A New Addition

It’s been well over a year since my last post and things have been kind of hectic here to say the least.  Not only have I been busy with the businesses with Tommy, but we have a new addition to our family!  Our daughter was born on the 10th April 2013.  It was a bit of a shock to find myself pregnant again.  We were open to having more children should they come along, but I guess given that Tommy has two grown girls, and I have a seven year old, I didn’t really expect it to happen.

Anyway, the pregnancy went pretty smooth, even though I was considered to be high risk but that was down to my age – I wouldn’t mind though I’m not even 40!  Tommy was so funny, I remember as the time got closer to her birth, he’d be calling and asking if I was in labor yet.  I pulled an April fools trick on him which looking back was funny.  I sent him a text telling him that I’d tried calling him but his phone went straight through to voicemail.  He needed to get his butt home as I was in labor.  He fell for it hook, line and sinker bless him.  He forgave me and just laughed about it.

Our new addition is called Isabellla Rae and she is just the sweetest thing.  She has such a lovely temperament and Lana loves her to pieces.  She isn’t quite sleeping through the night yet – I am breastfeeding so I guess that’s to be expected.

On a point to note about ex-pats having babies in America, the only thing I can say is it’s expensive!  My OBGYN appointments were around $4,000 and that was only because we paid everything up front before the baby was born.   We paid in installments and spread the cost out.  However, the cost of actually delivering the baby in hospital cost us about $6,500.  I had a normal birth and was told if I had of had a caesarian then it would have cost more!  Compare that to UK healthcare which is “free” you can hopefully see my point with it being expensive.

If you are going through the K1 visa process, are you planning on having children once you move to America?

Traveling Under Advance Parole

I have just returned back from the United Kingdom on a 4 day return flying visit.  Why so quick you may ask?  I took my daughter back to England so she can spend some summer time with her father.

I was worried about returning back to the US and if I would have any problems.  Interesting this is how the journey went.

Saturday, 9th June

We departed Norfolk (VA)  airport and were checked in all the way through.  Our flight was to connect at JFK.  We didn’t have any issues checking in or on the journey to the UK.  On a side note, I was expecting some decent duty free shopping at JFK.  Having always travelled through Newark which I found disappointing, I was also disappointed with JFK.  It seems the London/Manchester have a better experience with duty free in my opinion.

I digress….

Sunday, 10th June

We arrive at Heathrow airport and had no problems with immigration and were straight through.  We both have UK passports.

Tuesday, 11th June

I return back to Heathrow to catch my return flight home.  I get asked by the security man at check in (the guy who checks your passport before you actually check in) when I am intending to return to the UK.  I inform him that it would be at the end of July which is when I will be collecting my daughter.  He informed me my visa would have expired by then.  The visa he is referring to is the K1 visa which is in my passport.  This is a visa which allows you to get to the US to marry your fiancé.

Advance Parole Combo Card

An example of an advance parole/work authorization card

I found this slightly odd, but went with it.  I had to produce my advance parole document and my marriage certificate to the gentleman in question.  The name on my passport is not the same as the one on my advance parole card.  The reason being is my passport doesn’t expire until 2019 and I would have to pay for a new one (you can’t get a name change when you are in the US).

When I arrived at New York Newark (and I really hate this airport – I mean what is the point of going all the way through immigration and then having to check your bags in again and go through security again?) I queued up and handed over my passport, advance parole document and the customs form which was handed out on the plane.  I was told I needed to go downstairs and was promptly escorted by an immigration officer.

At this point I was nervous.  This was the first time I had left the US since our arrival and the first time we had travelled under the advance parole documentation.  I handed over my documents to an immigration officer who took them to another officer.  I then had to complete an I-94 which weren’t given out on the plane.  The officer put a stamp in my passport and that was it.  I asked him what would happen when the green card came through, and he told me because I was advance parole I am effectively in limbo, I’m not a resident but I am allowed to stay temporarily.  So when the green card gets here I will be able to clear immigration upstairs with everyone else and not worry.

