|Toulon: October 2015|
It's been three years friends.
Three years ago today, the State Department received our initial application for Gregory's spousal visa.
Today, I sit here typing from my desk in my bedroom in my mother's house while Gregory is spending another Saturday in Dublin without his wife. (If you're interested, he's spending the day in the pub with some friends watching rugby, I doubt you're surprised.)
How in the world did we get here? That's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately. You might want to pour yourself a drink and sit back and relax. This is gonna take awhile.
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Way back in July 2013, Gregory and I made the decision to leave The LPV. It was a difficult but well thought out decision. We felt America would be the best place for us to set down roots and grow together and hopefully start a family. We settled on the Berkshires in Massachusetts to be near my sister, my father's family, and only a drive down the Taconic from my old New York hometown.
We waited until August before we told our friends and family, and we slowly began to put the paperwork together and make plans. Since we would be staying in France until after the New Year anyway, we honestly weren't in that much of a hurry. I had friends that had gotten spousal visas and it had only taken them about six months, so we thought the whole process would take about six to nine months.
By the first week of November, we had the initial application and paperwork in the post on its way to the State Department. We figured Gregory would have his spousal visa sometime around June 2014. No problem, right?
So off I went at the end of February to get a head start on our new life in America. I'd began looking for work while Gregory spent a month tying up loose ends in France. He and Fifty arrived at the end of March with three months on his tourist visa. We were positive that by the time his three months were up, he'd have his green card in his hand and by the end of Summer 2014, we'd be on our way to begin our new life in the Berkshires (after all that's where our stuff had been shipped).
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Before we knew it, it was the end of May 2014, and not only did we not have a green card, but our file had only finally been transferred from the State Department to the National Visa Center (NVC). Now, we weren't entirely sure how long it would take the NVC to process our file, but we figured at least two months which would be after Gregory's tourist visa timed out.
We had two choices, we could either send him back to France for the summer and he could see his family and friends one last time before being back in the U.S by the beginning of Fall (when we thought sure he'd be processed by), or, we could file an Adjustment of Status.
An Adjustment of Status would have allowed Gregory to stay in the country until his file was processed. It would have meant another mountain of paperwork and an additional $900 in fees. However, Gregory would not be able to leave the country until his spousal visa was finally processed.
We decided to go with the first option for a few reasons:
1. I was scared a bunch of additional paperwork would confuse our file in the system.
2. We were worried that if something happened to Gregory's grandmother or anybody else, he wouldn't be able to leave the country to see them.
3. Since it had already been six months since we had filed the initial paperwork, we didn't think it could possibly take that much longer.
4. We really, really didn't want to spend another $900. International moving is expensive y'all!
LONG STORY SHORT, WE SHOULD HAVE SPENT THE $900.
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So in June of 2014, Gregory went back to France to spend the summer with The Londons for what we were sure would only be two - three months.
Silly kids. Silly, silly kids.
Within a month we submitted our second round of paperwork and then in August we received our first 60 Day Wait Letter.
For those of you lucky enough to not know: The 60 Day Wait Letter is a letter that states that while they received your paperwork, they(The NVC) are experiencing delays and won't even be able to look at your file for 60 days. Ain't that a kick in the teeth?
Fast forward to October 2014 when we finally received a response to our second round of paperwork. Sadly, it wasn't the "congratulations, get ready for your interview" response that we had hoped for, but rather a "you made a mistake on your form, please correct it and send it back to us" response.
The mistake was that I left a line blank where I should have entered a zero. Sixty days for a mother trucking zero.
Within 24 hours the corrected form was expressed back to The NVC, but then a couple of days later we received our second 60 Day Wait Letter.
This is where things gets fuzzy... I don't really remember much of what happened the next few months because it was Thanksgiving (my first back in the States!), and then Christmastime, and all of a sudden 2015 rolled in. I do know however that we did received another 60 Day Wait Letter. I don't recall why or what it was for, but I know we got it because I know that in this whole mess of three years, we've spent six months purely in a line with no one looking at our file.
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Moving right along to March of 2015 (one year since I had been back in the States) when we FINALLY got notification that Gregory's interview had been scheduled at the Embassy in Paris for the following month. We had made it! It had taken 18 months of us flying back and forth to see each other, but Gregory was finally going to have his interview and all would be well!
