my mother-in-law served as a substitute bride
April 6, 2015 7:46 AM   Subscribe

"It was actually harder for Eri to enter the country because she was married to me." Justin Merrill describes how US immigration policies ruined his wedding as a part of OpenBorders.Info's series on the personal reasons to support open border policies.
posted by anotherpanacea (69 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I feel badly for this couple and their situation. I know what its like to have your life turned upside down because of US immigration.

I live in Niagara Falls, ON and there are many advantages to shopping across the border. Its not far and it often saves me money. I am now a Canadian citizen. But I still find myself avoiding going across the border because I do not want to endure the fear/embarrassment/harassment/terror/bigotry/racism that often comes with being a visible minority at the border.* I hate that I feel like a criminal whenever I approach the border. I absolutely hate this entire system and what it does to me. I've had so many bad experiences that it often borders on phobia levels of anxiety.

Typical train of thought as I approach the border:

- do I look ok?
- remember to only answer questions they ask, never offer up additional information that isn't necessary
- look them in the eye
- don't fidget
- have your paperwork/documentation ready
- never lie
- speak clearly
- turn off your phone/music
- be ready for delays
- be patient

*I recognize that you don't even have to be a visible minority to deal with these issues, but it certainly doesn't help me. I also get that not every border agent or person who works in that system is a terrible human being. But my experience has not been good and its been so consistent that I'd rather just not deal with it whenever I can avoid it. I only cross when I absolutely need something or am travelling somewhere in the United States as it is cheaper to travel out of Buffalo than Toronto.
posted by Fizz at 8:03 AM on April 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


A relative is right now going through the hell of trying to marry someone from Germany. They have had to provide the most ridiculous amount of proof, and keep running into conflicting directions on what kinds of documentation they have to provide and what has to be notarized, and so on. He's a smart fella, an engineer, but it's tripping him up; he needs to get a lawyer, I told him, someone who knows what there is to know about the process. But he insists he should be able to figure it out on his own. Meanwhile, her life in Germany is on hold and he spends all his time on the phone arguing with officials. The fact that his mother used a hyphenated last name for him on his birth certificate has caused him a lot of trouble...he's never gone by that name, has multiple government high-security IDs under the one he does use, etc., but Immigration don't care, they are throwing up roadblocks all the same.
posted by emjaybee at 8:05 AM on April 6, 2015


I've had so many bad experiences that it often borders on phobia levels of anxiety.

So basically borderphobia?
posted by sour cream at 8:27 AM on April 6, 2015


Nope, he needs a lawyer. I'm an engineer, I consider myself a pretty bright guy. And my wife is an immigration lawyer. When she starts to describe what she has to go through my head starts to hurt and my eyes glaze over.

It's a hugely complicated system full of irrational rules and subject to the whims of whoever you are talking to that day. Which means you need someone like an immigration lawyer who knows the system in and out, eccentricities an all.
posted by beowulf573 at 8:30 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


emjaybee: he needs to get a lawyer, I told him, someone who knows what there is to know about the process. But he insists he should be able to figure it out on his own.

You have given him the right advice, which is sometimes all you can do for someone. Immigration law is specialized enough that even very large companies with scads of highly-paid lawyers in their legal departments will farm the work out to specialists.

I am also an engineer and also consider myself a pretty bright guy, but part of that is farming out work. It's not that I couldn't figure out how to fix an electrical problem, but an electrician knows to how make sure it's done safely and is up to city code.
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:36 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


My wife and I (I'm US, she's UK) spent the last several years country-hopping - me going through the hassle of getting a french long-stay visa before we got married, then applying for the UK, then us moving to the US and getting her a green card. What a nightmare it all is for people, and that's when you have the resources and simplicity of no kids and a clean background! I can't even imagine how hellish it is for people with messier/complicated circumstances.

What pissed me off about the whole thing though, really, was as a US Citizen who had never done anything wrong and contributed dutifully by paying taxes, voting, civic involvement, etc., I was being treated like a complete criminal. As if i was trying to smuggle in some kind of uber-terrorist/benefits-cheat.

My wife is ENGLISH. they have the biggest welfare benefits system in the WORLD. it's not like she needs to try to come to the US to scam our system, you know? it boggles the mind.

But I realized: I was getting all angry and upset because they were mistreating me, as a white male from the midwest, who has had the benefit of all the systems working in my favor my whole life. How much worse must it be for others? I read the stories and comments on the various visa forums and you can totally feel and understand the heartbreak and terror that other people are experiencing - as they try to do very reasonable things like "I want to be together with my wife". People who were coming from countries we did not hold in high esteem in the US, and thusly were being put through the wringer.

It just shamed me, as an american, and I felt (and still feel) absolutely horrible about the whole situation. I wrote at great length to my elected reps here in the US, just to try to put my voice in on the subject, and really it's not something they care about one bit.

Our nation that was created by untold millions of immigrants and now we treat them like criminal filth no matter what the circumstances. If you're a permanent visa holder from mexico and you want to bring over your wife, the wait time exceeds 13 years for your visa application to be REVIEWED. That's appalling.

Sorry for the lack of coherent words on this, it just makes me get all upset and angry at how we treat people in this country.
posted by EricGjerde at 8:44 AM on April 6, 2015 [49 favorites]


I married an American girl and moved over from Australia, so I've been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. It astounds me how people approach the immigration system with such blasé and with such wrong assumptions.

We thought that getting a spouse visa was as simple as applying after you entered on a tourist visa

No no no no no no no no no no no nooooooooooo. This isn't how it works.

Jesus Christ people this is immigration. This is the single most bureaucratic organization you'll ever have to deal with in your entire life. You do everything by the fucking book.