Interestingly when I arrived home there was a I-797 Notice of Action welcoming my daughter and I to the US and that our green cards should arrive within 3 weeks.  Typical!!!

All in all the whole experience from when we started paperwork to the approval will have taken 13 months in total.  Which I guess looking back isn’t that bad, seeing as we’re now living out here and have been in the US for 6 of those months.

Finding a civil surgeon

uscis civil surgeon

We exited the interview and I could feel the adrenalin and stress kick in.  Tommy was much more relaxed and was very much if we have to come back, then we come back kind of attitude. Where I was we’re here now, so let’s see if someone can help us.

So I started making calls from the list of civil surgeons the interviewing officer had given us.  The first place I called told me that the doctor was out but they would try and get hold of him and see if he could come in today in order to complete the documentation.  They told me they would call me back within 30 minutes.

Now I am not one to sit around waiting, so I decided to start calling the other civil surgeons on the list, and was met with quite a number of no’s we can’t see you today.  I did find one that could fit us both in but we would have both had to have full blown medicals and come back on Saturday to have the TB results read, and the cost was going to be nearly $600.

Whilst making the calls, I received a call back from the first surgeon.  I promptly returned their call.  They could fit us in so we headed down to their offices.  When we arrived I handed over all the medical documents I had brought with me as well as our passports and my marriage certificate.  I then had to complete numerous forms for myself and my daughter.

We were taken into the back and told to wait for the doctor who was a really nice guy.  I thanked him for fitting us in at such short notice and explained that we live 4 hours away.  He was very pleasant about it and didn’t do much in terms of anything medical specific.  A nurse then came in to give my daughter a TB test, much to her dismay.  I was to have the results read by my own GP and get the results faxed through so they could then forward on the documentation to me.  I would then in turn, send these back to the USCIS in Durham – all a bit long winded if you ask me.

The whole visit took 5 minutes in total and we ended up paying another $400 for these extra pieces of paper.  Anyway, I took my daughter to our own GP for the TB results, which was clear and faxed the document back to the doctor in Durham.  I then received her documents in the mail in a sealed envelope.

I completed a covering letter with both sealed envelopes for myself and my daughter and sent it priority mail to USCIS in Durham.
Now I am back to waiting again!

Green card interview

We had to travel up to Durham in Raleigh as that was the local field office who was now dealing with our case.  It took us around 4 hours to get there so we stayed overnight as our interview was 10:15 on 17 May 2012.

Earlier in the week I had got myself into a panic as I was double checking everything that I had put together in terms of supporting documentation that we needed.  Now I had a question mark over the I-693 and I was under the impression that in terms of all the medical information it was all done and dusted.  Ha !  How wrong I was.  You’d think after spending the money going to London for a day, and then having to pay for a full medical for myself and my daughter that everything would be right.  Nope.

Anyway, let me cast my mind back.  We arrived at the US Immigration Services office which was 2 minutes from the hotel we were staying at.  We all went through security, which is a similar set up to airport security and the US embassy in London.  Once through security we gave our notice of appointment to the receptionist and as we were early, we waited down stairs in a waiting area.

Mobile phones are allowed although we didn’t take ours in.  Additionally there is no entertainment for children so if you are taking yours you may want to think of that.

Our time came and we were called upstairs.  Which was pretty much a reflection of downstairs.  Just a waiting area with a TV screen which had the numbers of who was being seen on it.  Again similar to the US embassy in London.  Our number was brought up on-screen and we went to the door, which was a security door and opened by security personnel.  Inside this area was a walkway and either side was lined with small offices.

We were led into one of these offices of the lady who was going to interview us.  She  asked us to raise our right hands and swear we were going to tell the whole truth.  Which we said we’d do.

The lady did give my daughter a piece of paper and a pen so she could at least draw a picture and not be bored.  She asked her name and where she lived.

Anyway, I was asked to confirm my name and address.  I was asked for proof of bank statements or anything else, so I gave the original and a copy over.

