Green Card Experience

Lilliam and I visited the US several times before we decided to apply for Lilliam’s Green Card. We started the Process in July of 2016. The process is described in the following US Government website.

In our case, I had to file form I-30, which is the petition for an alien relative. The filing fee was $535.

There were many more fees as well as the expenses of preparing the documentation. All in all, I think I spent in excess of $1,500+ to get through the entire process.

I am not going to go into any of the filing specifics, but will merely describe the process and anxiety we went through in satisfying all of the requirements.

Some people hire lawyers to do this, but I am convinced that it can be done by the individual if you are patient and willing to read the instructions and double check your work. I had to do the filing as I was the petitioner. There are requirements for both the petitioner as well as the relative.

All of the requirements involve a lot of documents being provided to prove that all immigration conditions have been met before the final step of the relative being interviewed at the US Embassy. For instance, the petitioner has to prove he is eligible to act as a petitioner, by proving US citizenship, financial support capability, relationship to the individual, etc.

All documents being sent to the US offices have to be in English. If the original document is in Spanish, then it is required to be translated into English by a certified translator and have an apostille from the appropriate authority.

The individual has to provide their own set of proofs of relationship to the petitioner, proof of good character, proof of previous divorces (if any), proof of good health and current vaccinations, etc.

In Lilliam’s case, this was two sets of documentation (One set from Costa Rica and one set from Panama). Again, all documents require an English translation and apostille.

If I remember right, the first hurdle was working with the Homeland Security agency, which is the first in line to analyze all of the documentation. It took from July 2016 until March of 2017, to satisfy all of Homeland Security’s documentation requirements and deal with waiting on snail mail responses to submissions.

I would use DHL to send all of the documentation to the US. That is a 3-day process. Mail back to Panama took as long as 21 days (assuming it didn’t get lost), There were several of the document round trips, which is what consumed the 9 months.

Next, we move into the VISA process. This is another round of providing documentation (all well described on the government website), and much of this was the same documentation previously provided. The final submission I sent was a little over a ½ inch thick. I provided a cover sheet describing the submission, organized in the exact order specified on the web, and provided separators with tabs on the right of each separator page to make it easier to identify each section.

This submission was checked from front to back multiple times before I sent it to the National Visa Center. I was confident nothing was missing and the next step would be the US Embassy interview. WRONG.

It seemed like forever before I received any communication back and when I did, it said there was some missing information. UGH!

I looked at the copy of the submission and everything was there. I called the NVC and the person that helped me was from the Dominican Republic. She talked to Lilliam and verified that the documents were indeed in the package they had received and she said she would make a note and mark it for re-review.

More waiting. I had already reviewed some of the documentation/requirements that Lilliam would need to take to the Embassy interview and we decided to work on them while waiting for the NVC reply. Some documents, such as police records, have an expiration date so they can’t be done too early. Obtaining Panama documents is not a fast process. Most things are only done in Panama City and the David office had to send their requests there to be processed.

The other thing, that was required, was for Lilliam to have a complete set of vaccinations. That was probably Lilliam’s worst experience. The first of several injections made her arm hurt and also made her ill. Fever, aches, and pains – horrible, There was also scheduling problems as the required vaccinations were not always available. We were told that in some cases it took several months before they would be available.

On September 2, 2017, Lilliam received her Embassy interview date. Yea, the documents had finally been validated by the National Visa Center and all that was left was the Embassy Interview.

Prior to the actual interview, Lilliam had to go to Panama to meet with the Embassy specified doctor for the health exam and to verify that the vaccinations were in order.

Of course, Panama marches to its own drummer it was difficult to get the doctor scheduled in time for the doctor’s report to be ready for the Embassy interview. Sure enough, when Lilliam went for the Embassy interview, the doctor had not sent all documents to the Embassy.

The doctor said not to worry that the report would be to Embassy within the week of the interview. At the interview, Lilliam saw a couple of the Embassy personnel that we had worked with on various Warden cases. They all called her by name and told her they were going to miss us and wished her well in her move to Texas. That made lilliam feel good.

Next, Lilliam had to have her fingerprints taken. I think as we get older, it is harder to get good prints and Lilliam had difficulty getting hers made. I had the same experience recently when I went to take the Texas written driver’s test. My prints were hard for the machine to read.

All questions gave Lilliam the impression that they really didn’t want her to go. She was asked why she wanted to go to the US. She said it was because I wanted to be closer to my family and grandkids.

He asked where I was living and she said in David, Chiriqui. She was asked how long I had lived in Panama and she said for almost 15 years. Then she was asked why they should believe she wanted to live in the US and would not just get a Green Card and return to Panama.

She said we had already been approved to buy a house in Texas and would be moving to buy a house. The interviewer said they would need to see the bank approval and for me to mail it to the Embassy to be reviewed.

