a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...

she likes: making kites, dancing in the rain, adventures, little-while friends, letters, whole-leaf tea, crayons, bare feet, jumping in rivers/streams/creeks/waterfalls, language, catching the clock as it changes numbers, sleepovers, trains (big or small), cuddling & waking up before the sun rises, among other random things.

oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

immigration - an honest look at the immigration process for one franco-american couple


It's complicated. It takes a LOT of time. It costs a LOT of money. And more than anything else, it uses a LOT of paper!!

Me immigrating to France took a lot of time and frustration considering we were never 100% in the know as to what was going on, what was being demanded of me, what the process would be like. This was in large part because the process was constantly changing. Since I have been in France the laws regarding immigration have been changed many times. Which is complicated in itself, but even more so when you have started the immigration process before said laws, and thus must continue your own request following the old protocols.

That being said, our decision to move to the United States to found a family &a start our adult lives (careers and houses and all that) took a while for me to accept because, well, let's face it, mostly because I didn't want to have to deal with the stress of all that paperwork and red tape yet again.

Coming to France it was technically me responsible for all of the paperwork. I was petitioning my right to stay on French territory as the spouse of a French citizen. Of course Rémy helped loads during the whole process, but essentially all the pressure was on me. Us going back to the States meant that I, yet again, was responsible for all of the paperwork. I was petitioning my right as a U.S. citizen to bring my spouse with me to live in my country of origin. Oh joy. Luckily for everyone in the process I have a bit of an OCD syndrome concerning paperwork, lists and important legal documents.

So this time, in order to spare us the stress (emotionally, financially and time-wise) with the whole moving-to-France immigration process, Rémy & I decided to take a different approach. This time we decided to listen to the sage advice of our dear friend, Ashley, in regards to the planning process for her wedding:

"It's supposed to be one of the best, most influential moments of your life," she told me one day. "It's supposed to be fun. As soon as you stop enjoying the process and it starts getting stressful, that's when it's time to stop. Put the to-do lists away for another day and just remember to breathe. Take it a day at a time."

Very wise advice, indeed. And while deeming applying for a spousal green card "fun" might be a stretch for most, we tried to keep in mind at all times the fun & excitement moving to the States represented for us. We tried to keep the bigger picture in mind.

While it was neither the shortest nor the most facile process of my life, I will give the U.S. credit for this: the process for applying for permanent resident status in the States is extremely straightforward. Everything is laid out for you in letters and lists. The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassy in Paris websites concerning petitioning for immediate relative immigration are incredibly thorough and well laid-out. They leave no room for guessing or last-minute changes, as was often the case on the French side. They are honest with you, straight-forward and to the point. I have to say compared to dealing with the préfecture or the mairie here in Clermont it was a breath of fresh air.

The process for us was a bit different than the process for most people, as there is a specific department set up in the Embassy in Paris that receives married couples just like us who consist of 1 (one) American citizen and 1 (one) French citizen, who wish to move to the United States. The process is thus both shorter and longer. Shorter because a few of the steps most people take are combined into one; it can be longer because many documents need to be obtained in the US and then sent to France and because not everyone is blessed with a lawyer for a father (and can therefore make it through stacks of documents that are neither exciting nor explicit - most documents resemble the directions for filling out tax returns; mind-bogglingly confusing at best).

We started getting the paperwork together early 2010 and planned on heading up to the embassy to petition in April, although we ended up not making it until the first week of July. This was in part because the only time the embassy is open to receiving these documents is between 9:00 and 10:00am on Friday mornings. Meaning both Rémy & I had to have two full days off of work (including a Friday, which is hard to ask for). I was petitioning for immediate relative immigration classification as an American citizen who has been continuously, legally resident in France for at least the six months prior to petitioning. Whew, it's quite a mouthful, I know. For this first part of the process I was required to submit the following documents:

