Sunday, 23 February 2014

There, there baby, it's just textbook stuff

A quick update, post-attorney:

  • He's handled lots of cases like this, and did not show any concerns about the case itself. It is clear that Ben and I had a genuine relationship and have a huge amount of admissible evidence to support that fact.
  • Timing-wise, I need to file my petition to remove conditions on my residency as late as possible (towards the end of my green card's validity) with a cover letter explaining that Ben and I are separated. Later filing should allow me time to file for divorce (see below).. 
  • I will then receive an RFE (Request For Evidence) asking me to provide the USCIS with a decree absolute, proving my divorce, and request a waiver for the joint filing requirement (due to NC law, I cannot file for divorce until Ben and I have been separated for a minimum of one year).
  • That is where the timing issue comes in: I will have a limited time (87 days) to provide the USCIS with the documents requested from the date of the RFE. The date of the RFE is not guaranteed. It could be issued as quickly as six weeks after my petition is received. It could be months longer than that. 
  • If I receive the RFE before I will be able to get the decree absolute, then I'll be in a bit of a sticky spot. It is considered unlikely this will happen, but it is possible.
  • If it does happen that I can't get the decree absolute to the USCIS within the time frame, I will have to write to them and explain why I cannot give them the documentation they need. I'm not sure how this works exactly, but I am given to understand that they will be aware of state-specific marital laws, and that they will simply issue another RFE for the decree absolute when it is available. I have to check on this, however. ***Update 2/25/14*** Two attorneys and the USCIS helpline have confirmed that no extensions are granted for RFE requests for I-751 petitions. If you can't get the documents they ask for in time, the deny your petition and send a Notice to Appear.
  • Either way, when they receive the decree absolute, they will waive the joint filing of my petition and consider me as a divorced individual who came to the USA on a K-1 visa.
  • This will mean that I will likely be called for an interview, during which they will assess whether the marriage was entered into in good faith and not for the purpose of circumventing US immigration laws (if Ben and I were still together, it is unlikely we would have been called for interview but had we been, we would have to prove that it was entered into in good faith and that we had a genuine, ongoing relationship - but clearly they will not be assessing this in my case). If the interviewer accepts that we entered into the marriage in good faith, the conditions will be removed from my residency and I will receive a 10-year, unconditional green card. Should I want to, I can apply for citizenship five years after receiving this, I believe.

So this year is going to be a little stressful. I keep reminding myself that these kind of things happen all the time (marital breakdown is hardly an unusual occurrence) so it won't be out of the ordinary for the USCIS to deal with a case like mine; that the timing while a little uncomfortable is likely to work out; that the USCIS are familiar with varying state laws; that there is no need to worry about things I have no control over; that there is no need to worry because there isn't actually anything wrong in terms of how our marriage happened (other than the resultant pain of having to go through how wonderful our relationship was when we were together - it's like breaking up all over again, and I've had an actual, physical chest pain since the beginning of the week which I am sure is associated with having had to do this). 

There it is, then. Not impossible. Not unusual. And yet entirely horrible in my head.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

With my memories and photographs

Warning: Boring, technical, nitpicking content.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's that time again: immigration paperwork! I currently have what's known as a 'conditional green card', which means it's a green card with a two-year lifespan (the norm for anyone on an initial K-1 visa to receive post-wedding). Therefore, three months before it expires, I have to apply to have the conditions removed by way of providing evidence about my life here and will then, if the petition is successful, be granted a 10-year, unconditional green card - with the option of applying to become a US citizen after a certain period of time.

As learned from previous experiences of providing all the documents ever, I've already got every available piece of evidence listed already lined up; I've written a cover letter with a full contents breakdown of aforementioned evidence; I've practiced filling in the form (the I-751); I've checked and re-checked the fee required ($590); and I've also retained the services of an attorney, at least for the initial stages of the process, due to my having to file as married while Ben and I are and remain separated. This is the only 'relationship status' option available to me on the I-751 form, as we are not divorced, I am not widowed, I have not been subject to abuse, and returning to the UK would not cause me 'extreme hardship', which are the only allowed categories were I to file to waive what's known as a 'joint petition' and instead file on my own.

