(long post this one, lots happened, please relax)
The story so far …
Applied. Asked for lots of stuff three times. Approved. Sent in. Grilled. Sent back. Subjected to Inquiry and almost buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters. (That last part is an exaggeration)
My file is back at USCIS Texas Service Center and somewhere in the list. I got past the 120 day mark and … nothing! I got to day 133 and I emailed a certain Congressman’s staffer who had helped me out before. After some discussion, I’m told USCIS promised a response within 10 working days which they actually fail to achieve. However that’s a Friday so I call the Congressman’s staffer the following Monday. He assures me that they’ve apologised but need another ten days.
Oh well, fair enough. Waited this long.
August 6th 2019. I’m cat sitting for a friend.
I wake up for some reason at 3am and blearily half asleep check my phone. There’s an email from USCIS but frankly the letters could have read that my name was Spike, I was 33.42 years old and my hobbies include sky diving. I give up and go back to sleep: it’ll keep till morning.
I wake up and check the email again. Oh ok.. better check MyUSCIS. Good grief!
The email read like this:
This is the point where I quickly fire off an email to thank the Congressman and his staff for their help and their time. I also ask if they’re allowed to accept any kind of gratuity. They are NOT. I thank them again and mention that I’m glad I asked before I did anything we’d mutually regret.
So file is now about to be sent back via NVC to the Embassy. That was confirmed on Monday 12th August. I’m now trying to work out roughly when things should be happening. The process now is my file now gets placed with a lot of other files and sent back to the NVC. NVC will sort the files out that need processing or not (like mine), take action and forward to the Embassy. London Embassy will then receive the file at some point and notify me by email.
My estimates are massively wrong. This process happens so much faster than I expected.
August 12th: I receive another email, and it looks exactly like this:
Everyone got that? I had to read that a few times before it sank in 😉 It’s on it’s way back!
August 19th: Order a new Police Certificate. These things have a shelf life of six months and my old one is well out of date. Go for the cheap option as I don’t need it quick.
August 29th: NVC sends email confirming receipt of file. My attorney gets a letter
Note: Myself and my attorney imposed a hard limit of October 27th before we would chase things up. We didn’t need to do that at ALL.
September 2nd: New Police Certificate arrives. I make copies. I also prep copies of birth certificate, financial records and the other items required.
I’m expecting things to drag into late November. The fact i’m posting this in early October shows how wrong I am.
I assume the Embassy will receive my file sometime around end of September, transit taking about a month. In actuality they get it on September 11th (how’s that for timing?) and send a letter to my home the SAME DAY. Royal Mail delivers that on Saturday September 14th.
Here’s where the process goes a little screwy. I’m applying on an employment type visa, the letter directs me to follow instructions … on the family type visa. Fine, well follow as best I can except it’s the weekend and nothing can be done until Monday morning. Sweat out the weekend, decide on plan of action which is to get all my paperwork together and first thing Monday book a replacement medical.
Knightsbridge Medical in London is the only office approved by the Embassy. I know from bitter experience that trying to get through on the phone is a sisyphean task at best, so i’m prepped and ready at 9am to call. And I get through first time .. and get an appointment two days later. Miracle.
The US Embassy website notes that you should book the visa, then log into the AIS website and reschedule an interview there. This is the screwy part: there’s no obvious options on how to do this. Consult attorney. Consult tech support when I eventually find the details … also send a quick message through the US Embassy website asking for clarification.
What you’re supposed to do is to log into AIS, then select “Reschedule Missed Appointment” (even though I haven’t), enter a reason why I need to reschedule (politely informing that I was requested to), find that the reason is IMMEDIATELY accepted and I get to choose an interview time and date. Knightsbridge Medical is supposed to take a week to send medical results through so I pick a date two weeks away and make sure the time isn’t first thing in the morning.
Do the medical. Not much out of the ordinary to note here apart from the extra £50 for an MMR vaccine I didn’t know I needed. That gave me a mild reaction to live vaccine for the next two days, which was “fun”. (Walking around with a low grade fever comfortably without a coat in single digit celcius temps gets you strange looks.) Now it’s time to wait and prepare for the new interview.
Check, double check, triple check paperwork. Place in envelope. Ready. Now I wait.
The morning of Tuesday 1st October, approx 6am.
… and hup! Awake. It’s dark, that can’t be right. Have I overslept the alarm? Bugger! Get up and get ready quick!
*sound of rushing around getting ready*
Oh good grief!
Waking up half an hour before my alarms go off (yes I have multiple) was not part of the plan! I get ready, get my stuff, the envelope full of documents that I’ve meticulously checked and rechecked over the last two weeks. Stuff that in a carrier bag because the weather forecast suggests that it’ll be wet enough to build an Ark. I don’t actually want to be Noah, so with the very limited space I have I take my umbrella too. And my phone. And a phone charger. Oh, don’t forget my bank card either.
Out the door, head to the tube and arrive for a 10am interview at … 8am. Whoops. Breakfast might be an idea, so camp out in District cafe and somehow despite nerves, I manage to stuff a breakfast sandwich down my face with a lot of stewed tea. (I did the stewing deliberately).
