The Long Wait

After Our Wedding, the Long Wait for Winnie’s Visa

This continues the saga of our (Winnie and mine) Internet Romance and Marriage. Falling in love and marrying via Internet proved a lot easier than getting her visa to join me in America.

By the time I left China after our wedding I was about as exhausted, physically and emotionally, as I’d been in many years. The jet lag of a 13 hours time change, the different climate, food, all the constant traveling, never knowing what was going on (due to my lack of language skills), and getting married besides just did me in.

I had stopped over in Los Angeles on the return home to visit family . During my stopover a local brush fire caused cancellation of all flights out, so I returned home a day late, Monday evening, exhausted and developing a major cold. I had to go to work the next morning, tired and sick though I was. I also had to put together Winnie’s visa application.

I had researched what documents I would need from our marriage and from Winnie before my trip started. While we were together I’d made sure I had Winnie fill out her portion of the papers, gotten two different sets of photos, and gathered international-format birth certificates and marriage documents. Winnie had already filed for her Chinese passport before our marriage – I didn’t want to take any chances on her passport application causing delays.

As much as I had prepared before leaving, it still took about ten days to get everything together. As careful as I’d been in getting Winnie to fill out documents, I missed one field in one form where she was required to write her name and address in her native script. There was no way I could figure out how to write in Chinese but a co-worker, a native of Hong Kong, was able to help me out.

I finally got the two-inch stack of documents and application forms collected, added the filing fee check, stuffed everything into a large envelop and mailed it all off to the USCIS, formerly known as the INS until the Department of Homeland Security was created. This package was the first step in the visa process, colloquially known as the “I-130,” the applications that ultimately gain Winnie permanent US residency by virtue of being my wife. At the time I filed it, the last day of October, 2003, the USCIS was advertising a 180 day wait. I already knew this was a lie; people I’d been talking to who were familiar with the process already warned it would take more than one year.

To shorten the family separation time, the next step was filing for an “I-129” temporary visa. This visa, which is also called either a K-1 or K-3, was created during the Clinton administration to allow family member to come to the US and wait while the actual visa was be processed. At the time I filed, the USCIS was advertising 90 to 120 days wait which I suspected was also a lie, but deeply hoped would be so quick.

Part of the I-129 process was proof of having already filed for the I-130. Proof was the “I-797” receipts the USCIS provided for every application filed. I received the I-797 two weeks after filing the I-130 and quickly sent out the two inch stack of documents and applications (all the same docs needed for the I-130 with a few extras added in) with another check to cover the fees. I received my I-797 for this filing two weeks later, just before Thanksgiving. Then, all we could do was wait. Winnie would have to stay in China until at least the I-129 was approved.

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