My husband became a U.S. Citizen three weeks ago today. Six years in the making, this was a major achievement for both of us. Surprisingly, the last and final step of actually filing for naturalization was the easiest leg of the journey. Perhaps that's because I became diligent in keeping records and filling out the forms after doing it twice before.
I have a similar conversation with anyone who has married a foreigner. We sympathize with each other's struggles to be together legally, on the same soil. It takes up a lot of emotional mind-space when you're worrying that at any point, your partner could be deported. Before filing the initial application to get my husband here, I had no idea what bureaucratic hurdles our government makes people jump through. After it's all been said and done, I have a few key takeaways about planning to take the long and arduous road to becoming an American.
1) Keep all records and supporting documents on file
After marrying a foreigner, the U.S. government gives your spouse a provisional green card. In the initial application, you must present as much evidence as possible to prove that you are a REAL couple. I sent a dossier of photos, email correspondence, international phone bills, plane ticket stubs, copies of my passport visas, and letters of affidavit from both of our families. This consisted of 40 or more papers, which I luckily had saved since the beginning of our courtship.
2) Have both people's names on all legal documents
The provisional green card lasts for two years, at which point you have to go through another application to prove, once again, that you are a real couple. Having nothing to hide, I took this second review less seriously, I sent in our most recent lease agreements and bill statements. To my horror, a terrifying letter was sent to us citing, "insufficient evidence of cohabitation" "insufficient evidence of marital status" and "insufficient explanation as to reason for spending 10 months outside of United States." My husband had accompanied me on my Fulbright to Senegal immediately after getting his green card.
Frantically, I scrounged together all of the documents demonstrating these things from the past two years (and more photos and affidavits) to send an equally large packet of proof. I had put all of our lease agreements, all of our bank accounts, all of my Fulbright stipend information in both of our names so it showed that we were linked financially. Once we got a car, the title was in both our names; any loans we took were in both our names; all internet and phone bills were in both our names. This assures the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you have been together this whole time and you will be together, even after receiving your 10-year green card.
3) Be prompt in all responses
As I said, the naturalization process was the shortest. We filed in late May 2015, he had biometrics testing in June 2015, by mid-August 2015 he had his interview and was sworn in the first week of September 2015. In contrast, the very first application took 10 months, with many more back and forth requests from USCIS. They would ask for an additional document, or another check to pay for the review, or to fill out another form. It seemed incessant, but the one thing I knew was that the faster I returned their requested document on my end, the faster the whole process would go. Try to get documents returned to USCIS within a day or two of them sending it to you.
4) Plan ahead
If you're not the type to make a 5-year plan, make this process an exception. Thinking ahead and keeping important dates in mind will help you tremendously. As a foreigner married to an American Citizen, people are eligible to become citizens after just three years. Mark your calendar a couple years out from when you get that first green card, reminding yourself about the next phase. USCIS was great about sending us notifications of approaching review dates. None-the-less, it's good to wrap your head around your spouse's legal status in this country.
A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I no longer have to worry about our freedom to be together in this country. We realize, as well, that being an American is an enormous privilege that people die for every day. While I recognize that American citizenship is perhaps the most powerful citizenship in the world, I also understand that my husband gave up a part of his identity. I don't take it lightly that he renounced his country of birth. He will have to get a visa to stay in his motherland now. He thanks me for all of the time and effort I've put into this process, and I thank him for loving me enough to turn in a green passport for a blue one.