I-693Next came the stumbling block.  She asked me for a copy of the I-693 and I asked her wasn’t that sent in with the documents I had to hand over at the point of entry back in January.  In a word no.  This is yet another piece of paper that tells the US embassy that all your vaccinations are up to date.  Now I’m sat there in the office having my green card interview and I’m thinking are you kidding me?  I went through a whole medical in London and you want a further piece of paper saying what exactly?  The same thing that you’ve already got except it’s on a different piece of paper?!

Tommy could see I was getting frustrated.  And tried to calm the situation over.  Oh and the other thing was that my daughters medical was not on their file either.  They’d either lost it or it was mis-filed somewhere.  Again, what was the point of my paying money in London for my daughter to have a medical if this is what is going to happen.  Now I had the paperwork I received from the medical in London and tried to offer her this.  She wouldn’t take it as it wasn’t in a sealed envelope!

So our option in terms of my daughter was I could either get her to request our file and see if her medical information was in there or have a new medical completed but she would still need an I-693 completing.  I also needed an I-693.  The interviewing officer gave us a list of all US Civil Surgeons in Durham.  She did search our area and the nearest one was where we were at.  So that either meant another day trip or see if we could get this fixed now.

Our interview on that basis was given the “Intent to Deny” status.  We had 30 days to get this piece of paper mailed back to them.  The interviewing officer did ask Tommy one question which was so you own your own pest control company.  Hardly seemed worth him taking the day off considering he is self employed.

In terms of our relationship she wasn’t interested in how we met or why we got married so quickly.  In fact she just seemed a little bored by the whole thing.  We were told that once they had the I-693 for both myself and daughter then we wouldn’t have to come back and be re-interviewed.  She did indicate that as long as that piece of paper was fine and there were no medical issues then we would be approved.

Notification of Green Card Interview

The whole waiting part of the K1 process is so stressful.  Anyone going through this can relate and anyone who is about to go through the K1 process will soon discover.  The waiting is stressful and some things take a long time.

English: The logo of U.S. Citizenship and Immi...

I received another I-797C Notice of Action for both my daughter any myself.  It is a request for the applicant (me) to appear for an initial interview for the adjustment of status.  It is quite a lengthy notice which goes into detail on who should come.  As I am now married, Tommy needs to come with me and in relation to my daughter, then I need to be there to accompany her.  I am assuming that we will just all go in together.

Items which need to be taken are;

  • We need to take Government issued photo identification with us, such as a driving license or identity card.
  • The interview notice and the photo id.
  • Completed medical examination from (I-693) and vaccination supplement in a sealed envelope unless already submitted.
  • A completed Affidavit of support (I-864) will all required evidence including federal income tax returns and W2s or certified IRS printouts for the most recent tax year.  Letters from each current employer, verifying rate of pay and average weekly hours, and pay stubs for the past two months; and evidence of the sponsors US citizenship or lawful permanent resident status.
  • All documentation establishing eligibility for lawful permanent resident status.
  • Any immigration related documentation ever issued, including Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and any authorization for Advance Parole (I-512).
  • All travel documents used to enter the United States, including passports, Advance Parole documents (I-512) and I-94 (arrival/departure document).
  • Birth certificate.
  • Petitioners birth certificate and petitioners evidence of United States Citizenship or Lawful permanent resident status.
  • If you have any children bring their birth certificates.

If the application is based on marriage;

  • A certified copy of your marriage document issued by the appropriate civil authority.
  • Spouses birth certificate and their evidence of US citizenship/lawful permanent resident.
  • If you have been previously married then all divorce decree from each prior marriage.
  • Birth certificate for all children within this marriage and custody papers for your childcare and for your spouses children not living with you.
  • Supporting evidence of your relationship such as joint assets or liabilities including tax returns, bank statements, insurance documents, rental agreements, utility bills, credit cards etc.

Suffice to say I think I have everything under control and from what I have read everything seems to be in check.