The morning of his interview I waited and waited anxiously for his phone call - the phone call to tell me that it was all over, that we were finished, and that he would be coming back to the US for good. Sadly, oh so sadly, that was not the phone call I received.
When my phone rang and I picked it up, all I could here at the other end was sobbing, lots and lots of sobbing, and then "they said no, they said no."
My world stopped.
It took awhile, but eventually I was able to calm Gregory down long enough for him to tell me why and what the next steps were.
Gregory's spousal visa had been declined because in 2012 he had gotten into a fight, a stupid boy fight. But that boy (who started it btw), filed assault charges, and even though the judge dismissed them, Gregory had been charged with assault.
The court documents that Gregory had submitted with his spousal visa application referenced an incident in 2003. The interviewer wanted to know what this incident was. Gregory explained that it had happened while he was working as a bouncer but the charge against him had been dropped and erased from his record. Apparently that didn't matter. Gregory had two charges against him (neither of which had held up in court btw) and so the Embassy needed the court documents from the 2003 charge before they could move on.
WHEW! That was it? They only needed the record! No biggie! I assured Gregory that everything would be OK and he quickly got to work to get the document. He phoned the court in Agde and asked them to prepare his records and the next morning he was on a train from Paris back down to the south of France to collect them.
Within 48 hours, the court records we were sure were only needed to tick a box, were expressed to the American Embassy in Paris. And then we waited.
Two weeks later, Gregory received his passport in the post along with a standard form notifying him of the spousal visa denial with a box checked next to Moral Turpitude as well as notification that his tourist visa to the U.S. had been revoked. Gregory was officially persona-non-grata on U.S. soil.
After the initial shock wore off, we began to plan. We contacted lawyers and discussed what our next step was - it was to file the appeal, also known as the waiver of inadmissibility. In the meantime, Gregory would stay in Europe and I would stay in the U.S. working because everything we read about the appeal and everything we heard all said the process would take only three to four months. Unfortunately, we didn't factor in how long the lawyer process would take.
Months and months of painful back and forths, and document gathering, and letter writing went on and on, until finally in March 2016 our appeal was filed, almost one year since the denial at the Embassy. Eight months later, and here we are.
The USCIS updates their website monthly with a status of where they are with the files. Not where they are with each individual file mind you, just with all of them in general. As of October 15th, they had completed every file they had received up to February 16, 2016. They received ours March 4, 2016. It's been 28 days since they completed up to February 16 and there's only 16 days between February 16 and March 4, so... any day now, right?
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Looking back on these three years of the process and two and half years of being mostly separated from my husband, there's lots of questions in hindsight.
Why didn't we get a lawyer in the beginning... well I'll tell you why, Gregory wasn't and isn't a criminal, and we are really, actually married. Getting a lawyer never crossed our minds. Moving to another country is expensive enough, adding legal fees on top of it seemed unnecessary. Could've would've should've let me tell ya.
Why didn't we stay in France, and wait to move after it was approved... well, who would've possibly thought it would be denied or even take this long? I mean really? Who could've seen this coming? I wanted to get to the States and get a head start on our life together and get back into the working world, and build a family, and a home. (Gee, Sara... how did that work out for you?)
Since it was taking so long, why not move back to Europe and live with Gregory until it was over... this is the one that haunts me the most, but the thing is, when you're in the process, you really have no idea how long it's going to take. It's kind of setup in like increments of 2-3 months. I can't move back to Europe and leave my dog with my mother and jeopardize my career and sign a lease for 2-3 months. But oh, only if we had known those 2-3 month increments would go on for so long, if we had only known (cue tears).
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So here we are, three years on. Me at my mother's in Texas, and Gregory still not allowed to enter the U.S., sharing a flat in Dublin with two people. And bonus, he has a single bed, not exactly an easy place for me to stay.
But we are almost at the finish line, no matter if the appeal has worked or not, we are finally almost at the finish line. Our marriage has taken a beating and we've spent almost $40 grand, but either way, we're almost there.
Keep your fingers crossed kids, it's almost over.
P.S. It's not all doom and gloom. On Friday I'm meeting Gregory in London. Cheerio old chaps!