Will I Ever Get a Visa?

My husband and I are currently going through the process of getting him an immigrant visa to come to the U.S.  The process is long, complicated, and often unclear.  I hope this guide will be useful for anyone else who is going to go through the same thing.
In this post, you will find a description of the process we went through, some tips I have, and links to other guides.
Getting Started
-Choose if you want a spouse visa or a fiancé visa.  The fiancé visa allows you to get married in the U.S. and live there while obtaining the green card.  If you chose this option though, you have perhaps only a six-month window in which to get married.  We chose to marry and apply for the visa in Morocco because we knew we were going to stay there for at least another year.
-Fill out the Petition for Alien Relative Form (I-130, https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-130.pdf)
-Submit all forms required.  Some need to be translated, so make sure you start early.  This is also the point at which you submit recommendation letters, bank info, or housing contracts to prove that you are really married and are not trying to commit marriage fraud.
TIP: A lot of people submit photos, which are fairly useless since they are so easily faked.  It is much better to submit concrete financial evidence, such as proof that you share a bank account and housing.
TIP: Make sure to fill out the form that says you want email updates.  If you do, you should get an email when the form is received.
-At this point, both you and your spouse should get letters with the case info and number which tells you whether your petition was approved in order to continue to the next step.  These got sent to us by mail instead of email (twice!), so we decided to call, at which point they finally recorded that we would get email updates (they ignored the form we sent in saying the same thing).
-Next you must declare the agent, or the person filling out all the forms, which is generally the American spouse.  You can do this over the phone to save time waiting for mail.
-You must submit fees (several hundred dollars) at this point.  Once they have been received you can start the Visa Application Forms.
Visa Application
-The Visa Application primarily asks for financial information.  You’ll have to look up your tax info for the last three years.  You’ll also declare yourself as a financial sponsor for your spouse.  You have to send in all of the sponsor form, even you you have nothing to write on the last page (which is just used if you have an interpreter).  You can actually start working on this before you are approved the previous step to save yourself some time.

TIP: In order to be a sponsor, you earn more that %125 of the poverty line (about $20k/year). You most likely cannot meet this requirement if you have been working abroad for several years, since you will prove your income using U.S. tax returns.  The reason for this requirement is that spouses cannot go on welfare while they are being sponsored because they are not supposed to burden the American economy.  If you do not meet that requirement, you can get around it by having a joint sponsor who does have that income.  A joint sponsor has legal obligations to support you if you should need it, so if that’s your plan make sure you have discussed the options with whoever is helping you.

-Police records need to also be sent with the sponsorship forms, so make sure you have records from all the countries where the applicant has lived.  Once all of the needed documents have been received, you will be able to move on to the interview.

TIP: We had a terrible experience with this step, because the NVC asked us for a document that applies only to Moroccan citizens (which my husband is not).  We called, emailed, and sent letters, most of which were completely ignored.  We lost more than three months in the process.  It seems that applications are read by a machine, not a person, so if the NVC does make a mistake, keep sending in complaint letters and emails as often as you can!

-Once your documents are all received, you will be given an interview date at your local embassy.  You do not get to make any choices about your date, so you just have to be ready for anything.  Once the interview is scheduled, you might have more documents to gather, and you will have to do a medical exam at an approved physician.

 

The Interview!

I had heard a lot about how the interviewer asks a lot of questions to determine if your marriage is real, but this was not the case at my husband’s interview.  They did not ask for photos, proof that we live together, or receipts from vacations taken together.  Perhaps if you are actually married, it is obvious enough.  They do, however, require every original document, and not having one will postpone getting the visa.  If you do have all of the documents, you will find out on the spot whether you have the visa.

Finally, the visa can be picked up.  In Morocco, it is picked up at an agency called Aramex and is supposed to take two weeks from when all your documents are in.  This is the step we are currently on; we were missing one document in the interview so we were not told whether we had the visa, but now the documents are in and Aramex said to wait 14 days.  So far it has been a very, very long eight days….

