Friday, 23 September 2011

The visa interview

This is the longer post that I wrote while sat in the US Embassy during the visa interview process. Obviously I've added to it and edited it a bit, but essentially this is the way the K-1 interview works. I'll do a summary of the process at the bottom too, as I have a feeling I will ramble (not unusual for me, but I am extra happy today because they said yes, so there's a risk of extra rambling, too). 

Taken on my explore 2 weeks ago
I figure that now is about as good a time as any to write a blog post... albeit writing it by hand, as I am currently sat in the US Embassy's visa application room, patiently (ha!) waiting (surprisingly) for ticket I914 to be called to one of the 25 windows used for processing documents and interviewing applicants. I have been here for what seems like ages already, but it has only been about half an hour. According to my ticket, it was issued at 08:09, so it really hasn't been that long at all, although there's no clock in here and I'm not wearing my watch, so I can't be sure. A combination of nerves and waiting have combined to make me feel quite sick; I think it's the actually, really being almost there and seeing others going through the process all around me. It's a matter of hours now, not months or weeks.

Breakfast!
So, I guess I should start at the beginning. I got up at the sound of the first of four alarms I had set, which started at 05:25. Funnily enough, I was wide awake. After a shower and general preening, I had some breakfast and a chat with Ben on Skype, as he was still awake. My family - well, parents, anyway - were also up which was, in part, due to my accidentally setting off the fire alarm with the combined heat and steam from my shower. Smooth! (Sorry, folks. Love you!) Mum made me the aforementioned cuppa and some toast and then, after a last-minute check of ALL THE THINGS, Dad walked me to Grosvenor Square. There are two queues outside: one for visas and one for general business. You are asked to present your letter of appointment and your passport here. After an airport-style security check in a booth at the entrance, I was on the other side of the fence, walking around to the right of the building and up the steps through the doors. At reception, I presented my letter again and was issued with a sticker with an appointment number on it (I914! Not as ominous as first thought, though.) and directed upstairs where the waiting begins.

You are then faced with basically what would happen if Argos and the Post Office had babies: a massive waiting room with tons of chairs, a bank of screens in the centre announcing visually and verbally every time a new ticket number is called, and a load of booths to one side which are used for the interviews.

An aerial view of the Embassy
From my understanding, there were three types of tickets: N, I or E prefixed the number given, and it seemed that the Ns went zooming through the process. I don't know, but perhaps they are simpler visas, or require a shorter initial check than a K visa does. I got chatting to a couple of people sat behind me, both having N numbers on their tickets and both had already been seen once despite arriving at the same time or just after me. They were on a work and tourist visa respectively, and were absolutely lovely to chat to - not to mention the fact that they also probably kept me sane!

My nerves had abated a little by this point, although butterflies were doing an interesting dance somewhere in the region of my diaphragm throughout the whole experience. Talking to people helped, as did writing, as both seemed to normalise the process, making it less scary. It seems, in fact, very routine and at least, at this point, not very intimidating (and this stayed the same for the three hours I was there; the whole thing was very friendly and not at all threatening). Apart from the slight RSI I was getting from snapping my head up to look at the ticket screens every five seconds, I actually felt pretty much fine.

In the visa dress!
09:50 now and I'd still not been seen at all. Boat tourist (visa interview friend #1) had already been seen twice and approved, and geologist (visa interview friend #2) was in her interview. The sickness did start to come back but, oddly, I also felt hungry. Clearly nerves munch your energy. I913 got seen around now. Surely it would be me next?!

The room itself is pretty standard, as I said. A waiting room filled with chairs, the visa courier service desks at one end (by the door as you come in), a few vending machines with food and drinks at the other, screens in the middle and booths down one side. The booths go further back than you think (there are 25 in total) and as you walk around to booths 12 to 25, there's a cash point and some toilets. All very normal.