I buy a bottle of water for the embassy and make sure I’ve “refreshed” myself as I’m not sure there’s restroom facilities in the Embassy. Turns out there are, but they’re the opposite side of the building from where I’ll be. Top Tip: any drinks you bring must be unopened when you go into the Embassy security screening. Also the Embassy does also have a restroom but it’s the other side of the building from the immigrant visa section I was in, so I sipped as the air is dry and waited.
I was allowed to proceed to security at 9:40am. My experience with airports helped enormously and I was through in a couple minutes. Interestingly before you’re allowed through the door, a security person wants to see your phone run an app, any app before being allowed in. Fine, fire up Facebook for him. Takes 2 seconds to look and we’re done.
Huge queues inside the embassy. Guy at the desk starts calling out names, mine is second and asks us to come forward. You can feel the non immigrant applicants staring down the back of your head as you totally bypass all the queues. Proceed to the lifts, up to 1st floor and through to the IV section (left, end of room, left again).
Take a seat, see my number immediately called so go to booth 24 and give over all the documents asked for. A few questions, made difficult by low speaker volume and the gentleman’s polish accent and we’re done in about 5 minutes. I did ask him to turn it up but I still had to struggle to hear over another applicant’s screaming child.
Back to a seat. Get talking to a few people nearby. They’re going to rejoin family out there, as were most people there. They seemed to be successful, so I let them go. Meanwhile my nerves are fraying, and I’m shaking like hell.
I do not want to do this for a third time.
I wait. I wait more. I’m conserving battery power so I daren’t start playing Mario Kart Tour. I also don’t want to miss any announcements so no music and no headphones. At this point I’m more a prisoner of my own thoughts and I plan my strategy for when my interview comes up. At first the longer I wait, the more nervous I get. This starts to subside after a while, but it comes and goes.
I started waiting about 10.05am. The clock drags on. A lady with, I think, a Spanish accent sits near and asks if they just wait there. I explain that after first call up, the interview will be next so she should keep an eye out for her number. I’ve chosen a seat with a good view of the display. I can also see the weather outside go from sunny to very wet indeed.
11.20am arrives. Every single I number around mine has been called up! This is worse than buying raffle tickets! (I’ve a talent for buying raffle tickets where the numbers that win surround the ones I’ve bought.) I’m wondering what’s going on. Nerves fraying. Mouth dry. Drank most of my water already.
11.30am. I’m called up. I place my stuff down, exchange pleasantries with the Consular Officer. He asks how I’m doing. I say I’m a bit nervous and hold my hand out. I’m shaking like Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles.
He laughs to put me at ease and we go into the interview. All my plans, my strategies, my carefully prepared answers go straight out of the window. I revert to talking like I’d talk to a CBP officer examining my passport. He smiles, spends a lot of time typing. He actually thanks me for waiting and says that he went through the entire file before I was called up. My file is a good 10 inches / 25cm thick … no wonder it took him a while! I’m sure that thing has ballooned since I saw it last.
So, from his demeanour I start to relax but not too much. It’s clear he wants to approve this and the questions were all geared around that fact. Some mention of the film “Trauma Therapy” that I’m involved in and the fact it’s premiere is tonight! Think he was quite impressed with the cast. I got the impression he knows his stuff, and this was confirmed by the fact he mentioned that a college buddy of his now helps run rogerebert.com .
It’s important to say that the officer was also looking for evidence of wrongdoing. He did ask if i’d been to Los Angeles before and if I’d been trying to arrange any kind of work while there. This is not and never has been the case and I honestly tell him so.
Any other answer would have been big trouble and probably the death of the visa.
The other part was he mentioned that he was very impressed with my attorney’s paperwork. Said it made life very easy for him. I did say that I would feed that back and I have.
He approved me. I knew it was coming when he said that if I ever met the rogerebert.com guy, I should tell him that his college buddy approved my visa. That was dropped before he officially announced it at the end of the interview. I pretty much let out a sigh as three years worth of stress just evaporated and thanked him very much.
A long walk was required, and I did. I did nearly eight miles that day, with stops to see people. On the way, I grabbed this photo from outside Buckingham Palace.
Now life gets a little nuts here. I got a slip of paper stating that processing can take 7-10 business days. In actuality, it took one day. I logged into CEAC on Wednesday and saw my status had changed from Administrative Processing to Issued and I promptly gulped like Wile E Coyote above a large fall.
Thursday, I received the courier email giving the tracking number of the parcel and Friday 4th October it turned up!
Inside was a large visa packet with clear instructions NOT to open. A couple sheets of paper … and my passport.
There’s one more thing to do. USCIS charges a $220 fee at this point for the issuance of the actual Green Card itself. This must be paid before you travel or the card will be delayed. Credit Card takes the hit and I get Amex points for this hopefully last fee for a while.
And so on to the move! That’s still a work in progress and has to be done before next March. Why? The visa expires at that point.