I guess it is more common for the requests to be made when the petitioner is living in the US and requesting to bring the family member to the US.

She left the interview extremely uncertain what had happened and if she would be approved or not. From her view, it certainly was not a pleasant experience. When she got to her daughter’s house in Panama City, she called me in a panic. I told her not to worry. I said I would email the bank letter and if they needed me to courier it to Panama, I would.

It took about five days, from the time I emailed the document to the Embassy, to receive a reply that she was approved. She now just had to wait for her Passport to be returned with the appropriate stamp and the information packet that she needed to bring to the US.

At the first point of entry in the US, this information packet would be opened by the immigration authorities, A huge warning was stamped on the packet saying it must only be opened by US officials at the point of entry. They would interview Lilliam again and, assuming all was in order, the Green Dard would be mailed to the address we had provided in the US.

For the next thirty days, there was never a dull moment. It was a stressful period. When the packet arrived there was a little over two weeks until we were to fly to Texas and we still had a lot to do, We needed to ship a large amount of stuff to the US, get Koki’s paperwork in order, and sell the remaining items we weren’t taking to the US. Shipping Koki had its own set of challenges, which I will cover in another post.

Bottom line is we got it all done and arrived in the US on November 14. As they say, all’s well that ends well.

I think I have covered about all of the Green Card experience. As I said earlier, you can do it yourself or use a lawyer. Another friend went the lawyer route and had the same fees and incidental expenses plus an additional $3,000 lawyer fee. OUCH!

In a future post, I will cover how we shipped stuff to the US, shipping a pet, arriving in the US and a few other things that may come to mind.

13 thoughts on “Green Card Experience

  1. We’ll Lilliam’s dreaming is now a reality. Congratulations. Reading this I can understand why so many foreigners sneak in and remain undercover without ever going through these formalities you have described. A daunting process that takes persistence and determination. Glad that’s over ! Anxious to read the next portion of this saga.

    I have a dear friend from Kenya who had a green card and applied for US citizenship. She went through all the flaming hoops then the government lost her papers and blamed her. With encouragement from friends and family she started all over again….paying fees all over again. She is today a US citizen. It was not easy…but so worth it in the end..

  2. Hi Don Ray,

    I went through a similar experience getting my Chinese wife a green card, cost six trips to China as well as thousands of dollars in fees, etc. Did all the paperwork myself, an attorney is just a waste of money and he can not speed things up at all. All in all a very unpleasant and stress filled two plus years, the embassy folks treat you like a criminal about to commit a crime even though you are conforming to all their requests and signing a financial support document.

    If you wade across the border from Mexico one night you are welcomed with open arms, get free legal help, free school and medical care for the kids, etc. our immigration policy is seriously flawed.

    Oh well, after years and years of paperwork and useless red tape Ping finally became a US citizen in spite of official roadblocks.

    You and Lilliam have gotten past the bad part. Getting her second green card and then citizenship is fairly simple. The citizenship interview is much much easier than the visa interview and the immigration folks are actually friendly.

    Best of luck,

    Len Rowland

  3. Twelve years for us to get Nena’s sister to the US. And that was before 9/11. The quotas for issuing permanent visas for blood relatives are 3rd in line so it took 12 years for her case to “bubble” to the top. But, she got here, went to work for 11 years, and is now a citizen and retired. At age 79!
    I agree with Len, the citizenship interview and ceremony were great.

  4. What bothers folks who do it the legal way is see others who don’t follow the rules.

    Stay well and don’t get the flu. They are reporting there are two stains going around. You can get over one and then come down the other one.

  5. Hi Don. It looks like your post repeated some paragraphs. Lilliam was immunized in childhood and she could have done blood test to confirm she had the immunization and did not need it again. That is what I do when a patient request them for immigration.

  6. Hi Jaime. Don’t know how the post got butchered, but it did. May have been when I cut and pasted it into WordPress.

    Hopefully, it is corrected now.

    Would have been good to know about the blood test prior to the vaccinations.

  7. Don,
    I went through the same experience in 2001 with my wife who I married in the US. She is Brazilian and was in the US on a work visa with the Jerry Lewis Foundation. It took 3 years and piles of paperwork. We went for our final interview at the Charleston, SC office and after the interview her passport was stamped and we were told her Green Card would be to her in 30-60 days. After 90 days no Green Card and we had to make a business trip to Brazil. We called the immigration office and explained the situation and they told us that they would check to see what the hold up on the Green Card was. They told us that her passport was stamped and that we could make the trip with this in the meantime. We left for Brazil for a month and on our return to Miami we were going through immigration where they checked her passport. They called 4 homeland security agents who came and escorted her off. They told me I could not see her, that she was under arrest and being deported to Brazil. After 8 frustrating hours in the airport and a dozen or so calls to Senator Lindsey Grahm’s office she was finally released and scheduled for a hearing at the Charleston office. We went into the hearing and it turned out that our interviewer (who was the director) had forgot to forward her file to Houston for issuance of her Green Card. Every thing was straightened out. Did we get an apology? Ha! Ha! Another thing we found out after we moved to Panama was that after being out of the US for more than 180 days her Green Card ( permanent residency) was revoked along with the 18 years of social security payments she made while working in the US legally. We would have to start the whole process over gain if we wanted to come back to the US.

