You’re going to want some snacks, because I have no choice but to make this post about eleventy billion words long. Maybe I’ll even break it up into parts … Yes, yes, it will make me seem more important and generate me $0.05 more in ad revenue. (I’m rolling in the dough with all my ~~sponsored posts~~.)
Sometime around Christmas 2013/January 2014, I started to gather up a mountain of documents for the first step in getting Mario a green card. Oh, to be so young and naïve and full of foolhardy hopes and dreams. If only I knew. If only I knew, I would have started before I even met Mario! (Wait. Is that even possible?) I began to mention to Mario that we should probably send our paperwork in soon, that I was reading rumors online about how the process was taking up to nine months. He was less sure, but eventually he acquiesced, and we sent in our packet full of everything we’ve ever done with our lives. I walked twenty minutes to our nearest post office (Madrid, did I tell you I don’t miss not having a car?), I paid the few euros extra to have the mail certified, and I crossed my fingers. Literally.
That’s the story behind the first step. But what about the nitty gritty details? What do you need to do to get your IR-1 Visa?
First of all, you need to be married.
The State Department would like very much to clarify what marriage is. They clearly have not watched The Princess Bride or this would be clearer. Remember: If you’re living it up, Big Love style, only the first spouse qualifies for immigration. Important.
You must fill out Form I-130.
In this form, you are establishing your relationship to “certain alien relatives” that you wish to schlep to the U.S. (but not in your suitcase). Instructions for the form can be found here.
You can also fill out Form G-1145, if you live in the 21st century and would like to be notified electronically (i.e., email) when USCIS accepts your application. Acceptance is not approval!
What does Form I-130 entail?
Short answer: A whole lot of stuff.
Long answer: Ooooh, boy, here we go.
First off, the filing fee for this baby is $420. Get used to it; the payments will start piling up! You pay by check or money order. This may be a bit of an issue if you’re living outside of the U.S. I got the money order before I left after Christmas break.
In addition to filling out the form, which isn’t actually very long, you need to establish that you are, indeed, a United States citizen. You do that by sending them a copy of your birth certificate issued by a civil registrar, vital statistics office, or other civil authority. This may cost money. You also need a copy of your passport.
Next, you need to prove you are related to your spouse (or other relative, but in my case, a spouse). I had to submit the following documentation:
- A copy of our marriage certificate
- A passport-style photo of myself and of my spouse taken within 30 days of the petition (so no old photos!). There are actually very specific requirements, which you can check out on this PDF.
- Completed and signed Form G-325A for both of us, which was “biographic information.”
In addition to those requirements, I was told I “should” submit one or more of the following to help them see our marriage as bona fide:
- Document showing joint ownership or property (e.g., if we had owned a house)
- A lease showing that we were renting together
- Documentation showing that we had shared financial resources (e.g., a bank statement)
- Birth certificate of children born to us (not our case, again)
- Affidavits sworn to by third parties with knowledge of our relationship. We had my mom write one and sign it.
- Any other relevant documentation.
Of course, many of these documents had to be translated, as they were in Spanish, like our marriage certificate. It’s not a problem, though. The U.S. only requires that you include a full English translation that the translator herself has certified as complete and correct. So I did my own translation!
Where do I file?
It depends on where your domicile is. You have to have established that you still are residing in the U.S. Since my parents live in Indiana, I was still receiving credit card statements and bank letters there. That was my “domicile.” So I filed with the Chicago Lockbox. However, you should see if you belong to the Phoenix Lockbox.
I scoured the Internet for a long time before filing, trying to make sure I had done everything perfectly. The last thing I wanted was to wait five months only to be disappointed! Here are some links I found helpful during the process:
- USCIS: I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
- USCIS: Tips for Filing Forms with USCIS
- Visa Journey: I-130 Guide and FAQ and Wiki
- USCIS Case Status (For when you want to know what’s up!)
- S. Department of State: Immigrant Visa for a Spouse of a U.S. Citizen (IR1 or CR1)
You will learn a lot of new fun terms! It’s just like elementary school, except sadder and more frustrating.
- USCIS—United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is a part of the United States Department of Homeland Security. One of its purported goals is to “eliminate immigration case backlogs,” which makes me chuckle. Ironically.
- IR1/CR1 Visa—”IR” stands for Immediate Relative and entitles the holder to 10 years of permanent residency in the U.S., which may later be renewed. CR1 stands for Conditional Residency and the holder is entitled to conditional permanent residency for two years.
- Petitioner—The U.S. citizen spouse is the petitioner.
- Beneficiary—The spouse in the foreign country.
It was a lot of work, but I felt a sense of satisfaction when I sent out the packet. I could not have anticipated how long the next steps would take!