Ah, immigration. I’ve seen so many people scream-typing saying, “JUST DO IT THE LEGAL WAY!!!!” lately, and it turns out that this is quite a loaded statement. Truly, what is it like to become a citizen of the United States? With all of the talk about undocumented immigrants in the U.S., I thought I would do some research in order to inform and educate us all.
I have a friend who is currently going through the immigration process, and she graciously spoke to me and answered the hundreds of questions I threw at her regarding the entire journey. Since she’s in the midst of getting her green card, she would prefer that her real name not be used. For that reason, we will call her BETH!!! Here is her story (DUN DUN).
Right now, Beth is in the process of attaining a green card. Her parents are from Israel, but she was born and raised in Mexico City. Beth is trilingual; a speaker of Hebrew, Spanish, and English. I, on the other hand, speak English and know a few select Spanish words from when I took one class, one period a day in high school. I think many of you are in the same proverbial boat (bota… nope, that’s boot) as me.
After graduating from high school, Beth went to a state university on the west coast. This would not have been possible had her parents not had the money to help. As a foreign student, you have to physically show that you have the funds to pay for the first year of tuition in the U.S. If tuition is $50,000/yr, you have to prove that you have $50,000 in the bank. If your parents don’t have money, there is no way you’re going to college in the U.S.
Beth decided to go to college in the U.S. because there were more opportunities. We talked at length about what it’s like to obtain an F-1 student visa and all of the costs associated with it, but I’m trying to be as concise as possible (which we already know is VERY difficult for me).
When Beth graduated from college, she had to apply for another F-1 student visa so that she could continue her schooling to get her master’s degree in Psychology at a large university in the Midwest. When Beth finished her program, she married her boyfriend of three years, who is a U.S. citizen. Beth applied for her green card via marriage, which meant that she would be applying for a change of status through petition of an immediate alien relative. This is just one of several avenues to get your green card; others include job sponsorship visa, special talent visa, and applying for change of status through a student visa (but you need to get a job within a year… aka job sponsorship… in order to stay).
As soon as Beth and her husband got married, she started working on the 93-page green card application. Beth and her husband are both very lucky to be fluent English speakers, and lucky to have the funds to begin this lengthy and costly process. Beth also applied for work authorization, which normally takes 30-90 days to be approved, so that she can start working. However, this policy has been delayed and rescinded so that it now takes 4-6 months to receive. Funny how that works.
Costs involved in the green card process:
- Application fee: $1,760
- Medical exam (including testing for gonorrhea and syphilis): $250 (This is the cheapest she could find and would have been significantly more if she didn’t have her vaccine records on hand.)
- Oh and they don’t take insurance, so everything is out of pocket.
- Lawyer: at least $2,000
- Beth and her husband did not get a lawyer for this process. The lawyer essentially fills out the 93 pages of documents for you and sends it all in to the right people. Beth and her husband are both intelligent people who have graduated from higher education, and she even said it would have been helpful to have a lawyer. Now imagine not being a native English speaker and trying to get all of this done and paid for…
- Miscellaneous costs of printing all the forms, paper, ink, next-day shipping, etc.
Beth and her husband have their green card interview on October 12th,. Beth submitted everything for her application on June 29th, and this is actually a surprisingly quick turnaround for an interview to take place. At the interview, Beth and her husband’s marriage will be put under a microscope to be determined if it’s legitimate. Do you know your in-laws’ birthdays off the top of your head? Do you have a speeding ticket in your past? A DUI? These are all reasons that your green card application can be denied.
Beth’s husband had to sign a document stating that he is financially responsible for her. Even if they get a divorce, he has to support her financially for 10 years; if he doesn’t, she can sue. So… not as many “fake” marriages are happening as you think.
Although the USCIS website claims that green cards will be issued to you in the mail within 120 days of your application being received, the current 2018 average is 8-11 months after your application is received (https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/historic-pt); but that is only the case for select areas of the U.S. For instance, in New York, the timeframe ranges from 13-28 months. But guess what? Even with her green card in hand, Beth still will not be a U.S. citizen.
Green cards are valid for two years. Upon the expiration, Beth will have to pay $535 to receive a 10-year green card. Beth can’t apply for naturalization until she’s held a green card for at least threeyears, and that’s because she’s married. If you are not married to a U.S. citizen, you will need to hold your green card for at least five years to establish permanent residence. At that point, Beth will fill out another myriad of forms and pay $800 to submit them. While she is not sure on the timeframe that it takes from application to acceptance, once your citizenship form is accepted, you take the test and are sworn in as a United States resident.
The entire point of this post is that becoming a United States citizen is time-consuming, expensive, and not feasible for many people. My friend Beth has a master’s degree in psychology, is trilingual, has a husband who works full-time (she can’t yet because, surprise, her work authorization has not been approved) and is a wonderful person, yet the entire immigration process will ultimately take her 4-5 years and cost her thousands of dollars. And she is just one of the lucky ones who has the time and money to do it.