Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Moving to America

I figured I would write this post because my friends and family have been naturally curious about my whole "visa thing" but understandably know very little about it. In the seven years I've been with Anthony, I've learned that people think they understand the immigration process, but more often than not, they really don't. I've also learned that some people think it's so complicated that I couldn't possibly know what I'm talking about. I'm happy to say that it's actually pretty straight-forward once you understand the steps involved and the ideas behind them.

My life, as of April 2017 (Image source)

For starters, nobody (except a US citizen) can just pick up and move to the USA. Being married to an American doesn't grant automatic residency or citizenship. Being married to an American doesn't even guarantee approval for a visa, as there are several factors that could lead to a denial.

The purpose of a visa is to allow you to present yourself at a port of entry and ask to be let in. It is not a guarantee you'll be let in.

So now that I have that out of way, here's a little bit about our story and a little bit about how fiancé(e) and spousal visas work, since we've been through both.

As you may know, Anthony and I began dating at the end of 2009. We knew very early on that we wanted me to move to Michigan, so we applied for a K-1 visa in June 2010. The K-1 visa is a fiancé(e) visa that allows the foreign partner to move to the USA faster than with a spousal visa (AKA a CR-1/IR-1 visa). Once the foreign fiancé(e) moves to the USA, they have 90 days to get married and file the second part of the paperwork (i.e. adjusting their status to that of a permanent resident). The foreign partner must stay in the USA for about three months to "adjust status" while the paperwork is processed. When that is complete, the immigrant will receive a permanent resident card, AKA green card.

The amount of time it takes to get a K-1 visa varies based on which processing centre receives the case and also how backlogged the processing centers are that month/year. I've heard of people getting a K-1 visa in three months. Had we gone ahead with our K-1 visa, it would have been ten months. As it turns out, we have a knack for getting stuck in backlogs.

The CR-1 visa takes a little longer because the status adjustment stuff I mentioned above is done before the visa is issued. The amount of time to get a CR-1 visa is about 9 months to a year, if all goes well. Some countries have a high green card fraud rate, which can delay the process. Canada is considered a low-fraud country so Canadian family members aren't scrutinized too much. There is no limit on visas for spouses of US citizens, so there is no waiting for a priority date like with other visas.

The K-1 and the CR-1 visas involve similar stages. They start with a petition to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A petition is a fancy way of saying the US citizen sends a bunch of forms and a bunch of money asking if their family member can be considered for a visa. Once the petition has been approved by USCIS, the case goes on to the National Visa Center. With the CR-1 visa, this stage requires sending in more forms and more money. The NVC says on their website that once they receive your paperwork, it takes two to four weeks for it be reviewed. In our case, NVC was backlogged at the time so it took eight weeks.

Both visas (and all US visas as far as I know) require the applicant to undergo a medical examination prior to the interview by a physician approved by the US government. There are precious few of these physicians; five in all of Canada (three of which are in Toronto, fortunately for me, unfortunately for the rest of the country). The medical exam isn't covered by provincial healthcare, and it costs about $300CAD or so if you have all the required vaccinations. It also has to be a designated panel physician; you can't just hop across the border and have a US doctor sign the form.

Once the NVC reviews everything, the case goes onto the embassy or a consulate in the applicant's home country. In my case both times, that US consulate is in Montreal. People were really shocked when I told them that Montreal is the only US consulate in Canada that processes spousal visas. Some people even implied that I must have screwed up somehow, but that's really how it is.

So why does it seem like I've been taking forever to move? Well for starters, as I mentioned, we didn't go through with the K-1 visa after all. I decided I didn't want to quit my job even if I lived in the USA, so the only reasonable option was for me to get transferred to Windsor, so I could commute from Ann Arbor.

A transfer to Windsor wasn't an easy thing. I kept getting offered positions, only for the manager to turn around and rescind the request, because the funds weren't available to fill the position. It was as frustrating as it sounds. There was nothing on the horizon in Windsor when we finally got married in spring 2015. It was nerve-wracking getting married, not knowing if I would ever get transferred to Windsor. Commuting from Ann Arbor to Sarnia every day was out of the question. By December 2015, we decided we couldn't wait forever and sent in the CR-1 paperwork. As luck would have it, I found out at the beginning of January 2016 that I was finally transferring to Windsor. Funny how perfect the timing was after four years of waiting. It did throw a slight wrench in the plans because I needed to sign a lease for an apartment in Windsor starting in April, and the visa would be ready and then expire well before then.

Our petition was approved in April, which stays valid for a year, meaning I had up to a year to send the next set of paperwork to NVC. I kept my eye on processing times and we sat on the NVC paperwork until October, hoping to time the interview in Montreal with the end of my lease. At the very end of 2016, I found out my interview was scheduled for mid-February 2017. In January, I went for my medical in Toronto. Crazily enough, you're not even told if you pass as the results are in a sealed envelope you're forbidden from opening. I just had to assume no news was good news. Earlier this month, Anthony and I took a weekend trip to Montreal for my interview, where the visa was finally approved. The interview was probably the easiest part of the whole process.

The visa itself is good for six months after the medical exam so it gives me lots of time to get rid of things and prepare to move in April.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, getting a visa isn't the same as getting citizenship. I will need to live in the USA for three years before I can apply for citizenship, which I plan to do. Permanent residents who live in the USA for any other reason than marriage have to wait five years before naturalizing.

Me in 3 years

I've also had people tell me they know Canadians who married Americans and then just moved to the USA right away, no paperwork in hand. If they could do it, what am I doing wrong? I never know what to say, because you legally need a visa to move there. I don't know if there are a lot of Canadians lying to border guards, but it is illegal to enter the USA with the intention of immigration if you do not have a valid visa. It's also illegal to misrepresent yourself to a border patrol agent, for obvious reasons.

Still me 100%

Also, everybody wants to make a joke about how I'm moving to America at the worst possible time, with Trump as president and all. While I'm not thrilled about Trump and it definitely puts a damper on my excitement, it doesn't and it can't take away all my joy. At the risk of sounding cheesy, Trump can't take away the love between two people. The most important thing is that I finally get to live with my husband. We can finally live our lives together in a way that most couples take for granted. All Anthony and I have wanted since we met was to go through life together, and that includes good times and bad times. So all things considered, I am excited for this next phase of my life and hopefully I will get at least a few interesting blog posts about it. So stay tuned...
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