After filing the I-30 and other relative forms, the next step was to wait. I was curious about how long it was all going to take, so I started googling. And, similarly to when you have strange symptoms and take to Google, it did not get my hopes up. In fact, I began to worry that perhaps I should have begun earlier. Much earlier.
I started to read Betsy’s blog about her struggles to get her English husband to the U.S. They weren’t living together, so I felt for her even more. From her blog, I found Sara’s. Sara still isn’t finished with the process after one small error caused her wait to become even longer.
Although I know I’m lucky. I have to admit that I had several advantages going into this long and confusing process.
- Both Mario and I are white;
- Both of us speak English fluently, and I am a native;
- We both had jobs and savings (we could have afforded a lawyer, had we wanted to go that route);
- We were living in Madrid, with an embassy close by and easily accessible; and
- We were together.
So we waited. I obsessively checked our USCIS case status daily. (Okay, probably twice a day.) I worked as an English teacher, and Mario worked long hours at his law firm.
At the end of June, I finished out the school year at a high school in Madrid’s city center. I loved my job there, which was a nice change of pace. I booked a plane ticket home for the summer, while Mario stayed and worked, saving up for the future and the many costs that go along with the visa process.
Finally, sometime in mid-July, we got The Email.
On July 21, 2014, we mailed you a notice that we have approved this I130 IMMIGRANT PETITION FOR RELATIVE, FIANCE(E), OR ORPHAN. Please follow any instructions on the notice.
I think Mario almost cried at work when I forwarded it to him. Of course, I couldn’t really talk about it on the blog (for work reasons), so our online joy was muted. Our real-life joy, however, was boundless! Little did we know all the headaches that would come with the National Visa Center or the NVC.
What is the National Visa Center?
The NVC processes all immigrant visa petitions that the USCIS forwards them after approval and retains them until they are either approved or denied by the consular offices abroad.
What are the steps to visa approval?
There are several steps and many hoops through which you must jump, but is doable, and it’s definitely doable without a lawyer. (My lawyer was Google, and other people in the same situation.)
- The NVC receives your case from USCIS and gives you a case number.
- They send you Form DS-261 to choose your agent (in this case, I chose myself) and an Affidavit of Support fee bill.
- Now there are two processes to go through: the petitioner and the beneficiary. The petitioner must send in the Affidavit of Support and all the documents that go with that, while the beneficiary must send in the immigrant visa application.
The Petitioner’s Process
- The petitoner pays the AOS bill, $88, online.
- The petitioner fills out and supplies supporting documents for Form I-864.
What is Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support)?
I-864 or the AOS is meant to prove that the immigrant will have adequate financial support in the U.S. That means that either you (the petitioner) or another person has to be willing to sponsor the immigrant for forty quarters (yup, that’s 10 years)! I was not earning money in the U.S., so my parents volunteered to be my joint sponsors.
To be a sponsor or joint sponsor, you have to earn or have assets that amount to at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for your household size. You prove that by attaching documents like tax returns, W-2s, and pay stubs.
I had to establish my domicile in the U.S. as well. I did that by submitting copies of my U.S. bank account and credit card statements as well as a letter from my parents stating we would be living with them when we moved to the U.S. I didn’t realize I had to do this until the last minute, when I found a tip on a forum that stated this.
I included proof of our status as U.S. citizens and proof of my parents’ joint residency by submitting copies of passports, birth certificates, and driver licenses. I may have erred on the side of too much evidence, but better safe than sorry. I also included a cover letter.
The Beneficiary’s Process
Mario, as the beneficiary, had to send in an Immigrant Visa application after paying the bill, which was $325 in our case.
What is the Immigrant Visa application?
This was filled out online and very extensive, including questions about where he had lived and worked and where his parents were born. The documents he included were:
- An official photocopy of his passport and a photocopy
- Two passport-style photos, taken within the last thirty days
- Birth certificate (with a translation) and a photocopy
- Marriage certificate (with a translation) and a photocopy
- Police certificate from all countries lived in longer than a year (with a translation) and a photocopy
- Documents establishing our joint residency and finances (bank statements)
I did the translations myself, and all I had to do was include a statement saying the translation was accurate and I was competent to translate it.
We sent those in, after many headaches and much searching, around September. I could have done it a bit faster with a lawyer, but I was pretty happy with my work. I sent them via certified mail from my post office in Madrid.
- USCIS—United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
- NVC—National Visa Center
- AOS—Affidavit of Support
- IV—Immigrant Visa
Are you exhausted yet? I was, and Mario was working harder than ever, squirreled away in a tower in Madrid, waiting, waiting.