Green Card Timeline

As I mentioned yesterday, the Ukrainian received his Green Card. Yay! It only took 5 months and 18 days from the submision of our application and the receipt the of the Green Card. Entire time line of the Ukrainian’s progress to becoming an American is below!

16-Apr-2007     The Ukrainian arrives in San Francisco from Kiev.

??-May-2007      The Ukrainian responds to my Craigslist W4M ad.

08-Jun-2007     The Ukrainian and I meet in person at Tlaloc in San Francisco’s Financial District.

01-Sep-2007    The Ukrainian moves into my apartment in San Francisco’s Noe Valley.

16-Feb-2008    The Ukrainian proposed to me on Pacific Beach in San Diego with a ring from Tiffany’s.

19-Mar-2008    The Ukrainian and I are married in San Francisco’s city hall with 4 friends as witnesses.

09-May-2008    The Ukrainian and I submit our application to the USCIS (INS) for his green card.

June-2008         USCIS tells us that it does not have a copy of the Ukrainian’s birth certificate. We resubmit.

28-Jul-2008      The Ukrainian’s travel parole and work authorization permit arrive in the mail.

Aug-2008          We receive our letter inviting us to our green card interview for 19-SEP-2008

Aug-2008          We receive a letter canceling our 19-SEP-2008 green card interview with no explanation.

Aug-2008.         The Ukrainian visits the USCIS. Discovers it has our address recorded as Brooklyn. Fixes it.

Sep-2008           We receive a new letter inviting us to a new green card interview for 16-OCT-2008.

16-Oct-2008     Green Card interview.

23-Oct-2008     Receive a “Welcome to the United States of America” letter from Dept. of Homeland Security.

27-Oct-2008     Receive the greencard. Yay! 🙂

Oct-2010           Must renew Green Card.

Oct-2011           The Ukrainian is eligible for U.S. Citizenship.

As you can see from the timeline above, it only took us 5 1/2 months from the submission of our application for the green card to actually receiving it. It was only 2 1/2 months from the submission of our application until the Ukrainian received his work permit and travel parole. This is much, much better than many other countries. I’ve had friends and relatives who’ve gone through the same process and had to wait 1 1/2 years to be able to work. And *then* they have to take an integration course for a year.

Uncle Sam is not so bad for most people.

I think it helped that the Ukrainian has a PhD from his home country and is pursuing an MBA. Plus, honestly, I think the U.S. would like to see Ukraine be more Western/European leaning rather than Russian-leaning. Anything to make the U.S. look better to Ukrainians has to be a factor in our quick success.

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Green Card Arrived!!!

Last week, the Ukraian received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security stating “Welcome to the United States of America — your greencard will arrive shortly.”

Yesterday, the Greencard arrived! 🙂 Yay!

I kept thinking that once the card itself arrived, I would kick it into high gear and organize a big green card party complete with a DJ and everything green. But now we are almost to the U.S. holiday season. We have Halloween celebrations to attend this weekend. On the next weekend, Russian/German friends of ours are hosting a post-election party, and then we we are going to the Midwest to see my sister’s new baby and my brother’s family. And then it’s Thanksgiving and then can we really throw a green card party in the midst of the Christmas and Hannukah festivities?

And, also in December, the Ukrainian will graduate with his MBA in Finance. It will be another something wonderful to celebrate — perhaps making the green card celebration feel sooooo last month.

I know I promised some of you that I’d write up the greencard interview itself. I’m sorry I haven’t, although I’ve made a start. To be truthful, it was not the most pleasant experience and it really hurts my head to relive it.

But I will say this:  from our experience (and that of a few others we know) it seems that the U.S. Government is really tough when you are trying to gain entrance to the country, but once you’re in, the government is actually super nice — it’s been a much more positive experience for the Ukrainian than I had living in the Netherlands.

*Disclaimer. I know that the guantanamo and other situations do not reflect so well on the U.S. government. Hence the use of the words “in general”.

