...and now the Long Version We filed the I-129F on April 13 at the service center in Vermont and it was approved on April 19. We did not send any 'proof of relationship' with this form, we sent just the stuff they explicitly asked for. On April 27 I received the packet with all the forms from the consulate general in Frankfurt. I started to collect the required documents which took some time for us - you can save a lot of time at this point if you know in advance what exactly you will need - and on June 20 I sent this notification form to the consulate general, telling them I had the documents complete. On June 28 I got the date for my medical exam and the interview in Frankfurt, which was on July 17. The medical exam (at Dr. Hunscha/Dr. Kroneberger) was scheduled at 0800 but I figured that they had invited everybody for 0800 so I was there at 0700. I was 2nd in line when the lab opened at 0730. By 0800 there were at least 20 people. So I strongly recommend to be there earlier. The medical exam was no big deal first filling out a questionnaire, asking for previous illnesses, then the blood test, urine, chest x-ray and - after waiting for some time - a general exam. I left the doctor around 1015 and went to the consulate general to have my interview. For this interview I had brought everything I had to give them some 'proof of relationship'...but did they ask me to see my pictures of the two of us, letters, e-mails, airline-tickets etc.? Did they? NO!
The interview was simply a short questioning through bulletproof glass: Where did we meet? Had we visited each other? Met each others families? Where am I going to live? Where am I going to work? I have no job in the US yet but that did not seem to be a problem (well, after all they have the affidavit of support). After maybe 5 minutes of short questions (more like smalltalk) the consular officer said that I got the visa. Then I had to swear that everything I said and stated was true and correct and that I am legally free and willing to marry my fiancée and that was it. The whole procedure took 15 minutes at the most. Then they told me that they had to wait for the results of the blood test (HIV, Syphilis) and after negative results they would mail the visa to me. I left the consulate general around 1130, most of the time I was waiting but it was still better than I expected as they deal with the immigrant visa (and K-1) in a separate section which is of course a lot less busy than the main section where they process applications for nonimmigrant visa. Three days later my passport with the long awaited visa was in the mail.
After organizing my move to the States, which is a separate story, I decided to leave Germany on September 1. I entered the US in Detroit, Michigan. The INS-officer there was very nice and though I had to wait for quite a while it was a nice experience to immigrate and I would do it again any day. I went through another short interview and had to fill out a form (plus the fingerprint and picture) for the EAD-card. The INS-officer issued me this card without me having to ask for it. A matter of 10 minutes and I had it in my hands.
The next step was to get married and to file I-485 at our INS-office in Hartford, Conn. As I know now we are really lucky with Hartford as they are not as busy as the offices in the bigger cities around. They got our documents on November 24 and around January 20 we got the invitation letter for my Green Card interview which is scheduled for March 4. An interesting thing about Hartford is that due to the fast processing of the I-485 there, the officer suggested to me to save the $70 fee for the new EAD (my old one expired on November 30, together with my K-1) because he said I might have the green card stamp before I would get the new EAD. I had planned to get my new EAD right then while picking up the other forms, but after this information I filed only the I-485 and not the I-765 for the new EAD.
Some days ago it turned out that I made a big mistake by assuming I could work without the valid EAD, just by proving to a potential employer that I am allowed to work by showing my other documents and explaining the processing of my immigration. Wrong. I finally found someone who wanted to hire me and while I sat in the orientation for new employees I had to fill out form I-9 to show that I am allowed to work. I went and explained my situation and the lady who held the orientation went to call the INS to inquire if what I told was correct and whether I really was allowed to work. The answer she got was that I am allowed to work but as I did not have proof of the fact that I was allowed to work I am not allowed to work. Doh! They sent me home right away. The next day I drove up to Hartford and asked at the INS office if that was the right answer. They confirmed it. I am allowed to work, but without proof of that I am not allowed to work. I asked if I could get any preliminary document that would be sufficient proof: No. How long it would take to get a new EAD: 90 days.
So we have two facts, fact 1: the EAD is valid for 90 days from immigration, just like the K-1. Fact 2: it takes 90 days to get an extension of this EAD. Get it? You have to apply for the extension right after you get the first one and even then it is not sure that you can work without having to take a little break. I just can not believe that this is the way it works. I sent a letter to the commissioner of the INS and asked her. Let's see what the answer will be.
This question came up in posts to alt.visa.us in January 1997. Check Google for the posts (search for 'K1' and 'renewing EAD'). One of the immigration-lawyers who give advice in the newsgroups on a regular basis (A BIG 'Thank You' to all of them for the valuable service they provide to the Usenet-community!) suggested to contact the local chapter of AILA, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and ask for help with the INS in this matter.
