Society seems to believe that the immigration process is easy. Well, it’s not. In fact, it becomes more difficult as time goes on because the American government wants to “weed out” any potential threats while simultaneously preventing families from reconciling.
I married my husband, Mohammad, knowing that I would have to work my ass off to bring him to America. I never wanted to create a visa application for anyone because I always wanted to marry someone with U.S. citizenship. But, low and behold, fate had other plans.
We signed our katb iktab, or marriage contract, in July of 2015, three days after agreeing to marry each other. Legally, we were husband and wife, but we agreed we would do our wedding ceremony the following year. This allowed us time to be “engaged” and get to know each other better.
I returned to America and immediately sought out information on how to bring my husband to the States. The problem was that no one close to me had ever dealt with an issue like this. Google and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website became my best friends.
After my initial research, it came down to a choice between to forms to start his application process rolling: Should I file an I-130 Petition for Relative form or a I-129, Petition for Alien Fiance(e) form?
From the get-go, I was confused. Legally, Mohammad was my husband. Culturally, he was my fiancé. Which one was the “right” choice? I sought out advice from an immigration counselor in my area. He advised that if I wanted certainty in bringing my husband/fiancé to America, I should file the I-130 as he was legally my husband. The I-129 Petition for Alien Fiance(e) would not guarantee Mohammad approval to enter the United States. So I did as I was told.
Some hours of back and forth phone calls with Mohammad and a $450.00 fee later, his I-130 application AND G-325A form (which is biographical information on him and myself) was filed and mailed to the Chicago Lockbox, the mailing service for the I-130 form. From here, the papers would be sorted through, scanned, put on file, the fee would be processed, and then it would be forwarded to any one of five USCIS service centers across the country.
After submitting Mohammad’s first set of papers in September of 2015, I waited. Now remember, this is simply a PETITION for citizenship. This is simply ASKING the government if it is OK that I bring my husband here. They can reject or approve as they see fit. Four weeks after submitting the application/petition, I received a confirmation receipt stating that his application was complete and that it would be forwarded to one of five USCIS service centers for additional processing.
Now this is where it gets fun. (Not really, that was me trying to be sarcastic). Waiting is the only thing that you can do. Waiting becomes the player and your life is the game. There were so many thoughts running through my head at this point. This is too much, I should back out of the marriage. What if he doesn’t get it, how can I live in the Middle East? Maybe this difficult process is a sign that fate got it wrong. Any bad, horrible thing that could have crossed my mind, did. And that’s where your brain has to be stronger and fight against the bad thoughts. I had to keep reminding myself that it would be worth it in the end.
In February of 2016, four months after receiving initial confirmation of the completion of his application, I received a letter from the Nebraska USCIS service center that his application was approved completely and would be forwarded the National Visa Center for more processing. But wait! Guess what I had to do first? If you said, fill out more paper work, then you would be correct. Yes, they forwarded his application the NVC service center, but they won’t even LOOK at it unless you fill out more paperwork. A packet was sent to me with instructions that I had to CLOSELY follow. One little screw up and his entire application process would have to start over. The NVC asked for a booklet of information. I included copies of the I-130, G-325A, marriage license, divorce documents, birth certificates, copies of passports, passport pictures, police certificates, background checks, my taxes from the last three years, and of course, translations of all of my husband’s paperwork from Arabic to English, pictures certifying we have actually met, and letters from family members vouching for us and our marriage. They all had to go in a specific order, too! On top of that, I had to log onto the website, electronically fill out and sign another form (DS-260) and then pay another $300.00 in fees, simply so the NVC would look at his application.
It took about TWO MONTHS to put all his paperwork in order (just the paperwork), get more passport pictures from him mailed to me, and pay for everything. On April 2, I dropped the packet of information into the mailbox and began the waiting game. Again.
One little screw up and his entire application process would have to start over.
