My husband is from London, England – born and raised. We met in 2006, were engaged in 2009, and married in 2010.
I had really never thought much about immigration before marrying a non-American. Growing up in agriculture, migrant workers from all over the world were needed to help with annual ranch work, harvest, tending to livestock, and other duties that occur in day-to-day work.
Do I think the U.S. has an immigration problem? Absolutely! However, I believe immigration is necessary and important. At the same time it is not easy, is time-consuming, and it is expensive.
My first-hand experience with immigration has led me to have some unique and personal experiences and thoughts on immigration. There are several ways to become a U.S. citizen through immigration, I am only familiar with the ins-and-outs of marriage immigration.
Last Friday, the hubs and I finally hit a milestone, he received permanent resident status! It has nearly taken five years to get to this point, but now he can take the U.S. citizenship test!
As we prepared for our final interview, and reflected on the past several years preparing for this day to come we thought we would put together a “top 10 list” of things we wish we would have known when we started this journey. Our list is two-fold, we hope that these tips can help others going through the immigration process. We also hope you have a better understanding of what people going through the immigration process endure. We hope you will ask questions about the process instead of assuming what you hear or see through the media is the truth.
1. Get an immigration specific lawyer. Our first lawyer was a general practice lawyer who had little to no experience in immigration law, we wasted time and money…
2. Do not try to complete this process yourself – get a lawyer. When you start down the immigration road it seems fairly straightforward, and you believe you can do it yourselves – you can’t. Just hire a lawyer! Having someone to keep all of the forms, rules, and regulations straight is worth it. Additionally, this person will file all of the forms on your behalf and represent you if/when needed.
3. Not sure where to find a good lawyer? Contact your place of employment (for me, that was the University of Nebraska-Lincoln). While they were not able to directly help us since I was not the immigrant, they did provide recommendations for several lawyers, which was tremendously helpful.
4. Do your research. We read everything we could find online about the immigration process. There are many online forums and people who share information about “their experience” which is helpful in understanding what you may experience.
5. The process is going to be expensive! No way to get around it. I am not just talking about the lawyer, you will pay Homeland Security and other entities as you go. You will also have travel expenses to see your lawyer and to get to your nearest immigration center. At one point we took out a small loan from the bank, and at other points we have asked our lawyer to put us on a payment plan.
6. Be sure you completely understand any travel restrictions, time limits, rules, and regulations. A failure to understand these could result in delays or a deferral of your case. For us, there was a time period that we could not travel out of the U.S. until a form had been processed. Every time we moved to a new residence, a new form had to be submitted with the new addresses. There are lots of little caveats that a good lawyer will clearly outline for you.
7. Save everything! At several intervals during the immigration process we were asked to gather evidence of our relationship. It is important to have both names on any financial documents (bank accounts, retirement funds, life insurance policies, etc.), housing/apartment leases, utility bills, tax forms, etc. – anything that shows you coexist together. Also, if friends or family send cards or other life announcements with both of your names, save these. You will need proof of a life together!
8. Take pictures together and with family and friends at every chance you get – document your life. Photos are also a great supplement to the items mentioned above in documenting your life together.
9. When/if you get called for an interview, don’t sweat the small stuff (easier said than done). If your relationship is legit you have nothing to worry about. When we were notified of our interview we were very nervous. We were told sometimes it is random, they may have a question, or they may need a little bit more proof. Even though we are “perfect citizens” there is the fear of the unknown. Our interview was only about 15 minutes, it was straightforward and easy.
10. Be patient. This is not an easy or quick process. Immigration in real-life is not the romantic comedy Hollywood makes it! While each immigration story is different, I hope our insights will either help someone you know going through the process or help you better understand what the process is like.