The worst thing is some attorneys are hopeless at this shit too.

I have an acquaintance who just got married with her now husband on the VWP. This is what an attorney apparently told them to do. I told them they were crazy and to do it right. Getting married while one participant is on the VWP? That takes some brass fucking balls. I really hope her husband doesn't get deported at the end of it.

Immigration is so stupidly overly complex but until we change it, Jesus Christ, have a modicum of respect for the current stupidly overly complex system and do your international marriage right.
posted by Talez at 8:45 AM on April 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


I have to say, Eri would have been turned back and possibly been labeled with misrepresentation, but that does not make her completely inadmissible for a greencard. In THEORY, it does, however there is a way--not a cheap way, but a way--to get her into the US and have a greencard.

Step 1: Obtain a lawyer.
Step 2: Husband files an I-130 petition for alien spouse.
Step 3: Complete the visa application process as directed.
Step 4: Erin attends a visa interview wherein she is likely rejected and given a 221(g). Given the nature of her 'offense', as long as she is COMPLETELY honest with all aspects of the application process, the 221(g) will tell her that she qualifies for a 601 waiver (waiver of grounds of inadmissibility)
Step 5: Lawyer prepares waiver.
Step 6: After more time, Eri receives visa.

Eri's 'offense' was not uncommon. Her time as a student in the US (assuming she did not overstay her visa) and as a student in Australia (again, assuming she did not overstay her visa there) points to her being honest, which will help in establishing her character. Her husband is American. He chose to move overseas to live with her, establishing the bonafides of the relationship quite clearly. She can be waived for her inadmissibility based on her husband's citizenship if he can find ANY reason why he needs to be in the US--this can be grounds of being able to obtain better work (financial grounds), have greater safety (if there are reasons a gaijin would find himself harassed and he can back this up with news articles, for example), or he needs to look after a relative.

It's not cheap and it's time consuming (the greencard process alone takes over a year) but Eri is not permanently inadmissible under all grounds and once she had a greencard, even if they moved back overseas, she likely would not be required to obtain another waiver to return.

The system is stupid and messed up and broken and racist. It sucks and honest people get screwed over. There are entire online communities devoted to family immigration.
posted by NotATailor at 8:46 AM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oh and also, immigration lawyers can be good, but the rules are so undocumented and messy that even they screw things up. Clarity is NOT a thing with the USCIS or the state dept. It's not like there's one set of rules to follow, they have mismatched overlapping rules that contradict and they choose rulesets to follow at whim. It's colossally stupid.

I found some of the info on visajourney.com to be extremely helpful for our reams of paperwork, especially the checklists and cover sheets. YMMV of course.
posted by EricGjerde at 8:46 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, one of the reasons I doubt I'm ever moving back to the US is that it would be such an insane hassle to do so.

To stay in Japan on a spouse visa, I would just need to take the following to the Japanese immigration office:
1 An application form
2 A photograph
3 A copy of my wife's civil registry, and a copy of her resident registry. Available for about $10 total in about 15 minutes at city hall
4 A marriage certificate
5 A certificate showing my wife's payment of residential taxes for the last year, available for about $5 in 30 minutes at the tax office
6 A copy of my wife's passport or other ID
7 A brief background of our relationship
8 Two or three photographs of us taken during our relationship
9 My passport
10 A seal to sign the forms
11 $40 (well, 4,000 yen, so basically $40)
...and that's it. I could conceivably wake up in the morning, start filling out paperwork and going to government offices to collect forms, and have everything turned in by like 2:00 p.m. of the same day. Go back a week later and have a stamp put in my passport. Total time: 1 week. Total price: $55.

In the US, I would need to:
1 File a Petition for Alien Relative ($420)
2 Wait eight (8!!) weeks to be told if you I am now allowed to fill out the DS-261
3 Submit the DS-261. Maybe costs $88, or maybe not. No official sites state the fee, nor do they state that it is free (although they do for other forms). The $88 number came from some forum.
4 Passport
5 Affidavit of Support
6 Form DS-260
7 Two photographs
8 Medical Examination Forms
9 Birth certificate
10 Marriage certificate
11 Police certificate
12 Biographic information forms (self and spouse)
13 Maybe a separate $265 spouse visa fee? Not clear - indicated on some US government sites, but not mentioned on others
14 Whatever other forms they tell you to fill out along the way, with whatever other fees they ask you to fill out along the way (from browsing forums, varies widely)
15 An in-person interview, scheduled after 3-14 above have been filed

Total time: Three months? Total cost: Somewhere between $420 and $773.
Plus, all of the above is maddeningly imprecise. Every .gov site has different information, making it impossible to tell what to do.

It's just not worth even trying unless you truly have to.

Mad_Carew: "Immigration law is specialized enough that even very large companies with scads of highly-paid lawyers in their legal departments will farm the work out to specialists."

That's the issue. US immigration law is fucking nuts. It wouldn't even occur to me to get a lawyer to handle a Japanese immigration law issue. Just go to the Ministry of Justice website, check the page of instructions for the visa you need, get the certificates it says you need, fill out the forms linked, and make sure you have the amount of money it says on the page. Go to the immigration office, take a number, and when they call your number, hand over the documents. Bam. You're done. Immigration law doesn't need to be crazy. Yes, there's a role for immigration lawyers, but it should be in the difficult cases. Like electrical engineers: electricity is hard. You should hire an electrician to rewire your home. But that doesn't mean that light bulbs should be designed so that you need an electrician just to change them. Electricians (and immigration lawyers) should be for edge cases.
posted by Bugbread at 8:48 AM on April 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


I have an acquaintance who just got married with her now husband on the VWP. This is what an attorney apparently told them to do. I told them they were crazy and to do it right. Getting married while one participant is on the VWP? That takes some brass fucking balls. I really hope her husband doesn't get deported at the end of it.

