This is the story of my real 90 day fiancé: the timeline, (some of) the associated expenses, the legal hurdles we had to jump, the frustrations we encountered, and the reality of our new lives together as a young couple with not only all the issues relationships themselves bring, but with the compounding weight of his culture shock, and then all the legal processes we had to endure in order for him to gain permanent residence in this country.
…many folks watched the TLC show and followed it weekly to keep up with the drama as it unfolded. Maybe those couples were real, I don’t really know, but the way they framed those stories couldn’t have painted a more skewed (fake) picture of the process and its requirements. Petitioning for your international fiancé is a highly scrutinized process and a pain in the ass–such that if you didn’t really like that person, or weren’t 100% committed to whatever fake story you’ve crafted (if that’s what you’re trying to do, though I wouldn’t try and defraud the gov’t), then it really wouldn’t be worth your time, money, or energy.
Today has been a whirlwind of emotions. It started with the nerve wracking drive to the airport. Over the past 10 months I’ve dreamed of this momentous occasion when I would watch him walk through the airport gate, heavy with anticipation of his facial expression when he recognized me holding a sign with his name on it. I thought my dream was going to be shattered when I got on the interstate and two lanes were shut down causing traffic to be completely stopped.
I was pretty proud of the job I did cleaning and making space before Efrem got here. I turned my bed around and created two night stands, I moved furniture and cleared space to construct and fit an external closet rack for his clothes, I cleaned top to bottom. Clearly I was deluded to think that was sufficient.
But by Thursday, he was looking at me like, ‘okay, you keep talking about these donuts, when am I going to eat one?’
I’ve been making myself nervous to go to the social security office, fearing that they would give us a hard time, not understanding his status and his paperwork. I looked up what I would need on the social security website for a noncitizen, and whether he would be eligible, and when that got a bit confusing, I finally went to our godsend page, Visa Journey.
…but when I filled up in preparation for our return trip to New Orleans, he got out and studied the process…
Throughout our two years of dating and these last 10 months of paperwork to obtain the fiance visa, my parents still had never met Efrem. Sure there was kind of a phone call here, and a skype conversation, there, but Efrem had never come to the US and my parents had never gone to SA. It’s a terribly interesting order of operations: boyfriends/girlfriends usually meet the parents before an engagement occurs, but nothing has been “normal” in this relationship, so why would this be any different.
Both of us sat there, eating our “tacos,” shaking our heads, knowing how contrived these stories were. But we couldn’t stop watching the train wreck. It’s already difficult enough to explain the K1 process to people who’ve never gone through it, without getting looks of skepticism or overhearing the whispers that the foreign citizen must be faking out the US citizen (or they’re plotting together) in order to thwart the immigration process and get a green card more easily.
This being Efrem’s first halloween EVER, I was pretty hype, but before he even arrived here I got a lot of pushback about participating in Halloween–mostly the whole dressing up and going out part– ‘It’s for kids,’ he says. He kept trying to convince me that we should just stay in on Halloween night, or that if we must go out, that he would just dress normally. Neither choice was acceptable…
Well, there was the hitch. I had been bugging him to get an official sealed copy of all of his transcripts before he left the country. He didn’t get anything sealed, in fact, he really didn’t get anything new at all when he went to the college to inquire about his records. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. The folks working at those colleges in Johannesburg were not at all amenable to helping Efrem get the correct documentation. (Xenophobia for the win). It turns out his having a sealed copy wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway, because the evaluation process requires international transcripts to be sent directly from the institution to an external company.
By some fluke of looking for more information about a house that turned out to be well out of our price range, a realtor contacted me, and that became the moment where we finally decided to start the process of getting financial pre-approval to really begin the house hunt. We started getting listings sent to us and started narrowing them down to our top 5. His favorites were all move-in ready and further away, and mine were usually fixer-uppers that were more centrally located. There was one gem that popped up that may have met both of our needs—centrally located, stylistically what I wanted, with the space he wanted and essentially finished—but the day we went out to go see some houses, that gem was already under contract. The houses we were left seeing, left us at a deadlock, with my hating his choices and his hating my choices.
As we got closer to this weekend, it became pretty clear that he wasn’t going to perform the wedding ceremony. We could never get a definitive answer as to when he would be available, so both of us resolved to go forward with the courthouse wedding if by the time we got to Destin he hadn’t given us any feedback. We got to Destin, we hadn’t gotten any word from him, so we went to the county clerk’s office and filed for a marriage license with the intention of tying the knot after we got back from Thanksgiving break. I guess at the end of all of the back and forth with the Minister, he realized that he wasn’t comfortable with marrying two people who he didn’t know well and who hadn’t gone through his extensive counseling, which would be a fair sentiment if he hadn’t been well informed of our situation, well in advance.
