Getting My Green Card part.II

In Green Card, United States on April 11, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I would like to share with you briefly (more like, as briefly as possible) some of the mechanics behind the process of becoming a permanent resident of the United States. This process is going to differ from person to person, but there is a number of things worth knowing regardless of your situation, or just out of curiosity.

Putting Together Your Application

Definitely the most overwhelming part of the experience. You start out oblivious, and the more you read, the more confused you become. I had put in hours and hours of online research before I knew exactly what was needed to be done. U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services website provides some basic information, but it is the discussion forums like Visa Journey where you can read other people’s stories and find some real-life examples.  There are separate discussion threads explaining virtually every part of the process, so its important to take your time to understand each and every paragraph on each and every form you’re submitting. There is quiet a bit of work involved in filling in the forms with correct answers

Collecting Supporting Documents

Apart from documents that prove your identity, the crucial part is providing documents which show that your marriage to an American spouse is not fraudulent. There are no guidelines, but some of the most credible documents include previous joint lease agreements, bank statements, health insurance.  Documents written in foreign languages (eg. birth certificate) need to be translated, ideally by a certified professional. Although it’s okay to send in photocopies, you will be asked to show originals at the time of your interview. You can also ask your friends and family members to write affidavits (notarized statements) in your favor. In the meantime, your spouse will need to collect pay stubs and tax documents to show a source of income exceeding the poverty line for supporting a family of two. If the spouse is a student and/or unemployed, a family member may serve as a joint sponsor assuming the financial responsibility for the applicant throughout the process.

Medical Exam

The U.S government requires all applicants go through a medical check-up administered by a certified immigration doctor. Depending on the local competition, certified physicians charge between $100-$300 for the procedure, which  involves 1) a short physical exam, 2) an interview about your medical history, 3) review of your immunization record, and 4) TB skin test. Your immunization record needs to be consistent with the US standard, so depending on your age and country of origin you might need to fill in some gaps (for additional charge). In my case, I was fully covered – some of the shots I received as a child (though I needed to translate my Polish immunization record), the others I received in Canada. The only stressful part was the obligatory TB skin test, which turned out false-positive as a result of the vaccine I was given as a child. When the bump from the skin injections swells over 72h, its dimensions are measured to determine whether the test turned out positive/negative. With a positive result, you are required to do a chest x-ray (for an additional charge, of course) to determine once and for all whether of not you’re infected with TB bacteria. After all of the above and $300 less in my pocket, I was finally deemed healthy and ready to receive my results. The results arrived in a sealed envelop which I attached with the rest of my application package.

The Mechanics

If you’re already residing in the States and applying to adjust your status to that of permanent resident based on marriage to an American citizen, you will need to have your spouse fill in Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, which will be filed concurrently with Form I-485 Adjustment of Status Application. If you are not currently authorized to work, it’s a good idea to also include Form I-756 Application for Employment Authorization. Finally, if you think you might need to leave the country before getting approved for Green Card, Form I-131 Application for Travel Document must also be included.

Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance is a useful little document to attach – it basically signs you up for updates about the status of your application via text message or e-mail.

* * *

Form I-130 with payment, photos and all supporting documents

  1. Payment: check for $420, filing fee + 2 Passport Photos (1x Petitioner, 1x Beneficiary)
  2. Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
  3. A Copy of Petitioner’s Birth Certificate
  4. A Copy of Petitioner’s Passport’s Biographical Page
  5. A Copy of Beneficiary’s Birth Certificate along with English Translation
  6. A Copy of Beneficiary’s Passport’s Biographical Page and U.S F-1 Visa Page
  7. A Copy of Beneficiary’s Form I-94 Front and Back
  8. A Copy of Beneficiary’s Form I-20
  9. Certified Copy of Marriage Certificate
  10. Petitioner’s Form G-325A, Biographic Information + Continuation Sheet
  11. Beneficiary’s Form G-325A, Biographic Information + Continuation Sheet
  12. Evidence of the Bona Fides of Marriage
    1. Joint Flight Reservation – Trip to Poland
    2. Joint Flight Reservation – Trip to Texas
    3. Joint Residential Tenancy Agreement – British Columbia, Canada
    4. Joint Filing of Canadian Federal Tax Return 2011
    5. Joint Sublet Agreement – Madison, Wisconsin
    6. Affidavits of Bona Fide Marriage                                                                                                                                i.     Affidavit from X    ii.    Affidavit from Y    iii.     Affidavit from  Z
    7. Five Pages of Photos Summarizing the Relationship