Likely, they will be successful in their adjustment of status. Thousands of people are, every year, and it is not illegal to marry on the VWP. I did so. What IS illegal is to enter the US with immigrant intent on the visa waiver program. So in order to successfully adjust status, you must manage to find a reason that plans changed after you entered. So for example "I came to the US to marry my husband and once we were married, the idea of leaving made me sick so we decided to adjust and I had to quit my job via mail!" actually can be a good enough excuse. And has been, on many occasions.

Of course, my spouse and I married in the US and I left to await my greencard--and I am still waiting over a year later.
posted by NotATailor at 8:51 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


So as much as I think there are a lot of stupid border policies, in terms of arguments for completely open border I think they're fundamentally at odds with modern welfare states. As long as there are poor countries and wealthy countries it's not necessarily the best idea to simply let people move wherever they want.

But that said, yes, border people are weird. My mother crosses the US-Canada border nearly daily to play tennis in the US of all things. I remember a few times when we crossed together when I was a teenager to go shopping in the US and the border guard would question her about her "accent". She emigrated from eastern europe after a communist revolution and had been in Canada for 40-ish years. Certainly I didn't hear any accent, but then again, I lived with her my whole life. But we'd always get some border guard who sounded like she grew up in Alabama asking my mother "Y'ALL SEEM TO HAVE SOME SORT OF AN ACCENT. WHERE Y'ALL FROM?" while I tried not get get arrested for eye-rolling.
posted by GuyZero at 9:02 AM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Biscotti and I have been through the process, and while I sympathize, thinking that the way to bring someone to immigrate to the US is just to show up at the airport is pretty over the top.

Contrary to others here, in my experience you don't need a lawyer for marriage-based immigration to the US unless you have some complicating factor (like this couple does, now, or where the alien has a minor criminal record, etc). The paperwork is fussy and detail-oriented but very manageable, and there are excellent online resources and communities like visajourney to help. If anything, the process has gotten cleaner and faster since the 2001 attacks resulted in INS being broken into CIS and ICE.

If you're a non-American in love with an American or vice-versa and aren't married yet, the process that's the simplest and results in the least time apart is the K1 visa process. You do the K1 stuff, which takes a few months, and then bring your schmoopie in on a fiance(e) visa. Then you get hitched and adjust status, which takes for-fucking-ever but you're already together in the US and the alien can work and everything. The only real downside, AFAICT, is that it requires you to get legally married in the US which can make it hard for the alien's family to be there for the Actual Big Day.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:04 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


1 File a Petition for Alien Relative ($420)
2 Wait eight (8!!) weeks to be told if you I am now allowed to fill out the DS-261
3 Submit the DS-261. Maybe costs $88, or maybe not. No official sites state the fee, nor do they state that it is free (although they do for other forms). The $88 number came from some forum.
4 Passport
5 Affidavit of Support
6 Form DS-260
7 Two photographs
8 Medical Examination Forms
9 Birth certificate
10 Marriage certificate
11 Police certificate
12 Biographic information forms (self and spouse)
13 Maybe a separate $265 spouse visa fee? Not clear - indicated on some US government sites, but not mentioned on others
14 Whatever other forms they tell you to fill out along the way, with whatever other fees they ask you to fill out along the way (from browsing forums, varies widely)
15 An in-person interview, scheduled after 3-14 above have been filed

Total time: Three months? Total cost: Somewhere between $420 and $773.
Plus, all of the above is maddeningly imprecise. Every .gov site has different information, making it impossible to tell what to do.

It's just not worth even trying unless you truly have to.


Oh honey. Three months? Nope. I wish.

So.

1) File an I-130 petition for Alien Relative (420 dollars). With this you must include a photograph of each spouse, a copy of the biographic information forms (G-325 or G-325A, I don't remember which), evidence of bonafide marriage.
2) Wait 8 weeks to 8 months to be approved (nearly all are approved if prepared correctly and they're approved on average after 6 months of waiting)
3) Wait another month for them to send the approved petition to the National Visa Centre and to be assigned a case number at the National Visa Centre.
4) Fill out the online DS-261 Choice of Agent form. Pay 120 dollars for the Affidavit of Support fee.
5) Send in your AOS and IV (immigrant visa) packets to the NVC (this can be expensive as it includes police reports, full-version birth certificates with parents' names, copies of passports and much more)
6) wait for them to bill you 325 dollars for the IV fee.
7) Fill out the online DS-260, which sucks because it times out easily.
8) Wait 8 weeks+ for them to review the documents you sent, just for completeness.
9) After they send you a notice that they have reviewed them and found them complete, wait for interview letter.
10) When you get interview letter, wait approximately 8 more weeks for your interview.
11) In the meantime, get yourself a 250-300 dollar medical exam that MUST be done by US-chosen doctors and basically has someone say 'yes, this person has been vaccinated and does not have TB.'
12) Go to the consulate or embassy of their choosing for an interview.
13) Once approved, pay a 165 dollar ELIS fee to have greencard printed.
14) Move.

Total cost is a MINIMUM of 1280USD, plus lodging and travel expenses. Total time taken is a MINIMUM of 12-14 months.
posted by NotATailor at 9:04 AM on April 6, 2015 [17 favorites]


My favorite thing my relative had to provide was proof he had never been married before.

What would that even be?
posted by emjaybee at 9:05 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh God, GuyZero. "Ewe hava nacksayent". How many times have I heard that. I would have gone blind from the eye muscle tension myself.
posted by tigrrrlily at 9:09 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


My favorite thing my relative had to provide was proof he had never been married before.

What would that even be?