In terms of supporting documentation showing that we had a real relationship,  took copy of bank statements and life insurance papers.  Everything else was and still is in Tommy’s name including the mortgage (which was going to cost nearly $900 to get me added).

As I publish this, the date has passed, as well as the interview.  There was a vital piece of information missing and if you are going through this process, then I’d suggest you don’t make the same mistake that I did.

Employment Authorization and Advanced Parole

Well it’s been a while since my last post and that’s been for a few reasons of me being busy but also not hearing much back from immigration.  Anyway, suffice to say I have an update!  Yay!

We’ve received our advance parole documents.  Which is great news.  Just a shame it couldn’t have come through a bit earlier so my daughter could have gone back to the UK to see her dad for Easter/spring break.  Anyway my daughter’s advance parole is a piece of paper which gives her name and details and has her photo and fingerprint printed on the document.

My advance parole looks like a driving license and is classed as a combo card which acts as both advance parole and employment authorization.  We are free to travel and I’m free to work.  Both documents are valid for one year.

I’m hoping that we will hear some news soon on the green card/the next interview.

What to expect at the biometrics appointment

Yesterday I was up at 5am and I felt like my body had been rudely awakened and didn’t know what was happening.  Then I remembered – we had our biometrics appointment.

After rousing myself and my daughter we hit the road and arrived at the USCIS building in Norfolk.  We were a little early and there were also some other cars waiting in the car park, which I assumed were other people having the same thing.

8am arrived and we were promptly let in by the female security guard.  The people who were there had formed an orderly queue and it wasn’t long before I was quickly seen.  I explained that my daughters appointment was at 2pm the same afternoon and the security guard told me we could both be seen now.  A huge sigh of relief for me.  I was given a form for each of us.  The security guard transferred some data from the appointment notices to each form and I gave over our ID.  I also had to give a copy of my marriage certificate as my passport is still in my maiden name.

I filled out each form, which was basic information like first name, last name, middle name, date of birth, place of birth, country of citizenship, any other names which you’ve gone by and then gave it back to the lady.  I was given a ticket number and had about a 5 minute wait.

Picture of a whorl fingerprint pattern

We were called by the scanner man and he decided to take my daughters details first.  The notice of appointment bar code was scanned into the system and I checked that her details were correct.  Due to her age he just took her right index picture.  She was asked to write her name and they also took her picture.

It was then my turn.  My appointment letter bar code was scanned and I checked the details were correct.  Mr scanner man took some paper towel and sprayed it with this liquid and wiped my left hand down.  I then had to have my left hand fully scanned on the scanning pad.  Before he took any print of my prints, he wiped each finger tip down with the damp paper towel.  My finger prints were taken in order from both hands, and then a further set of prints were taken, which I can only describe as the full print.  Where each finger was rolled on the sensor pad and taken rather than just the top part of the print.

I asked why these were being taken as our finger prints had already been taken at the airport and also at the US Embassy in London.  He told me they operate on a different system and these are in fact full prints.  After being taken they are sent to the FBI to check their criminal database which will affect whether the green card is given or not. The prints which are taken elsewhere are only a snapshot picture.

So once all prints had been taken he checked to make sure they were all ok with no comeback.  He then took my photo with a smile and we were all done.  The whole process from walking in the door and the wait took about 30 minutes.  Hardly worth getting up at 5am for, but it needed to be done.

North Carolina Driving License

I finally took my driving test. I did so much cramming in order for me to take the test. I was stressing about it a lot, mainly because it just feels unnatural to be driving on the other side of the road.

I got the North Carolina drivers handbook and I really struggled getting through it.  Not because it was difficult but the language and the terminology which is was written in was hard to understand.  Additionally it contradicted everything I knew about driving.  Anyway, I finally finished reading the handbook and went down to the local DMV office.  I had about an hour wait until my ticket was called and the lady in charge took my details.