It wasn’t until May 12, when I received an e-mail from the NVC, stating that the packet I had mailed was received way back on April 28, but due to high volume, I had to wait 30 days before anyone would look at it and they “appreciated my patience.” Wait? I was getting sick of waiting.
During all this waiting, I would stress, cry to Mohammad AND my family and friends, and I would shut down. No one around me knew what it was like. It scared me not knowing what was going on or what would happen. I hated having my life hanging in limbo. But, it was my choice to do this, and I wasn’t backing down. He was worth it.
On June 8, 2016, I received another e-mail from the NVC. This e-mail allowed me to finally breathe. In the letter from the NVC, they explained that his application was complete and no other documentation was necessary (YES!). However, we had to wait (go figure), on an appointment for a visa interview at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, and they would forward the application to Jerusalem. Here is where he would be approved or denied a visa. So I waited. Again.
It didn’t take long for Mohammad’s interview to be scheduled. A week later, I received an e-mail stating that his visa interview in Jerusalem would be on July 28, 2016, TWO DAYS after our wedding ceremony. But before he could even ATTEND his visa interview, it was Mohammad’s turn to run around and fill out paper work. He had to file for a visa from the Israeli government to even ENTER Jerusalem because he has Palestinian citizenship. Next, he had to make an appointment for a medical exam with a U.S. approved doctor (FYI: There’s only ONE of those in Ramallah). He had to make sure he had copies of ALL of the papers I had originally submitted, as well as an original copy of our marriage license.
July 28 rolled around and he went to his interview. I was ecstatic that my husband was going to go and get his visa and then be able to travel to America with me where we could live our happy newlywed life together. Boy, was I wrong.
He was denied the visa after that interview. The U.S. Consulate General had copies of ALL documentation I had originally sent to the USCIS center and then the NVC. But that wasn’t enough. They wanted ORIGINAL copies of both our divorces (as he was married before and I was engaged). The copies had sufficed for USCIS and NVC, why are they holding us back now?
This wouldn’t have been as scary had my divorce decree been IN Palestine. But it wasn’t. It was in Jordan. We were set to go to Amman to retrieve it when, fortunately, a family friend was coming from Amman and was able to bring it for us. This was a definite bright spot and gave me hope. After retrieving the requested papers, I had to log on to the Department of State’s website and fill out another form and generate a “courier-in” receipt so that I could send the documentation back to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. August of 2016, and we sent papers – again. The waiting game is back on.
He had to file for a visa from the Israeli government to even ENTER Jerusalem because he has Palestinian citizenship.
August 20, 2016 slowly crept up and we had not heard anything. It had also come time for me to return to America as the school year was about to start and I had to prepare for my students. I left my husband behind, not knowing if he was following me sooner or later or at all. Unfortunately, his application was rejected, AGAIN, on the basis that his divorce from his previous wife, which happened FIVE YEARS AGO, wasn’t complete. At this point, my husband and I were enraged. If this paper was an issue, why didn’t anyone on America’s side catch it previously? My husband had to chase people around the courts of Ramallah in order to obtain certified documentation that his divorce was FINAL and IRREVOCABLE. In September of 2016, he sent his passport and divorce certificate again. And we waited. Again.
We’re close to the end of the process, and it is the worst part of the process. October, November, and December roll by, and we have heard nothing from the U.S. Consulate. I keep e-mailing and asking for updates as their website simply says “processing” repeatedly. I am continuously told that I have to simply wait and no other information can be provided for me.
We are now in January of 2017. February, March. Nothing. We are being told to wait and keep waiting. It’s not until April of 2017 when I finally receive an e-mail from the U.S. Consulate about my husband’s case. I skim it, looking for the word “approved” but can’t find it. Instead, I read that his application cannot be processed until he completes ANOTHER background check and ANOTHER medical exam, as they expired in January. Mind you, they expired because they took too long to approve the application. We spent another $400.00 so that he could complete another medical exam and background check and send the results back to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. He sent the requested documents on April 12, 2017.
Can you guess what I’m doing now?