True Story: I Had My Immigration Interview
It has become abundantly clear to me over the past couple of months that people don’t know much about sponsoring someone for immigration. That makes sense, of course, because the majority of us will never do it. But insofar as people do know about the process, they know it involves getting a green card and having “an interview” with immigration officials. While true, but the interview and green card (hopefully) don’t come until the very end of an expensive, months-long process.
As I’ve explained before, sponsoring my husband, Kale, involved filling out a lot of paperwork. He had to do things like get a checkup and we had to gather documentation proving we like together, like bills and a bank account we both are listed on. We also submitted pics — most of them culled from my at-times cringeworthy Instagram account — of ourselves together since we started dating and from our wedding day. We also had to write affidavits about each other explaining why we wanted to be together and our best friends wrote affidavits for us, too. It wasn’t hard work, but it was a lot to get done, especially for two people who are otherwise occupied being schmoopy newlyweds.
In the spring, Kale received some documents in the mail: an Employment Authorization Document (which means he can legally work) and a Social Security Card (which means he can pay taxes). Sounds boring, but they were exciting to us — it meant he could finally go out and get a job! And that meant we could inch closer to something that approximated a regular life as a married couple. The only thing that stood at the end of this process would be the “immigration interview,” shrouded in myth and mystery.
When we finally got notified in the mail about the date of our interview, I panicked, immediately worried about fucking it up. We had a date now, so suddenly this all felt real. But what if we’d filled out any of the paperwork wrong? What if it counted against us that we don’t own property or a vehicle together? What if they asked questions during the interview for which either of us didn’t know the answers? When I wrote my original piece “True Story: I Am Sponsoring My Husband For Immigration,” readers emailed me about their own petitioning process. Between them and the few friends we have who’ve done it, I learned a bit about the questions one gets asked. Some said they were asked easy stuff, like where their wife went to college; others were asked more “huh?” questions, like what side of the bed does their husband sleep on. One person was asked her husband’s cell phone number.The wide-ranging answers from people who had gone through this process before only showed that you couldn’t really “study” for this interview if you tried. Once I realized that, I calmed down — I would just have to trust that whatever they’d ask Kale and I about each other, we would know. We are, after all, married. He can tell you with great specificity how I take my coffee, my feelings on the royals, and all my issues with my family. But while I got less nervous and more Zen about how “whatever will be will be,” Kale got more nervous. It was kind of adorable how on the morning of our interview on a gorgeous May morning, he was a bundle of nerves.
We showed up at an immigration office in New York City with all our paperwork (Kale had printed the whole application out to bring it with us, including all the photos) and walked through metal detectors. That’s where I saw what I couldn’t help but read as a good omen: pandas. The building had displays set up in the lobby signifying different countries around the world and the one for China featured shoots of bamboo with cute little stuffed pandas. Pandas, as longtime Frisky readers know, are my thing. I know it sounds weird, but all the stuffed pandas calmed me down. (Kale was still nervous.)
The security guard who gave us directions to the waiting room winked at Kale, calling him “the luckiest man in the world.” Once seated, we just had to wait. And wait. And wait. First we sat in one waiting room, then we got moved with a big group to another, larger one with more people in it —a huge space with rows like a waiting room for an airport. I pulled out a book, although people-watching was more interesting. There were some single people and some families with small children, but mostly what looked like husband-and-wife couples who were in for the same type of interview as Kale and me. It was easy to tell who they were because they were carrying their pictures in photo albums.
One by one, we heard other people get called in. Kale and I finally got called and went through a door, where we shook hands with the man who would be interviewing us. He took us back to his small, windowless office, nestled in a warren of similar offices. We sat down in his chairs and Kale handed over our application. I felt a fresh geyser of anxiety, this time over how bizarre this felt. We are husband and wife, deeply in love, together for a year and living together for seven months. Yet here we were, midday at an office in New York City, about to prove to a total stranger that we are legit.
The man flipped through our paperwork first, as Kale pointed out our joint bills and our joint health insurance. Then he flipped through all the Instagram pics of us that Kale had printed out. There were lots from our wedding day, which his parents and sister flew in from Australia to attend. For some reason, Kale also included the one of my “sexy panda” Halloween costume, when he went as a “sexy zookeeper.” There was also a picture of me posing with a llama when we went to Upstate New York for a wool festival. I smirked awkwardly/rolled my eyes at my husband that a stranger was looking at these doofy photos.
Then he started asking questions, all of which were directed at me. What’s Kale’s middle name? What are his parents’ names? What’s his birthday? What month and year did he first come into the United States? Then he asked me the sweetest, yet bizarre-est question while gesturing at my husband: “So, why is he ‘the one’?”
In the past seven months since we got married, I’ve explained why Kale is “the one” to people dozens of times. But this was the explanation that would count the most: explaining to an immigration official, formally sitting behind a desk. But it was an easy question to answer:
“There’s no one I’ve met like Kale before. He’s so special that I just knew I didn’t want to live with out him. He’s smart and he’s funny and he’s sweet and he’s romantic and he’s silly. He makes me feel beautiful and loved and cared for every day. When I’m around him, I feel more like myself. And I didn’t even know I could feel more like myself until I met him. I can’t imagine going through my life without him as my partner.”
Then the man asked Kale the same question — the first time he had asked Kale any question that day. I don’t even remember what Kale said because I was emotionally taken with how sincere and nervous he sounded. My eyes started to well up. In the middle of Kale’s answer, the man abruptly thrust a piece of paper across the table bearing his signature and told Kale, “Welcome to America.”
We said thank you and goodbye and I started to happy-cry. “Nice couple,” the man told us as he walked us out of the office-warren. As Kale and I waited near the elevators, I cried some more and we kissed each other until my husband pointed out that we might be making a scene; truly, it was hard to care. Our kisses felt almost as joyful as the ones on our wedding day.
A few days later, Kale and I both got letters in the mail informing us that he now has temporary citizenship. The green card itself came a few weeks later. And yes, it is literally green.
Both of us are happy that for the next two years, we don’t have to deal with piles of paperwork anymore. I wanted to be married to this man and I knew that marrying Kale and meant sponsoring him for citizenship. It was an unavoidable part of us being together in America; the alternative would have been me picking up my life to move to Australia and us basically doing the same process over there. “Relief” might be the word to use, but a better description of my current state is “content.” Now that his immigration status is established, we can focus on regular newly married couple stuff — moving into a new place, finally planning our honeymoon. Now we can be schmoopy newlyweds unburdened with other concerns! I, for one am relaxing into hardcore nesting mode.
I hope anyone reading who is sponsoring someone for citizenship or about to have their “immigration interview” feels comforted after reading our story. It is a stressful process to go through, but it’s mostly stressful because it’s expensive and involves filling out a lot of forms. I don’t doubt that it was less difficult process for us because Kale is white, comes from an English-speaking country, and has a college degree. We have surely been privileged in that way. Still, I am enormously grateful and feel as lucky as I’ve always felt to have found the man who is the love of my life.
[Image of a waiting room via Shutterstock]