Nothing is ever simple right?  Well because all the paperwork is still in processing with immigration and I don’t have Advance Parole (AP) or the Employment Authorization Card (EAD) then the driving license would only be valid until the K1 visa expires in my passport.  What?  Like really?  Yes. Really.  Hopefully the employment will come through before the visa expires, and when it does I just need to take it down to the DMV office again and they can renew the license.  However the license will only be valid for the period the EAD is issued for.  Once the green card comes through then I shall have a full license for 8 years.  The reason the license can only be issued for the period of the visa is because I have nothing else to show proof of residency.

The documents which were required was a copy of a bill which had my proof of address on, so I took a joint bank statement, proof of liability insurance and my birth certificate as well as my passport (which had the K1 visa in).  I did take a whole load of other stuff just in case, but it wasn’t needed.

So what did I have to do?  I had to look into these glasses and recognize some number plates and some road signs from various lines. I was then put on to a computer to take the theory exam.  I did do some searching online for various road test questions leading up to my visit, just to try and get a feel for what would be asked, and I came across a cheat sheet, which I have to say saved my bacon.  It worked, I did have to pay $15 but well worth it in my opinion.

As part of the test I had to answer 20 questions correctly out of 25 with a possibility of 5 being skipped.  I managed to get all 20 questions right and only skipped 1.  So I was asked 21 questions in total.  I was very pleased. The answers were a multiple choice of 3, and funnily enough some of them were in the exact cheat sheet wording.

I took a seat back with the lady who was busy taking copies of my ID, she’d also run a check on the sexual offenders database to see if I was on there (which I’m not) and sign a piece of paper.  She asked me to move over to a different area so she could take my picture and I then had to verify all the details she had.  I paid a $4 fee and that was it.  When I asked if I was going to have to do the driving test, she simply told me “I’m not going to make you do that hun”.  I was like cool.  So I was lucky enough not to have to do the driving test and my permanent license will arrive within 10 days or so.  The piece of paper I was given acts as a temporary license until my full one arrives.  Hopefully it will be in time for the biometrics on Wednesday.

Anyway, sometimes it pays to be prepared for everything, because when it comes down to it you may be surprised and have a little luck on your side. Either that or someone is looking down on me and helping me out.

Biometrics appointment received

I finally received an I-797C notice of action for an ASC Appointment Notice.  What does this mean? We’ve been scheduled for our biometrics.  Yay, another step closer.  However we have two separate appointments.  I am scheduled for 8am and my daughter is scheduled for 2pm.  The notice date is the 29th February and the actual appointment is 28th March.  A month between the dates which doesn’t seem too bad.

Blue question mark

I called up the USCIS and after trying to navigate my way around phone system and actually get to talk to someone, oh and if you don’t select anything it hangs up on you!  I finally got through and spoke to someone about the appointments not being together and asked if we could have two appointments together.  I’m laughing as I type this.  The gentleman kindly informed me that if they had two appointments together I would have been given them.  Ok I can’t argue with that.

So the other curve ball is that my daughters passport is with the British Embassy for renewal.  I asked the question about getting it renewed before I left the UK, and was told that I shouldn’t worry and just get it renewed when I was out here.  That is another story in itself.  Anyway, she needs that as proof of ID.  So I also mentioned this.  I’ve to just take her birth certificate and hope that will be sufficient otherwise she will fail her biometrics appointment.

I have to take the notice of action as well as my passport, driving license (which I don’t have a US one but hoping to remedy that soon), national ID, military ID or State Issued photo ID.  I think I am also going to be taking my birth certificate and other important documents along as well like my social security number.

During my call to the USCIS I asked them about traveling outside of the country, as my daughter is due to see her father for Easter break.  This ended up being a long winded part of the call and in a nutshell unless I have my advance parole document I can’t travel.  Well I could, but then I’d have issues getting back into the States and immigration would pretty much look at my application as being abandoned and would send me packing.  So I had to be the bearer of this unsightly news to my ex, and to say he got shirty with me is an understatement.   Hello, this isn’t my fault and it’s not something I’m in control of.  Anyway, the AP document can take up to 90 days from the date of application.

