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:

Une Année de Bonheur

A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated one year of marriage.  It has been a good year, and to me it felt like it flew by.  Despite all of the good moments, we hope that the years will only keep getting better!  Here are some things we learned and some things we enjoyed in one year.

  • We learned that we have to communicate.  Anyone can tell you how important it is to communicate in a relationship, but it is not easy.  Generally when we resolve a conflict, we realize that the problem was that we had not effectively communicated when we raised the issue.
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We love to communicate!

  • We don’t always have to like the same things.  At the beginning of the year, we could never agree on what to do on a Sunday afternoon.  Maybe he wanted to watch a movie, but I wanted to read.  Finally we realized that we can hang out together even if we are doing different things.  It seems so obvious now that I write it down, but it is just an example of the fact that we can enjoy our differences instead of trying to cover them up.
  • Along with the last point, something I’ve enjoyed is that we come to like more and more of the same things.  It’s a good day when one of us thinks to bring home some bananas, and a free Saturday morning now almost always means a walk to the beach.
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He’s a bird and I’m a ballerina, but we both like to fly.

  • We have to be aware that we don’t always understand things in the same way.  Of course, we’re coming from two different cultures, and don’t always have the same idea of how things should be.  But sometimes it’s just a different way of seeing the world, unrelated to culture.  For example, when I asked my husband if he was nervous about our upcoming move, he said that he thought we’d struggle to make ends meet at first, but after a few months we would be fine.  He was only nervous about our physical and financial situation, whereas I had meant to ask if he was nervous about making new friends, adjusting to a new country, or dealing with culture shock.  Generally my reactions are more emotional and his are more logical, which is something we have to take into account when we discuss big decisions.
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We were not going for the same angle in this picture….

  • One of the best parts of being married is just hanging out at home.  My favorite things to do are to eat dinner sitting on our carpet, dance around the house, or brush our teeth together.

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  • We (mostly) learned to forgive.  I have a habit of forgiving my husband for something and then getting mad at him again later when I’m worried about something completely different.  Sometimes you just have to let it go.
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And then enjoy some ice cream!

Wedding Bloopers

Thankfully our photographers took hundreds of pictures, because some ended up a little silly.  Here are the highlights.

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How many people does it take to pick up a pair of newlyweds?

When I asked the photographer if he could take a picture of our rings, this classic pose is what he came up with:

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Please notice how the rings are not visible.

After all of those photos, I started to get tired.  My sister helped me out by taking this fish-face photo, which allowed me to stretch my smiling muscles.  But it didn’t give me quite enough energy to jump for the next photo!

My husband must have stronger face muscles than I do, but his feet were really starting to hurt.  Luckily, the fact of taking his shoes off provided new photo opportunities.

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This photo is actually a very accurate representation of our relationship.

After the embassy wedding, we took some photos by the mausoleum in Rabat.  The unfinished pillars seem to be made for wedding photos.

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My sister had clearly been practicing for this.  And on the left is my Mom.  Isn’t she pretty?  She’s smart and funny too.

But the main reason why are photos came out so well is that we practiced a lot beforehand, anywhere we could.

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Are we going to kiss, or are we pigeons?

 

The Wedding Post

After all those posts about my fiancé and about wedding preparations, it looks like I completely abandoned my blog during the actual wedding.  Better late than never!

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“Kiss me on the cheek so you don’t mess up my lipstick!”

We got legally married first, at the Central African Embassy.  This step was very informative because Chancellor read all of the laws concerning marriage in the Central African Republic at the beginning of the ceremony.  We learned that if my husband and I want to move, he must choose the house.  If he is unable choose the house, I may do so.  If neither of us can, our children may choose.  And if even the children are unable to choose a house, the dog may be permitted to do so.  Luckily, the “livret de famille” includes space for the names of ten children, so probably at least one of our ten future kids will be decisive enough to choose where we should live.

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This is a like game of tug-of-war, men vs. women.

The next day, we got married in our church.

Prayer

For this part, we wore traditional wedding clothes.  The pastor who had first introduced us was the one who married us, and she gave a wonderful sermon about how our relationship had grown.  Afterward, we went home to change into our party outfits for the soirée.

We vowed to always match our outfits, among other things.

We then rode our motorcycle off into the night, finding ourselves in sunny Oualidia the next day (just kidding, we took the bus).

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“This photo was supposed to be of me!”

The benefit of writing this post almost a year late is that I can confirm that we still love each other!  And if you could see what I was wearing in the above photo, it did in fact match what my husband was wearing.  We were serious about those vows.

It’s not my Party

On my way to the bathroom after the Sunday church service, the woman who had agreed to take care of decorating the church for my wedding day stopped me to talk.

“Do you have a minute? I just want to discuss your preferences for the table decoration for the wedding party.”

I told her yes, I did have time to talk, but that my fiancé wasn’t there. I had already discussed the decoration with the woman once, so I figured I should confirm what we had said with my future husband before making any big decisions.

“But it’s not his party,” she said. “You’re the bride; it’s your decoration for your party. Just tell me your ideas; it will only take five minutes.”