* * *

Form I-485 with payment, photos and all supporting documents

  1. Payment: check for $985, filing fee and check for $85, biometrics fee + 2 Passport Photos
  2. Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence of Adjust Status
  3. A Copy of Intending Immigrant’s Birth Certificate along with English Translation
  4. A Copy of Intending Immigrant’s Passport’s Biographical Page and U.S F-1 Visa Page
  5. A Copy of Intending Immigrant’s Form I-94 Front and Back
  6. A Copy of Beneficiary’s Form I-20
  7. A Copy of Marriage Certificate
  8. Intending Immigrant’s Form G-325A, Biographic Information + Continuation Sheet
  9. Form I-864, Affidavit of Support – Petitioning Sponsor
    1. A Copy of Petitioning Sponsor’s Birth Certificate
    2. A Copy of Petitioning Sponsor’s Passport’s Biographical Page
    3. A Copy of Individual Federal Income Tax Return for Year 2011 + W-2
    4. Explanation Sheet for Federal Income Tax Return for Year 2010 and 2009
    5. Form I-864, Affidavit of Support – Joint Sponsor
      1. A Copy of Joint Sponsor’s Passport’s Biographical Page
      2. A Copy of Joint Sponsor’s Individual Federal Income Tax Return for Year 2011, along with W-2 and 1099
      3. A Copy of Joint Sponsor’s Most Recent Pay Stub
      4. Form I-693, Medical Examination in Sealed Envelope

* * *

Form I-131 with payment, photos and all supporting documents

  1. Form I-131, Application for Travel Document – Advanced Parole + 2 Passport Photos
    1. Form I-131 Supplement, Part 7
    2. A Copy of Applicants Passport’s Biographical Page and U.S F-1 Visa Page
    3. A Copy of Applicant’s Form I-94 Front and Back
    4. A Copy of Applicant’s Form I-20

Form I-765 with payment, photos and all supporting documents

  1. Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization + 2 Passport Photos
  2. A Copy of Applicant’s U.S F-1 Visa Page
  3. A Copy of Applicant’s Passport’s Biographical Page
  4. A Copy of Applicant’s Form I-94 Front and Back
  5. A Copy of Applicant’s Form I-20

* * *

After you review your application package for a 10th time, it is time to send it in via certified mail, swear to yourself not to worry about everything that could possibly go wrong, and frantically check your mail box everyday for the next 6 months.

Getting My Green Card part.I

In Green Card, United States on March 10, 2013 at 12:35 am

It’s been a while now since I’ve been meaning to talk about my experience applying to become a permanent resident of the United States, but I promised myself I would wait until my green card is set in stone so that I can give you as accurate of a perspective as possible. While for many this is a nerve-wrecking and agonizing process, I personally found it straight-forward, mostly painless, and do I dare to say easy? Well, easy as in no more difficult than writing a long, multiple-answer exam with a bunch of open-ended questions on a subject you suck at … which is actually not as bad as it sounds. You can still get it right with an average amount of effort, if you know what I mean.


Disclaimer: I’m not an expert and I’m only speaking from my own experiences.

Luckily for everyone, U.S immigration law was nicely straightened down over the last couple of years (thank you, Mr. Obama) so that virtually anyone who didn’t cross the line too many times can navigate the system with more or less sweating involved.

In this post, I would like to give you a general idea about the different issues – formal & informal – that surround the process. If you are interested in more formal details, stay tuned for Part. II. of this post.

Family-based Green Card Overview

Generally speaking, courtesy of an extensive grey area in the immigration law, spouse/fiance of a U.S citizen can normally expect lenient treatment from the U.S Citizen and Immigration Services – even in case of accruing illegal presence. As immediate family of U.S residents are considered priority applicants, the existence of such grey area allows people to make mistakes and/or accidentally omit bits and pieces of information, and still not get screwed up for it.

Through my observation, I concluded that the majority of people is frightened at the prospect of single-handedly completing all the paperwork, especially if they do not have higher education or aren’t confident in English as their second language. For this reason, it is a pretty commonplace practice to hire an immigration lawyer (which we did not end up doing). In fact, it is hard not to resist when you are just starting out your research when all you find is personal testimonials turned marketing materials advising you passionately against going forward with the process without consulting a professional immigration law firm.

In my impression, however, the USCIS resources are written in a language  plain enough for virtually anybody to educate themselves about their legal rights, or at least to figure out their options. But since their is no size that fits all, if your situation is  unique, complex, or/and you simply do not trust yourself with paperwork, you will certainly be better off with someone else doing the work for you. Now - if you can afford it.