Short interlude...I got an answer dd. July 16, 1996..."Thank you for your recent letter to Commissioner Meissner, dated February 7, 1996, regarding..." Wait a minute...recent letter? February 7? Helloooo! Anybody home? Anyway, my letter has been forwarded to the Eastern Regional Office in Vermont. I'll be patient. :-)
On March 4, 1996 we had our interview for the (conditional) 'green card'. It went very smoothly. What everybody who went through it before had told me was true: no couple that is genuine about their wedding needs to be nervous about the interview. The examiner noted that we married within the 90 day period after my immigration and then asked to see some proof of "...things couples usually do together..." (No, not these things!) "...like opening joint bank-accounts...". We showed the documents we brought and he did not even want to see them all. (We were especially disappointed when he strictly refused to see our wedding-album). He said he had seen enough proof. So he stamped my passport and send me to another room for the fingerprints. That was it. The whole thing took maybe 10 minutes.
The real 'Green Card' will now be sent to me in the mail, some time from 2 weeks to half a year or so from now. The cards used to all be made at a central location, a private company in Irving, Texas, the ICF (Immigration Card Facility). One could find out about the status of the green card processing there by calling the ICF's automated answering-system at (214) 655-1500 and keying in ones A#. Since April 1, 1998 however, the cards are made at two INS centers. All 'first time issue' green cards, the ones for immigrants getting their first green card, are made at the Southern Service Center in Texas, all replacement cards are made at the Eastern Service Center in Vermont.
I received my Pink Card on May 4, pretty quick and exactly two months after our interview.
OK, after a long time of silence as far as my immigration procedures are concerned I have now taken the latest step. The filing of form I-751 to remove the conditions on my permanent residence. As evidence I submitted some statements from our joint bank-accounts and documentation showing my wife as beneficiary of my life-insurance as well as her being covered through my health-insurance. Also of course two affidavits, affirming that we are a 100% real married couple and truly loving each other. Now I am curious to see when we will hear from the INS again.
Wow, that was quick, as a matter of fact, I am pretty surprised, it is March 23 and I received the notice that the conditional basis of my permanent residence was removed. (Date of decision is given as March 17) Now it is official: I am unconditionally & permanently residing here!
That leaves me with one thing to do, I have to get two new pictures and drive to the INS office in Hartford to get a new Green Card. So that's it. All set and done. A lot easier than I thought it would be. No problems at all during the whole process, if I forget about the trouble with my EAD being valid for 90 days when it takes 90 days to get the extension. Apart from that, always friendly and helpful INS officers. And I am confident that that was not just coincidental.
On April 1 I drove to the INS in Hartford again to have my passport stamped and get the new I-551. Hartford is a nice and fast INS office I can only recommend. I think if I would live in NYC and had to put up with their office, which I presume is extremely busy, I would consider moving to Connecticut just to fall into Hartford's jurisdiction. That should save a lot of time. Anyway, this visit to the INS was a very quick one, there is only one thing I have to criticize: The notice I received from the Eastern Service Center in Vermont, notifying me of the removal of the condition on my permanent residence stated that I only needed to bring two new pictures for the new Green Card, nothing else was listed in there. Now of course every immigrant who wants to have his passport stamped (the possibility to have this done was stated in the letter) would remember to bring this passport to the INS. But then, the INS officer also wanted to have the notice that Vermont had sent to me and I had to surrender my old, expired I-551 as well. The notice did not mention that I had to bring either of those items with me. Luckily at this stage of my immigration I learned that correspondence from the INS can not necessarily be taken literally, it's more like a rough guideline. I stayed always on the safe side and showed up with all my collected immigration-paperwork. So now I am all set and once again I wait.
Well, I waited for almost a year and still have not received the card. So I went up to the INS in Hartford again to get a new stamp. That was a quick and unproblematic act, the officer just put the new stamp in and that was that. I asked if one year was still within their 'usual' time-limits, considering the difficulties they have manufacturing those new science-fiction cards, and yes, it is. Amazing. I also asked if it was 'normal' that other people, who had their cards ordered from Hartford much later than I, had gotten them already. Well, you can guess the answer. Last I asked the officer to check if the card had been ordered at all, she verified that it was, but had not been sent out yet. Well, at least not lost in the mail I thought. So, more waiting now. By the time I get the card they probably are ready for the next revision of it... It is beyond me how they can have such problems manufacturing the cards.
Now I guess the only step left would be my naturalization. I'll think about that one, we'll see...
Still no card for me, I filed form G-731 to inquire about the status of my card, let's see what the answer will be. Will they even know I exist?
The G-731 letter came back a few days later, the address printed on the form (ICF in TX) is apparently not valid anymore. Thanks to Mr. Enry for pointing me to the right address, the Eastern Service Center in Vermont. So now I send another G-731. Let's see...
I made another attempt to find out about the status of my plastic card. I wonder if I will ever get it, 22 months and counting. The INS has to be the worst ever government agency. I have seen bureaucracies in sub-Saharan Africa work more efficiently. They should really take the word 'Service' out of their name. Anyway, excuse the whining. Straight facts again, I filled out the new G-731V and included the requested self-addressed stamped envelope (I can't believe I have to pay their postage, I hope they use the 33 cents I helped them save and add them to a 'Service Improvement Fund'). I am very optimistic that I will get a response this time. I am very curious already to see what it might be. Have they even received the order for my card from Hartford? I can't wait to find out....