Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My Canada to US immigration journey


I can't believe how frustrating this whole immigration process has been.  I would consider my husband and I fairly bright people, but somehow, this Visa application continually makes us question our intelligence.
As a full-blown Canadian, where English is my first language, I'm completely overwhelmed by some of the instructions that I have to follow.  I have no clue how non-English-speaking overseas immigrants are able to get through all of the paperwork successfully.  It's tough.

If you are a Canadian, married to a US Citizen and intend to immigrate to the US (legally), here are the steps that I have gone through:

1) Fill out the I-130 application form (technically to be filled out by the person sponsoring you: "petitioner") and the G-325a (biographical information)

  • I-130 is specifically for spouse/child sponsorship
  • The purpose of this process is for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to determine whether or not your petitioner (your American husband or wife) is eligible to sponsor you into the US
  • The forms require you to fill out your personal information (including photocopies of birth certificates, passports, marriage certificate, financial statements) as well as proof of your ongoing relationship -- basically to prove that your marriage is legit and that you aren't trying to pull an immigration scam
  • I-130 is lengthy and ends up being 30-40 pages thick
  • G-325a is one page long and just requires previous address and work information
  • We mailed ours to the 'Chicago Lockbox' as instructed.  Send as registered mail so that you can track your package

2) You will receive Acceptance Confirmation when the Chicago Lockbox receives your I-130 package
  • This notice is sent via email (to your petitioner)
  • Don't get too excited - they're just acknowledging that they got it and are re-routing it
  • This notice will tell you which processing centre they are sending your application to for processing (California Service Center, in our case)
  • It lets you know to expect a 'Receipt Notice' in the mail (I-797) within 7-10 days
  • A Receipt Number is given to you WACXXXXXXXXXX
  • You can later use this receipt number to check the status of your application online at the USCIS website (www.uscis.gov)
3) Your petitioner will received the I-797 in the mail:  this is considered Notice of Action 1 -- better known as the NOA1 

4) Now you wait....
  • It is literally WEEKS before anything happens.
  • You can log onto the USCIS website to check your status -- there is a little timeline that shows you what point they are at: Acceptance, Initial Review, Decision and Post Decision Activity
  • I checked this site almost weekly, starting around June 8th 
  • It wasn't until August 13th that it jumped straight to Post Decision Activity -- Approved!
5) You will receive another notice via snail mail (I-797) - Notice of Action: NOA2
  • This is the notice stating that your I-130 has been approved (but you already knew that)
  • Again, don't get overly excited here -- this does not mean that you can move to the US yet -- just informing you that the preliminary application looks good, but the decision is not finalized
  • Explains that your case will be forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC) 
  • Tells you to allow for at least 30 days for the NVC to receive and start looking at your paperwork (i.e. don't call the NVC tomorrow to check the status)
  • At this point, it is out of the USCIS' hands -- no need to contact them from this point forward
  • All inquiries should now be made with the NVC
At this point, www.immigrantvisas.state.gov will be your go-to website for all things Visa

6) Petitioner (your spouse) will receive a notice from the National Visa Center (via email)
  • This notice assigns you an NVC #, depending on the consulate that will be handling your case, the # starts with 3 letter, the year and then followed by other numbers (i.e. MTL2012XXXXXX)
  • It explains that you must pay an Affidavit of Support (AOS) processing fee of $88.00
  • An "invoice number" is also assigned on this notice
  • IGNORE the DS-3032 that is attached to this email -- you will be filling this out online
**This next step is not clearly communicated**

