Over the years people often asked me “Why don’t you just apply for citizeship?” Well, cuz it is not that simple. There are a few ways one can acquire citizenship, such as by joining the army, having American parents, marrying an American, making a large investment that creates jobs, the lottery. But it is never that simple.
Last year Forbes wrote a piece on how slow immigration processing times had become, particularly so in spousal sponsorship cases, such as mine. The process often takes about one year. Today, my greencard was approved. Nick and I reached the finish line within 4 and a half months (even after some missteps).
After getting married in March 2016, Nick and I analyzed all the possible routes through which we could apply for a green card – a kind of unknown option appeared. If the petitioner (Nick) is living in a foreign country that has a US Citizenship and Immigration Services international office then they may apply in the country in which they reside. There are 24 USCIS International offices around the world.
Before we got married (and before we even knew about USCIS international offices), Nick had applied for a text track rotation so he could be close to Belgium for a few months. Ultimately, he was placed in Milan, Italy. This turned out to be a blessing because Italy is one of the four European countries that has a USCIS International office. This allowed us to file our I-130 form (Petition for Alien Relative) at the USCIS Rome field office instead of the USCIS Chicago Lock-box facility in the US, where people normally apply.
Nick arrived in Italy on April 31st for his 3 month rotation. He mailed the I-130 petition to the Rome Field Office that same week, and within 3 weeks we got our I-130 Approval Notice. This basically means the US Citizenship and Immigration Services gave us the green light to apply for a green card. Getting the I-130 Approval Notice is a step that may take up to 6 months when applying inside the US. Processing times are much quicker at USCIS International offices and ours took 3 weeks.
In the I-130 application I also included:
- Copy of passports
- Copy of birth certificate
- Copy of marriage certificate
- Passport photographs
- Evidence of bona fide marriage
The evidence of bona fide marriage is the most subjective, and it was my favorite part. Since Nick and I did not have a child born to us, or our own house, we included documentation showing co-mingling of our financial resources; all the postcards we had exchanged; letters from our families affirming they had personal knowledge of the bona fides of our marital relationship; photographic evidence from our wedding, and our holidays, as well as the tickets for all the trips we have taken: Montreal, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, Bruges, Amsterdam, Ibiza, Ely. The usual.
In the I-130 application, I had put down that I would like to apply for the immigrant visa through the American Embassy in London, since I would be moving to England in Fall for my studies. The USCIS Rome field office e-mailed us, and said that the American Embassy in London refused to take our application, because I had no British address yet. They asked me to pick another embassy, and I chose the American Embassy in Brussels.
Two months later, I still had not heard back from them. Now, this is where I started to lose hope.