Depends on the country. Some countries, like the Philippines, have Certificates of No Marriage (CENOMAR) that you can obtain from a central federal registry. Still, other countries don't and in that case, you'll often be asked to sign an affidavit or write a letter to that effect and sign it and consulates often catch people who lie--they check things like facebook and other stuff to try and catch people out. They're GOOD at catching people.
posted by NotATailor at 9:11 AM on April 6, 2015


Well, obviously, Mr. Merrill's wife was not sufficiently tired, poor, or huddled in a mass. Was she wretched refuse, tempest tossed, or homeless? No? Well, there's your problem right there ...

Jokes aside, the immigration system exists to put some order to, and aid in the process of, immigration. If you have to game the system for it to do its original function, the system is broken. This is applicable to the justice system, the education system, the legislative system, etc.
posted by eclectist at 9:20 AM on April 6, 2015


My husband is Canadian and he came here on the K1 visa. He finally got his 10-year green card and I'm already filling out paperwork to get him naturalized. We get minimal hassle at the border when we fly to see his family, but he had really bad experiences before we were engaged and approaching the airport counters gives him full out panic attacks. It's just nuts.

We got a lawyer when we filled out the K1 application, but everything else I did on my own. Looking back on it the process is simple but convoluted, for sure. Every time I filled out a form a voice in my head went "Are you sure that's the right answer? What did you put down 10 forms ago? Are you sure you need an N/A here, or None? You know applications get held up for that." Over and over and over.

I can't understand the people who believe that just because they went through hell and back with immigration, other couples should too and screw any sort of reform. No! You're doing it wrong. You went through hell but no one should ever have to. Let's fix the system, damn it.
posted by erratic meatsack at 9:38 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


@erratic meatsack: The first step to fixing the system is getting rid of this terror-striking monologue coming out of the media and the right-wing government (and some of the left-wingers, too) that IMMIGRANTS WILL EAT YOUR BABIES AND BLOW UP YOUR COUNTRY AND STEAL YOUR JOBS. There's so much fear-mongering that any kind of meaningful reform is currently impossible--it's a political suicide move to support fair and equal immigration reform or to try and make any kind of change that isn't MAKE IT HARDER FOR PEOPLE TO COME HERE. (Capslocks here used to mock the fearmongering, not to be sarcastic or angry at anyone)

Unfortunately, immigration reform is out of reach until the reign of terror that's led to the reduction of privacy rights across the world (hello, NSA, I live in Canada, you have NO JURISDICTION over me and yet...) is stopped. And keeping Americans terrified is profitable to politicians and businesspeople, so I don't see that changing.
posted by NotATailor at 9:46 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I got my long-term residency in Japan in about 6 weeks, with my Japanese wife doing the paperwork, and very little expense. Xenophobic country, indeed. I did get asked for my papers once, but only once, in 3 years.

My wife's first, limited, green-card took more than two years, and a few thousand dollars between fees and lawyers. One reason for the big delay is that we processed it in NYC. In retrospect, we should have moved to San Francisco and done it there. Or done it in Japan, which would have meant a 6-12 month stay there for me. This was all pre-9/11, too. I shudder to think about that process now. We later lived in Japan for a few years, and now are in the Bay Area, where we just did her 10-year renewal. I have to say, at least over here, that process was pretty quick and easy, only a couple of months, and a trip to Oakland for biometrics.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:09 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


My advice is to find out what legal firm the largest top tier university near where you want to live uses and use them. These people are seriously experienced and respected immigration pros who handle cases from everywhere in the world.
posted by srboisvert at 10:26 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jesus Christ people this is immigration. This is the single most bureaucratic organization you'll ever have to deal with in your entire life. You do everything by the fucking book.

Well, maybe. In my case, we found it was much easier to ask forgiveness than permission. My girlfriend had overstayed her 90-day tourist visa, so we just ran off to Reno and got married, then paid a lawyer $5K to sort it all out. She had a temporary green card a few months later and a permanent one within a year.

If we'd tried to do things by the book, she'd have had to move back to Australia for several years (due to the visa overstay), and we'd have had to do all the visa paperwork long distance. God, the amount of hassle it would all have been...

On the other hand, it's easy to imagine that we wouldn't have actually made it through the process, and never would have actually gotten married, which would have ultimately been a VERY GOOD THING for me, since that marriage turned out to be a goddamn disaster and now we are very happily divorced. so, yeah, maybe there's something to be said for bureaucratic hassles.

A friend of mine just FINALLY got his wife into the US. Their daughter is almost two; he's been shuttling back and forth to Mexico City to visit the whole time.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:56 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


My wife (who is from Japan) and I are in the middle of this ourselves. We've been pretty lucky -- K1 was approved in 3 months total, actually so fast that it almost expired before she came over here (she had some stuff to finish up there, so we filed early since everyone said it could take 6-9 months).

Now we're waiting on green card, and maybe we'll get lucky again or maybe not. You basically sit around waiting for mail, there's a website to 'check your status' of application but it doesn't tell you anything really.

We did all the paperwork ourselves with the help of visajourney, but we're very detail-oriented people and had a pretty straightforward case (lots of back and forth visiting and documentation, I have a good job, her visa record is clean, etc).

Then you get hitched and adjust status, which takes for-fucking-ever but you're already together in the US and the alien can work and everything

This was our one mistake. We didn't realize you had to apply for a SSN _more than two weeks before_ the I90 expires, or the SSA makes you wait for an EAD or green card. So months later she still can't get an SSN even, making it hard to add her to bank account and such.