- U.S. citizen (me) and family member beneficiary (Rémy) passports
- U.S. citizen petitioner's (my) titre de séjour (my own green card equivalent here in France) as proof of six months of continuous, legal residence in France
- Two passport-sized photos of the U.S. citizen petitioner (me) and the beneficiary (Rémy)
-Proof of relationship: marriage certificate or copie l'integrale de l'acte de mariage
-Completed forms I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and G-325A (Biographic Information) for the beneficiary (Rémy)
- Completed form G-325A for the U.S. Citizen petitioner (me)
-Completed form DS-230 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) for the beneficiary (Rémy)
- Petitioning fee in U.S. dollars, cash only, $355 (*NOTE* The fee has since gone up to $420, but can now be paid in either dollars or euros, in cash or by credit card.)

We went to Paris, we showed up at the embassy at 8:30, we were in the waiting room with a numbered ticket by 9:00, and we were quite possibly the only couple petitioning this particular case that morning, or at least most certainly the first called, and we didn't get called to a window until 9:50am!!! Considering they stop taking petitions at 10:00am sharp, we were quite nervous for those fifty minutes sitting in the waiting room.

When we were called we turned in all of our documents to a very kind French woman who was impressed by our organization (apparently many people show up at the embassy without even having printed off the proper forms and who wish to move to the States the following week; this boggles my mind quite literally, and makes me understand the frustrations of these poor desk clerks, dealing with paperwork and rushed, impolite people all day) and then had a quick interview with another woman, this time American, who asked us questions in English about why we wanted to move to the States. It went well and we returned to Clermont eager to receive letters from the Embassy as to whether we could continue in our request.

The letters came, and with them list after list of paperwork we would need to hand in at our next interview. We were required to prepare all documents, and once we had them ALL at hand to sign and send a form to the Embassy stating that we were ready for our medical exam and final interview. The documents required this time were:

- The appointment letter we received.
- Completed form DS-230, part II (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration)
- Passport of beneficiary (Rémy), valid for six months beyond our intended date of entry to the USA
- Visa fees ranging from $379 - $819 per person, payable in US dollars, euros or by credit card (it turned out the fees for us were $404)
- 2 color photos, measuring two square inches, with the head between 1in - 1 3/8in and the eye level between 1 1/8in - 1 3/8in from the bottom of the photo
- Birth certificate for the beneficiary, less than three months old.
- Police certificate for each applicant aged 16 years and over, including France and any other country where applicant has lived for more than 12 months after the age of 16; less than three months old.
- Court and prison records, if applicable.
- Military records, if applicable.
- Marriage certificate; less than three months old.
- UNOPENED medical exam results.
- A "Chronopost" envelope, 2kg with completed return delivery address.
- Evidence of financial support:
    - Completed form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) and supporting documents including but not limited to: copies of tax returns or W-2s for the past three years, a notarized letter of employment, proof of assets
(Since I have not had income in the US for the past three years since I have been living in France I had to have a co-sponsor also fill out these forms, along with a copy of their passport to prove they are indeed a U.S. citizen. We were very very lucky that my dad offered to fill this role for us and are very grateful to both his and my step-mom Jill's help in the whole process.)
- Original documents that establish a relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary for presentation to the consular officer; this includes, but is not limited to plane tickets, photos and correspondence in the form of letters or emails.

We spent a few months collecting all the documents we needed and then sent in the form saying we were ready.

We received our official letter for our final interview and blocked out November 16-19 on our schedules for paperwork. Rémy's parents were generous enough to let us use their car to drive up to Paris, and we couch surfed with some old friends who live near Gare de l'Est while we were there.

Wednesday was Rémy's official medical exam. It was a whole day ordeal. We first showed up at the office of one of the three doctors in all of France who can do these exams, all of whom are in Paris, of course. We turned in some paperwork (proof of vaccinations, medical history, etc) and they gave us some more paperwork. Then it was off to get his blood drawn at one lab (to make sure he doesn't have AIDS); then to get his lungs x-rayed at another lab (to make sure he doesn't have tuberculosis); then to the pharmacy to buy the vaccinations he would have to get to be able to come to the States; and then back to the doctor's office for his full-on medical exam + vaccinations. It went pretty well, as well as hanging out at the doctor's and getting poked & prodded & shots and all that can be. He wrote out his report of Rémy's health and gave it to us in a sealed envelope to present at the embassy during our interview. We paid the 170 euro fee for the visit and left.