Wore my bracelet gift from 4 lovely friends for luck
Nothing happened for a while after this but then, finally, I got seen! It was around 10:15 when I914 got called to window 14. Here, my documents were checked (the file was embarrassingly huge; apparently Ben and I had been a little too enthusiastic when it came to "supporting our relationship"); unnecessary documents were given back; travel plans were discussed (had I booked a flight yet); my passport was taken; my fingerprints were electronically recorded; a photograph of my passport was recorded before it got put into a plastic wallet for it and the accompanying documents; the I-134 was checked and filed; and I was given a CD with my chest X-ray images on it for my medical records. The gentleman in the booth (which opens out behind into a HUGE office) was friendly and happy, and made jokes about how much stuff we'd sent in. In the end, they only needed a photocopy of my birth certificate and police certificate (and to see the originals, but they were returned) and the affidavit of support. Lovely! I was then given a pink sheet of paper, with instructions for the courier service (should the visa application be successful) and an explanation of what would happen next. Essentially it tells you that you need to go and wait again until your number is called for your interview and that you must listen out carefully for your number, as they don't tend to go in numerical order. If you're an I number, your interview will be at one of booths 14-16, as these seem to be the only three used for spouse visa applications, or at least they were today.

This is as far as I got with the section written in the waiting room, as I then - about five minutes after I'd sat down again! - got called for the interview. So, now we're back to writing in the now:

Old skool hand-written blog
The interview itself happened at window 15, and as it was so soon after the first encounter at window 14, I barely had time to get my stuff together, never mind make notes for QE.

*pause while I go off for celebratory lunch with Dad and sister-in-law*

So, I was then called up to window 15 for the second part of the visa interview. I was greeted by a smiling American lady, with another lady behind her who didn't speak. First they took my fingerprints again, presumably to check I was still the same person from window 14 five minutes earlier. Then I had to swear that the information and answers I was giving were truthful to the best of my knowledge (hand up and everything) and sign a document saying that I would marry Ben within 90 days of my arrival in the USA. Finally, the lady behind the desk asked me a few questions about me and Ben: how we met (some giggles about this; she actually made a joke about how a grammar forum was better than WoW! I liked her!); what course he's doing at UNCC; what I want to do for work when I am allowed a paid job in the States; and when the wedding is planned for. She said she came from NC, so sort of knew where we were having the wedding, it seemed. Neat! And that was it. She said, "So, I'm going to approve this visa. Good luck with everything!". All done, other than getting the courier sorted to get my passport and shiny new visa back to me.
Delivery slip for visa courier

So, I walked back into the waiting room and joined a final queue to book my courier delivery. There are several options, ranging from any time before 6PM on the day the visa is ready (7 working days from now) to guaranteed before 8AM. I went for the option of between 6AM and 10AM, so that I know by 10AM on each day that if it hasn't arrived, it won't arrive that day. I won't have to wait in then (as you have to be the one present to sign for it, unless you nominate another person to take it for you), and I won't spend all day, every day, fretting until it arrives. Apparently the company do text you, but it doesn't always get through. Who knows! In any case, a week on Wednesday (5th October) should be the latest date for it to arrive. It will come in my passport with a sealed envelope of documents that I'm not allowed to open - it's to give to the customs officer in NC and no one else. And then I can leave! I can ship my stuff, pack my suitcases, tie up lose ends, have a real leaving party, and GO! I feel such release, so much happiness, so much peace, right now. It's not "relief" exactly, but security and contentedness in the knowledge that I have been accepted and that our relationship has been rubber-stamped, too. I can't quite put it into words.