In our case this is not catastrophic, and we were not really expecting her to be working now, but for some people it would be a big deal.
posted by thefoxgod at 10:59 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


My spouse, MeFi's own Comrade Doll, has her citizenship exam three weeks from today. I cannot wait for her to be done with the frustrating, foot-dragging foolishness of the US immigration system for once and for all.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:07 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm currently going through this; I'm americna, my (new) wife is Canadian, and we're trying to get her into permanent residency. At this point, it looks like she has to go back to Canada for (at least) four months this summer. Luckily we didn't have to cancel the big wedding party we're having in September, following out city hall wedding in January to get started on the immigration process faster.

The system is incredibly broken. The main reason for having a lawyer is that a mistake costs three or more months of your life, and maybe a few hundred dollars. I have it on good authority that this is due to the actual inefficiency of the internal systems, which were designed and worked relatively well in the early-mid eighties, but which are struggling with the increased load we have twenty years later. Removing all the paper components, and having instantaneous machine checks at the submission stage would go a long, long way towards cleaning things up.

I'm hopeful that the Digital Service will throw a bunch of brains at the problem, and regularly think about trying to join up myself because it's been such a freaking nightmare.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:21 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Every day on my way to work, I walk past the main immigration office building in San Francisco. It's so sad to see the fearful faces of the people lined up outside waiting for the metal detector.

To get in, there's a contract guard at the front door. He's armed, and you have to show him your ID and appointment letter before you can proceed to the next step. From my very minimal knowledge, he seems like a nice enough guy; I've seen him wishing applicants good luck or congratulating people as they leave. But folks approach him like he's the officer who will personally decide their fate according to the slightest whim.
posted by zachlipton at 11:30 AM on April 6, 2015


Hello, engineer here.

Engineers are used to working in an environment with clear, unambiguous rules. F=ma, this is the fatigue limit, the voltage is so-and-such. The law (of man) is not that. Engineer's disease is when you think being an expert in one thing makes you an expert in everything else, or that all other subjects must be trivially easy because the one you learned is so difficult. Don't be that person. Hire a freaking expert, a lawyer, who is used to operating in that arena.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 11:49 AM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Every time I read stories like this I realize how incredibly lucky I was to get my green card the way I did, back in 1994. I had been back and forth between Europe and the US on the Visa Waiver Program for a year, and ultimately was denied re-entry at the Canadian border. My American then-girlfriend simply came to The Netherlands (where I'm from), we got married, and I applied for the official paperwork. There were no lengthy interviews with the INS or anything like that. I had my green card a year or so later, and twenty years on, I'm still here.

No way in hell any of the above would have happened after 9/11.
posted by monospace at 11:53 AM on April 6, 2015


But folks approach him like he's the officer who will personally decide their fate according to the slightest whim.

At the border itself, it is very much like this. A lot of power in the hands of that agent inside that little booth.

On a separate unrelated note, I'm off to read some Kafka.
posted by Fizz at 12:09 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


As long as there are poor countries and wealthy countries it's not necessarily the best idea to simply let people move wherever they want.
And considering the Grand Old United States has among the LEAST generous welfare systems among developed countries, it is even more important to deter immigration.

The Land of the Xenophobic and the Home of the Terrorized.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:22 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Reading about other peoples' experiences, I realize I may be an outlier, but I did all the paperwork for my wife's green card without a lawyer and I found it relatively painless -- follow instructions, fill out forms, wait, fill out more forms, wait, etc. The whole process took five months from filing the I-130 to receiving her IR-1 visa. We spent about US$2000, total, including US and Chinese government fees, the medical exam, and flights to Beijing to file the I-130 petition in person and to Guangzhou a few months later for the interview.
posted by bradf at 12:41 PM on April 6, 2015


I think there's a pretty big space between "completely open borders" and "deter immigration".

In 2013 the US granted over 990,000 green cards and took in over 69,000 refugees which is maybe not as many as they could have granted, but it's hardly "deterring immigration."
posted by GuyZero at 12:42 PM on April 6, 2015


And according to wikipedia's cite of the pew hispanic center research, there are 700,000-850,000 illegal immigrants coming to the US every year. We can only speculate what the situation would be if the border was open.

For me it's not a question of xenophobia but simply the rate at which the economy can digest that number of new arrivals. The million-ish people granted green cards every year come, by definition, from all over the place.
posted by GuyZero at 12:53 PM on April 6, 2015


Engineer's disease is when you think being an expert in one thing makes you an expert in everything else, or that all other subjects must be trivially easy because the one you learned is so difficult. Don't be that person. Hire a freaking expert, a lawyer, who is used to operating in that arena.
Lawyers are not at all necessary for the process unless you require a waiver and even then, many waivers can be done on a DIY basis.

A lawyer will easily treble the price of immigration.

Reading about other peoples' experiences, I realize I may be an outlier, but I did all the paperwork for my wife's green card without a lawyer and I found it relatively painless -- follow instructions, fill out forms, wait, fill out more forms, wait, etc. The whole process took five months from filing the I-130 to receiving her IR-1 visa. We spent about US$2000, total, including US and Chinese government fees, the medical exam, and flights to Beijing to file the I-130 petition in person and to Guangzhou a few months later for the interview.


Gotta ask you, when was this? Because unless there was a humanitarian reason (for example, people from the Philippines have gotten through that fast in recent years due to typhoon damage) the wait times have SKYROCKETED. Oh, unless you did DCF, Direct Consular Filing, which is only available in a handful of countries anymore and only when the US citizen has legal residency in the same country as their spouse. DCF is fast. Did you do DCF?

