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What To Expect In The First Year of Marriage As A U.S. Immigrant

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I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked:

Why don’t you just become a U.S. citizen?

But I can say that this question truly irritates me, and to be honest with you, I think it’s about time I do something to share why.

So without further ado, here’s the truth about U.S. citizenship through marriage.

And by the way, this is my story.

Are you ready?


In The Beginning

On January 2, 2016, my husband proposed to me, and from then on I was even more excited about the new life we were going to build together.

Like most couples, we started planning our dream wedding. We agreed that it would be a destination affair with close friends and family in March the next year. But there was one big question,

What would I need to do for my immigration visa so I could travel?

And boy, let me tell you, that one question disrupted our plans.

After chatting with friends and seeking the council of a local immigration lawyer, my husband and I learned that applying for my green card and U.S. travel documents was going to be a bit more complicated and time-consuming than we thought.

In short, it was going to be a roller coaster ride.

And news flash, I hate roller coasters.



Let The “Fun” Begin

Our consultation with our immigration lawyer, shed light on the following facts:

  1. To make the green card visa application through marriage smoother, my husband and I would need to get married a little earlier than we had planned.
  2. The green card process via marriage would require a check of $1,490 to be submitted along with the application. P.S. As of December 23, 2016, immigrants applying for a green card via marriage adjustment now have to pay $1,690 to the U.S. government due to an official fee increase made by the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).
  3. Legal fees to have the benefit of a great immigration attorney would cost us around $1,500. This would provide my husband and I with guidance and support throughout this process.
  4. The green card application itself would require we submit the following documents:
    1. From Both of Us:
      1. Government-Issued Marriage Certificate
      2. Adjusted Gross Income for last 3 years
      3. A photo album of our relationship, including our marriage
    2. From My Husband (U.S. Citizen):
      1.  Proof of U.S. Citizenship. e.g. birth certificate
      2. Two passport photos
      3. Most recent federal tax return, with W-2 forms
      4. Employment letter verifying current employment/salary (OR Recent pay stubs).
    3. From Me (Alien Spouse):
      1. Official Government-Issued Birth Certificate from Barbados
      2. Seven (7) passport photos
      3. Medical Examination Results – so that lie that a legal immigrant just bring diseases to this country, is a LIE!! We have to go to an approved medical office to be tested for a series of vaccinations. If you don’t have them, you have to get them prior to the testing. The results are then submitted with our application in a sealed envelope, which cannot be opened by the applicants or attorney. This testing alone costs $250-$300 plus the cost of vaccinations you may need to get prior to testing.
      4. Complete copy of my current Barbadian passport  – yes EVERY page
      5. Copy of front and back of I-94 Carda card issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to keep track of the arrival and departure of people to/from the United States who aren’t U.S. Citizens are green card holders.
  5. The process would take at least 4 months!
  6. My husband would have to sign an agreement with the government that he would take care of me up to 10 years until I became a citizen. This meant that if I ever took any government assistance (even if my husband and I were no longer together), my spouse would have to repay the government out of his pocket for the funds I used.
  7. After we submitted the initial application, we would have to participate in an official interview where we would be questioned about our marriage (more on this later in the post).

So with our to-do list in tow and a calendar deadline to meet, my husband (Nate) and I started the immigration process.


The Immigration Process Through Marriage

After getting married and saving for the fees involved, we successfully submitted all the immigration forms required in November 2016 via our attorney.

This was a tad late on our part since my OPT (Optional Practical Training) visa as an F-1 Student (immigrant to the U.S. as a student – in my case college) was going to expire on December 31, 2016. However, it was the best we could do financially as a new couple with responsibilities at the time. This resulted in a temporary displacement from my full-time job, and the inability to drive since my license expired at the same time as my visa.

All we could do was wait for the situation to unfold based on the expected timeline….and pray.

In January 2017, I received an appointment letter to get my biometrics done. That simply meant that I had to be fingerprinted as a security measure to make sure that the I was who I said I was. Can’t fault them for that!

Next, my husband and I were to receive a an appointment letter for our couple interview. However, we received a RFE, Request for Evidence, instead.


The Unforeseen Setback

A Request For Evidence is simply a pink slip that the government sends via email asking for more evidence that the U.S. Citizen is able to financially take care of the alien spouse. As a young couple who was only in their mid-20’s, my husband and I hadn’t made enough money separately the previous year to be considered above the poverty line standard. Therefore, to provide more evidence of our financial status, we submitted filed our taxes jointly and submitted those forms. In addition, my husband had to resubmit an updated Affidavit of Support form, again confirming that he would be able to financially take care of me for up to 10 years without any government assistance.

With this setback, we realized that even though we had expected an approval of my green card to only last until February/March, we would probably reach the end of the process in April 2017.

Lo and behold, we were right!

Our couple interview was scheduled for April 25, 2017. As far as we knew, this would be the final step in the approval process.

Our immigration attorney, prepped us for the interview. She made sure that we could answer questions such as, When did you guys first meet? and What is the make and model of the car your husband drives?. She also assured us that as a part of her legal counsel, she would sit in our individual interviews with us.

That alone eased our nerves!

On the day of April 25, we arrived early at our local USCIS office accompanied by our attorney. We had all of the paper work we needed. We both just had to ace our interviews.


