Winnie Gets Her Welcome!

Immigration Official
Immigration Official

It’s taken 39 long months, but yesterday it finally happened. Yesterday, Winnie received her letter from the INS (USCIS) welcoming her to America.

We received her interview appointment back in January, scheduling her USCIS interview for February 26, last Thursday. The letter provided the interview time and date and usual ominous warnings about what could happen if she missed the interview. It also included a long list of what documents she needed to provide at time of the interview. The requirement for bringing in all arrest and parole records was repeated at least three times.

If I didn’t know better, I’d of thought the USCIS was expecting to interview a hardened criminal instead of someone’s wife.

This interview was to be different than Winnie’s consulate interview back in Guangzhou for her visa. Then, I was not allowed to be present. This time, as Winnie’s sponsor I would be required to be present, which suited me just fine.

Over the several weeks between receiving our notice and the interview date Winnie and I gathered together all the documents we needed. I had to have my 2006 income tax returns available for the interview, so I ended up filing in mid-February which was the earliest I’ve ever filed. We had to make copies of numerous documents, gather up pictures of us together and any letters which proved Winnie knew my side of the family. I also needed to prepare an Affidavit of Support (I-864) and proof of employment letter, the fourth time each since we started the immigration process.

On THE BIG DAY, we were ready – with a backpack and two large shoulder bags full of “stuff” for the interview.

It was a 2:00PM appointment, and the USCIS office was literally across the street from a Metro (Washington D.C. light commuter rail) stop. So I went to work that morning and met Winnie at the nearest Metro for lunch. From there, we headed out to the USICS office. We arrived two hours early, hung out awhile in the building’s plaza, then went on up to USCIS.

We checked in, then waited some more. We were finally called for our 2:00PM appointment at about 2:40, not so bad and I wasn’t even complaining. Our USCIS officer was a young woman, very formal and professional demeanor. We were sworn in, and then started.

The Officer had what appeared to be our entire file of every document I had ever sent in, all the documents Winnie had presented at her consulate interview, and copies of every document the USCIS had ever sent me. It was a stack of paper 4 inches thick.

As the officer paged through our file, she asked us mostly perfunctory questions, appearing to barely listen to our answers although occasionally she’d make notes of our answers. On occasion she’d ask me for a specific document or have a question on a document in her file – those answers she seemed interested in.

I happened to notice a letter in our file from Senator Cochran’s office. The USCIS officer glanced at it twice, made a face, and then kept paging through. At one point, the officer commented “this is a messy case.”

The questions she asked included:

  • To Winnie: Can you speak English? To Me: Can you speak Chinese?
  • How do the two of you communicate?
  • Why did you marry in China instead of the US?
  • How did you meet? What website did you use?
  • To Winnie: Have you met your mother-in-law? How many times?
  • When did you arrive in the US? Where are you living now?
  • To Winnie: Have you ever been arrested?

Winnie did real well understanding and answering her questions, but to be fair the USICS officer was quite considerate of Winnie’s limited English. A few questions, read by the USICS officer from a form in front of her, stumped Winnie because of the words used. These questions included if Winnie had ever been arrested by the Chinese police, if she was ever a member of the Communist party, and if she ever was involved with terrorists who planned attacks against the United States (nothing about being involved with terrorists wanting to attack other countries).

For these questions I had to act as “translator,” paraphrasing in terms Winnie might understand (for the terrorist question: “Have you ever worked with bad people who want to hurt Americans?”). Winnie was able to answer my paraphrased questions and the officer seemed happy.

After an hour of this, the officer seemed to relax, closed our file, and announced “I’m going to approve your application.” She took the K-3 entry card customs officers had stapled in Winnies passport when she arrived in Los Angeles, and put in a stamp. The officer explained this stamp would be temporary until the permanent “green card” arrived in the mail in about four weeks.

One item that made me really happy was learning that this was the permanent card, not a two year conditional I expected. The officer explained that since we’d already been married for almost 4 years, the conditional visa was wavered.

So unless, and until, Winnie wants to file for citizenship, our only future involvement with the USCIS will be filing for residency renewals every ten years. We thanked the officer and left before she changed her mind.

And yesterday, Winnie received her letter from the USCIS officially welcoming her to the United States as a legal, permanent, resident. I’m not too sure how Winnie felt, but I felt relieved.

This was the first time, after forty months we’d been married, that ANY government agency of the United States of America had given Winnie any kind of welcome.

So to Winnie:

“Welcome To Your New Home!”

Update: 3 March 2007 – Winnie received her permanent “Green Card” today, good for ten years. After everything we’ve experienced from the USCIS, this was a rather quick follow-up.

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