She wasn’t the first person to tell me that it was my party, my wedding, and my big day. I didn’t quite understand why people kept saying that; the wedding day is a time for my fiancé and I, our families, and our closest friends to celebrate our decision to build a life together. Yes, I would like to look like a princess, and yes, my veil does attach to my head by a crown, but I don’t think the day is for me any more than it is for anyone else.

If I were to imagine my ideal wedding, I would change a few things. I would like my dress to be a little fluffier in the skirt, to not have bridesmaids because I don’t like telling people what to wear, to have fewer guests, and to be able to give my vows in English, my native language. But I’m wearing the dress my mother made for me, which is the greatest gift she could give me. And I know that the three pre-teen girls I asked to be my bridesmaids danced around with joy when their parents told them that I wanted them to take part in the wedding. And even though speaking French in front of over a hundred people gives me butterflies in my stomach, it’s the native language of 90% of my guests, and I want them to understand clearly why I love my fiancé so much.

It would be nice if the decoration for my wedding looked nice and matched the colors and themes I picked out. But even if the decoration team decides to overturn all of my ideas and cover the whole church in orange streamers, I hope to remember my wedding day not as the best, worst, biggest, or most important day of my life, but as the day I shared what matters most to me with the people I love the most.

There are Chatty Women in French Classes all over the World

When I entered the classroom, there was one Moroccan woman sitting ready in her seat, new course books in front of her. She looked to be about ten years younger than my mother, and was wearing a beige and blue veil that almost matched the blue of our course book. I whispered “bonjour” to the woman before sitting in my own seat and arranging my own books on the desk, two blue paperback books for French as a foreign language. More students filed in, mostly Moroccan women. About half were the same age as the first woman, and about half around my age. We were all students in the high intermediate class at the French Institute in Casablanca, Morocco, although were all there for different reasons. Once the class was nearly full, everyone started quietly flipping through the course book, waiting for the class to start. The teacher came in about 5 minutes late, bringing an abrupt end to the silence in the room.

“Bonjour les enfants!” She waltzed into the room, not pausing for a second to check if anyone had been offended that she had referred to them as children. “Vous allez bien? Vous n’avez pas froid? Il fait vraiment froid aujourd’hui, je l’ai dit ce matin, et je continue à le dire. C’est vraiment l’hiver!” The other students smiled and nodded, still a little shy. The teacher set down her bag and arranged her coat and scarf on the chair before beginning to walk around the circle of desks to ask for introductions. The first student to speak was a Moroccan university student, still living with his parents, but thinking about studying in France. As soon as he finished his introduction, all shyness seemed to have dissipated from the room, at least from the Moroccans. One of the older women began a story about a Moroccan girl she had known who left her family at 18 years to study in France and who became an alcoholic. “But that’s not typical,” she explained. “My daughter is 20 years old, and she is studying in Belgium. She’s a good student, very sure of her values, knows where she comes from.” The teacher stopped the introductions to give a quick description of the French language exams we could take and what would be required for university studies. Her description was punctuated by frequent comments from the students, who already knew a few things about the exams. The next woman then introduced herself; a 30-year-old housewife, married to a doctor, and four months pregnant. Everyone congratulated her, and another one of the older women gave a quick and unsolicited warning about not consuming too much sugar during the pregnancy.

The next student was a student of medicine. She said she had already been accepted to do the preparatory years in France, but her parents wouldn’t let her go. She had therefore lost one year of study, and had been obliged to do the program in Morocco, but wanted to reapply the next year to go abroad. The three older women were next; all three were housewives, and all three had grown children. I was last, since I had sat at the far end of the circle, furthest from the door but close to the board. I knew I had a soft voice, so I figured I would be more likely to be heard if I sat near the teacher. I gave my name, described a bit about my job, explained where I am from in the U.S., and how long I had lived in Morocco. “C’est tout,” I said, and shrugged my shoulders.

As soon as I finished, one of the older women called out, “Are you married?” I smiled and said no, not married, but engaged. The woman next to her shouted out, “to a Moroccan?”

“No,” I said, “not to a Moroccan.”

“All the better for her!” Called the student of medicine. The teacher jumped back into the conversation at that point, shushing the building commotion.

“Les enfants! Calmez-vous! We are going to speak one by one. Why do you say better for her? What is wrong with marrying a Moroccan?”

Five hands shot up. One by one, the other students explained that the Moroccan Man is lazy, does not know how to wash dishes, and sits watching TV while his wife works in the home. The two male students in the class objected briefly, but after some prodding, revealed that neither of them had ever washed a dish. “My mother doesn’t even let me wash dishes at home! She knows I would just break them.” One of the older women admitted to being ashamed for having to ask her husband for money for the French classes, but said that he preferred that she not work. The medicine student said that Moroccan men are spoiled by their mothers and expect the same from their wives. The pregnant woman finished by telling me that it’s really much better for me to marry an American anyway.

The teacher, noticing that everyone in the French class had spoken a lot except me, asked me if I could say how I met my fiancé. In giving the story of how we met at our church in another city in Morocco, I mentioned that he is not in fact American, but Central African. The teacher moved closer to me and asked if I could say what country he was from. “La Centrafrique,” I repeated.

