at a friend's wedding in Sussex; July 2013
After more than two years of long-distance, Jon and I have an end date: September 19. Next Friday, after 841 days of being in a transatlantic relationship, Jon will board a flight in London, a one-way ticket in his hand, and he'll immigrate to the United States of America.
There are absolutely steps we could have taken to be reunited sooner. We could have married in secret at City Hall in the States before our real wedding in England, we could have had a shorter engagement, we could have had our visa application ready to submit the day I returned to DC from our honeymoon, we could brought Jon over on a fiancé visa and wed in America... there are a dozen things we could have done differently. And, in hindsight, there are some decisions we definitely would have made differently. But I think it's really important for me to say that, given the decisions we did make, the system worked the way it's supposed to.
That isn't to say that the system isn't totally absurd. It is. But the system worked - the process worked - the way we were told it would. As I've admitted before, much of our frustration about how long it all was taking was due to our own misunderstanding. And I think we fell victim to the same assumption that so many of our friends and family members have: this should be easy because we're married.
If I have any advice for couples in transatlantic relationships who are considering applying for a relationship-based visa, it would be to learn from this fundamental mistake. You have to accept from day one that the process isn't easy and it isn't quick. If you do apply for the I-130, it almost certainly will take close to a year before the visa is granted, as they predict it will. There's no way to be prepared for the strain that will place on your relationship if you're on opposite sides of the pond throughout the process - at least, I don't think there was any way we truly could have understood it before we were in the midst of it - but know that you will be stronger when you come out on the other side.
We're not naïve; we know that the next chapter of our marriage will have its own obstacles. After all, we haven't lived together for over two years! But, twelve and a half months after we exchanged rings, we've learned more about ourselves and about each other and about our relationship because of this visa process than we would have in twice the time otherwise, and that is truly invaluable.
Oct 29 2013: submitted I-130 to USCIS
Nov 17 2013: received I-797 (receipt confirmation) from USCIS
Apr 17 2013: I-130 approved by USCIS
Apr 22 2014: received I-797 (notice of approval) from USCIS
Apr 29 2014: NVC received I-130 materials from USCIS (confirmed by phone)
Jun 5 2014: application put into processing at the NVC (confirmed by phone)
Jun 22 2014: notice that our I-129F was withdrawn from consideration due to the approval of our I-130
Jul 7 2014: notice that our I-130 has been transferred to London (confirmed by email)
Aug 14 2014: medical appointment in London
Aug 21 2014: interview at US Embassy in London scheduled for September 4
Sep 4 2014: Jon's visa is granted at his interview
Sep 10 2014: notified by email that Jon's passport will be ready for collection on September 12
Sep 11 2014: Jon books his flight to America
Sep12 2014: Jon retrieves his passport
Sep 19 2014: Jon will expatriate to DC
As always, if you're going through a similar visa process (or considering starting one), please feel free to email me! I'm happy to provide more details, amateur suggestions, and a virtual shoulder to lean on if you need it.