Many of you know that my husband is not a US citizen. He was originally born in South Africa, grew up in Botswana, and later moved to New Zealand with his family as a young teenager. You can only imagine the type of ridiculously long distance relationship we had that entailed hundreds of hours of Skype calls, Viber messages, booked plane tickets, and tearful airport goodbyes. Luckily the US and New Zealand have a good relationship and we were able to take advantage of the Visa Waiver Program to visit one another while we were dating. However, as things progressed and Sean’s work sent him to live in the States for nine months, he later upgraded to a B-1 business visa. That was our first taste for the journey that we would soon begin with USCIS/CBP. We were fortunate because it allowed Sean to come and go as his work deemed fit and that meant more of a “normal” long distance relationship for us that didn’t span over 8,000 miles.
Next thing we knew Sean began eyeing graduate school. He chose to apply to the Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After setting quite a lofty goal by choosing not apply to any other schools, we both decided that if he did not get accepted then I would move to New Zealand to finally close the distance. Luckily, MIT saw what an incredibly talented and intelligent young man Sean is and accepted him into the LGO program! At this point Sean would get interviewed at the US Consulate in Auckland, New Zealand to get issued his F-1 student visa.
First of all, I want to say that we could not have kept our sanity throughout this process if it weren’t for several online immigration support forums like VisaJourney.com, Immihelp.com, and Trackitt.com. There are so many people that go through different stages of visa and immigration processes and they gather on these website to help one another. I am mainly writing this detailed account as a way to give back to those people who are still seeking answers and looking for any possible way to predict how their own process will go. I know that we spent countless hours searching for answers when there were months of silence. Here is our timeline of events after we decided to finally adjust Sean’s status to permanent residency:
09/28/15 – I-693 Medical Exam
10/01/15 – Pick up sealed I-693 form
10/05/15 – Mailed AOS Package (I-130, I-485, I-864, I-693, I-131, I-765, G-325As, G-1145)
10/07/15 – AOS Package delivered to Chicago Lockbox
10/14/15 – Received four NOA1s via e-mail & text notifications that USCIS received our case. Routed to National Benefits Center for processing
10/15/15 – Checks cashed
10/19/15 – Received four hard copies of NOA1s in the mail
10/23/15 – Received biometrics appointment in the mail. Scheduled for 11/03
10/26/15 – Failed early walk-in attempt for biometrics at Boston location
11/03/15 – Biometrics appointment in Boston
11/10/15 – AOS case status changed to “Ready to be scheduled for interview”
12/21/15 – EAD/AP approved
12/24/15 – EAD/AP mailed
12/30/15 – EAD/AP delivered
03/17/16 – Interview scheduled for April 20th – case status updated online
04/20/16 – AOS Inteview – Boston, MA – APPROVED!
04/25/16 – Approval notice received in the mail
04/26/16 – Green card mailed
04/29/16 – Green card delivered
Advance Parole & Travel Abroad during Adjustment of Status
USCIS has a rule that if someone files for adjustment of status and leaves the country without first filing I-131 and receiving Advance Parole then their application will be considered ABANDONED. That means all of the work you put into your application, the $1,490 filing fees, and attorneys fees were all for nothing and you must resubmit your application. Not to mention you risk not being allowed to re-enter the United States. Now depending where you live and which visa you are adjusting from your AOS process can take anywhere from 3 months to over a year. Chances are during this time you will need to leave the US to return to your home country for a family emergency, travel abroad for work, etc. It does not cost any additional money to file the I-131 form if you include with your AOS application. We decided to file for Advance Parole along with the I-765 (Employment Authorization) form so Sean would have the flexibility to travel and work during his long wait for permanent residency. These authorizations are commonly referred to as the EAD/AP combo card because after approval you are mailed a card that looks like this:
Sean only needed to use his EAD/AP combo card a few times: to get his Social Security Number, Massachusetts Driver’s License, and once for travel returning to the US from Dubai. As with everything else surrounding visas and immigration, we were incredibly nervous using Advance Parole for Sean to re-enter the US after our holiday in Dubai. The Qatar Airways employees at the check-in counter were absolutely fantastic and knew exactly what Advance Parole meant so we had no issues boarding the plane in the UAE. We had one connection in Doha, Qatar and when our final flight landed at Boston Logan International Airport a CBP agent instructed Sean to use the regular foreign visitors line. This was a little disappointing as we were told that CBP sometimes allows foreign spouses using Advance Parole to join their spouse in the US citizens line. However, it is completely at the individual CBP agent’s discretion. I decided to forego my privilege to use the Global Entry kiosk in order to stay with Sean in the foreigner line in case–which I highly recommend because it took several hours. Eventually, Sean managed to enter the country with his EAD/AP combo card without any issue. Secondary screening took forever because for some reason the Boston airport was busy on a Thursday afternoon. Other than that, nothing outstanding to report. This is what the CBP agent stamped in his passport to allow him entry:
After months of waiting and plenty of administrative steps, the day of the interview finally arrived! We were already on edge and nervous as it was preparing all of the supporting evidence required for the interview and making sure we knew the best way to arrive in time. What we did not expect was both of us getting incredibly debilitating stomach viruses right before the most important interview ever. Needless to say, we were a big, combined ball of nerves and incredibly anxious to get through this as quickly as possible. When you receive your interview appointment in the mail they include a long checklist of all the documents you must bring. These include: latest federal tax return that you did not already include in your application, letter from your employers, last two months of pay stubs, original birth certificates of both parties, original/certified marriage certificate, and about a dozen other documents IN ADDITION to the stacks of paperwork, photos, and other various documents you need to bring as evidence of a bona fide marriage essentially proving that your relationship is legitimate.