Role Reversal: The morning of the Green Card Interview

On Thursday morning, I met the Ukrainian downtown at his office on Montgomery St., lugging my 200 photos and cheap white photo album from Walgreens in my luxe black leather Coach tote that the Ukrainian had given me the previous March in honor of International Women’s Day. I had on my knee high black patent leather boots — also from Coach, the ones that made unknown women stop me on the street exclaiming, “Where did you get those boots?!” and men look me up and down with a whistle. For the main piece, I wore the same Tory Burch long sleeve shift dress that Britney Spears wore on probably the only classy trial day she ever had. Economy be damned. If ever there was day to be a label-whore, this day was it. I didn’t want to show up at the INS looking like some slovenly student that the Ukrainian had to pay to get her to marry him.

For his part, the Ukrainian played the role of the successful young businessman very well. He wore his Hugo Boss suit with a navy-blue striped Hugo Boss tie. His shoes were Calvin Klein. His black leather satchel:  Kenneth Cole. Sadly, neither of his Hugo Boss shirts were clean so he had to settle for Zara. But it was fine, what he lacked in labels, he made up for in fit and class. The Zara shirt was made for his tall, lean body and had French Cuffs! This touch of sophisticated flair was certain to impress any INS bureaucrat, I was sure.

So I met the Ukrainian at his office where I could deposit my iPhone, camera, and 2nd cellphone (long story why I carry around 2 phones — it’s a temporary situation). While he finished up a few last minute business-related calls, I went to work on organizing our 200+ photos into the cheap white album I had purchased the night before.

“You’re crazy,” the Ukrainian told me again and again between each phone call as I tried to sort the photos into chronological order while stuffing them into the cheap plastic album slots.

“Get me some paper clips. They’re not all in order. We’ll clip the ones that aren’t in order to the pages they should be in.” My engineer’s mind couldn’t function without everything in life being absolutely sequential and “in order”. But I also knew that looking well put together — not just in clothes — but in the “evidence” we brought with us to our interview would be important to impressing our interviewer, and hopefully save us the troubles that so many other couples have endured.

Soon, it was 10 minutes until our interview. There was no more time for business phone calls. No more time to organize our photos to best show our story. It was time to walk to the INS offices.

And that’s when I realized:  I hadn’t eaten. Not that morning. Not more than 2 nibbles of lettuce the night before. And I was hungry. Whatever nerves I had vanished. My stomach rumbled. The Ukrainian laughed. “I feel sorry for whoever interviews us. He better be nice to you because he won’t be able to kick you out of the country for being mean!” The bitchiness that I exude when hungry is famous. All I have to do is say the word “hungry” and the Ukrainian is on his feet offering to fetch me whatever food I desire. He’d rather exercise this small moment of servitude than suffer the wrath of my mood on an empty stomach. But on this day, he was having none of it.

“There is no time to eat. Or to stop for a candy or fruit. Here, just for you, I have a piece of gum.” I reluctantly took the gum from the Ukrainian while looking across the street at a deli. I could just run in…get something…anything…just one thing that would save me if we’re taken into separate rooms and questioned for hours on end with out so much as a cup of water or a bite to eat. Clearly, I’d been watching too communist-themed espionage and subversion films. But I could tell that this was one moment the Ukrainian did not want to be challenged. The moment was simply too important.

And so in my fancy clothes, I dragged my hungry belly, bundle of nerves, and cheap white wedding photo album into the non-descript government building on Sacramento St. and through security. Though I would not have even been there if it wasn’t for the Ukrainian, I was especially glad to have him there. The nerves and lack of food made me light-headed and a bit faint. I no longer knew where we were supposed to be going or what we were supposed to do once we got there. I took the Ukrainian’s arm for support and let him guide me through the halls he had negotiated so many times before since arriving in the States.

Suddenly, in my own native country, I felt myself to be the foreigner.

Nerves: Green Card interview

I didn’t think I would be so nervous about our green card interview. Anyone who has ever seen the Ukrainian and I together know how much we love each other. Indeed, this blog is almost an on-going testament to our love rather than its original purpose: charting my course in trying to learn the Russian language. But then, late last night, we had a mad-dash to get our wedding photos printed. We walked from the Noe Walgreens to the Castro Walgreens, looking for one that could print our photos so late at night — the night before we so urgently needed them for our Green Card interview.

Of course, we bickered. “Why is everything always left to the last minute?” “Why are we always so frantic whenever there is anything important to be done with a deadline?” “The wedding was just like this!” The accusations and questions flew. But they were half-hearted, not cruel. Each one punctured by nervous laughs. The situation was just too important to have a go at a proper fight.