 The whole visa process is not easy, and the NVC and embassy are difficult to contact and do make mistakes.  Give the whole process at least a year (we’re going on a year and four months now), and don’t make any major plans while you’re waiting since you cannot know when you will have the visa.  The process will not make you feel good about the American Dream, so brace yourself.
This is only a description of our visa process.  Here are links to a couple more blogs that give excellent descriptions of what to expect:

Don’t Cry!

This morning it has been raining a little bit despite the shining sun and warm summer weather.  Last winter there was a drought in Morocco, so it is unusual to have any rain at all.  It has rained maybe a total of eight times all year.

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I hope they got their laundry inside!

When I saw the rain I told my husband that it must be because Morocco is crying.  It is a sad day, because it is my very last day in this country!

My husband told me that in Central Africa, when there is a sun shower, they say that an elephant is giving birth.  So I’m glad that even if Morocco is sad to let me go, there is at least another baby elephant in the world.

What If….

The other day, a man walked by me and my husband on a street in Casablanca and called out “Cote d’Ivoire!”  I think he found it clever because ivory is white and the Ivory Coast is a country of dark-skinned people.  Unfortunately I didn’t think of my comeback quite fast enough, because the man was already out of hearing range when I called back at him, “la mongolie!”  I too can play the calling-out-random-countries-at-strangers game.

This got me thinking, what would happen if things that are common on the streets of Morocco were to happen in the U.S.?  If this exact episode happened in America, I’m pretty sure that any onlookers would think that the man must have a mental illness; why else would he call out something either completely random, or potentially very offensive?

Similarly, people (men) often tell me that I am welcome in Morocco, even after more than three years of living here.  What if a white American told an Asian-American that he/she were welcome in the United States?  I don’t think that comment would go over well.

What people wear on the streets in Morocco is not the same as what they wear at work or indoors.  Today I wore a knee-length skirt to work, and plenty of men along my walk had something to say about it.  That same skirt would be considered pretty modest in the U.S., and probably would not turn any heads.

Occasionally young boys call Africans the word “azzi,” a shortened version of the Arabic word for black.  Sometimes they say “abid,” meaning slave.  If that came to the U.S., the Black Lives Matter movement would have plenty to say about it.

Morocco is not the U.S., so those things will probably keep happening for years to come.  Maybe when I get to Boston I’ll bring yelling things at random people on the street into fashion.  Or not….

 

Random things I’ve learned from teaching

A fun thing about being an ESL teacher is that you get to learn a lot of little details and facts from other people.  I get the opportunity to talk about politics, religion, culture, and also just daily routines and opinions about life in Morocco with my more advanced students.  Here are some completely random but interesting facts I’ve picked up.

On visas:

If someone who is not French marries a French citizen abroad, that person can acquire French nationality after four or five years through a local embassy, without ever stepping foot in France (if only Americans could do the same!)

Moroccans do not need visas to visit Turkey, so the combination of that and the popularity of Turkish soap operas make it one of the most popular countries for Moroccan tourists

On religion:

One reason why eating pork is forbidden in Islam and Judaism may be that pig meat spoils easily in the heat, since both religions have origins in hot climates.

In Islam, the day that each person will pass away is predetermined and cannot be changed (which is not the case in Christianity)

Completely random:

Drinking hot coffee actually makes your body colder, but drinking hot chocolate warms it up (as if I needed another reason to consume chocolate)

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But what if you eat chocolate with coffee?

There is no wage gap between men and women in Morocco – but that’s not to say that there aren’t more men in leadership positions.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country, just after independence.

The Pressure is On

Last week when I went to the grocery store, I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to buy any fruits and vegetables.  I could not find the plastic bags for produce anywhere, and was about to resign myself to having to search for my bananas elsewhere.  I was really disappointed because there were fresh sprigs of basil and some juicy peaches in one display that looked so delicious.  Finally, I realized that there were some brown paper bags right next to where produce is weighed.  I thought that they must have just run out of plastic bags that day.

When I got to the checkout, I discovered that it was not in fact a mistake.  There also were no plastic bags to carry your groceries; just thicker reusable bags for sale.  The grocery stores had actually eliminated plastic bags in preparation for next year’s climate conference, COP 22, which will be held in Marrakech in November.