If you're separated from your spouse, 12-14 months is standard, even the minimum. If you're separated from your spouse and your spouse is from a MENA (middle east or north african) country, especially if you're Muslim, 12-14 months to interview is standard, then 6-36 months of Administrative Processing while they run additional background checks to make sure you're not a terrorist.
posted by NotATailor at 1:24 PM on April 6, 2015


Gotta ask you, when was this? Because unless there was a humanitarian reason (for example, people from the Philippines have gotten through that fast in recent years due to typhoon damage) the wait times have SKYROCKETED.

I'm not that poster, but our wait time from filing I-129F to getting K1 visa in her passport was 5 months in 2014. But others on VJ who filed same time as us had up to twice as long a wait. Its pretty random. Processing times for I-130 and I-129 are similar from what I've read (just usually takes longer to be together I-130 route if you're not already married, since you have to get married first....)
posted by thefoxgod at 2:07 PM on April 6, 2015


I'm not that poster, but our wait time from filing I-129F to getting K1 visa in her passport was 5 months in 2014. But others on VJ who filed same time as us had up to twice as long a wait. Its pretty random. Processing times for I-130 and I-129 are similar from what I've read (just usually takes longer to be together I-130 route if you're not already married, since you have to get married first....)

You were sent to California, weren't you? Texas service centre was up to 8 months for approval recently. They're fixing up the unevenness at present, but K1s are much faster because they are a non-immigrant category (with immigrant intent, allowing for adjustment of status after point of entry) and are therefore able to skip an entire stage of visa processing.

The I-130 takes 5-6 months to be approved at USCIS and currently it is taking an additional 4-6 months to get through NVC stage (where you apply for the immigrant visa--a stage that a K1 skips) and then 8+ weeks from Case Complete at NVC to receive an interview date. Depending on the embassy/consulate, you will be waiting 5-30 days after that for visa-in-hand. Current wait time from date of filing for an I-130 petition to visa-in-hand is 12-14 months. My date of application was last May and I will not receive an interview until at least early June. This is standard except in cases of DCF or expedition. Check the VJ stats for a CR1 or IR1 if you don't believe me.

K1 are a different category than spousal visas. The K1 visas would not have been relevant to the couple in the article in the OP as they were already married in Japan.
posted by NotATailor at 3:01 PM on April 6, 2015


You were sent to California, weren't you? Texas service centre was up to 8 months for approval recently.

The major reason that lawyers do better at handling immigration cases has nothing to do with law vs engineering training and everything to do with the fact that they handle a lot of immigration cases.

They know which processing centers to route applications to for the fastest processing time.

I have had immigration lawyers instruct me to talk to specific guards at border crossings who they had briefed beforehand.
posted by GuyZero at 3:07 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


They know which processing centers to route applications to for the fastest processing time.

Doesn't work that way. Petitions are sent to drop boxes. Drop boxes allocate the petitions based on the geographic location of the petitioner. It would be NICE if it worked that way, but it doesn't. Lawyers do not do anything to speed petitions.

Caveat: Employment immigration is VERY different and should always be done with a lawyer. Family based immigration is at the whim of the government.
posted by NotATailor at 3:12 PM on April 6, 2015


to get through NVC stage (where you apply for the immigrant visa--a stage that a K1 skips)

Hmm, but K1 _does_ still go through NVC. It goes USCIS->NVC->Embassy in fiancee's country. We did get routed to CSC, yes (I'm in California, not sure if that matters though).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:14 PM on April 6, 2015


But my point was also that it varies. Average wait time from I-129 to visa-in-hand was 10 months when I filed. We got it in half that, others took almost a year.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:15 PM on April 6, 2015


Hmm, but K1 _does_ still go through NVC. It goes USCIS->NVC->Embassy in fiancee's country. We did get routed to CSC, yes (I'm in California, not sure if that matters though).

It goes to NVC to be routed to the embassy/consulate. It does not get processed by NVC. You didn't have to file the AOS or IV packages with NVC, nor did you have to fill out the DS-261 or DS-260. The process at NVC is bypassed, is what I meant. It's only there for routing purposes.

And I-130 petitions have been pretty stable at 12-14 months for the past two years, having spiked up to 18+ months following the beginning of DACA in 2012.
posted by NotATailor at 3:17 PM on April 6, 2015




You didn't have to file the AOS or IV packages with NVC

Ah yeah, that makes sense given that K1 files the AOS later. (We just filed AOS with NVC or USCIS or whoever like 7 weeks ago, and probably have a while to wait...).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:23 PM on April 6, 2015


Yeah, AOS actually means something entirely different with CR1/IR1 than K1. CR1/IR1 it means Affidavit of Support. K1 it means adjustment of status.
posted by NotATailor at 3:25 PM on April 6, 2015


(Ah OK, I know we had something like that as part of one of our packets).

To back away from the derail, for anyone who is interested in the processes like NotATailor and I were discussing, visajourney.com has some great visualizations. K1 Flowchart, CR1 Guide, Comparison of Visa Types, Processing Times, etc.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:29 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I came over in 2010 and AOS from B-1/B-2 to PR and it took all of three months for my I-485 and I-130 to come through. The economy was in the shitter and when we were in the waiting room for our appointment in June 2011 it only had only one other couple in it where normally there would be 30 waiting. We wasted so much money on an I-131 and I-765 when both were completely unnecessary. But the system is so opaque you wouldn't know and it's a gamble no matter which way.
posted by Talez at 3:30 PM on April 6, 2015


My ex-wife and I are another example of a couple who had a much different experience in the past while making the same mistake this couple did.

In our case, in 1990, I flew to Seattle and took the bus to Vancouver, spent a couple of weeks there with her, we took the bus together back to Seattle -- I don't remember what they asked us at the border or what we told them -- and flew to Albuquerque. A month later, we got married. That week, we went to the immigration office and filled out forms. A couple of weeks later, we met with an immigration officer who carefully questioned us and then told us that she'd broken the law. But it was okay, he was going to give us a pass on it. Within a few weeks, she had her probationary green card and a social security card, too. Literally within two months after arriving, she had that probationary green card and was working, even though she came into the country intending to get married and we told them this. I think we only had to pay one fee, like $60 or something. Years after we divorced, she naturalized.