But then, the Ukrainian asked, “What are we going to say?”

“What do you mean what are we going to say? We’ll just answer whatever they ask.” They being the INS/USCIS. Bureaucrats who had the power to make our lives miserable just because they could.

“But are you going to tell them about the time we fought about XYZ?”

“No, no, we’ll leave that out.”

“What about the fact that you sometimes fall asleep on the sofa.”

“But then I wake up later and come join you bed so it’s fine.”

“I don’t think you should mention the sofa.”

“But if they ask. What if they ask if we always sleep in the same bed? What am I going to say. What if they take us into separate rooms and ask us these questions? I can’t lie. I am a terrible liar.” I don’t have a moral issue with lying. Indeed, I have a certain respect for people who clam up and keep their truths to themselves. But, I can’t. I start to and then I twist my words so that I tell the truth even when I am lying. I’m a terrible liar.

“You would never survive in Kiev or Moscow. Everyone lies there. You have to in order to survive.” Ah yes, that Soviet mentality that didn’t just die with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“I didn’t say I’m not naturally suspicious of people. I just assume everyone is lying to me if there is any doubt in the matter. Unfortunately, I just can’t lie back.”

While I couldn’t exactly say I had been looking forward to putting our personal lives on display for the INS, I hadn’t exactly been worried about it. But this conversation with the Ukrainian….this attempt to repackage our lives into some sort of perfect storybook tale free of blemishes and flaws made me ill to my stomach. If our stories differed at all, the INS would have no problem making our lives as difficult as possible in forcing us to prove we have a bona-fide marriage — to prove that the Ukrainian didn’t marry me for a green card. The validity of our relationship had been on trial since the day we got engaged — the U.S. Government would not be the first to ask, “How do you know the marriage is not for the Green Card”, my family and friends had asked that plenty of times. But only the U.S. government had to the power to say, “No. We don’t think your husband loves you. He needs to go back to Ukraine.”

It was with this foreboding mood, I took the DVD with the photos chronicling our lives and weddings into the Walgreens at Castro and 18th Street. I explained to the man behind the photo counter that I needed the photos printed quite urgently. “Would it be possible to get them tonight?” I asked, letting my desperation show in my voice.
“Oh, that’s no problem. I can have them for you in about an hour. How many are they?” he replied.
“200.”
His eyebrows raised. An urgent order on 200 photos in the middle of the night. Whatever could they be?
“My husband and I have our Green Card interview with the INS tomorrow. We need to show them we are truly married and in-love. These are the photos to do that.”
“My colleague here went through that,” the photo counter man responded.
“Oh really?” I acted enthused. I didn’t much care, but I figured the nicer I was to the photo counter man, the quicker he’d be about getting my photos printed.
“Yeah, he did. He married a woman who worked here as well. But the INS didn’t believe they were truly married. They thought my friend was gay since he lived here in the Castro. The INS even went over to their house to make sure that they were both living there. Made sure all his clothes were there and whatnot.”
The photo counter man had my attention now. Oh God, what if went through the same. I mentally envisioned our 3 closets. My wardrobe and assorted belongings took up over 2 of them. The Ukrainian, the ultimate minimalist, took up almost no room when he moved in. And our recent housecleaning effort led him to throw out any piece of paper or memento he had accumulated in the past year that he hadn’t deemed a true “need”. How would anyone be able to tell that we hadn’t just thrown his few clothes into a closet and a few books on a shelf and said he lived with me. His physical footprint on my life was small — marked more by the gifts he had given me than any sort of personal physical treadmarks on our joint belongings. But his emotional footprint was quite large.
“Oh wow, that must’ve been really tough.” I didn’t ask how the investigation turned out. I didn’t want to leave myself open for hearing bad news. “How long will it be before the photos are done printing?”
“An hour. Maybe a bit more.”
“Thanks.” I smiled, hurriedly. I wanted to be nice in order to get the photos. But the nausea in my stomach had grown more intense. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the Walgreens and breathe fresh air.