Thursday was the big day. We showed up at the embassy almost an hour early. We went through the extensive security measures, worse than airport security. They even made me try my chapstick to make sure there weren't any Alias-like tricks up my sleeve. We took our numbered ticket & sat waiting. Our appointment was at 1:00pm and we got called up around 1:15. A nice French lady explained to us how to pay our fee and told us to sit back down & wait some more once that was over.

We paid (the man inspected every dollar bill to make sure it was real - understandable since they were dollars we took out of our French bank and had thus never actually been in circulation) and then sat back down to wait patiently.

The same lady called us up again to turn in all of our documents. Surprisingly, some of the ones I thought would be the most important (like my dad's W2s) she glanced at quickly and then handed back to me. She made some comments about how it must be nice having a lawyer for a dad at times like these and we politely laughed. She took Rémy's fingerprints and then asked if she had forgotten anything.

I hadn't been too sure what we were supposed to bring to "establish a relationship", and we had printed off about a hundred or so pictures of us throughout our years together, as well as a few lovey-dovey emails and other small tokens of our love for each other. The star I bought for him a few years ago for his birthday, the hearts I left all over the house with things I love about him marked on each one when I had to go back to the States the first time my visa was up, love poems. I asked her if she wanted any of that proof and she looked at me and laughed. "Honey," she said. "If we had had any doubt about your relationship, we wouldn't have asked you to a second interview!"

A mix of relief and embarrassment (how could I have been so crass? did I really think they would be checking up on our "love", stalking us on Facebook or searching for potential blogs? how truman-show of me) flowed through me and we were asked to sit down again and wait to be called for the interview portion.

The same lady who had interviewed us on the first visit back in July called us up to another window. She took Rémy's fingerprints yet again, and then slid the last page of form DS-230 through the window and told Rémy that by signing the form, he swore that everything in the form was true. Rémy, adorable Rémy, misunderstood and thought that he was supposed to swear out loud that the form was true while signing it. It was quite cute.

She asked him if he had a job in the States yet, he said no. She asked me if I had a job in the States yet, I said maybe. And that was it! "Alright, well you should receive your envelope with your visa in it within 7-10 days," she said. That's it?!?? We both stared at each other, incredulous. We had spent the past few weeks preparing for all the possible questions they might ask him. And that was it. She asked us if we had any questions for her.

"How do we know if I've been approved?" Rémy asked.

She rummaged through all the papers on her desk. "Everything in your file looks fine to me," she said. She looked over her glasses at us. "Unless, of course, there's something I should know about that you haven't told me..." We shook our heads. "Well, then I guess you know when you get the envelope," she said. "Have a nice day."

We left Thursday evening to drive back to Clermont and were beyond relieved that the initial stress was over. Now it was just a waiting game until our papers arrived.

To our surprise, the doorbell rang early Monday morning. Who could possibly be sending us a package? A surprise Thanksgiving gift from family back home? Christmas presents even though we told everyone not to send us anything this year since we're basically selling everything we own?

Nope. It was our paperwork. Those embassy workers don't waste any time! Yes indeedy, not even two full business days after our interview in Paris, and we had Rémy's visa physically in our hands!!!!

The next and final step is entering the country. Even after everything we've done, they still have the right to refuse us entry into the States at the border if they find some reason to. We have a sealed envelope from the embassy that is to be opened exclusively by an immigration officer upon entry into the country. If he or she decides we can enter, Rémy's visa and entry stamp officially serve as his "green card" for the first year we are there. He won't receive his plastic card until sometime within that first year.

So there it is. All our long, complicated and sometimes drawn-out immigration process. It might not have been what anyone else would term "fun", but we are SO excited to start our new life in the States and cannot wait to see everyone in Washington State in January!!!!

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