  8. I originally got my wife the green card in 1999. Believe it or not, it only took one month at the US embassy in Panama, it was very fast at that time, I did all the paper work and got one of my family members to sponsor, we did the doc exam and vaccine in Panama city, and got the call for interview, they didn’t ask much and said welcome, they said take this packet to the airport and give it to the custom guy. It was so simple, now lets fast forward almost 18 years, and my wife and I lived in Panama, she lost her green card due to living in Panama, we went to the US and decided due to extreme events in Panama and the Us, to stay in the US and apply there. We got one of our family members to send us the birth certificate and marriage certificate. It was very simple, we applied in Aug 2016, the packet was very large and we got summons to appear and give the finger prints about 2 months later, we went and then waited, we then got a date for the interview for June 2017, we went and did medical and had to get shots over again. We went to the interview and we had to hire a translator, but the lady just asked very simple questions and were we lived and thats it, she then said your green card will be in the mail in two weeks. Was very simple, I would recommend this way if you are in the US. But you must have a good reason if they ask why you did it in the US and not Panama.

  9. Wow…within a couple days after we were married in Panama City, July, 1994, I submitted all the paperwork for my wife’s visa and returned to the USA inside a 2-week window. I had brought all the required documents with me. Four months later, my wife received her temporary visa. She also was challenged by the interviewer. He looked at her and then my photo with a frown as if something was fishy. Reading about your experience, overall, it seems that yours was more challenging than ours.

    I checked your blog to see how you were doing. And boop…you’re back in the USA. So, best wishes on this leg of your journey through this world. Thanks for all your help up to and subsequent to our move to Panama. I’m confident that you (through your blog and personal interaction) helped a few thousand people on their journey to and through the Isthmus of Panama. I will always appreciate all the information you provided that I needed to figure out how stuff works for an expat in Panama.

  10. Don, long time no see!
    I recently got remarried…my GF from Colombia visited her sister here in Houston , first time we met…I then visited her 2 times in Colombia….after that she came to Houston to visit, we bought a 6 mo ticket , and she came as a tourist (you cannot enter the country w “intent” to marry…) ,but when here I proposed after 2 months , we got married the third month…then following month I hired attorney , it was $1200….she handled all paper work…I recognize many of your list…even though I bacame US citizen in 1988 , they still wanted my original BC, (thisas the hardest part as Sweden doesn’t issue birth certs)…I did get a cert for birth from swedens state church in 88 which showed it…Sweden changed from state church in the 90s, now the Tax dept handles it….but via Swedish consulate here I got thatcertificate of birth (not birth cert!) from them and Swedish consulate translated it $50…at this pointMargarita (easy name to remember, ea Saturday we go to Mexican restaurant and I have 2, one in front of me, one next to me)…we also had to go do a biometrics for her…found a latin clinic in Houston which handled all medical paper work $85….She had her interview in early dec , got her green card Dec 23….1 year and 4 months after we married…so, it was inexpensive, but she could not leave the country while paperwork was going on…and you cannot discuss marriage before she enter the country…I had heard this and stayed mum on the subject…
    so, all in all , my future plans now include Colombia rather than Panama…even though I have since also visited Boquete, seen Rolf….But found Santa Rosa de Cabal, a small town outside Pereira to be very nice, inexpensive, good food…a bit bigger town than Boquete, and Pereira a bit larger than David..climate very similar as Boquete….

    so, in 3-5 yrs I may retire down south…..still staying in Houston as I still do some work , maybe 75% work week , even though I retired…..74 now, still doing remodels…enjoy it too much to stop

  11. Hola Bjorn!
    Good to hear from you. Congrats on the marriage and the move to Colombia, sounds great. I wondered if Rolf was still in Boquete, I hope he is doing OK with the continuing rework on the roads and water and bridge construction projects.
    The advantage in getting paperwork done in the states is huge compared to doing it while overseas. Much easier, faster communication makes a lot of difference.

  12. Hi Don Ray,

    Now that you’re back in Texas I hope you will you continue your blog…this time from the perspective of an ex-pat who has returned to the US after an absence of more than 10 years. I think that would make interesting reading. When we see change take place on a day-by-day basis, we don’t always notice the differences.

    Good luck to you both and I hope your new home in the Lone Star State is a happy one!

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