I am finding out a lot of my American friends don’t really know what the process for immigration is. So, I thought I should talk about the actual physical procedure I had to go through. I will leave out the emotional reality of it for a different post. I hope it puts to rest their fear that anyone and everyone is being “let in”.
I applied for a visa for the US for first time in 1997 and as a 22 yr old, the paperwork seemed so daunting (birth certificate, college transcripts, college degree, health check up, vaccine record, letter from my physician, letter of intent, reference letters, income tax papers/clearance, proof of financial status for my self and my parents, contract from the sponsoring agency in US and their paperwork that showed a job vacancy, job requirements, my salary, list of benefits, approval from labor department, temporary licenses to work, actual travel tickets and travel insurance proof). This was for a 2 yr work visa for a traveling job in Arkansas and then Indiana.
I, along with some friends, underwent training for the visa interview from the employer and gave the English language exam TOEFL even though all of our education after high school was in English.
The interview is nerve wracking as people who interview you at the Consulate are trained to look at you as potential liars or people who will most likely overstay their visa and ofcourse look for potential trouble makers. They were certainly not courteous to me or years later to my parents who were at that time in their late 50s or 60s trying to come see me when I was ill. But they are very efficient.
At the end of 2 yrs it was a little trickier as I moved to a different state which had different salary requirements. I made 2 more renewal requests and then I applied for permanent residency, at which point I had to annually reapply till I got the Green Card, which was after 9 years.
If you are already in US when you request a renewal, you have to submit proof of employment, proof of income, apply for an approval from labor department. Then you get a visa approval notice which says ‘this is not a visa’. You need a stamp in the passport if you travel and that is the actual visa. You can either send your passport to Washington DC for a stamp or just get a stamp from a US consulate on your way back from the country you are visiting. So every single time I went to see my parents, then on, for the first 10 years I had to make an application at the consulate in Mumbai to get a visa stamp – the paperwork involved and the procedure was equally unnerving and tedious, often taking up and day or two, as even though I had a visa approval notice in hand, the consulate agents there can decide that they don’t want to grant me a visa and I would then not be able to come back here to my job or to my apartment where rest of my belongings are. I hear the process has been greatly simplified since.
Every time you are at the airport of entry into US, the border control person asks you a million questions to ascertain your motives of why you left and why are you coming and what you did while away and what are you bringing in your luggage, even when you have a valid visa. They have a right to not grant you entry if they think you might be trouble. Sometimes, after a long flight, you don’t look as respectable as you hope and most of the time, after sitting in a plane for 20 hrs or more, you don’t feel respectable either, and the CBP certainly don’t help. But we all deal with it because that is what we signed up for.
To get a Green Card (permanent resident permit) you need to not have been in violation with your labor and visa agreement, your company that sponsored you should be in good standing, your finger printing and interview should go well. The major hurdle is providing proof that the company that is “sponsoring” your stay has in good faith tried to employ a local American and cannot find one for the position and is therefore requesting for you to stay on permanently. This was the biggest hurdle for me was that I worked for a very small company and it took me over 9 years to get my Green Card. A lot changes in 9 yrs and this was often a source of extreme frustration for my then boss as we had to keep spending thousands to get those yearly visa extensions. You are allowed to change jobs only after reaching a certain level in the Green Card application process and even then the Labor requirements need to match. You need an ‘Advanced Parole’ to leave the country while your green card application is in process. Once you get the Green Card you can then change jobs and work in any area you like. You cannot leave the country for more than 90 days at any point if you have a visa or it stands to be cancelled. If you stay outside of US for 6 months there is a separate documentation process. You have to keep records of travel after getting the Green Card if you plan to apply for Citizenship, which you can only after you have had the GC for 5 years. Travel certainly becomes a lot easy and humane after getting a GC. The customs and border control questions remain the same but at least I’m guaranteed an entry back to my apartment.
Visa applications cost around 1200 dollars per application for work visa, 500-800 for travel visa, 800 for citizenship. Also, every time you move you have to notify the immigration service bureau till you become a Citizen.
The process is different for visitors visa, spouse of a person employed by a US agency, a person visiting for religious purpose and student visa, all with more or less similar degree of hassle, cost and paperwork.
Having a Green Card does not mean your loved ones can automatically get a visa. Neither does it mean that the process becomes simpler. When you become a US citizen you can apply for your immediate family members to come live in US (parents, spouse, children under age of 21) but that process can take 6-10 years.
I would also at this time ask you to consider that for the time we live here, our loved ones have to get a visa to come see us. Rejection of travel visa of our loved ones is fairly common. I know of so many incidences, there was this situation where my friend had a high risk pregnancy and a very complicated delivery but her mother who just wanted to come here to help with the baby for a couple months was denied visa. A close family member was not granted visa to attend her nephew’s wedding. A sister was denied entry even though she had a valid visa. None of them were ever provided with a reason but getting rejected twice means you cannot reapply for 5 or sometimes 10 years.
Living as as immigrant means also understanding that if there is a family emergency you most certainly won’t be able to travel and be there for your loved ones, if you are on a visa. And definitely not if you in between finishing your degree and getting a job. The odds are certainly better if you have a Green Card.
Visa waiver program that US has with a handful of countries means that people from that country can apply for a short stay visa on arrival. Under President Obama that changed for quite a few countries and now people from a majority of countries have to apply for visa before hand.
A refugee has to go through so, so much more and generally the vetting process takes 18-24 months.
I would encourage you all, if you are an immigrant, start with taking to your friends about the physical, emotional, financial price you have to pay for what you think will be hopefully a better future for you and your family.