I'd long assumed that things changed a lot after 9/11, and many stories I've heard since then have supported that; but, also, different offices are more or less busy than others and different individual agents have a lot of latitude on their decisions. So even back in 1990, things would probably have gone much, much differently for us at some other immigration offices and with some other officers.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:37 PM on April 6, 2015


@thefoxgod This conversation has actually demonstrated pretty impressively the opacity of the process, huh? Two people who have dealt with the same thing but it was totally different and unrelated in spite of doing the same thing--moving to be with someone you love.
posted by NotATailor at 3:38 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gotta ask you, when was this? Because unless there was a humanitarian reason (for example, people from the Philippines have gotten through that fast in recent years due to typhoon damage) the wait times have SKYROCKETED. Oh, unless you did DCF, Direct Consular Filing, which is only available in a handful of countries anymore and only when the US citizen has legal residency in the same country as their spouse. DCF is fast. Did you do DCF?

This was in 2012, and yes we did DCF. I was fortunate that the embassy officer had an open interpretation of the residency requirements. Based on Visa Journey timelines from around the same time, going through the US service center would've added 4-6 months to the wait.
posted by bradf at 3:40 PM on April 6, 2015


Yeah, that makes a lot more sense. You were so lucky with the embassy officer. I'm a little jealous.
posted by NotATailor at 3:44 PM on April 6, 2015


Another thing which doesn't help is the maddening naming.

In Japan, I would visit the MOJ (Ministry of Justice) website. I would download the form called "Application for Change of Status of Residence" (no number, no acronym). I would get a "Copy of Family Register", a ”Certificate of Residence", and a "Taxation Certificate" (no numbers, no acronyms). I would submit these in person to a place called the "Regional Immigration Bureau" (if there's an acronym, I've never heard it).

This is what would be involved in getting a visa called a "Spouse, etc. of a Japanese national" visa (that's the official name. There is no number, and no acronym). It's the same process regardless of what your original visa was. For reference, the other visa types have official names such as "Professor", "Artist", "Religious activities", etc. (no numbers, no acronyms...you get the idea).

In the US, judging by this thread, I would be dealing with the following forms, organizations, documents, etc.:
  • VWP
  • I-130
  • 221(g)
  • 601
  • DS-261
  • G-325 or G325A
  • AOS
  • IV
  • NVC
  • DS-260
  • ELIS
  • I90
  • SSA
  • EAD
  • DCF
  • I-129F
  • USCIS
  • CSC
  • PR
  • I-485
  • I-765
...with the specifics varying depending if I was trying to get my "K-1 visa" starting from an "IR-1", "VJ", "CR-1", "B-1", or "B-2" visa.

There is no reason for this to be so complicated.
posted by Bugbread at 4:12 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is no reason for this to be so complicated.

American Exceptionalism.
posted by Talez at 5:32 PM on April 6, 2015


My cousin's wife is Dominican, and lives in the DR. Let me tell you what all she has to go through to get a visitor's - not an immigration related visa, just a visitor's pass - to the U.S.

He's moving as soon as he can retire, in 4 years.
posted by joycehealy at 6:00 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


While the visa situation is more complicated in the US, one area it does beat Japan is in citizenship. Specifically, the US allows mutliple citizenship while Japan does not. My wife will (probably) never become a US citizen, because she'd have to give up her Japanese citizenship. If she was Canadian or German or something she could acquire US citizenship without that sacrifice, since it's entirely imposed on the Japanese end (similarly, if we move to Japan I can't become a Japanese citizen without giving up my US citizenship). And any children we have will be forced to choose.

Luckily permanent resident isnt that different from citizen, in most ways.
posted by thefoxgod at 6:02 PM on April 6, 2015


thefoxgod: "While the visa situation is more complicated in the US, one area it does beat Japan is in citizenship. Specifically, the US allows mutliple citizenship while Japan does not."

Yes, and no (I mean, mostly yes, except for one thing). The US system of allowing multiple citizenship is awesome, and I would become a Japanese citizen in a second if Japan would just allow me to be a dual citizen. But since Japan doesn't, I'd have to give up my US citizenship. And, you know, that's something I would consider, but that's where America suddenly becomes worse than Japan when it comes to citizenship. Giving up US citizenship costs $2,350! And if you're unlucky, you also have to pay 10 years worth of US income taxes in advance. Even if I wanted to give up my citizenship, I can't afford to.

Which also means my kids are kinda fucked. They are dual citizens. At age 20 (I think), Japan says they have to pick. If they pick Japan, bam, a bill for each for $2,350 (or whatever it's risen to by that time). Despite the fact that they don't even want to do it, the Japanese government is requiring it. It's like the kids were born into debt just by having an American dad.
posted by Bugbread at 6:28 PM on April 6, 2015


Oh wow I didn't realize that about paying to revoke citizenship. My hope is that they will at least change the law before my hypothetical children are 20-22 (Wiki says 22 is the final age you must decide by, but I always take them with a grain of salt or two on legal issues). Pre-1985 Japan allowed dual citizenship, so it would actually be changing it back. With the shrinking populace, maybe they'll reconsider de-citizening people eventually (at least it seems like an easier sell than expanding immigration generally).
posted by thefoxgod at 6:47 PM on April 6, 2015


NEVER DATING A FOREIGNER NOPE NOPE NOPE. Not even if he has a cute accent, NOPE.