The Ukrainian was waiting for me outside with our 2 dogs. I told him how long it would be before the pictures would be ready.
“How many pictures did you give them to print?”
“200”
“You are crazy!! We are going to have the most pictures anyone has ever taken to the INS!”
“Better too many than not enough.” I was too risk-averse than to not have a picture for any moment in our life together that had to be proven as true.

…..

The Ukrainian waits at Samovars with the dogs for our wedding photos for INS to finish printing at the Castro Walgreens.

The Ukrainian waits at Samovars with the dogs for our wedding photos for INS to finish printing at the Castro Walgreens.

We decided to wait out the photoprocessing at the Samovar Tea Lounge at 18th and Sanchez. A bar would’ve been more appropriate, but we had the dogs with us. Although he’s usually a positive person, the Ukrainian was not feeling so happy. He made fun of the place for calling itself “Samovar” — a sort of Slavic or Central Asian tea kettle — but not having a samovar on the premises. I pointed out the Samovar on the counter by the cash register. But he had a point. It didn’t seem the water was boiled in a samovar. It was just a catchy name for advertising.

The tea lounge also had a Russian food plate, but the Ukrainian wasn’t interested. We shared a salmon caesar salad. My nerves from the upcoming interview had been upped by the Walgreens photo counter man. I couldn’t eat. I spent our wait chatting with the Ukrainian about mostly nothing and picking the salmon bits out of my share of the salad to give to the dogs. We kept looking at our watches. Is it time? Is it time, we wondered. Is it time for the photos? Is it time to get the government seal of approval for our marriage? Is it time to truly start planning for a baby? Is it time to plan for our trip back to Kiev for our Russian Orthodox wedding? Is it time to get on with our lives. Is it time to stop waiting. Is it time?

The conversation turned to our planned Orthodox wedding in Kiev. How many people could we expect to come? How much would it cost? How would we budget for it? What happens if I get pregnant first? Would I really want to endure such a long journey and unknown culture while with child. We could only decide that if I become pregnant soon, then we would postpone the wedding to 2010 and have a baptism and wedding the same week. But if I don’t become pregnant soon, the baby itself will have to wait.

Waiting. That is all I feel like we do sometimes. We wait for the Ukrainian to graduate. We wait for the Green Card. We wait for him to get another raise. We wait to save money. Wait and wait and wait. Tomorrow, it seemed — we hoped — tomorrow could be the end to one of our waits.

Our wait for the photos came to the end. We paid our bill, leaving the money outdoors on the table, hoping no one would take it before the waitress found it. But I suspected she was waiting for us to leave. She must’ve been watching us. So I didn’t truly worry. The Ukrainian did, but I reassured him that no one who waits tables is so naive to leave their tables unwatched. We walked back to the Walgreens at 18th and Castro. I picked up the photos and purchased a small, cheap album that looked sort of wedding-ish. The photo counter man looked a bit at my photos before handing them to me: “The INS will believe you. This is a beautiful wedding.”
“I hope so,” I replied, tired. It was too late now to gather anymore evidence of our love. What we had is what we had.
And so the Ukrainian and I returned home with the dogs to sleep. And to wait. And to hope that maybe the beginning of the end of our waiting had begun.

Green Card Update #2

Tomorrow is our green card interview. We have spent the past several evenings rushing around trying to make sure all our paperwork is in order. We sent in a 4-inch thick packet of paperwork with our application in May, but we want to bring duplicates in case the INS (USCIS) lost anything. Additionally, I have legally changed my name as well as my employer — so we have new documents to bring that prove:
1) Our marriage is “real”. We love each other (hence the proof that I have changed my name — though not all women marrying foreigners do this).
2) I can financially support him. Not necessary in that the Ukrainian can support himself. However, if anything should happen, I need to prove I can support him as I am legally financially responsible for him for the next 10 years if the greencard is approved.
3) We have co-mingled our assets, bank accounts, health insurance, etc. Usually, the INS likes to see a joint mortgage or lease. But, we don’t have a proper lease on our apartment (we are tenants of one of San Francisco’s famous privately-owned month-to-month rent-controlled ancient Victorian flats). As such, we have gone above and beyond the requirements of showing merged assets to prove we have a ‘true marriage’.

Later today, I need to go down to Walgreens to print photos from our family wedding, honeymoon, engagement party, trip to Iowa and any other significant event that has happened since May that shows we married for love.

