Nolvia and Terry began their new life together as husband and wife. Nolvia would now be eligible for U.S. residency (Green Card) by virtue of their union. They began the paperwork immediately, as Terry was scheduled to head off to boot camp for the National Guard (he is also a full-time student). Since Nolvia’s immigration status was still classified under a work permit, the paperwork had to be filed in accordance with a procedure that is termed “adjustment of status” (AOS).
I must mention here that Terry’s mother Rhonda helped the young couple fill out the paperwork and fulfill all the requirements of the process. Without her bulldog tenacity, they probably would not have had a chance. Rhonda is a social worker with the D.H.R., so she has regular dealings with government bureaucracy. She told me she thought she’d “seen it all”, but the ordeal she was about to go through was “the most nerve-racking and frustrating thing she had ever experienced.”
This process began in May of 2009.
First, there were the forms. Over six different ones, some for Terry, some for Nolvia, some completed jointly. I invite you, dear reader, to look up some of these forms online. I am a life-long U.S. citizen with two university degrees, and I find the instructions to be extremely difficult to understand. As Rhonda says, they were as “clear as mud.” It took over ten hours to complete this phase of the process.
Then came supporting documents:
- Birth certificates (Nolvia’s had to be translated to English);Photo I.D. cards
- An affidavit of support from Terry, stating that he would support Nolvia financially
- An affidavit of support from Terry’s parents stating that they would support the couple if necessary (since Terry was a student and Guardsman)
- Three years of tax returns for Terry, Nolvia, and Terry’s parents
- Several letters of reference stating that their marriage was legitimate; and
- A medical exam for Nolvia, which could only be conducted by a specific Civil Surgeon in Birmingham, Alabama.
The fee for the application and supporting paperwork totaled about $1,300.
Meanwhile, Nolvia attempted to renew her Alabama Driver’s License. She was denied because she was in bureaucratic limbo, between the Work Permit and the Green Card.
The next step was an interview with Immigration in Atlanta. This came in September of 2009. This was another difficulty, since Terry was still in Guard training (seems the Army frowns on “days off” during boot camp). Rhonda made a personal appeal to Terry’s First Sergeant, who was kind enough to write a letter explaining why Terry could not attend the interview.
The interview went well, and Nolvia was assured that she would be approved pending another physical exam. Her T.B. test showed “positive” for the disease. We were not completely surprised by this, as she had received a “false positive” T.B. test result when she had been tested for her student visa. This required another trip to the Civil Surgeon in Birmingham. The re-test confirmed that she was healthy. The information was sent to Immigration in Atlanta by certified mail. It was the final hurdle, and success seemed imminent. Postal receipts indicate that the document arrived on September 15, 2009.
Nolvia patiently waited. No word.
In November, she called Immigration. She was told “everything is fine, your paperwork is still being processed.”
In December, Terry completed his military training and returned home. Still no word. Rhonda suggested they make another appointment with Immigration in Atlanta, with Terry in attendance.
On January 7, 2010, Nolvia and Terry went to Atlanta for this appointment. They met a different officer than Nolvia had met the first visit. They were told that everything was in order, and approval would be forthcoming. The meeting lasted less than five minutes.
Three more months went by with no word from Immigration
On April 23, Nolvia recieved a voice mail on her cell phone (while she was at work) from a different Immigration officer. The message was that Immigration had not received her updated medical information (T.B. test) as requested and her application would be denied if he did not hear from her by 5:00 p.m. She immediately called Rhonda. Rhonda called Immigration and with the proof that the medical information had been sent. The officer said, “Oh well, this is not the first time paperwork has been lost. Have the Civil Surgeon fax me the document at this fax number by five o’clock today and I won’t deny her application.”
Rhonda called the Civil Surgeon office. They agreed to fax the document. A little later she called the Immigration officer. “Nope, still haven’t gotten it.”
She dialed the Civil Surgeon’s office. “We’ve been trying to fax it, but it won’t go through.”
Back to Immigration. “Oh, sometimes that fax machine doesn’t work. Let me give you another number.”
Back to the Civil Surgeon. “O.K., we’ll try again.” Rhonda, “I’ll hold.” “O.K., it went through.”
Back to Immigration. “O.K. It looks to be in order and I’ll approve the case.”
On May 13. Nolvia received an email from Immigration stating that the Green Card was “in process.” Five days later she received a letter that stated her “Green Card should be arriving within two weeks.”
The letter began “Welcome to the United States.”
A full year of uncertainty, several thousand dollars, mountains of documents, multiple trips to Birmingham and Atlanta, and countless phone calls. A network of financial support and friends assisting. And still almost voided by an idiot bureaucracy.
And you wonder why immigrants don’t go through the “proper channels.”