There so much waiting with this process I can honestly say I was blind with optimism when I thought it would go through by August last year!  One can hope I guess, but hoping or having high expectations only leads to disappointment and frustration, which I have found out the hard way.

Shipping disaster!

Seal of the United States Customs Service, whe...

Like a conscientious person that I am I took out insurance against my shipment.  I had around 34 boxes which were all personal effects like my daughter’s toys (she’d just had a birthday in November and Christmas so it’s not like I could get away with no gifts for her), clothes, shoes, pictures and things in my life that I didn’t really want to get rid of.  So I shopped about on google and made various enquiries before moving and received what I thought was a reasonable quote from Freightworld.

I was told when it came to my packing list that I just need to list things in general which were in my shipment.  So clothes, toys, shoes that kind of thing.  And not itemize every single item in each box.

I did this faithfully and for my own piece of mind I labelled every box and what was in each box.  Apart from the fact when it came to unpacking I’d know what was in it.  Ok so I’m digressing.  One thing I have learnt is that in America nothing is free.  Let me explain.  My shipment arrived at the port of New York, NY.  It was then handled by some customs people.  My shipment was then transferred to Norfolk, VA and handled by some more people.  It was x-rayed with some other shipments and then individually x-rayed because there were some ‘black holes’ and they couldn’t see properly.  Then my shipment was transferred to Portsmouth, VA.  Each time it’s been handled by a different person it’s cost me money.  Why I ask?  Why wasn’t I told about these additional charges up front?

Before I could collect my boxes I had to go to US customs at the port at Newark and complete paperwork and have some document signed for it’s release.  Luckily there was no charge for this.

Maybe it was me and I was being dizzy with everything else which was going on at the time I was packing, but I had to pay a further $300 just to collect my boxes.  And it had to be a cashiers cheque, not a personal one.

I really do understand procedures that are in place with companies, having worked for several large blue chip banks in the UK, I get it.  But really?   Come on.  I kind of feel like obstacles are just being put in my way and I’m being asked to jump through hoops like some kind of circus monkey or something.

So the day arrives that we can collect my shipment.  We turn up and I was told by the gentleman who collected all of my boxes in the UK what was going to happen.  You see I wanted to understand the procedure so I asked the question.  I was told that my boxes would be put on two pallets and black shrink wrapped.  If there were ANY damages at the other end, then I had to take note of them and make the company I was collecting them from aware of the damages.

Armed with this information on the day of collection, what did I find?  Yep.  You guessed it.  The shrink wrap was damaged and some of my boxes were battered.  The place where I collected the boxes from let us open the shrink-wrap to get the boxes on Tommy’s trailer.  Upon further investigation one of the boxes had a massive hole in.  It looked like a fork lift truck had gone through it.  I took pictures of all damages to the shrink wrap and every box that was damaged including the one with a hole.  The one with the hole contained my stereo and the fork lift truck had gone through the sub woofer.  The sub woofer was the power source for the whole stereo, so without this it won’t and doesn’t work.

I then proceeded to report this to Freightworld who put me in touch with the insurance people.  I’d paid an extra £300 in insurance for my shipment, under the advisement that it would cover me should anything go wrong.  I was thinking £300 is a lot of money but I guess it’s worth it right?

Ha!  The insurance company is saying that because I packed the goods myself I am not covered.  Here is their wording;

Cover 1 – Professionally Packed Only

This insurance covers All Risks of loss of or damage to the insured goods in accordance with Institute Cargo Clauses (A), War and Strikes Clauses (copies available on request) subject also to the exclusions below.

Cover 2 – Owner / Professionally Packed

As Cover 1 but excluding breakage, denting, chipping and scratching in respect of all property unless caused by fire or by the vessel or conveyance being stranded, sunk, burnt in collision or overturned.

What was the point of me taking out insurance in the first place?  Seems to me they will do anything to avoid paying out.  I have a battle on my hands, but have since been told there is a £50 excess.  Again really?  I am not a happy bunny today.  I think I’m going to go bake some bread which is my new hobby.