Tomorrow, as I mentioned, is the appointment. Even though the USCIS office is only 1 block from my work office, I have scheduled the entire day off. I do not want to risk anything that might put me in a bad mood and cause me to show up for our interview surly. Best to be relaxed and happy. 🙂 Oddly, we are not allowed to carry cellphones or anything of the like into the interview. Even turned off. They *must* be left at home. Or, for those who have forgotten, you can leave them at the bodega across the street for a small charge.

Wish us luck!!

Green Card Update and other matters

Yesterday, we came home to a letter from the INS (USCIS), inviting us once again to come into their office for an interview for the Ukrainian’s green card on October 16. We are trying not to get too excited — given what happened last time (they changed our address to Brooklyn and canceled our interview). But maybe, hopefully…all will turn out well.

Also, in updates:  The Ukrainian received the raise he was lobbying for (you may have gathered that from the last post). This means he can quit the library job — which he did. I am hoping this means we will have more time to spend together, but I’m not so sure if it will work out that way. The extra time in his life will — rightfully — probably go towards his job and his studies.

Post-wedding denouement:  Definitely continues. Probably not helped by the fact that we get to spend so little time together. And my job involves spending 8+ hours alone in my cubicle. And the economy…the economy prevents me from engaging in fabulous retail therapy — like those $1200 Purple Patent leather Christian Louboutin boots I drool over? Nope. I can’t even entertain the thought. Sadly, there is no replacement in the <$200 category either.

Future children:  Yes, to clarify from the last post, we are having more concrete conversations about when to start trying for a family. Optimistic hopes puts at us beginning our efforts (should be fun!) in mid-December. That would allow us both to spend more time at the gym, dentist, etc. getting our bodies to prenatal perfection! (Is that even possible in our 30s?). The problem is that if we are successful, we wouldn’t be able to travel to Kiev in the Spring for our Russian Orthodox wedding. So…wedding or baby…baby or wedding…

A truly good, green card day

Yes, I haven’t written awhile. The Ukrainian and I have been very, very busy doing lots of fun things — which I intend to post about soon.

And no, I’m not still learning Russian. Or rather, yes, I am. But I’m on break from the language given the new job and all. In the meantime, I have been spending *lots* of my spartan freetime learning Russian culture and history. And yes, paying attention to the conflict in Georgia. But more on all that later as well.

But today  was a very, very good day — especially important as I was feeling the world looked a bit bleak and hopeless for a few days over the weekend.

Here’s the list — in order of occurence:

1) My new iPhone arrived. It’s supplied by my employer in lieu of a BlackBerry and so that I can one day develop iPhone apps for iPhones.

2) An email from my aunt inspired me to reread an email I sent my younger, female cousin last week. After the rereading, I suddenly had a very deep wise “AHA!” epiphany over why I made so many unhealthy decisions regarding men in the past — not only in the men I chose or rejected (pushed away/sabotaged) or hung onto in hopes of unrequited love being validated and returned — but also in how I related to them. I sort of always knew these things, but the email made those (failed) relationships and choices make even more sense.

3) I deleted the Bulgarian from my yahoo instant messenger friends list. Our contact now barely hovers above non-existent, but I don’t need to see when he is logged in and when he’s not. We’re long over and I’m married now. No need for daily reminders of his existence.

4) My husband — the Ukrainian — brought me flowers at work. Pink tulips. Without cause or reason — but just because he’s romantic like that. 🙂  And no, he didn’t know I deleted the Bulgarian from my yim list.

5) I realized my boss and I have compatible working styles. 🙂

6) The news of the day that made me jump up and down with glee and excitement!!:  We received notice from the USCIS (formerly the INS) that we have an appointment in September for our “Green Card Interview”. This is great news and assuming it goes through ok — should help the Ukrainian’s employment prospects — as the Green Card is a much better document to have than his current work authorization. I have and will continue to mentally prepare myself for living in the Former Soviet Union and/or Eastern Europe if necessary. But, I’d rather not — especially given Putin’s apparent current expansionist agenda.

7) UPS sent me my refund for the customs duties for the over-valued prize from Boucheron I won for my writing in July. 🙂

Life has hope.