An Inside Look at the Marriage-Based Green Card Process

by Ashley Emerson Mendoza

Earlier this year my boyfriend, Jose, and I decided to get married. Since Jose is Honduran and I am both a US citizen and an immigration attorney, naturally I brought Jose to work with me to discuss the next steps in securing our future together in the US: applying for his Green Card based on our impending marriage. We met with Protima and Liz, who have many years of experience in marriage-based Green Card cases.

We can't wait to get married! (In waiting area at NYC Clerk's).

We can't wait to get married! (In waiting area at NYC Clerk's).

Before beginning the Green Card process we needed to legally marry! Since Jose was already in the US on a student visa with Optional Practical Training (OPT), we were able to start planning our ceremony. (For those foreign nationals not in the US, the blog of the US Embassy in London addressed how best to apply for a Green Card). Ultimately we decided to go to the New York City Clerk’s Office for an intimate ceremony with our immediate families. It was a very special day.

After getting our marriage certificate, we began the Green Card process by submitting to US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) the following: Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-485 Application to Adjust Status, Form I-131 Application for Travel Document, Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, and Form I-864 Affidavit of Support. Over the course of the next few weeks, the receipt notices for our case came in and Jose completed his biometrics (Jose says: Don’t use your phone inside the biometrics building--he saw someone get kicked out for texting!). The next few months were the most difficult part of the process for Jose—waiting for the temporary work authorization and travel card to arrive. The temporary work and travel card is guaranteed to be adjudicated within ninety days of filing the application with USCIS. During this time, Jose had to keep his employer updated and felt a great deal of pressure to get it as soon as possible. Jose received the work and travel card in the mail on the 90th day after the forms had been filed.

A short time later, we received our interview notice, scheduling us for an interview with USCIS at 26 Federal Plaza in August, about four months after we had filed the case. I was excited at the prospect of going through the same experience that our clients go through, but at the same time anxious to ensure that my husband’s case would be approved.

The week before our interview date, Jose met me at the office and we sat down with Liz and Protima to prepare. Jose was especially impressed by the checklist with illustrations that Liz gave us to ensure we had all of the relevant documents (for more information on interview preparation, see Liz’s post about the dos and don’ts for a marriage-based Green Card interview). We reviewed all the documents we needed to bring to the interview to show that we were a real couple.

The day of the interview, we got up early (I perpetually run late so Jose was determined that we get moving with plenty of time to spare—an excellent idea). After finally putting in my contacts, I saw Jose wearing dark jeans and a button-down shirt. I immediately informed him that he should not wear jeans, prompting a fifteen minute outfit change. Finally, with Jose in black slacks and a button-down shirt and me in a navy dress, we were ready to leave the house with our binder of documents clutched tightly.

We had one final errand to run the morning of our interview—printing a few extra photos as part of our bona fides (evidence of the legitimacy of our relationship). Word to the wise: do not leave any part of preparing for the interview to the last minute! Jose had tried to print the photos at a Duane Reade down the street from our apartment the night before, but the photo kiosks were not able to read his flash drive. We headed down to 26 Federal Plaza, where there are several nearby Duane Reade stores. The first Duane Reade store we walked into had a photo kiosk that was out of service, and the next store’s two kiosks were not yet fully booted up for the day. At this point we decided to split up—Jose stayed there to restart one of their kiosks and I ran next door to FedEx to see if I could print photos there. Lucky for us, FedEx saved the day and we printed out the extra photos with time to spare.

We walked over to 26 Federal Plaza and showed our interview notice to be allowed into the building. We waited in the security line for about five minutes before clearing security and entering the building. (My big tip: wear socks. You have to take your shoes off to go through security, and you do not want your bare feet on that floor). After stopping in the lobby’s convenience store for a snack and water bottle, we headed up to the 8th floor for our interview. We were directed to a large waiting room where we checked in with an officer who took our appointment notice and gave us a number.

As we sat in the waiting room listening for our number to be called, Jose was nervous. He was thinking ahead to what the officer would be like and what questions he/she would ask. I was also nervous, remembering that just a week before in the interview preparation I said Jose’s birthday wrong when Liz put me on the spot (don’t worry, babe—I swear I know it)! It was a calm morning in the waiting room and it wasn’t quite full; it was interesting to look around at the other families and couples, each with their own story. After about twenty minutes of waiting, an officer called me back to the check-in area saying: “Counselor, please come forward without your husband.” This caused anxiety for Jose, but I realized it was only because they discovered I was an immigration attorney! I hadn’t been sure when the right time to tell them I’m an immigration attorney would be, but it seems they figured it out on their own. The officer asked if we had met before and I confirmed we had not. He had a twinkle in his eye, said I was in for a treat, and called Jose over so we could exit the waiting room and head to his office.

The officer was very outgoing and energetic, putting us at ease with several jokes on the way back to his office. By the time we reached his office, I realized that I had spoken with him by phone earlier this year about a marriage-based Green Card case I had filed on behalf of one of my clients. What a small world! Throughout the interview, the officer spoke extremely rapidly. This was difficult for Jose, and a few jokes were made so quickly that he missed them, prompting an internal debate for him: did he have to laugh so the officer would be pleased? Or would the officer deem his laughter as inappropriate if it was a sarcastic joke? The officer had reviewed our case file earlier in the day and found our relationship to be obviously legitimate; as a professional courtesy he did not ask us any questions about our relationship, but rather only asked Jose for our current address and the required security questions (so much for going through the same experience as my clients, but, phew, we were relieved).

The officer did catch us off guard at the end of the interview when he informed us that there would be a reading test for Jose. My brain was racing at 100 mph, knowing this wasn’t protocol, wondering if I should say something, but knowing that our officer liked a good joke. The officer pulled out his approval stamp and stamped our case file, turned the paperwork towards us, and pointed at it for Jose’s reading test. “Approved,” Jose read out loud—it looks like we passed with flying colors. The officer ordered the production of Jose’s Green Card before we departed his office. We celebrated the approval of Jose’s Green Card with a champagne toast that evening.

Exactly seven business days later, Jose’s Green Card arrived in our mailbox. Jose’s Green Card is so important to me because it gives us more security as we begin building our life together as a family here in the US. To Jose, the Green Card also means he has more of an opportunity to grow professionally; the pressure of constantly reaffirming his employer of his immigration status is off.

From start to finish our marriage-based Green Card process was incredibly fast and smooth. Next stop—citizenship (well, after the I-751)!

Congratulations, babe!

Congratulations, babe!