Thursday, March 6, 2014

Expat Diaries: Another Visa Update

Over the past few years, I've gotten a lot of questions about the logistics of expatriation.  Readers email and tweet regularly, wondering how they can legally live and work and love in another country.  (Interestingly, the only people who ask about how to get around the rules - or about the consequences of flouting them all together - are Americans who want to move abroad.  I have never once had someone from another country even hint that they were thinking of coming to the United States under fraudulent pretenses.  That doesn't make us look good, my fellow citizens!)  While I am not a lawyer or immigration professional, Jon and I have applied for seven visas between us in the last eight years and consider ourselves to be amateur experts in the field of transatlantic expatriation, so I do want to be as helpful as I can for people in similar situations.  Since we're going through the spousal visa process right now, let's discuss that!


Last time I blogged about our current visa efforts, I described it as "very stop-and-start."  We're now past that phase and, since late November, we've just been waiting.  Everything's been submitted and there's nothing we can do until we hear from USCIS, which probably won't happen for another two months.

I didn't really mention this in the post from last October, but Jon and I have actually submitted applications for two different visas to bring him over to America as my husband.  Here's how it works:

The visa required to bring an alien spouse into the United States is called the I-130.  In theory, processing time for this visa takes about 5 months; that's why we hoped that Jon would be over here in late March since we filed that application in late October.  However, we didn't realize that the five-month timeframe only leads to initial approval; after that, you have to schedule interviews and medical appointments and things like that, which can take another few months to sort out.  All in all, you're probably looking at about a year before the I-130 visa is actually granted.

Unfortunately, the "in theory" up there is supremely optimistic.  It had been taking more than 12 months for I-130 applications to be processed and, though they've now reduced that to 8 months, the processing time is far longer than it should be.  (This NYTimes article explores why the wait is so long for US citizens who apply for visas on behalf of their alien spouses.  It's distressing on many levels!)  The goal is for initial approval to take 5 months, but according to USCIS that won't apply to applications submitted before May 2014.

That's why we also submitted an I-129F petition in late November.  It's basically an offshoot of the K1 fiancé visa; you can apply if you're already married, in which case you get a K3 visa, but the alien only gets the legal rights of a fiancé rather than a spouse after arriving in the United States until all the paperwork is adjusted.  Frustratingly, that means that the alien spouse can't work immediately upon arrival in the United States.  The other annoying thing about the I-129F is that you can't submit the application until you've submitted the I-130 and received a receipt of confirmation from USCIS which you then have to include in your I-129F application packet - that's why it took us a month after filing the I-130 to file the I-129F.  On the bright side, though, processing for the I-129F really does take five months and, once it's granted, the subsequent steps should only take another four to six weeks.

(And yes, Jon loves it when I refer to him as an alien.  Obviously.)

So there we are.  We're waiting - and waiting and waiting - for any news, but it's most likely that the first thing we'll hear is that Jon's K3 petition has been approved.  We probably won't hear that for another two months, at which point we'll get a notification that we can move forward with the final pieces of the process.  Based on what we know about it all now, we hope for Jon to be here sometime in June, just over two years after I repatriated to the United States from London.  It will have been quite a journey - but it will all have been worth it!

Here are a few past posts on other visas you might be interested in applying for if you hope to move to the UK: student visa, Tier 1 work visamarriage visa, and an overview of UK visa options. Also, Gillian wrote a guest post for Betsy Transatlantically last April about her journey through the I-130 visa, which took them exactly one year.  The comments left by readers going through similar processes are supremely helpful, but do note that some of the information/advice provided may no longer be valid due to changes in the laws!  And, as usual, I highly recommend you talk to an immigration lawyer if you have specific concerns.  (I can give you names and contact information for firms in both London and DC, if you want.)  In the meantime, I'm more than happy to answer anything informally and I'm sure some questions will get answered by other readers, too, if you leave them in the comments below.  The more help we can be for each other the better!

Speaking of help, I'd be really grateful if you shared some of your thoughts on blogging with me here!  The responses I'm collecting are fantastic and I can't wait to publish them next Monday.

linking up with Postcards from Rachel and Lost in Travels for Expat Diaries 

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44 comments:

  1. Very interesting! My husband and I (and our daughter, who was born in the UK, but already has US citizenship) are looking at moving to the States, so this is perfectly timed :) Thank you for sharing your experience!

