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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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.

Our brown dog: Bigga than Ben

I had heard about the dark comedy Bigga than Ben taking the UK’s film festivals by a storm and playing at a few cinemas in Moscow. So, this morning, I got online to check it out. The Ukrainian was in the kitchen preparing his breakfast. I call him over to watch the trailer.

Yes, it’s about 2 common low-life Russian thieves in living in London illegally. The Ukrainian was not impressed — he prefers the world of more glamorous thieves as depicted in the likes of Eastern Promises.

But…he should have paid more attention to the thieves’ tactics. For when he returned to the kitchen to eat his breakfast, he found half of it missing.
“Anna! You thief! You asshole!!” He yelled at the brown dog.
“Michelle! Look at what the brown dog did!” He brought the evidence of the 1/2 missing breakfast out to the living room. I shrugged my shoulders. What could I do? He was the one who left a very prized plate of chicken, vegetables, pasta and apple pie out unguarded.
“Come here, Annochka,” I called the brown dog over using the Russian diminutive of her name. “Who’s my good Russian doggie?”
“You know,” I then responded to the Ukrainian with a wink and a sly grin, “When you live with Russians, you become like Russians.”

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.

Hulu laughs

I am lying on the sofa, working. The east coast office had called an early-morning meeting that made my work-day start at 6 a.m. It is now a quarter after 10. My day is 1/2 over before many west coasters have even started theirs. I don’t think I will go into the office. In the next room — in our kitchen that isn’t really a kitchen — the Ukrainian is watching Tina Fey play the role of Sarah Palin during the vice-presidential debates as spoofed by Saturday Night Live. He is watching it on Hulu.

He has been watching Hulu all morning

First, the Simpsons. Now, Tina Fey.

I can’t hear the shows. I can only see them briefly as I walk on by the Ukrainian as I go into the kitchen to refill my cup of tea or nibble on a cookie.

But I can hear the Ukrainian laugh. So rarely do I hear the Ukrainian laugh so full-heartedly as I hear him today.

See, he is trying to adjust to working in a new country where standards and expectations are different than those in his own country. He is trying to learn a new industry. He is trying to go to school full-time. He is trying to make his wife happy. He is trying to help take care of the dogs and the house.

And he is succeeding. Slowly, but surely, he is getting over that hump of trying to figure out how his new world works. And what is his role in this new world. And what does want. And what he will become.

So today…today, he is taking a rare day off from all these roles and expectations and trying-to-figure-things out. He is laughing. He is enjoying the fun of his new world’s popular culture. He is enjoying the free tv offered by Hulu. He is enjoying technology. He is having fun. And relaxing.

And he deserves it.

A little bit more of a wife

We stood at the corner of Bush & Montgomery. Already, it was 9:05 a.m. He was late. He leaned down to give me a quick kiss good-bye so I could head off to my office and he could go to his.

But before the kiss, there was first a question.

“Honey, what’re you doing after work today?” My Ukrainian has long since learned all the amourisms to call his beloved. I have yet to learn when he uses them to be romantic and when he has a more ulterior motive in mind.

“I don’t know. Go home. Do stuff.”

“Are you going shopping? Maybe?” There was the tainted sound of hope if his voice. He definitely had an ulterior motive today.

“I wasn’t planning on it. Why? What do you need?”

“3 Hugo Boss shirts. The kind that go under my long-sleeve shirts.” He instinctively pointed to the collar of his undershirt to be clear that I wouldn’t misunderstand what he meant.

“Ok, maybe. Where did you buy them? The Hugo Boss store”

“I don’t know. Maybe Bloomingdale’s. Maybe Macy’s.”

So tonight, I will go around Union Square and Market St and try to track down my husband’s favorite undershirts. I am definitely more of a wife today than I was yesterday.