The visa process sucks. But it sucks even more if you’re not being realistic, like me.
like to think I am a reasonably sensible person.
If I’m doing something new, I’m not going to do it perfectly on the first try. (But I’ll get it on the second right??)
When I’m out, I know no one is really looking at me and judging the fact that I don’t iron my bed sheets. (But oh my goodness, that old lady walking her dog totally shook her head in disapproval at me).
And I know that calling each other “Queen” is just a popular Gen Z compliment. It doesn’t mean I have a multiple titles, a diamond crown, endless lands and should be bowed to whenever I enter a room. (Although a good portion of my friends do know me primarily as “Empress Ellen”).
Ok, maybe my grip on reality isn’t that strong.
To survive the American visa process, I have become more realistic with my expectations and learnt to deal with things when life doesn’t go quite the way I expected. And realised (realized) that paperwork is a necessary evil. (Please, don’t make me sign more forms).
I thought it would be easy(ish..)
When we first started the process I was living in a fantasy land and believed the unrealistic notion that getting a visa wouldn’t be that hard. I’m British, my husband is serving in the US military and I successfully got a student exchange visa during University. I’ve also visited a few times now, so America knows me and I know America. How on earth could it be such a nightmare? I put it down to people being dramatic, it can’t be that hard – it’s just filling in paperwork.
For me, it has been undoubtedly easier to get a US visa than many other people for the reasons I have just listed. However, the entire process has crushed my soul a little bit because I didn’t realise how frustrating it would be.
There's SO MANY stages
I knew getting a visa would be a long process but what I didn’t quite grasp was the number of complicated stages. I also didn’t realise that there are multiple stages WITHIN multiple stages.
Essentially there are 3 key parts to the process – petition to apply, apply for visa, get visa. Easy? No. Because nothing is ever that simple.
To begin with, we submitted an immigrant visa petition to USCIS (The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) at the US Embassy in London. This was an 11 page application form detailing in infuriating detail who I, as the applicant, was and who my husband, my petitioner was. Once approved, I applied to apply for a visa with the US State Department. When that was approved, I could complete the final part of the application where I actually apply for a visa. This included more forms, collecting more documents, a medical (a doctor’s appointment to see if I am reasonably healthy) and an interview. Plus I needed to submit supporting documents like birth and marriage certificates. Oh, and the dates on which I lost each of my baby teeth and how much the Tooth Fairy gave me. (Maybe not the last bit but you get the idea).
There is so much visa paperwork
And of course, within all of these stages, we had to fill in endless forms and provide all sorts of supporting documents. However these forms all started looking strangely familiar after a while…You want my address again? Don’t you already know my passport number? FOR THE LAST TIME, I AM A FEMALE.
I swear, the only good thing to come of this is that I won’t be forgetting my parents’ birthdays anytime soon.
While the forms do ask for essentially the same information at every stage, they all ask for it in slightly different ways. The first I could only post, while the second is an online from. One wanted my address history for the past 5 years, the next wanted it for the last 10. Another wanted the dates written, day/month/year, the other needed it month/day/year with the months written in letters and year in roman numerals. And the last asked for Mars’s alignment with Venus and the phase of the moon on my seventh birthday. (OK, some of this may be an exaggeration but I might include it in the additional information section just incase… You never know with these people).
All of these subtle changes quickly caused me to begin questioning my sanity and really tested our new marriage. Two days after our wedding, David sat perplexed as I was on the verge of tears having written the date wrong for the third time in a row. Why can’t we agree on a universal way to write the date?? ie, the British way – day, month year. Join my revolution in the comments below…
I had no idea what was going (so found some help!)
Trying to understand each part of the process was impossible. While we had done some reseach, we only had a vague idea of what each stage would entail. We tried asking other people who had gone through similar processes but as every situation is unique, any general advice on what we needed to do was never going to apply entirely. For us, David was due to PCS (move) a month after we got married, so we wanted to speed up the visa process if possible. This was so that I could move to the states with him and legally get a job so I wouldn’t have to join the mob. (David’s words not mine).
Luckily, an advisor from the US embassy was visiting the base so we could meet with him and ask exactly what we needed to do. He even advised that we could get parts of the application expedited! And when my petition mysteriously went missing in the post, we were able to submit another in person with the advisor.
It was so helpful for us to be able to discuss our situation in person. For any prospective foreign-born military spouses like me, try your best to find someone to talk to in person regarding visas and the process. However be aware that it will be difficult to get an appointment. There’s a huge number of foreign born spouses in the US military, all with endless questions on visas, citizenship and how to write the date on this form. So keep an eye out for when advisors are visiting and camp out in the queue if needed. (Or just get up early, whatever you prefer).
There were (many) set backs
As mentioned above, amazingly we were told my visa petition could be expedited, YAY.
Not so much.
For whatever reason my application got lost/delayed. Luckily we were able to submit another, but this was two weeks before we were due to fly to America so any chance of getting it all sorted in time had disappeared with that first application. But of course, as soon as the second was submitted we were notified the “lost” one had been miraculously found. Typical.
By this point we had decided that we would fly out together to get a house and set everything up (adding another significant life change to the mix). I would then fly back to the UK a month later to finish the process, attend the medical appointment, the interview and send off my passport to have the visa approved. Then we would wait, with no clear idea of when I’d be able to fly back to my new home.
So not ideal. And definitely not what I expected.
We're so close to getting my visa approved!
At the beginning of this process, I thought it would be easy to get my visa. I was young and in love. Like a cheesy love interest in a b-side movie, not even paperwork could stand in our way. I can’t believe how hopelessly hopeful I was. Now I see that was a ridiculous notion, but I also had no idea of just how complex and infuriating it would all be.
I’m still young and in love but I’ve realised positive thinking doesn’t make the US embassy do what you want – I need to be more realistic with my expectations if I am going to survive this process. That doesn’t mean I’m going to become a pessimistic old fart. It means I am starting to realise that some things aren’t going to happen right away. I don’t have a fairy godmother who is going to magic me to America so I’ve got to do it myself. Sometimes the best things come with a bit of perseverance and hard work.
Right now, I’m gathering all the paperwork for my interview (IN THE FINAL STRETCH PEOPLE!!) If all goes to plan and everything is in order, I may get my visa two weeks after the interview so I could be flying out sooner than expected. Which would be AMAZING. But who knows… it could get lost, they could forget to let me know its been approved, there could be an issue with the form as I forgot to add my star sign on there.
And even when I have my visa I could get stuck in traffic and miss my flight. All of this Brexit chaos could shut down transport links and spark a civil unrest as we’ve run out of biscuits and tea. Probably not but who knows. We need to be realistic after all, so let’s hope my visa comes through before I have to live in a UK where a tea bag has become more valuable than the pound…
P.S. bit of advice for the prospective foreign-born military spouse...
To find out more and learn what your first steps should be, take a look at your local US embassy’s website.
Otherwise, the US Department of State has a HUGE amount of info on their website here on family immigration.
And as already mentioned, ask your SO to keep an eye out on base for any visa advice workshops and appointments – with something like this you’ll get a much better understanding of what you need to do if someone explains it to you in person, rather than through late nights spent trawlling the internet.
Good luck and dont let the paperwork get you down!