I’ve been living away from Australia for around 8 and 1/2 years now. Yep, it is creeping up on a decade, ouch! But the reality for Alex and I is that one of us will always be an expat. Since we’ve lived in several countries, a lot of people ask us how we organize our visas to live abroad. We are pretty fortunate as Alex has multiple passports (Jason Born style!) and I can usually convince employers to give me a work visa. But here I want to share my American green card story, and how I’m struggling to keep it.
Many people assume that because Alex and I have been married for so long and because Alex is American I can just go live in the USA at my leisure. Unfortunately, it’s not so straight forward. The US government has a pretty strict set of rules about not just obtaining a residency card, but also keeping it. Additionally, the process is costly, and filled with frustration and headaches… Rewinding back about 9 years- Alex and I planned to obtain the fiancé visa (K-1 nonimmigrant visa) which meant that I could enter the USA and then we had 90 days to get hitched… Las Vegas anyone?! However, when Alex called US immigration, with 6 months left on his temporary Australian working holiday visa, he was told it would take 8 – 10 months to process the K-1. So Alex said, ok, how can I speed that up? The US immigration officer’s response was, you could get married now and apply for a spousal visa (IR1 or CR1 – visa for a spouse of a U.S citizen), and the application process would then take 4 – 6 months. So we had to apply for the CR1, which is the conditional resident visa. In laymen’s terms, if you’ve been married to an American less than 2 years, this is what you can apply for and it is restrictive on your travel outside the USA.
Here is a very important point – Alex had been in school/college pretty much his whole life before this, so he could not “sponsor” me because he’d never made “enough money”. Your forms will be easier if it is your spouse who sponsors you, but that may not be possible. I was super lucky that Alex’s half brother, who had never met me, was cool with being my sponsor. This person is financially responsible for you until you are eligible to be a citizen, or at the time, for up to 10 years should you ever be in a position where you might need financial assistance from the US government. So again, John, thank you! If it can’t be your spouse we advice finding a family member who has their tax records in clear order for at least the previous 3 years!!
With all this in place we had to fly to Sydney for our interview because the Melbourne office does not process visas. So we booked flights and a private room in a hostel in Kings Cross, a cheap and “colourful” place to stay if ever visiting Sydney. We had our friends write us letters saying what an awesome couple we are and printed old emails and packed our wedding album. Alex and I discussed what we would say if we were in separate rooms, because we thought it would be like in the movies. WRONG!
We arrived at the US consulate with our paperwork in hand and feeling super nervous at 8am the morning of our interview. We went to hand over the paper work only to be told it was out of order and to sort it out! So Alex and I were that couple in the corner trying to get organized and whispering not so loving things to each other but trying to act “normal” as we knew we were being watched. After that we waited and watched other people’s interviews because it is actually like going to the bank. Yes, you go up to the window and the US immigration interviewer asks you questions that all can hear. The guy before us had met his fiance online. Alex and I giggled when the interviewer was probing into the amount of real time this couple had spent together and quipped that he had spent almost as much time with the guy! Clearly amusing himself helped that officer get through his day.
Next we were up, but we were together, not like in the movies! We told our story, and the most “interesting question” we were asked… what annoys you the most about each other? My response- he cracks his fingers all the time, like even when he is sleeping (seriously this is still annoying!). Then he started processing us, and I was like hang on mister, don’t you want to see all the wonderful things I put together, just for you?… his response… no you guys are fine. Gaaah!! So back to our seats to wait. Mr internet got his visa before us and finally we were called and I was handed my passport with my pretty American visa in it!
So off we went to celebrate and there is no better place then to go sit by the Opera house with a view of the Sydney harbor and drink a bottle of wine and eat! After months of planning and stress had finally come to a conclusion, we thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon on the harbor.
Ok, that story ended up longer then I first anticipated, but where am I now. Well I’ll just back up and say when Alex and I left the US for Europe I was just 6 months shy of being eligible for my US passport, yes we were that dumb! But we were young (well youngish) and thought we’d be abroad forever. So now 5 and 1/2 years later I am probably on the verge of losing my green card (which is not green, it’s beige) if we don’t move back to the US soon to live for awhile. There are ways to avoid this, but they require spending three months in the US. You can obtain a re-entry permit for extended stays out of the US (I-131) but the problem with this is that you need to be in the US long enough (around 3 months) to get this processed, and you cannot do this from outside the US.