7) Go to ceac.state.gov to make your online AOS (I-864) payment and register your choice of agent (online form: DS-261 otherwise known as DS-3032)
  • You will need to choose 'I am the primary applicant' from the drop down menu
  • Enter your NVC number
  • Enter your Invoice number
AOS payment:
  •  Make AOS payment via CHEQUING ACCOUNT (need routing number and account number from your spouse's US BANK ACCOUNT) no credit card payment available
  • Bill is $88.  Must wait for payment to go through to proceed with submitting AOS
Choice of Agent:
  • Register your Choice of Agent (this is who the NVC will be in contact with going forward -- you.  You are now the primary applicant)
  • Fill out your own personal information (unless you choose to have a lawyer do this, but why?)
  • Provide your primary email address as well as all your up-to-date mailing info and phone number(s).  
8) Complete Affidavit of Support I-864 (petitioner)
  • Your petitioner will have to fill out the form (we were instructed to fill out the I-864EZ) and submit it with supporting documents - including scans of previous US tax returns
  • We had to re-submit our I-864EZ because we sent a Dropbox link for our application -- it was too big to send the PDF via email.  We ended up removing 2 years worth of tax forms and resized the PDF down to be able to send it via email -- we lost 10 days because of this snag
9) International Visa Processing Fee
  • Using the same method above (AOS bill), you will pay your IV Bill via ceac.state.gov
  • This bill is $230 and you must await the PAID status before proceeding to next step
**At this point, apply for a criminal record check from your local police office - you will need to submit it during the next step, and it often takes a while to retrieve.  Also, make sure you have paper copies of all of your civil documents, because you'll need those too. MAKE SURE YOUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE HAS YOUR PARENT'S NAMES ON IT**

10) DS-260 International Visa Application
  • This includes filling out your IV application (primary applicant) online
  • This form includes questions about the primary applicant: previous addresses, employment etc.
11) DS-260 supporting documents
  • You are required to send scanned copies of your birth certificate, passport, marriage certificate and criminal record check, including your spouse's birth certificate
  • Make sure your files are files are compressed enough to send via email
  • Send in multiple emails if needed
  • I also included my son's birth certificate, US and CDN passport & Certificate of Report of Birth Abroad .  Even though he's a US citizen and is not technically 'immigrating' with me, he will be accompany me when I move.  Thought it's better to include this now, rather than later.
12) Assignment of Interview date

  • If you are set up to receive email correspondence, you will get your letter via email.
  • This took approximately 2.5 weeks after getting confirmation that they received all of the supporting documents for the DS-260
13) Prepare to travel!  MEDICAL
**Before you call and book an appointment, obtain your Immunization Record from your provincial Regional Health office -- this is needed for the Medical**
  • If you aren't fortunate enough to live in either Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal, prepare to take a trip to one of these cities for your Visa Medical -- because these are the only cities that have certified physicians.
  • Have $300 cash on you, your passport, 3 passport photos and your immunization record
  • The medical consisted of: a physical, blood work and chest x-rays -- took no more than 1 hour for all 3
  • If you are not up-to-date with your immunizations, they will offer to do them there, as it is REQUIRED that you have specific shots, before immigrating to the US
  • I was currently living in Mississauga during this time, so I didn't have travel far for the medical -- I took the subway to downtown Toronto to the Panel Physicians Medical Clinic. They sent me around the corner for the chest x-ray and I had to return to the clinic to get a Tetanus shot.  All in all, I had to wait quite a bit between appointments, but everything was done in less than 3 hours.
14) Physical copies of documents
  • At this point, all you are waiting for is your Visa Interview in Montreal
  • Make sure that you have ALL of the original civil documents needed (i.e. birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport)
  • Book your flight to Montreal, if you don't already live there
  • Make copies of everything, including the Affidavit of Support application (the entire thing) - they will ask for this from you, and if you don't have it, I believe they'll make you manually fill it out.
15) Sign up for your Loomis delivery:  http://usvisa-info.com/en-ca/selfservice/us_courier_information

  • You will need your passport number when filling out the form on the website
  • Pick from the list of delivery centres in your city, that you want your Visa delivered
  • Once you finish filling the form out, you should receive a confirmation -- PRINT THIS, you have to bring this with you to the consulate: it's the very first thing they ask you for when you get into the doors!