Morocco is certainly not yet a model for environment friendliness; there is no recycling system, public transportation is not good enough to allow people to forgo driving to work, and plastic bags are still used by small shops, despite the change made by the big grocery stores.  But a big solar power station was recently built in the South, and Morocco is clearly making an effort to clean up its act.

There is nothing like the pressure of being watched by the rest of the world to force one country to make a change.  I can’t imagine Morocco drastically improving its garbage system and traffic problems in the next few months, but I’m looking forward to seeing what other last minute changes will be made!

What Will Boston Be Like?

I have not been out of Morocco for almost two years now.  I think it is safe to assume that I will have some surprises come August, when I will arrive in Boston for the first time, alone, and after a 28 hour trip.  Last time I was in the US, I almost cried when I realized how much less flavorful the carrots, eggs, and olive oil are in America.  I was shocked to see men walking around shirtless or with saggy pants, and I was very confused about the “no gun” signs that popped up around Chicago after concealed weapons had been made legal.  It was not easy to readjust, even after only one year away.

I am trying to predict what will shock me and my husband in Boston, both to prepare myself and because I’m sure it will be funny to look back later and see how far off I was.  Here is what I expect to experience when I move to Boston:

  • I will be invisible.  I get a lot of stares and comments as I walk down the street in Casablanca, but I expect to blend in when I am in Boston.  The challenge will be to stand out, not to fit in.
  • It will be surprising how much people drink.  I’ve gotten used to alcohol being mostly out of the picture.
  • The season changes will be amazing.  There was a drought this year in Morocco, so it barely got any colder.  I cannot wait to see the leaves change color and to play in the first snow!
  • My husband will learn new holiday traditions.  I discovered last Christmas that he is not familiar with Christmas music, other than church songs.  He has also never done an Easter egg hunt.  He has a lot to learn.
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Christmas in Morocco

  • Not everyone will know where Morocco is.  If they do, they will ask me if I was afraid of terrorists, if I had to cover my hair, or if I was able to access the internet.  And absolutely no one will understand how I met my husband in Morocco, who is not even Moroccan. (Actually, during our visa application process, the National Visa Center in the US asked my husband to send police records available only to Moroccan citizens.  We suspect that the application was read by a machine, because not many humans could confuse “Central African Republic” with “Morocco.”)
  • It is going to be nothing like what we expect.  I would not be so surprised if what shocks me turns out to be completely different from what I’ve written here!

Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock?  What surprised you about your country?

Fasting

It has now been about two weeks of Ramadan.  What always strikes me during Islam’s holy month is the solidarity between people in Morocco and how much fasting brings people together.  More or less everyone is fasting in the day, so everybody shares the same feelings of thirst, hunger, or sleepiness, along with the same traditions of breaking the fast at night.  I usually choose to fast for several days each Ramadan so that I can feel that same sense of unity with those around me.  That way, when I walk to work, I know that it is not just me who skipped breakfast, but an entire community.

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Breakfast/dinner of dreams

Fasting is not specific to Islam.  During the past few days, quite a few of my students have asked me about whether Christians fast.  We do occasionally have days of fasting at my church, sometimes related to important dates, and sometimes just to reflect about a specific topic as a group, but it rarely lasts more than a week.  Another local church is currently having a “year of fasting,” where each month the members are encouraged to give up one thing that distracts them, such as television, facebook, or coffee.

I looked up fasting in some other religious groups, and found that Coptic Christians in Egypt fast for the forty days of Lent by giving up all animal products, or basically becoming vegan for that period.  Fasting is required at different periods in Judaism, Bahaism, and Catholicism.  The purpose of fasting during Ramadan for Muslims is to remove mundane desires to increase spiritual reflection, and for all Muslims to feel what it is like to be poor and to increase charity.

According to the bible, fasting is not necessarily about food. We can read in the book of Isaiah what a fast should be: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)  This sort of fast requires charity, generosity, and a fight against oppression, but mentions nothing about food other than that it should be shared.

The New York Times recently published this article on the health benefits of fasting, unrelated to religion.  Apparently, regular periods of fasting can promote weight loss and longevity.

As you can see, there are a lot of different methods of fasting and reasons to do so.  Have you ever fasted?  In what way?