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.