“Il est noir?” the medical student asked. The teacher said, “ah ok, le centre d’Afrique. Il n’est pas Americain alors.” I wanted to jump in again and clarify that he is in fact from “La Centrafrique,” or “La Republique Centrafricaine,” a country that is in the center of Africa, but I didn’t because I always have difficultly pronouncing all the syllables the name of the country and didn’t want to trip over my words on the very first day. The class was no longer erupting with new comments; it was totally quiet for a few seconds. Then the pregnant woman chimed in again to give the last word. “My husband is a doctor, and he once worked in Senegal. He said that his coworkers were very kind. Well-educated, gentle, respectful; yes, they are really nice people.”

I wanted to answer her by saying that I have never known anyone from Senegal, and that I have no idea whether that’s true or not. But I decided to hold my tongue; that was enough excitement for one session of French class.

Short Story

My fiancé’s brother dished up one cube of melon on to his plate and looked around the table to see if we had noticed how little he took.

“Do you know why I took just one?” He cocked his head for dramatic effect.

“To try it out first?” I asked.

“Yes. Why? Because I sometimes have a bad reaction to melons. It first happened in France when I tried a green melon, and it really was not good. If this doesn’t go down well, we’ll know right away.” He smiled knowingly, then gingerly placed the cube of light green melon in his mouth and chewed slowly. We waited in silence on the edge of our seats.

“Is it okay? It looks like you don’t like it,” I asked.

“No, no, it’s fine. I think there’s no problem. It’s maybe just the fruit in France that I have a problem with. Those pesticides they use are bad for the stomach. Bad for the health. I have to be careful.”

I was relieved that he had no problem with my melon; it was the appetizer to the meal I had carefully planned out for my mom, my fiancé, and his brother, who was the first member of his family I had met. With my fiancé’s mother unable to travel outside of her country, Central Africa, his father deceased, and his siblings dispersed throughout Europe and Africa, a brother was all my fiancé could muster for meeting-the-family. And the sweet, round, bright yellow melons that had just come in season in Morocco were the best things I could think of as an appetizer.

We sat around the long table together, and started eating my meal of stir-fried carrots and peas, peanut chicken, and rice. I had tried to mix foods I thought we would all like, yet play to my strengths as a cook. Peanut chicken is an African dish, but I had made this particular meal using American peanut butter. I mentioned that to our guest, saying that my fiancé had taught me how to make peanut chicken, but my mother, who was visiting me in Morocco for two weeks, had brought the peanut butter from the U.S. because it is my favorite food. My fiancé’s brother’s comment was just what I had been hoping for; “What a gift God has given us with the incredible diversity of cultures in our world!”

The carrots, however, did not elicit any mention of God nor His gifts.

“Normally, I don’t eat carrots. I’ve had the same problem with them as with melons. They don’t pass through, so I try to avoid them.” He gave his pile of carrots a menacing look.

I wondered if I should have asked my fiancé about his brother’s eating habits beforehand. I had bought more carrots than I needed, so there were also thin slices of carrot in the peanut sauce, and round boiled carrots in the rice. A meal unified by carrots.

His brother looked up at me. “But maybe it’s just in France. In Morocco the food just looks fresher…not like those French grocery stores. I’ll give the carrots a try and see what happens.”

I was eager to get the conversation off of the foods he couldn’t eat, especially the ones I had just served him. I racked my brain for other topics to shift to. I breathed a sigh of relief when my mom jumped in.

“So what is it like to live in France? I know you’ve been there for thirteen years, but how does it compare to your country?”

“It’s a very nice country to live in; very organized and clean, and the university system is excellent. But unemployment is increasing every year. Unfortunately that comes along with racism, and is getting to the point of being quite dangerous, especially for foreigners.”

Our heads nodded at this assessment of what it is like to live in France, or more accurately, what it is like to live in France as an African immigrant. We all knew about how the French are stereotyped as being proud, and had read news of political conflicts surrounding growing discomfort with immigration to France from North and sub-Saharan Africa.

“Even after thirteen years and going through the visa process, I still can feel like an outsider. My name gives me away, my skin color, the way I talk…just having a French passport doesn’t make me French in their eyes.”

“I experienced the same thing,” said my mom, “when I was studying in France as an exchange student. I was always treated as an outsider. Even though I’m white, my name is French, and I even had a French boyfriend. That’s why I didn’t stay; it felt too hostile to me.”

My fiancé’s brother nodded knowingly. “Do you know what? I don’t even have any French friends. Why? Because they aren’t interested in mixing with people like me.   Sometimes I don’t even bother to greet my neighbors. I know they don’t want to be associated with me.”

I thought about my neighbors in my apartment building there in Morocco. I usually greeted them, but we weren’t even really acquaintances. I kept thinking that some day I would try to have a conversation with one of them, when the time was right, but that moment hadn’t come yet. I assumed they were friendly people, but I had never really put that to the test.

The dessert I had decided on was Moroccan-made yogurt with chocolate chunks mixed in, also a product of Morocco, which was a country he had come to for the first time only two days ago. That, I hoped, would be something he could digest.