Never gonna date anyone, really, but especially not dating international.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:28 PM on April 6, 2015


Talez:
We thought that getting a spouse visa was as simple as applying after you entered on a tourist visa

No no no no no no no no no no no nooooooooooo. This isn't how it works.
Since immigration restrictions started in 1924 I don’t suppose it was ever the correct way to do it, but not so very long ago it wasn’t that big a deal; I did it in the early 80s, all without a lawyer. At the interview the INS agent was rather suspicious about the marriage until she noticed that we had been married and living together for 16 months not the 4 months she initially thought (she misread the year on the certificate), at which point she became all sunny and friendly and approved my I-151 application and stamped my passport with no more fuss. I was never even asked about the tourist visa I had overstayed to get married.

Being white, wearing a jacket and tie, and speaking English helped (they were busy being mean to the Haitian boat people at the time, so I got to see from a distance how other less privileged groups were being treated), but it was not at all the expensive, fraught minefield it is now. It was probably much easier to run afoul of the rules in those days because getting information was much harder, but the consequences seemed to be less dire.

As Ivan Fyodorovich and others have noted, there have been huge changes over the years. Though people are still young and naive (for which I have some sympathy, having once been there) things are much less forgiving for the clueless than they were in the past.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 8:50 PM on April 6, 2015


Bugbread: if you all live in Japan then either you make enough money that $2500 shouldn't hurt, or you and your children should qualify as exempt from that tax: http://renunciationguide.com/expatriation-and-tax-details-of-current-law/exit-tax-on-renunciants/
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:57 PM on April 6, 2015


The agents of KAOS: The $2,350 and the exit tax are different. The $2,350 is a processing fee that applies to everyone, regardless of how much or how little money you have. The exit tax applies to millionaires, but from what I understand it's one of those maddeningly vague things: If you are a millionaire (ok, technically if you needed to pay over $145,000 in US taxes over the last five years, or if you have a net worth of at least $2 million, or if you haven't been paying your taxes for the last five years...but, shorthand, "if you are a millionaire") then you definitely have to pay the exit tax. But if you're not a millionaire, that doesn't mean you are exempt. It just means that you are not automatically subject to the exit tax. Instead, you could be eligible, or not, depending on the mood of the person handling your paperwork. That's what I meant by "and if you're unlucky".

That page does say that my kids will be straight-up exempt from the exit tax, which is nice. But they'll still have to pay the $2,350 processing fee.
posted by Bugbread at 9:30 PM on April 6, 2015


Yeah, one of the reasons I doubt I'm ever moving back to the US is that it would be such an insane hassle to do so.


This is exactly the reason I cite when people say, "but why don't you want to go back to the US? Life is so much better there!*" My husband and I have been married for four years and have a toddler, I don't want to find myself in a situation where we are stuck on opposite sides of the Atlantic for months because of paperwork.

*in the movies
posted by lollymccatburglar at 3:30 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is fairly complicated (and expensive) in the UK too, there's a correlation between demand and difficulty. Japan doesn't experience huge demand for immigration, so it's relatively easy. Having said that, some people I know who've dealt with the Japanese system say it's great right up until something out of the ordinary happens and then it can be a nightmare because somebody somewhere has to make a decision not based on a rule.

In case this is helpful for anyone reading now or in future, I figured out a pretty good way to get from living together with my Japansese fiance (tourist visa/waiver) in the UK to living together with my Japanese wife in the UK and spending no time apart. Go to San Francisco together, get married (they only need passports, no waiting period), make the honeymoon a road trip around CA, pick up the marriage certificates. Fly to Japan, start the UK spouse visa process (£1000) and register the marriage with the relevant City Hall. Have honeymoon pt. 2 in Japan. After 4-6 weeks, visa will be granted. Fly back to UK. Any alternative process I found would have taken 3-4 months in total, and my wife would have had to be outside the UK for all of it.
posted by dickasso at 4:56 AM on April 7, 2015


My husband and I have been married for four years and have a toddler, I don't want to find myself in a situation where we are stuck on opposite sides of the Atlantic for months because of paperwork.

Not to say you'd want to move back, but AFAIK you can do the processing overseas, so you'd just fly back and get sent to secondary inspection where your hubs would get a green-card stamp in his passport.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:36 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not to say you'd want to move back, but AFAIK you can do the processing overseas, so you'd just fly back and get sent to secondary inspection where your hubs would get a green-card stamp in his passport.

This. You submit the I-130 then the I-129F when you get the I-797 (the we haven't immediately rejected your application notice). Once the I-129F is approved you apply for the K-3 and get your kid's US passport. Once you get your K-3 approved you fly over, lodge your I-485 and your spouse gets his green card somewhere in between three months and the end of time. You can also lodge a I-765 to get his EAD quicker so he can work. You can get interim EAD after 90 days of waiting for an I-765 so worst case scenario he's out of work for a little over three months.

Isn't immigration fun?
posted by Talez at 11:06 AM on April 7, 2015


Unfortunately K3 visas are rarely granted (which has to do with processing times and stuff--if a K3 and an IR1 get to the NVC at the same time, they generally stop bothering with the K3, not sending it onwards, and only focus on the IR1, and the processing times at USCIS are about equal for a K3 and an IR1 presently) , but if you get lucky, that IS the fastest way.
posted by NotATailor at 11:25 AM on April 7, 2015


Yeah, I was thinking of an American resident of Foreignland submitting the I-130 for their schmoopy and just letting it roll, even without DCF.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:04 PM on April 7, 2015




The $2,350 is a processing fee that applies to everyone, regardless of how much or how little money you have.

I think it's worth noting that this is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
[my emphasis]
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:20 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older Indiana and the public sphere   |   Many will enter. Few will win. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments