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….

 

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!

A Wonderful Tip for Traveling

As I mentioned in a previous post, my trip to Boston will last 28 hours, not including getting to and from the airport.  There are many things I have to do in preparation, like pack a good book, make sure I know where I’m going when I arrive, and find a way to fit all my most important items in my carry-on.  Another thing I have been working on in preparation is training my hair to not look terribly oily after two days.  I consider this to be a very important element of my trip.

Although it is perhaps unlikely that journalists will be waiting to snap my photo when I step foot in the USA for the first time in two years, I still do not want to show up looking like I need a shower.  I expect those first moments to be exciting but more than a little bit confusing, and I know it will really make me feel better if my hair looks okay.  So, I have been washing my hair only every other day, hoping that in a month and a half, my hair will be able to stay fresh without been washed during that long trip.

The traveling tip I want to share with you is dry shampoo.  Dry shampoo absorbs the oils in your hair without drying it out, so it is perfect for giving your hair a quick pick-me-up.  I have been using it on my no-wash days to get my hair to look a little fresher when I go to work, but it also is the perfect fix for oily hair during a long flight because it can be applied in an airport bathroom.  I intend to pass the time during my eight-hour layover by giving myself a dry shampoo.

There are many different recipes for dry shampoo.  The most common has a base of baking soda, but I chose to make mine out of ground oatmeal since I usually have that on hand.  You can also buy dry shampoos, but it is probably easier and cheaper to just mix it yourself, and there are tons of recipes you can find online.  I add a little cinnamon and cocoa powder to make it closer to my hair color, and grind it all up in my blender.  I just sprinkle it into my roots and rub it in all over my scalp with my fingers.  If I leave it in for too long, it starts to feel like dandruff, but if it’s just during the day it keeps my hair looking fluffy for a little longer.  Boston is going to find me sporting an excellent hairdo.

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This picture of my hair looking excellent probably would have been a little bit nicer if I had gotten a lamp to cover that naked light bulb.

Have you tried dry shampoo?  Do you have any other tips for super long plane trips?

The Future of this Blog

I’ve been keeping this blog for about three years now, though with some major gaps between posts.  I’ve been thinking about what I want it to be and how long I’ll continue it for.  I’d really like to be able to be more consistent in the coming months and years for several reasons.
When I was trying to decide what to do my masters in, which programs to chose, and which specialization was right for me, I found it very helpful to read other peoples’ blogs.  It gave me an unbiased view of what social work careers are like.
I hope that what I write about my experiences can be useful to others in the same way that reading blogs has been useful to me.  For example, I want people who will never visit Morocco to be able to learn a little bit about what it’s like to live here.  In the future, I hope that what I write about my masters can be relevant to those who are considering social work, who already are social workers, or who just want to learn something new.
And finally, I love writing posts and getting comments.  I enjoy reading what others have to say about each topic, and I like putting my thoughts into short posts.
For the moment, I intend to post at least once a week.  I’ll post on life in Morocco, and then on the process of moving to the U.S.  I hope you enjoy reading, and I’d love to hear what you think!
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I ❤ my readers!

Sisters in Marrakech

As you know if you have been following my blog, my big sister is the best.  Not just among all of my sisters, but probably among all sisters everywhere.  Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I got to spend a long weekend with my her in Marrakech.  Not only did we go swimming every day, do yoga on our balcony, and spend some quality sister time together, we also took hundreds of photos documenting our sisterhood.

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We’ve gotten better at matching over the years.

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My sister is now really good at yoga, so we were more creative with our sister photos this time than usual.

Not all photos were a success, but we came out with some great ones in the end!

My Best Sister now lives in the U.S., and is quite happy being there.  My husband and I are planning to move to Boston next fall, where I’ll do my masters.  Thanks to my sister we are excited about things like seeing my family regularly, living somewhere with more trees than cars, and eating yams and black beans.  And of course, having much more regular Best Sister time.

 

The Hidden Treasures of Casablanca

Most Casaouwis are not particularly excited about their own city.  I am not about to tell you that it’s a wonderful, or beautiful, or clean place to live, but Casablanca does have its own charms.  Here are some spots I like in the city:
The Lighthouse
For some reason, this has not at all been exploited as a tourist destination, though it’s my favorite place to visit.  To get to the top of the lighthouse, you have to climb up the winding staircase, guided by a man who lives next door (he does ask for money, but it’s negotiable.)  At the top, you can look out over the entire city, and across the vast ocean.  You also get an up-close look at the light at the top, which I found interesting.  What could be better than a beautiful view AND a workout?
Sky 28
This is a restaurant/bar that is on the 28th floor of the Twin Center.  It offers a beautiful view from the other side of the city from the lighthouse.  You can take the elevator up (no workout for this one) and have drinks while you watch the sunset. The best views can be found in the handicap bathroom, so make sure you take your camera when you have to use the toilet.