The bare legal fees and hidden cost behind the most basic adjustment of status application comes down to around $2,000. Now, holy cow! Working with an immigration lawyer entails paying anywhere between $1,000-$3,000 on top of that. This is definitely not the kind of money people have just lying around, especially in times of economic meltdown. For me personally, not even a peace of mind seemed to be worth as much. After all, my overpriced bachelor’s degree should have (at the very least) taught me how to do research and follow the instructions…

 * * *

There are several types of circumstances that put you legally in the position to apply for the adjustment of status to that of a permanent resident. I’m only going to speak about the immediate family-based type as that is the only one I have first-hand experience with.

The fast track to permanent residency, as widely known of course, is through a marriage to a lawful U.S citizen/permanent resident, in which case however, people working at the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services are extremely alert to instances of fraud and as a rule of thumb give you the green light upon meeting these 2 basic key requirements:

a) you must prove “the bona fide status” of your relationship,

b) you must not have had the intention of becoming a permanent resident at the moment of entering the country (unless you entered on a K1 Fiance Visa)

If you are in a genuine relationship, collecting “the evidence” can be meticulous, but in practice it is actually pretty fun. The latter, however, is one to really be careful with.  I was coming down from Toronto on a tourist visa when me and Nathan got married in Texas. We were actually just spending a couple of weeks in the South before moving back to Canada for a year. I could have technically started my adjustment of status process right there, but it would have only complicated the situation. From the legal perspective, if I had been planning to get married in the U.S, I should have applied for a K1 visa rather than entered on a regular tourist visa. Second, if I applied within the country, it would obligate me to stay in the country (which I didn’t want to do just yet). We could have also theoretically file documents in Canada via U.S Consular services but the process is known to be a lot slower if you undertake it outside of the U.S.

For all of the above reasons, we strategically planned for me to enter on a F1 Student Visa the following summer.  I completed my summer academic course first, and then submitted my application as my grace period was about to expire (F1 students are given 60days to leave the country following completion of their program).

In other words, we looked into the nature of the legal consequences surrounding different immigration paths very early on. We were then able to identify the easiest legal path and purposefully arrange to file the application in the most favorable circumstances possible. This way we avoided legal traps, extra costs,  and  most importantly we were absolutely comfortable with the prospect of staying the U.S for the immediate future.

The Pitfalls of Being in Your Twenties

In Canada, Europe, Poland, rambling editorials, United States on January 25, 2013 at 11:42 pm

hello pitfalls

I was short on inspiration to write for the bigger part of the month, and that is mostly because of the very exciting new addition to my life.

No, I’m not pregnant! My US work authorization arrived in the mail around mid-December and once the Christmas festivities ended, I really had no more excuses to postpone my plunge into the not-so-handsome job market. In other words, January brought the lovely pitfalls of being an immigrant looking for a job fresh out of college.

It’s been a while since I first heard my friends’ hysterical stories about the dreaded prospect of turning your hard-earned degree into a minimum wage job (also probably stolen from a high schooler). Working an unpaid internship, and running tables at a nightclub over the weekends,  juggling several part-time jobs 7 days a week for months at a time. While these may be very common stories, they come from some not so ordinary young people who lack neither poise nor brains to succeed, but just like me, chose to do a degree that doesn’t translate into a sellable set of skills.

We made our choices way before the prestige of a solid university degree began to crumble. If we only knew! Newsweek‘s Joel Kotkin hit the note just right when he dubbed young Americans the Generation Screwed.

“The unemployment rate for those 18 to 29 is 50 percent above the national average, and even those who have landed jobs are often overqualified and underpaid. They’re swimming in debt, recording unprecedented levels of stress, and most will never be able to achieve the economic status or lifestyles their parents enjoy.”

Maclean‘s Chris Sorensen and Charlie Gillis followed in the footsteps publishing an article on emergence of well-educated, smart Canadian underclass. The article took facebook by storm and I took note – I’m neither American nor Canadian but that is now also my reality.

I was an international student about to complete my degree in Canada when the European economic crisis reached its peak. It seemed unrealistic to count on a decent-paying job back in Poland when I could do financially better staying and working a minimum wage job. There may be nothing to be ashamed trying to get by working odd jobs, but that’s probably not what I imagined when I decided to invest in overseas education.

There is a high price my generation is now paying for being hoaxed into thinking that higher education open doors, when in reality the market pushes us to “rebrand” ourselves in order to become “sellable.” Because the degree itself is not. Something we could have done without enduring the ridiculousness that happens at top-tier universities. What I’m referring to is a psychological toll of stress, academic rat race and unrealistic expectations for the future – things that university students feed off, and are being fed by academia.

If you are in your twenties, you have to be prepared to let go of the high hopes and your shortcut to success. Get ready to start from scratch, again and again. Expect nothing, be ready for anything. So there is that, but there is also more freedom to explore non-traditional paths to making a name for yourself – and that will require a lot more creativity and drive than any college degree can offer.


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