November 24 – 30, 2014 The drive to Virginia Beach was just excruciatingly long. 15 hours in a full car where my dad essentially insisted on driving the entire time. I like car trips, but this one wasn’t all that interesting visually. On top of it, Efrem and I were trying to sort out filling out paperwork needed for the house we had put an offer on. Trying to find a FedEx en route in the middle of nowhere proved difficult. And when we finally did find one, it wasn’t a full service store with the nice printers and fax machines. The women were really nice though and let us use their personal computers and fax machine to try and get the paperwork sent. After numerous attempts with a slow system, we hoped that it went through and got back on the road. Although we found out later that the fax hadn’t gone through. We got to Virginia Beach that evening and went to my cousin’s house to see the family that was already in …
December 1, 2014: I Now Pronounce You… For it being the day that we legally became married, it was pretty uneventful and rather underwhelming. Not that we wanted it to be a big deal, it’s just funny to think about what we did on the day we got married. Everyone took their time getting up in the morning since we had just gotten back from Virginia Beach very late the previous night (or was it super early morning?). We could get married anytime during working hours so we decided to get married around 1 PM. At around noon, everyone went upstairs to shower and get dressed. Efrem put on his suit, I put on a short white dress I had purchased months before, hoping that I hadn’t gained too much weight (fortunately it still fit nicely). We took a bunch of “selfies” in our room before we wentdownstairs and took a bunch more. When my parents were ready we all loaded up in the car and drove to the county clerk’s office. Dotting the …
We got to there and were directed to the international office. The lady was rather dry, but at least she had some pretty good news for us. Efrem could enroll as a freshman and avoid the entire issue of the transfer student confusion, and with his Visa status, would be eligible for an in-state tuition waiver!
My shouting resumed. I told her we were not paying them for procedures we didn’t ask for (or consent to) and the nurse, still spewing her heinous xenophobia and racism, keeps going on about how those procedures were required “if he wants to be in this country,” and that if we wanted our paperwork signed that’s what it would cost.
When we finally got TO the closing, it became very clear why we really should’ve had a copy of the paperwork before hand. Error after error after error. First of all, the lawyer was trying to rush through the paperwork like he was selling me door-to-door life insurance. I quickly shut that down. He tried to rebut my request to slow down by saying that it was all “standard language,” but last I checked neither Efrem nor I were lawyers and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, standard about legal jargon.
Efrem and I hit our 90 day anniversary, so to speak. January 11, 2015 was the date of expiry on his K-1 visa stamped in his passport, our deadline for meeting USCIS’s terms for immigration. Ninety days came and went before we could blink, which is why I can’t say enough, that it’s NOT a time frame for new international girlfriends and boyfriends to figure out if they actually like each other, and then to stress out about whether or not to get married (like that silly TV show makes it seem)—it’s a time for international couples who are already in a committed relationship, to have a pathway to living together in one country as the married adults they want to be. Anyway, we celebrated our “90 days” with a Sucré king cake (YUM!) and a day of scrubbing down our new house.
They stay there for about 5 minutes, they come back, and say something along the lines of ‘we just spoke to immigration and they say you’re not eligible for a driver’s license. You have an I-797C and you need a plain I-797. Come back when you have that.’
Bold faced lie.
First of all, they need to let me know what direct dial extension they have to get through to immigration and get a question answered in 5 minutes. But really, they don’t have to bother, because there isn’t one. You can’t call USCIS that quickly, let alone even get an answer on a state-related law because they would have ZERO information about that.
All I can recommend is that you DO NOT move while you’re in the middle of this process. Just don’t do it. Because USCIS apparently can’t handle a simple change of address. They say the can, they even have this nice, tidy online form that you can fill in and submit without having to actually mail a whole bunch of crap in. But it’s all lies. They’ll send you a letter a week or so later saying they’ve confirmed your change of address. But it’s all lies.
This has to be the most ridiculous process ever. The EAD was already approved. The card gets lost in the mail, and instead of looking at the application they already have in hand and re-issuing a card, we have to start all over again. Also, the filing fee for the I-765 as a replacement is $380—it was free when filing with the I-485, but as a replacement, it costs money.
Even more grating was her chipper tone of voice—not even an attempt to be delicate when telling us not only do we have to fill out this paperwork for a THIRD time but now we have to pay even more money to this ridiculously inefficient government system to re-approve something that we should’ve had in hand back in March. She has the nerve to tell me to have a good day at the end of that phone call.
We had not one but TWO letters from USCIS, and one was in a larger than usual envelope—the full page sized envelope that we never get mail from USCIS in. I opened the big letter first and was instantly confused. The check I wrote them for our THIRD EAD application was stapled to a letter that said ‘Rejection Notice.’ As I read further, it said that the check we had sent for our application wasn’t necessary for the application to be processed, so it had been returned.
I picked him up, handed him my phone with the opened email, and told him to read it. He just got this big stupid grin on his face, and said, ‘My green card is coming?!’ I told him, I’m pretty sure that’s what it means. We probably both should’ve been happier, but with all the disappointment around the EAD getting lost and having to reapply, we both viewed this with cautious optimism. We’ll wait and see what happens.
One year. It’s been one long year, and yet it’s only been one year. One year since you stepped foot in the United States. One year since we got the privilege of beginning our lifelong journey together. One year since I got to see you for the first time after 15 months when I left you in an airport in Cape Town, both of us in tears, and then you met me in an airport in New Orleans, as I held a sign up with your name on it and we both grinned stupidly.