Under NC marital law, a couple cannot file for divorce until they have been separated (in separate residences) for at least one year, and so due to this state-specific legal nuance and consequent mismatched timing of this window with that of my green card's expiration, I am bound to file my USCIS petition as a married person (legally this is sound) because there is no other option. Were we able to file for divorce earlier, I would then be able to apply to the USCIS for a waiver for the joint filing requirement, include my divorce decree as part of my documentation (just then having to prove that the relationship was entered into in good faith and provide proof of its existence up to the point of divorce), and ask for my petition for removal of conditions on my green card to be considered based on me and me alone. This is not uncommon, and other people in my situation who got married and/or live in other states have followed this path, as they are not required to wait a full year before filing for divorce.

So, that is the cause of my filing confusion (not to mention anxiety), and why I will be seeing my attorney tomorrow to work out how best to approach this particular nuance of North Carolina law. I always aim to be honest and straightforward, because that's who I am and, especially in this case, because I haven't done anything wrong. Presenting a joint petition when I am separated makes me anxious, and I do not want to appear to be misrepresenting myself. I did not move to the US with anything other than happiness, hope, and a sense of magic about what Ben and I were embarking on as a couple. The US, and Charlotte in particular, have become so important to me, but they were not the reason I came here in the first place. This just happened to be where Ben was from. That the Queen City has since become my heart's home is a beautiful - and now immensely soothing - sidebar.

I'm told I'm probably worrying about nothing; that cases like this are seen all the time; that it may not even be called into question and will simply be an administrative matter that will be more annoying than stressful; and that if it is called into question that there are several appeals processes I can follow. I know this is a legitimate, genuine case all with good intent and plenty of evidence to show good faith and a bona fide relationship - because that's what was there. But the idea that my staying here could be tenuous, that I could be torn from my friends, dogs, house, job, home now because I have no real claim on my own life here... I think I'm dealing with a different kind of heartbreak at the mere possibility.

Friday, 14 February 2014

You're why I feel found

I meant to write something for QE in January, I really did, but the month sort of got away with me. In between my family returning to the UK, the spring semester starting up at work, making all the bookings for 10/26 adventures this year, and the ridiculousness that became my friends' plans for my birthday celebrations (or 'Birthmukkah', as my beautiful friend Nico called it!), there wasn't much time for writing. 

At the Wine Vault at the end of 'Birthmukkah'
L-R: Jess (wife); Nico; Lesley; Steven;
Josh; Sanya; Brad; Marissa; Cathy & Britt.

The Sisterhood of the Clams:
Christine (Neldie), me, Lesley, and Cassie. 

All the girls took a day and planned something, including Wine & Design, a day trip to Salisbury, dinner at my place, and a surprise faerie feast, all over a long weekend. So, what could have been a really shoddy birthday turned out to be one of the best I've ever had, and I have the beautiful people above to thank for making it so wonderful. They truly make this place a community, a family, and a home to me.

On top of that, I've been to Asheville to visit the lovely Rae and caught up with an old friend and now fellow expat (the fabulously talented Oli Brown, who was performing there - small world!), finally went to the Biltmore, celebrated my two year friendiversary with Nico by attending a local performing arts comedy evening, topped up my massage points by way of an evening at Urbana with my neldie Christine, and made several new friends, all of whom I'm really enjoying getting to know. So even though I have moments, hours, even consecutive days like this:

Can't be mad when it's so perfect, can I? Thanks, PostSecret.

...I'm generally doing well. I have the best few weeks coming up too, the highlight of which will be my beautiful "wife" Jess (see above) moving in as my permanent housemate! I'm so excited. We've lived together once before but just for about 10 days - which were brilliant! - so this time it's going to be superawesometastic. Which is now a word.

Per my last post, it's been snowing in Charlotte since Tuesday afternoon, and there was actually a genuine need for the three consequent snow days we've had this week. There's at least 10 inches of snow on the ground in my area, and apparently south Charlotte is even worse. Add to that the fact that it's compacted and iced up overnight, plus that NC is not known for its skilled inclement weather drivers, and you have a recipe for winter wonderland disasters. So I've been at home for the last three days, snuggled up with Bertie and Satine (although sometimes not so snuggled, as we've been out to play in it, of course!), and generally enjoying resting and catching up on all the things I've not quite got around to when I should... Like this blog. *sheepish grin* Standby for an immigration-related post soon!

My furbabies in the snow.

Me in the snow!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Since we've no place to go

In case anyone missed it, it's been snowing in Charlotte. Here are some photos from day # 2 of the storm. Real post to follow soon, I promise!