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Derb Omar
This is a market where goods are sold in bulk.  They sell to restaurants and shops, but you can also walk around and buy from the market.  It’s in a particularly car-filled and polluted area, but once you go into the covered market areas, it is a sea of treasures.  I like to shop for little household items and beauty products.  Once, I found a french-fry cutting machine, and now I can slice perfect fries in just a few minutes.
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A few of Derb Omar’s treasures: nail polish, lotion, peanuts, spoons, and wall decorations

My favorite part of the market is the dried fruit and nut section.  I always stock up on peanuts, crystallized ginger, dried pineapple, and dates.  And the best part is that you can sample each on before you buy them!
Maarif
This is the city’s main shopping neighborhood, and is primarily known for wide avenues lined with upscale stores like Zara, Mango, and Massimo Dutti.  But if you venture into the residential neighborhood, you’ll find a plethora of smaller hole-in-the-wall stores selling last season’s fashions (mixed in with some imitations).  And if you’re not into clothes, you might want to stop by one of many vegetable stands, bakeries, bookstores, or underwear shops.  I walk through the busiest area of Maarif on my way home from work, which is perfect for picking up fresh groceries on the way.  And yes, I have made a purchase from the Underwear Man.
The Ocean
Casablanca’s corniche is one of the best known tourist destinations, along with the mosque Hassan II and Morocco Mall.  I think it’s worth mentioning anyway because it is such a nice part of the city.  The path stretches more that 4km, and is perfect for running or walking.
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All Pastry Shops
Casablanca certainly is not lacking in bakeries.  There are some nice ones with outdoor seating where you can enjoy your pain au chocolat in the sun, though the coffee and tea is always very expensive in these cafés.  My favorite thing to do is to buy a pastry at one of the four shops just on my street, and then bring it home to warm up in the oven and enjoy with a cup of coffee on the balcony.  In other words, the very best spot in Casablanca might just be my balcony.
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Imagine that there is a chocolate fondant on the table.  What could be better?!

Why We Do Not Want to Stay in Morocco

When I first came to Morocco nearly four years ago, it was love at first sight.  The weather was perfect, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and every day was an adventure.

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Beautiful rock formations in Oualidia

I thought my husband and I might stay long-term, to keep taking advantage of Morocco’s beautiful diversity of cultures.  I was so much more in love with Morocco than any of my colleagues, most of which I thought would leave after a year or two.  But as it turns out, my close friends from my first year will probably stay significantly longer than I will.  Here’s why:

  • There are not many job options outside teaching, which is not my career.  I have also worked part-time in two NGOs, but both were pretty shockingly disorganized.  I don’t think I ever attended a meeting that didn’t start at least an hour late.
  • Getting a visa is a yearly challenge, especially for Africans.  My first year, my employer did everything for me, so I never even knew how difficult it was.  These past two years, I’ve had quite a bit of trouble renewing my visa due to unhelpfulness both from my new employer and from the staff at the prefecture.  And my husband has been working for almost three years on a student visa because his employer doesn’t want to pay the fees for a foreigner’s contract.
  • It’s just really hard to walk down the street.  I’m lucky enough to be able to walk to work, but feel so much less lucky when men comment on my clothes or appearance, or especially when they try to follow me.  It’s better when I walk with my husband, except on the occasions when people (men) yell racial slurs at us.  And then there are the broken sidewalks….
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A surprisingly well-organized slum

  • The rising culture of materialism is exhausting.  Like any fast-developing country, Morocco has become more and more focused on material wealth.  The thing to do on the weekends is to go shopping, and having a car has become a status symbol.  I struggle to explain to my students that I don’t have a car because I like to walk, not because I can’t afford one, that I don’t eat at the most expensive restaurants because I actually like to cook, and that I want to become a social worker because I genuinely find that profession fascinating, not because I got rejected from programs in technology or finance.  My idea of a good career is one that I find rewarding, not necessarily one that pays a lot of money.
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This guy probably gets his hair done in a salon every week.

There are things I love about Morocco too; the community I’ve found here, the opportunities I’ve had to meet new people and learn new languages, and the chance to experience another way of life.  The ocean in Casablanca is beautiful, the vegetables are always fresh, and my husband and I have wonderful friends.  But there’s a time for everything, and I really feel like it’s time to find a place to live with more trees than cars, even if it is somewhere with cold winters and no pomegranates.

 

Weekend in El Jadida

This weekend was my last weekend in Morocco before I leave for the summer.  To fully enjoy the Moroccan sun, my boyfriend and I went to the coastal city of El Jadida.  Only about an hour from Casablanca by train, El Jadida is an easy escape from the big city.  We arrived on Friday night, and set out first thing on Saturday to explore the city and check out our beach options.

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No motorcycles here!

The major site of El Jadida is the Cité Portugaise.  There are walls built around the tiny city, and some old canons warding off pirates.

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Don’t worry; they don’t work.

My boyfriend proved that he is really to attack those pirates, should they come.  I’m ready to flip my hair at them.

IMG_4421 copyIMG_4423 copyOn Saturday afternoon, we made our way to the beach.  It was pretty busy, but the water was perfect.

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Perhaps London would be this colorful if it could borrow El Jadida’s sunshine.

The highlight of the weekend came as a surprise.  Back in November, the circus had been in Casablanca, and I had really wanted to go.  My students had obviously all seen it in the fall, because for a couple of months all they wanted to do in class was “faire un spectacle.”  My friends saw it and discussed their favorite acts, and I could only imagine the things they described.  And then when we showed up in El Jadida, one of the first things we saw was the big red circus tent.  J’ai de la bonne chance!

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Next weekend I’ll be in London with my very best sister.  We plan on taking lots of photos, rain or shine.