16)  INTERVIEW

  • My biggest piece of advice that I can give: READ YOUR INTERVIEW PACKAGE BEFORE YOU ARRIVE AT THE CONSULATE! -- I couldn't believe how many people were turned away at the entrance, because they either forgot their Loomis confirmation number, or they had big bags or purses with them - cell phones, keys, etc.  
  • Arrive 30-45 mins. in advance.  The closer to 8am that you show up, the more people will already be in line
  • ONLY BRING WHAT YOU NEED - just your paperwork and maybe a wallet with your ID.
  • The guard at the door will ask to see your interview letter and passport
  • Once you enter, they will ask you for your Loomis confirmation number.  They stick a label on the back of your passport and write this number on it.
  • You will head up a few steps, through a set of doors -- Xray and metal detectors.  Remove your coat (if you're lucky to have your interview in the winter, like me) 
  • If you have anything like keys, they will give you a claim ticket, and keep it in a cubby for you
  • You will be sent downstairs, into a basement -- walk down toward the elevator and take a seat.  A guard will come down and let the entire group up to correct floor.
  • Once you get upstairs, turn left and head around the corner -- there will be wickets where a lady will give you a number (there are no signs indicating that this is where you have to go -- it's annoying)
  • Sit and wait for your number to be called (you could potentially wait for a couple hours, depending on what number you get)
  • Once they call your number, they will have your entire file out in front of them.  They will request the necessary items from you (passport, birth certificate, photos, Affidavit of Support)
  • They will organize your file to ensure they have everything they need, and will verify your mailing address so that they know where they are sending your Green Card.
  • This process takes approximately 15-20 mins.
  • You will be asked to have a seat and wait for the actual interview
  • Once your number is called, you will enter a room - no seats, just standing
  • An employee will hand you a paper that has an oath that you have to read out loud.  They will go through your file and ask you a few questions and document your answer on the computer (she asked me how me and my husband met) 
  • If you are accepted, they will hand you a piece of paper that lists your 'next steps' and say "WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES"
17) GO HOME AND CELEBRATE!!!  and wait for your Visa to arrive at the courier delivery station
  • Your Visa should take up to 5 business days to arrive (my interview was on a Thursday and I got a phone call on Monday
  • Your package will include your passport (with Visa inside) and a sealed envelope inside that is clearly marked DO NOT OPEN
  • Once you have your passport and Visa in your hand, you are free to travel to the US
18) POE - Port of Entry
  • When you finally decide to travel to the US, give yourself plenty of time, as you will be pulled into the Immigration area to complete your paperwork
  • Go through customs as usual, but let them know that you are coming through to permanently immigrate to the US.  They will send you into the Immigration Office
  • Hand your sealed envelope to the Immigration Officer and they will open it up and go through it
  • Once they organize what they need, they will confirm your mailing address and give you instructions on what to do if your green card doesn't arrive within 6 months.

9 comments:

  1. Well this information can be a big help for Canadian citizens who want to apply for US Visa. Thanks for sharing your experience I will surely keep your key points in my mind.

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  2. Thank you for your detailed description of your experience really helps, going through all of this right now, thank you

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  3. It's been an absolutely BRUTAL process. I am in the last stages - just awaiting an interview date...and I am NOT lucky enough to live in one of the 3 provinces for the medical exam...I have to travel for that - as well as the interview...my goodness. I feel like Canadians should have an easier time. Praying that this is over soon; we've been married for a year and still aren't together...it's really tough.

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    Replies
    1. Same here. I received the confirmation email from NVC at the beginning of April. I hope the NVC can schedule an interview date ASAP. 2.5 weeks sound really good when comparing with all the struggling we have been through...Can you let me know when you get the notification of an interview date from NVC? Thank you!

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    2. Have you received your interview yet? We just received confirmation today that they have all the documents they need and now an interview will be scheduled. It's been such a long process that I'm wondering how much longer I will have to wait to get an interview. Any experience notes would be appreciated!! Thanks!!

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  4. Hi,
    Thanks for this really helpful post. Can I ask how long you had to wait to get an interview?

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  5. Hi we are in the waiting stage for approval from USCIS, just want to check, since you go through custom at canada airport before you board, do you hand your sealed packet to the custom at canada airport? (b/c your flight arrive in domestic terminal in USA so no need to go through custom to come out of the airport)

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  6. my 12 yr old son has immigration interview. does he have to go alone or am I allowed as a mom.

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  7. has anyone tried to reschedule their immigrant visa appointment with montreal embassy?

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