The USA Green Card Journey (pt.6)

Just over a year since my last update and boy oh boy, life has not been fun in the mean time.

  • March 3rd 2018: File was sent back to the USA.
  • April 2nd 2018: File received at National Visa Center.
  • April 13th 2018: File sent from NVC to USCIS.
  • April 27th 2018: File received by USCIS.

And now we wait.

There’s no set time required for consular returns to be processed. It’s done on an “first in first out” basis.

We wait some more.

180 days pass.

I make it my mission to call the USCIS helpline once per month to ask about progress. On the whole the experience was ok, apart from one officer who insisted that the 180 day time was a guide and not a rule. Each time I speak to an officer and ask about the case, they agree it’s outside of processing time and raise a case. I also politely ask (because it’s not their fault and my frustrations can be more usefully directed elsewhere) to speak to a Level 2 supervisor, which places me on hold and I get a little more information from that supervisor. But not always and occasionally the line cuts off.

Typical call centre type stuff. I continue to wait.

My patience snaps on Sunday December 16th 2018.

I’m tipped off by someone else I know doing similar visa stuff but from inside the USA that I should contact a Congressman’s office and see if they can help. Sure enough, lots of official websites have a “Helping You” section with US government departments and frighteningly they have a USCIS specific section.

I look around and choose my Congressman with care, mostly on previous political stance but also on the basis of where I want to end up in the USA. I call the office, ask a few questions of the staffer (who was very helpful) and I download the release form. That filled in, I email it back to them.

Of course it’s fast approaching the Christmas break and I reasonably expect people to not work through family vacations. If I won’t, then I don’t expect anyone else to.

January 3rd 2019: Still waiting on USCIS and my enquiry is assigned to a staffer at the Congressman’s office.

I call the office to find out more, to find I’m speaking with the guy it’s assigned to. (Note: I’m leaving out names deliberately here). He asks a few questions, I answer honestly and I think this speeds things up a bit.

USCIS has a separate office to deal with Congressional enquiries. A standard enquiry is by email and takes 30 days. A phone call is done on emergency basis but can speed things up. Written enquiries are done as a “GET IT DONE” type enquiry and are done rarely. If you want to know more, there’s an interesting powerpoint I’ll link here.

The other interesting part of “doing a Congressional” is that your file gets plucked out of where it is and moved to the head of the queue. HOWEVER … this is NOT a generic skip the queue. This can only be done when you’re outside of normal processing time, so I would have had to wait the 180 days regardless. This is covered with a Q+A with a former USCIS Adjudicator here.

… Anyway, a “Congressional Inquiry” or “congressional” is a formal inquiry by a member of Congress made on behalf of their constituent. Any federal agency that receives a Congressional inquiry has 48 hours to respond to the member of Congress. Each Service Center has a special office to handle “Congressionals”. That’s their sole purpose in life is to keep the member of Congress informed upon request.

(i.e. Senator Numbnuts says “CIS – I understand from my constituent – Mr. Hotn’bothered that (according to him) you have been processing his application for his dear fiancee in a less than timely manner. Can you please look into this matter and let my office know when it will be approved.”)

System usually says – “pull and work file immediately” ‘Nuff said.

January 22nd 2019: The very nice staffer emails me to say that he’s spoken to USCIS and expects to hear a response soon.

January 30th 2019: My status updates. Yep, got moved to the head of the queue alright 😉 I email the staffer back and thank him for his efforts, because 1) it took 30 seconds to do and 2) it’s only polite after his efforts. Good manners literally cost nothing. I’d send the office a pizza on me if I didn’t think it could look bad on them and me.

That was day 271.

It’s a NOIR. A Notice of Intent to Revoke … exactly what I was expecting. My attorney scoffed at it calling it “ridiculous” and “a cut n paste” (paraphrasing). I think that hurrying things along may have worked in my favour. We’ll get back to that.

So there were three things USCIS could have done. 1) Auto revoke the petition. I’m not dead so that’s not gonna happen. 2) Reaffirm and send it back and 3) Issue a NOIR and ask for rebuttal evidence.

It’s going to sound crazy but you really want option 3. Sure it’s just cost me $3000 extra, and 20 days of chasing around for paperwork and getting everything ready BUT … what this does is provide the opportunity to bolster your case by rebutting allegations AND adding extra evidence. If rebutted, the consular officer cannot bring it back up again.

All submitted and sent off in time. Got a nice email from USCIS saying they’d received everything on February 28th 2019. Now we wait. Again.

My attorney claims anywhere from 2-6 months. I’ve read reports of 1 week to six months. Either way, the end is in sight.

Now to come back to reality on this. Case hasn’t been reaffirmed yet. If it is, I can either be processed to completion meaning I’ll get a nice email asking for a more recent medical and police certificate and my passport. More likely given the Trump government is I’ll have to do the above AND another interview.

Why do I think that hurrying things along helped? Simple. By effectively rushing the overworked USCIS officer (no joke, they really are), he/she reached for a dictionary of pre-prepared phrases they or their colleagues have ready. That made it easier for my attorney. See the quote from the VJ article I linked earlier.

… Also, each adjudicator/officer had a master list of RFE “phrases that they could pull off their computer and plug into a standard RFE form depending upon the situation. Each of these “phrases” could be further “wordsmithed” to suit a particular situation. Again depends on the officer.  That’s why you may see some RFE’s that are similar but not exact. We would borrow each others RFE phrases to add to our list as we came across one that fit a particular situation.  

It would be like “Hey, cube mate. I’ve got this situation, do you have anything in your RFE library that might fit?”  answer “Sure, try this one. I’ll email it to you”. And that’s how that worked.

I’m prepared again. Know thy enemy and other choice aphorisms.

But now again I must wait, and I don’t know again how long for.