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:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Land of Opportunities

When I was about to land in Chicago, the TV screens on the airplane showed a video welcoming passengers to the U.S.  It showed green lawns, kids chasing golden retrievers, and people of every skin color.  Despite having lived the majority of my life in America and already knowing exactly what it looks like, the video made me pretty excited about arriving in the land of opportunity.

The photos in this post are of bread I've made.  This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

The photos in this post are of bread I’ve made. This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

America isn’t really as perfect as it looks on that video, although that’s not much of a surprise.  However, after being away for a year, there are several things that have surprised me.  First would be the no guns allowed sign all over Chicago (thanks to the conceal and carry law being passed), which is on a lot of public buildings; it’s odd to think that people need to be told that weapons do not belong in public buildings.  Not that I wanted to take a gun into the library, anyway.  Men wearing their pants so low that their butts hang out is not new, but it is still kind of surprising to see after not seeing it for so long (maybe some of them could use a djellaba).  Occasionally getting catcalls when I’m walking to my internship on the South Side is also not new, but is pretty disappointing – I thought I was going to have a break from that!  It is much easier to go for runs or walks here without worrying about what I’m wearing, but it’s not as different from Morocco as I was imagining it to be all of last year.

IMG_4680

Oatmeal bread

Another surprise came to me at Walmart.  I made my first ever trip to the all-American store last weekend, and only now do I really understand the purpose of giving up sugar.  Walmart is full of packaged foods, nearly all of which have sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It’s in cereals, peanut butter, bread, yogurt, and pre-prepared meals.  Someone shopping only at Walmart would truly be challenged to totally give up sugar.  And what’s more, the food doesn’t taste the same here, even if bought at fancier stores than Walmart.  The carrots aren’t as sweet, the eggs aren’t as rich, the olive oil doesn’t taste like olives, and the Philadelphia cream cheese has ten ingredients instead of the four in Morocco’s (or Spain’s) version of the exact same brand.  These were difficult discoveries for me when I arrived; I love cooking and baking so much, so I want the ingredients to taste good!

Challah (egg bread)

Challah (egg bread)

I know from working with refugees that new immigrants (and even those who have been abroad for quite a while) have trouble adjusting, unfavorably comparing everything to equivalents in their home country.  It takes a long time to get used to little differences and to both appreciate what is better in the new country and to stop comparing it to the old.  It’s oddly not that much easier when the new country is also where you are from.  I guess I’ve got six more weeks to work on it.  Well, at least my bread loaves are pretty!

This isn't bread!  It's South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

This isn’t bread! It’s South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

The Heart Grows Fonder

Up until a few months ago, I wasn’t sure if I would be visiting the U.S. this summer.  I was fine with staying here, and didn’t feel at all homesick.  But then I found out that I would have a vacation in August, and began to plan a trip to Chicago for a month.  Once that was on the horizon, I suddenly started thinking of all the things I was excited to do at home.  Go biking, eat real peanut butter, read the New York Times in print….  Then a few weeks ago, I decided to spend two whole months in Chicago instead of just one this summer so that I could do an internship, which seems to be the best option in terms of my career and of how my schedule works out.  Just two days ago, I bought my plane ticket to leave on June 27th.  Now that I have the ticket in my hands, I keep thinking of things I want to do not in Chicago, but in Casablanca.  Can you believe, there’s even an Indian restaurant here I haven’t been to yet?  I’d better start a list!
At least I made it to the top of the Twin Center before going home for the summer!  Casa's skyline rivals that of Chicago.

At least I made it to the top of the Twin Center before going home for the summer! Casa’s skyline rivals that of Chicago.

I think it will be helpful to spend time at home, to do an internship that I’m excited about, and to have time to reflect on my freshman year of life before going back to the next year.  I’m not worried that I’ve made any poor decisions, but I am confused at how little sense my emotions seem to make in this situation.  I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder…even if it’s just the thought of an absence that’s doing it for me!