When I got back in, I spoke to Mum and Dad and my brother Sam first, as they were in, and then called Ben. I hadn't realised, but Ben had stayed up until 5:30AM with nerves (or at least nervous energy), so he was a little confused when my phone call woke him up! Poor baby. But he was, of course, rather happy. Having just spoken to him again now (16:00), we're both very tired but delirious with joy at what it means for us. Before speaking to Ben again, Dad took me and my sister-in-law out for lunch (Sam and Mum couldn't make it) to celebrate and generally relax a bit. That's a whole other blog post, but suffice to say it involved Champagne and some damn good grub! And now I think I am going to collapse for a nap before I venture onwards for the weekend's festivities. Before I do though, here is that summary list I mentioned:


The K-1 Interview in 10 "Easy" Steps


1) Arrive at US Embassy. Present letter and passport at podium outside entrance.
2) Security. Airport-type scanner for body and bags.
3) Reception: get ticket number stuck on to your appointment letter.
4) Go to waiting room. Wait for ticket number to be called.
5) Ticket number called. Go to numbered window. Present passport, police certificate, birth certificate, affidavit(s) of support. Have fingerprints taken. Paperwork checked generally. Given pink form.
6) Take pink form from first window back to waiting room. Fill in one side for courier details. Read other side for information about what happens next. Wait for ticket number to be called again.
7) Ticket number called again. Go to numbered window. Fingerprints checked. Swear to tell the truth. Sign document pertaining to upcoming marriage to US citizen fiancé(e). Answer questions about relationship and plans for your life Stateside. Get visa approval!
8) Take pink form to courier desk in waiting room. Double check address details with person at desk. Pay for chosen delivery service required.
9) Leave the Embassy via the same route you came in.
10) Jump up and down and celebrate!

And then it's 7 working days to wait, and you're done! So, after 9 months of paperwork, waiting, more paperwork, fees, waiting, and worrying/wondering/wishing, we're done until we get married in NC in December. I think I've earned a nap.


Me & Wren (S-I-L) with celebration waffle and cocktails



DISCLAIMER: I have had 4 hours' sleep in the last 24, so my spelling, grammar and general sense-making may not be up to scratch. Any errors pointed out will be gratefully received, but probably not changed for a few hours now due to aforementioned snooze.

8 comments:

  1. Waffles and cocktails looks like the perfect way to celebrate. I've said it already but I really am pleased for you both. Thanks for such a detail description on your experience xx

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  2. It was! Really, really happy (plus Wren got her visa sorted out just a few days ago too, so it was a double celebration!). I hope the description helped in what to expect a bit. :) xx

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  3. Enjoy your nap, Eve. Once you get to the US and get married, you then have to start on the Green Card process! hehe!

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  4. Thanks! And the 2-10 year green card can't be applied for until after we're married, so I've got a couple of months' reprieve. Then we have 3 years until I can apply for citizenship.

    *naps again* HAPPY!

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  5. Get your k1 visa. Automated Visa Preparation System without the high legal fees. Approved by Immigration Lawyers.This will allow you to start the process of obtaining their Green Card.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is a (spam) promotion/advert comment above, but the page does outline the K-1 process. However, I recommend going to the USCIS website, as their information is current and very well organised, with all relevant forms attached for free.

    See: http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=640a3e4d77d73210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=640a3e4d77d73210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD

    Also, while a lawyer or online "short cut" company may help, I can honestly say that, while an arduous and seemingly unending process at times, it is perfectly possible to complete the process by yourself, and save yourself some money. Considering how expensive the whole thing is, every penny counts, and I wouldn't want people embarking on the K-1 to engage an expensive professional when it is totally reasonable to do it alone.

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  7. The last step in your set of tips is my fave part- “Jump up and down and celebrate!” I bet you can't help it after all that you've gone through. Tip no. 7 seems so easy for you but for some, it's pretty arduous! It's good to have a heart to heart Skype talk with your fiance to get an established statement. Some may have unique cases which would need the aid of an immigration lawyer. Anyway, may you have more joyous moments together. Keep safe!

    -Rachal Dworkin

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    Replies
    1. Hey there! Thank you for stopping by. :) You're right that you can't help but want to celebrate, but you also feel kind of exhausted and relieved that it's over. #7 wasn't easy as such, but I know what you mean. Our case was straightforward in a lot of ways.

      Thanks for the kind comments, and we will!

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Thanks for taking the time to write! I try to reply to everyone, and I love to read your comments.