White American Girl meets brown Pakistani guy. Hilarity ensues.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
My Mian, my husband, was born and raised in Pakistan. He came to America for grad school and stayed because he met and married me. He was always planning on staying a little while, at least long enough to get some foreign work experience and make some money in American dollars - apparently they save up faster than Pakistani rupees. While he could have very easily stayed in America because of his job (his employer sponsors all their international Ph.Ds in their research group on H1-B visas) the company lawyer said it would be quicker and cheaper for M to apply for adjustment of immigration status, and employment authorization that allowed him to work in the United States, on the basis of our marriage. That's not actually what happened though, as his case took longer than all of his coworkers.
Today is a special day for us, though. Today is M's naturalization interview. The one where they ask him questions about American history and government, and test his English skills. The one where they decide if he can become an American citizen or not. Because of this special day, I thought I should bring you all up to date as to our immigration journey until now:
September 2003 – M (my husband) changes from his student visa statusto OPT (optional practical training) status after graduation and moved several states away for his new job. This allows him to work in the US for about one year after he finishes school. We weren't even engaged at the time, he was still planning on having his employer sponsor him on an H1-B visa, leading to a green card 5 years later.
December 2003 – We're married. We spend the next six months living separately because I had to finish up college and we wait to file any immigration paperwork because we fear that having two different addresses will raise some flags.
August 2004 – We finally live together like a normal married couple and finally file all of our paperwork; M applies for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and an Advance Parole (a document which allows him to travel while he's in limbo between immigration statuses) on the “Seeking Adjustment of Status” basis while waiting for our stuff to go through. ($) It would end up being a long wait.
(In the year interim, we go to our local USCIS office every 4-6 weeks to check on things)
Fall 2004 – M has to renew his EAD and Advance Parole. ($$)
September 2005 – We're finally called for our green card interview, about one year after our application. Our interview was even easier than most people's because we weren't asked ANY questions about our relationship. Our interviewer silently flipped through M's file, asked only for our tax returns from the previous 2 years, and declined when I asked if she wanted to see the pictures I'd brought with me. Then she said she would approve his application the same day but wouldn't be able to stamp his passport that day because his “name check was still pending.” We were sent home expecting his green card to show up in a few weeks.
Fall 2005 – Renew EAD and Advance Parole ($$$)
(For the next TWO years we go to the USCIS office every 6 weeks to check the status of his name check. No answers. At one point we got a semi-lucid USCIS officer who suggested there was some problem with M's alien registration number, which is kind of like the social security number of the immigration world. There were two different ones and he was going to petition to merge them. Every other time we came after that the officers said there was NO problem with his A numbers – even when we got the same guy again! We were always told that the hangup was that M's FBI name-check was still pending, that there was nothing we could do to speed it up, no one we could talk to at USCIS or the FBI to inquire into it and that we had no recourse.
Fall 2006 – Renew EAD and Advance Parole ($$$$) Spend 2 weeks freaking out when the EAD takes longer than expected and he is sent home because he's no longer able to work in the US legally. (He was instructed to apply 3 months prior to its expiration, and that year it was changed to 6 months. It's only good for 1 year and he had to apply 6 months before its expiration?!?)
October 2006 – Our son is born. A US citizen.
Fall 2007 – Renew EAD and Advance Parole ($$$$$). M misses out on a great business opportunity where his company wanted to send him to do their stuff in Saudi Arabia during Hajj season because his advance parole has lapsed and it takes months to get a new one.
November 2007 – I contact my Congressman, Frank Wolf. His constituent services office gets back to me via form letters within a few weeks, and every month or two thereafter to say they're still looking into his case.
February 2008 – We make our usual appointment to check out the local USCIS office and are treated more rudely than ever before. Apparently once you've contacted your congressman or -woman, you get thrown into a different line and they don't expect or want you to show up and check on your case individually anymore. It's all supposed to go through your congressional representative's office thereafter. We waited more than an hour for the Congressional division rep to come down, only to hear him tell the officer we were dealing with to do whatever she had to do to get rid of us. When he finally shows up he is so rude he makes me cry. Which I never do in public.
March or April 2008 – I get a letter from Congressman Wolf's office that the problem has been found and it's (gasp!) that he had two different A numbers! It was to be sorted out shortly.
May 2008 – M's green card arrives in the mail!
(The lowdown on the problem: When M came to the US he was given an A number that started with 135 or something, and that's what we put on the application for his green card when there was a box for A-number. Perhaps we were supposed to leave that blank, because for the green card application, he was issued a new A number that started with 9, I think. Whenever we asked if that was the problem - that there might be two a-numbers floating around with different parts of the process in them unsynchronized - we were told that the 135 number was a “machine generated number” and couldn't be his real A-number, so there couldn't be a problem (What the heck ever…) But if he wasn't supposed to have an A number, or put it on the form, then why was there a box that said A-number on that form to be filled out? And if the 135 number was so obviously a “machine generated number” why was half his application under that anyway?)
Anyway, for people who marry an American citizen, after 3 years of being a green card holder, you can apply for citizenship. You can apply 90 days in advance of your 3 year anniversary, so a little while ago M got all his application materials together and mailed them in and we waited. Then we got a notice that his naturalization interview would be August 2nd, and M started studying up for his "Civics Test" questions - all of which are available online at the official US immigration website. I send him random text messages throughout the day like "Who wrote the Federalist papers?!?!" and "Who was President during World War II?!?"