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  2. Great information, I know at some point I will be dealing with this process so it is good information to know in the future.

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  3. Ick. The bane of my existence. Because I just missed the rule change by a few months, UK civil partners/spouses have to apply for the visa twice now before being granted ILR. The fact that I have to renew mine in a year and a half gives me heart palpitations because everything went so wrong the first time. One of my closest friends married a Welshman end of October so her timeline is really similar to yours. They've decided the best way to not get disappointed about the wait is to assume that the earliest he'd be able to join her in the US is late summer. x

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  4. What a great reference! Thanks for sharing your process. Luckily, the E2 visa we need here in Korea is not that difficult, but I am not looking forward the renewal process! It seems like every month Korea changes what it wants from us!

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  5. Such a crazy process! I can imagine why so many people would want to talk to someone who's been through this process before, like you, because it's so confusing just researching it alone. My visa options are abysmal after I'm done with my MA...I'm legitimately considering getting a 2nd one just to stay in the country.

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  6. Oh my goodness, my head is spinning for you! Such an intense process. I hope your wait isn't as long as they suggest! What a journey, indeed!

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  7. Wow really!?!?! So crazy! I was just thinking about you guys the other day and wondering what the update was. Hang in there! :)

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  8. To be honest the work authorisation on the finance visa doesn't take that long to get at all (less than a month if I remember rightly) - that's the visa I cam into the US on. I'm glad we did that visa because I don't think I could of handled the extra time for the spouse one tbh! We'd never be rich enough to move the both of us back to the UK any more - I have very little love left for what the UK has done for it's immigration policies.

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  9. I thought you were all Americans! is he British? I think it goes faster if you're all in the UK when you apply...

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  10. ugh. wise. we should have been more pessimistic when we started the whole process - it's been disappointment after disappointment as we've learned more through the months!

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  11. I don't blame you, if that's a viable option for you - I was horrified when they got rid of the Tier 1 visa I'd lived in London on for two years :(

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  12. there's a tiny piece of that remains optimistic! thank you :)

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  13. spoiler: because it's going to take longer than we'd thought, we might use my tax refund for a little visit...

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  14. oh good THANK YOU! we'd heard 2 months - 1 is even better :)

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  15. I honestly think it's one of the most testing things a childless couple can go through. (I'm biased of course) But the end will soon be in sight! x

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  16. I had no idea it was such a process! Get this - My neighbor is from Peru and her boyfriend met with an immigration officer to see how he could legally propose and bring her here. Guess what they told him? They said here is legal option a, legal option b or you could just bring her here illegally and then work on the paperwork. They said option a and option b take a long time so the easier way would be to bring her on over and then deal with it. I thought that was bonkers!


    I hope your paper work gets processed soon! =)

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  17. Thank you for sharing this, Betsy. It must be hard to be separated for so long. My husband is just starting the journey to become a Canadian PR, but luckily he can stay here on his current visa while the application is pending. A quirk of the application process: while he is under review (for at least 1 year), we can't cross any borders without each other!

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  18. I am so sad that this is taking so long. I hate that they don't have an easier way (like the DCF if you are both living overseas). I hope this happens quicker than you thought! It is impossible to move back to the UK now too, even though Lee, and both our kids, are UK citizens. Who knew falling in love with someone from another country could be so hard - and cost so much?!?

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  19. I think that's a fantastic idea!!!! :)

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  20. Georgia ChristakisMarch 6, 2014 at 1:00 PM

    Well this is stressful! Peter and I just got engaged (!) and while he has a job over here, it's scary to think it could be two years until we get him a visa. Any idea how the process is different for a spouse who lives here? I'm really, REALLY hoping they don't make him leave while we await his visa.

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  21. I came over to the UK pre-2012 laws and was able to do DCF to move back to the United States with my British husband. Seems like a breeze compared to what is required now. Visas on both sides of the pond are getting more complicated - and more importantly in your situation - longer. A FB friend posted that NY Times article when it first came out as she has a foreign spouse as well and I was shocked that things are taking that long.


    Hope Jon's visa is as speedy as can be!