Our interview took place at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. We decided to drive instead of take the T because the Government Center T stop is STILL closed. Our appointment was at 2:00 PM, so we left at 1:00 PM, and arrived 30 minutes later with plenty of time to park and go through security. However, we got absolutely smashed with a $38 parking fee by parking in the garage directly across the street. If you plan ahead (or the T stop is open by then) you can find cheaper alternatives, but we were simply focused on getting there as quickly as possible. When you arrive you need to make sure you find the public entrance because you will go through security–metal detector, bags/purses x-rayed, etc.
Once we found the correct room (around 1:50 PM), we checked-in with the front desk by giving her our names and the interview notice we received in the mail. She told us to have a seat and our names would get called shortly. The waiting room is massive and we actually waited a solid 35 minutes prior to Sean’s name getting called because it was pretty busy and they seemed to be behind schedule based. The IO introduced himself as Officer Lee and apologized for the delay, but he requested that only I (the US citizen) accompany him to his office to get interviewed first and separately. So I took our accordion file folder of documents and headed into the secured area.
First he asked for my ID and if our attorney would be joining. Since we decided to not have our attorney involved for the interview portion of the process, we both needed to sign a document waiving our right to an attorney. After that was signed, he asked me to raise my right hand and put me under oath. The first order of business was for me to submit any new evidence that we previously did not include in our original application. I brought bank statements, cell phone bills, our 2015 tax return, airfare tickets and hotel reservations from trips taken together, and photos. He only took a small sampling of documents because he didn’t want to make our file too thick and thanked me for being so organized.
Next, he started asking questions like what my husband’s name is, his date of birth, his cell phone number, and the address where we reside. He then asked how we met, when we first met, when was our first date, and when we met each other’s families all while taking notes in our file. Officer Lee was incredibly personable and genuinely interested in our story. He did a great job of putting me at ease, but still acted very professional. I felt as if we were simply having a conversation about my husband. The unique questions that I believe no one can “prepare for” or expect involved details that only a truly married couple who live together would know. He had me reconfirm our most current address and then asked how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are. He asked if we had a washer and dryer and if so, where they are located in our home. He also asked if either of us took daily medications or vitamins. I immediately answered, “No. Oh wait–I take that back. I actually take probiotics at night.” He followed up with, “Are those kept on your nightstand?” and I told him where I store them. After I answered him I started to second-guess myself and think, “Oh man, Kristina. Sean is never going to know that. It’s such a minute detail and there’s no way he’s noticed that you take probiotics–let alone where you keep them in the house. You should’ve just stayed with the plain no answer.” After that Officer Lee told me that he was going to fetch Sean from the waiting room and that I was welcome to remain in his office during Sean’s portion of the interview as long as I did not say anything directly to Sean or communicate with him in any way.
After Sean entered the office, Officer Lee asked Sean my full name, date of birth, how we met. how he proposed, and the same exact questions regarding the small details of our home. Sean did a spectacular job answering clearly and concisely. I was so incredibly happy and not to mention surprised when Sean nailed the question about my daily probiotics and where I stored them in the house without any hesitation. Proving once again that the truth is always the best course of action and I should not have doubted that after answering honestly! Next, the IO asked Sean a series of standard yes or no questions about whether or not Sean has ever conspired to commit a crime, espionage, join a terrorist organization, etc. He then asked to see all of Sean’s passports that he currently held. Luckily we even brought his expired passport so the IO could see his previous B-1 visa. He also requested to see Sean’s Social Security card since he had already applied for his SSN using his EAD card.
Finally, Officer Lee looked at us and said, “Well, I believe I have everything I need. Sean, I actually asked you a few more questions that I didn’t ask your wife because you’re here and might as well tell your story. I plan on approving you. So congratulations! You can expect approval to process within the next 7 – 10 business days and then it can take 3 – 4 weeks for you to receive the physical green card.” To say we were thrilled about be an understatement.
Some quick notes I’d like to make surrounding the Adjustment of Status Process:
- Make sure you shop around for a good price for the I-693 Medical Exam. Doctors set their own price for this examination (most insurance companies do not pay for it) and people must pay with cash or check. We managed to find a doctor to perform the exam for $170 in Boston.
- We never received any e-mails or texts from USCIS after the first initial NOA1s.
- We chose to have an attorney handle our Adjustment of Status application, because we felt more secure doing so. However, in hindsight, we believe we could have saved $1,500 in attorneys fees by doing this ourselves. We had a straight forward case with no previous marriages, criminal records, or unlawful entries into the United States.
- Since our marriage is less than 2-years-old, Sean was issued conditional permanent residency for two years. Then we will need to file for removal of conditions 90 days prior to his green card expiring. After removal of conditions is successfully filed he will be issued a 10 year green card.
- Now that Sean is a US permanent resident he is now eligible to apply for Global Entry