The Immigration Marriage Interview

This part of the process has been made most famous by the end of the Sandra Bullock movie, The Proposal.

However, as much as I love that movie, and as funny as it is, the marriage interview is no joke.

The immigrant (or alien spouse) and the U.S. citizen are interviewed separately.

The interview is conducted in an office by a USCIS officer who sits at their desk with your entire application, a series of questions, and a camera recording the entire event. Trust me, that is very intimidating.

Also, as a couple you are aware that you and your spouse must have the same answers to all of the questions, and one discrepancy could result in a secondary interview, or a disapproval to receive a green card.

What are some of those questions?

Well, I can only share what we were asked, and below is a short list  of what that included. Hang on to your seats!

  • What side of the bed does your spouse sleep on?
  • What car does your spouse usually drive to work? What is the make and model?
  • What material is the fence around your house?
  • Do you rent or do you own your current residence?
  • Do you plan to have kids? If so, how many?
  • Where do you work? Where does your spouse work? How long have either of you worked there?
  • What is your profession? What is your spouse’s profession? What does that job entail?
    • Ironically since my husband used to work at a security and protection company, i had very little details about his position. Not to mention, that this triggered an impromptu question, where the officer asked if I ever had considered breaking and entering this business in order to attain a large sum of money. Needless to say, I think the interviewer was just being curious but I didn’t show that I thought it was a ridiculous question. I answered with the most respectful face I could muster.
  • Do you plan on buying a new vehicle within the next few years?
  • Have you met your spouse’s family?
  • Where were you born? Where was your spouse born?
    • And trust me, this has to be exactly what you submitted via the immigration application.
  • What is your birth date? What is your spouse’s birth date?

And the list goes on.

It can feel pretty invasive. Only because the premise of the entire green card process through marriage is that you are taking this step only so the alien spouse can stay in the USA a little longer. So they are making a point to make sure that you know intimate details about each other, which should reflect that you are truly in love and will be married for a long time.

Talk about PRESSURE!!!

Anyway, Nate and I made it through the interviews successfully and received a form, informing of us the next steps.

That next step, was a letter of approval that we received in May 2017 letting me know that I was officially welcomed to the United States, and that I would receive my conditional green card in the mail shortly.

FYI – a conditional green card is permanent residency status granted for two years on the condition that you and your spouse stay married.


The Green Card Mail Debacle

Based on USCIS records, my green card was mailed on April 28, 2017. That was 3 days after our successful interview.

Unfortunately, after inquiries were made by our attorney and by us, we discovered that the green card was lost in the mail via USPS (the United States Postal Service).

To replace that card, and again with the counsel of our immigration lawyer, we had to collect documents from the USPS stating in detail that they had lost the green card under their purview, and with details as to how that potentially happened. This was crucial because if they didn’t admit this in writing, we would have to pay an additional fee of $540 for the replacement. This is broken down into $455 for the actual new card and $85 for new biometrics (aka fingerprints).

We attached this written info to the green card replacement application, and again, we had to just wait….and pray.


Delay Is Not Denial

Needless to say, since I have submitted the application for a replacement green card, I haven’t received it yet.

However, I have learned in waiting that delay is not denial.

Thanks to my amazing attorney, I have been able to return to work and build my career, update my license and even travel back home to Barbados for the first time in over 10 years. If you want to see how that went, check out this post: My Unexpected Beach Maternity Photoshoot.

Now on the specifics of how that has happened, I have a stamp in my green card referred to as an I-551 that allows me to still function as a legal permanent resident of the United States until I receive the physical green card in the mail. The only downside is that I have to always carry my passport on my person to prove that I am an approved green card holder.


Now That I’m On The Other Side…Well Kind Of

It’s been a very long journey for me and my family!

Currently, I am on the other side of the entire process.

I thought I would never be here because of how trying everything was at the time. But I am happy to say that I have overcome.

Yes, I do have to apply for a green card extension this month. This time it won’t be conditional. In fact the extension is for 10 years.

Yes, one year after I have applied for that extension, I will be eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship.

Yes, I cried when my daughter’s U.S. birth certificate and social security card was mailed to me. I mean, she WILL NEVER have to go through any of this IN HER LIFE. And that’s something to be celebrated.

But, if I could ask you to remember anything from this post, I would ask this:

The path to U.S. Citizenship is not simple. It’s not a call to the immigration office or just 3-form application.

The path to U.S. Citizenship is months-long process that is very invasive and can be very financially straining for families.

So the next time you ask an immigrant why they aren’t a citizen yet, stop and reflect on what you have read today and realize that what they need is a prayer or even a simple phrase like, “It’ll work out.”

They don’t need your criticism or disdain. They just need your understanding.


For More Information

  • If you have any further questions about the process in general, I would advise going to the USCIS website.
  • If you are an immigrant who needs help navigating this process, please reach out to a local immigration attorney. My attorney in Columbus, OH is Roxi of Adams & Liming, LLC. I can’t stress how amazing she is!
  • If you have any questions, and would like to reach out to me personally, you can:

I truly hope this opens your eyes to the reality of the immigration process through marriage!

And of course, I hope this knowledge helps you vote on this political issue wisely.

Tamara Sykes
Caribbean-Born Gal. Always Plottin' My Next Hairstyle. Encouraging women with a creative spirit to color outside the lines and live a life they love.


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