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  22. Hopefully the time hasn't increased too much for that paperwork (it was over 2 years ago that I did that) fingers crossed for you i'm working on my paperwork to remove my greencard conditions at the moment, so many pieces of paper!

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  23. Good on you for tackling this topic in a post! I 'brought' my husband back to the US a few years ago from the UK. I did most of the paperwork for his green card and I totally know what you are going through. It's a long, arduous process. Nerve-wracking at times too! I was considering writing a post about our process but decided it was waaaay to much to try to put into a post. As you well know, it has so many parts!

    Life+1
    New Post: To Barre or Not to Barre

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  24. This is so interesting, and I hope that things can move swiftly for you guys! That is what the second half of my year is going to be spent doing...starting to figure out the spousal visa thing for S. I have spoken to the Australian embassy here in London and they were like 'Yes, it's easy! Once you're married you apply and it will be processed' and I was like 'uh....really? I doubt that'. Every time I hear stories like yours I send up a thanks to whoever is up there for my dual citizenship. I'm so, so lucky.

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  25. I've also only heard of Americans trying to skirt/flaunt the rules - but interestingly enough, I've also heard the assumption from foreign friends that we have a lot more ability to move/live abroad than we actually do! One of my American friends even had trouble re-entering Poland once because the *border control* was convinced that Americans don't need visas to live in Poland. It's such an interesting quirk of how we're perceived abroad as well as our own sense of entitlement.


    I've got my finger crossed and thumbs pressed for you guys!

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  26. um... I'm not sure that's entirely kosher... haha!

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  27. that is SUCH a quirk! I wonder what the bureaucratic reasoning is for that? I know there's a period during our process when Jon won't be allowed to come to the States, but I think that's because they'll have his passport...

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  28. thanks, Andrea :/ good thing they have such cute accents!

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  29. "it's a certain kind of international"... Good point. I loved reading this Ana Maria! Best wishes in your future travels.

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  30. Found you through the Expat Diaries. Don't worry, you're not the only one going through crazy visa issues! I'm trying to get permanent residency in Brazil (my husband is a Brazilian citizen), and it is a NIGHTMARE. I blogged about it here: http://alonewithmytea.blogspot.com.br/2014/01/how-to-get-permanent-residential-visa.html

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  31. I'm so glad you shared your story. My friend who is Japanese is married to an American and has kids who are American citizens was so surprised at how hard it was for her to move from Malaysia to the United States with them a couple years ago. She had to apply in Japan even though she was living in Malaysia at the time. In the end, her husband had to move over to the USA with the kids so that they could start the school year, and she had to wait a few more months to join them. Crazy!

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  32. Thanks for the wishes, Zoe. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It seems our generation has become so much more mobile/global than those before us. Living abroad for a few years seems to have become a staple of many twenty-somethings. I mostly see the same information being repeated, so a wider understanding of the going-abroad experience can be nice to come across. Did you say you're Canadian below? I've had a question I've wanted to ask a Canadian for some time now, if you're up for it :)

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  33. AH congratulations! I have no idea what the process is like if the spouse if over here in terms of how long it'll take, but I can't imagine that he'd have to leave while waiting for the spousal visa as long as he's here on another that's currently valid :)

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  34. I HAVE ALL THE THOUGHTS ON THIS. I'm not ignoring it! I'll reply properly as soon as I can, but for now: thank you :)

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  35. haha it does! I'm impressed everyone seems to have followed my story!

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  36. I mean, technically yes... you apply and it's processed... but it's everything that goes INTO those two things that is crazy! good luck :)

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  37. REALLY! I didn't know that. though I do remember that my visa cost more than Jon's when we went to Turkey...

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  38. we are 99% in love and 1% totally crazy :)

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  39. It made me laugh to see this (the caps!). I can tell you're a thoughtful person who likes to consider and pull together your thoughts, which is really what makes some of your posts good and enjoyable. No rush..., Saludos desde Bogotá.

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  40. You know what's annoying? I've got two friends here that have gone through the Green Card process for their husbands, one from Canada and one from South Africa, and they've both told me that their entire process took like three months.! WTF?!?!?!

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I love reading your thoughts and suggestions! Please do leave a comment so we can get to know each other better.