Proof of our relationship – This included some letters and photographs – thankfully we had plenty of both which were appropriate for sharing. We submitted photographs of just the two of us and a few we had clicked with friends.
There was just silence till August 2014. We had received an acknowledgement after sending the initial documents and I had a tracking number assigned to me.
In August, I received an email that that the initial plea was approved and I needed to submit additional documents supporting my intent to marry my fiancé and other documents that would establish me as someone credible. I spent the next several days filling out forms and gathering documents.
One of the documents required was a proof of no criminal history. The easiest way to do this was to ask the passport office in Kolkata to release my criminal history since they maintain that information for issued passports. This step required an appointment set up at the passport office, which wasn’t hard to do. You can check your passport office’s website about how to go about this.
After mailing those documents, we waited to hear from USCIS again.
We heard back around mid-September! I was directed to the final step of the process, which involved a health screening and in-person interview. Inconveniently for me, neither of these processes were done in Kolkata. I called USCIS and requested an appointment in Mumbai.
According to the USCIS representative I spoke to, who are all really polite and patient, by the way, if I had a clear health record – meaning if I wasn’t the carrier of any deadly diseases that would be a threat to the US, I would have the in-person interview within the week! Since I was able to stay with relatives there, I decided to spend a week during the first week of October in Mumbai, hoping to get everything done and return to Kolkata with my visa approval.
For the interview in Mumbai, I needed some originals from my fiancé which he had to mail through FedEx to make sure they made it on time. So I opted for the second week of October for the visa interview just to give us enough time to get all the documents perfect the first time. Our goal was to go through the process without having to repeat any steps.
Health checks take a few hours to finish and you will receive an email with instructions about those. Save that email because the health center in Mumbai asked me to forward the email to them before they could schedule the test.
I went for my health test alone and wished I had company because the waiting between different steps were boring. I was asked to return another day to collect all the test results and was warned not to open or tamper with the envelop in any way. I would have to carry it with me to the US and present the sealed envelope to the Immigration officer at the airport. (Side note: I did not have to submit anything at the US airport. The fiancé/k1 visa on my passport was all that was needed).
Before the health test, I was advised to get visa photos done before going to the in-person interview. There were several stores that offered visa photo service near the health test location. Visa photos have some strict specifications. You could also get photos clicked and printed at the consulate but the prices and hassle would be outrageous. So get the right photos done even before the health test so that you can submit the same one during the health test.
I was excited to have cleared the health test, even though I wasn’t really expecting anything different. We had made it this far! I felt ready for the consulate interview. Consulates always have rules about restricted and permitted items and it important you comply if you want to get inside otherwise you might have to reschedule your appointment.
The in-person interview at the consulate was painless. Someone at the first counter checked my paperwork and I was directed to another counter for my interview. I was asked a few details about my fiancé and his family. Basic questions about the number of siblings he has, if I had ever met his family, his date of birth, how we met, if we have a wedding date set, if my family would be able to attend. Then the person asked me for my fiancé’s phone number. I did not have it memorized so I told her that. She smiled and went ahead with the approval. But just so you don’t feel as foolish as I did, learn your partner’s number and address.
I received my fiancée visa approval right away and I was told that my passport bearing the visa would be mailed to the consulate in Kolkata. It was ready for pick up within a week!
We fixed the wedding date and I booked my tickets so that we would be married within 90 days of my arrival in the US!
I arrived in the US a week and a half before the wedding date. I had my visa and the sealed medical documents with me. I went through immigration without being pestered with questions. My fiancé and I picked up our wedding license the day before the wedding and being together really made the long visa process worth it!
When my family arrived in the US closer to the wedding date, they were asked two questions: anyone carrying pickles? haha…and purpose of the visit.
They breezed through the immigration process.
[One advice that I received was to get married in court right after entering the US in case the wedding ceremony and party could not be arranged within the 90 days period. That way we could proceed with the green card process and I would not risk the possibility of getting deported. The wedding party could be planned anytime later. Thankfully, my fiancé and I didn’t need to go through this step and our wedding day was a-m-a-z-i-n-g!]
We received our marriage certificate after about 2 weeks of being married and we were able to send all the documents required for my green card processing!
We applied for two other authorizations at the same time – one was Advance Parole, which allowed me to leave and enter the US while I waited for my green card. USCIS is strict about this and may not allow you to reenter the US without that prior approval. The other authorization was related to employment.
I also applied for my Social Security Card, added my name to our cellphone and utility bills and applied for my local ID. I was issued a temporary ID and applied for my driver’s license.
I received my Advance Parole authorization.
We heard back from USCIS – we were eligible for an interview waiver before my green card was issued. In April, I also traveled back to India to visit family and reentered the US smoothly.
I received my employment approval in June.
I received my temporary green card by mail.
My green card and government IDs have expiration dates and are valid for two years. We will need to apply for renewals in 2017 and I look forward to sharing more about those processes when they are completed.