I have been in the US for almost six months and I definitely feel settled and happy. I can’t believe I moved to America from Australia! I had forgotten how anxious I was before I arrived, but today I found a chain of emails between myself and a long-time friend, and the discourse was carried out between arriving at Sydney Airport prior to flying out, and finally before stepping onto my last flight which would take me from LA to Charlotte. It is raw and it reminded me of how utterly exhausted and frazzled I was.
The immigration process was intense and it took a considerable amount of time and effort (and money!). A lot of people have asked how I immigrated to America, so here’s a run-down of what was involved, and my fragile emotional state. It’s really important that readers understand that this was emotionally taxing like nothing I had ever experienced before — I cannot separate the emotion from the actual process. There’s no quick way to share this so please bear with me. Also, remember that I came over on a K1 Alien Fiance(e) Visa, so this information only applies to those who are engaged to an American citizen.
Jim and I became engaged in March of 2020 and within days COVID hit. We assumed it would just be a few weeks of lockdown and everything would get back to normal, but as we now know, that didn’t happen. In fact everything closed down, and after a while, so did the US Consulate in Sydney, which was where I had to go for an interview. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The process started with filling out a tonne of paperwork. The paperwork included a lot of information about me, past marriage/s, employment, finances, criminal records etc. They literally want to know everything about you and rightly so; you are considered a threat to the country until they establish who you are and why you want to move here. I’d expect the same level of security for anyone wanting to immigrate. They also needed to know a lot about Jim’s financial status as he would in effect be sponsoring me, and that includes full financial support (unless I had zillions of dollars and could support myself). When you come to America on the K1 Alien Fiance(e) Visa you cannot work in the USA until you have applied for and received a Work Permit and/or a Green Card. That takes a lot of time, so you need financial support as you are not entitled to any government financial assistance. This is really important to understand — getting here is only the beginning!
That pile of paperwork, which took weeks to complete (as they also needed many documents to prove your identity, relationships, finances etc), was sent to Jim in the US who then completed his part as the sponsor, and then he posted that off to Texas to the USCIS (Immigration). We received notice that they’d received it, and then nothing. Literally nothing for months. Immigration was on skeleton staff if that, because of COVID being in full swing, so nothing happened. Finally, in August 2020 we received notification that the paperwork had been reviewed and accepted! I was granted conditional approval. I was hysterical — doing this crazy laugh-cry thing that probably needed sedating. We felt as though we were on the downhill slide — WRONG. Far from it.
The next step was that our paperwork would be sent from Immigration in the USA to the American Consulate in Sydney, where I would have to attend an interview. Sending the paperwork wouldn’t take that long, but the Consulate was closed for anything but urgent issues. We could do nothing but wait. Meanwhile, President Trump had suspended most forms of immigration (K1 visas being one of the few modes not suspended). There is a time limit on the approval, and ours expired before I had my interview. However, because of COVID they agreed to extend it if we provided a letter stating we still planned to pursue the application.
It wasn’t until January 2021 that we heard back from the Consulate, with a date for my visa interview, and it was booked for only a few weeks away. I had a lot to do to prepare for it. More forms to fill out, more fees to pay, and I had to schedule a medical ASAP so there would be time for the report to be sent to Sydney (I lived in Queensland). The medical was very expensive and it included a thorough examination, vaccinations, a chest xray to test for TB, and blood tests to check for sexually transmitted diseases. The report was done quickly and forwarded to the Consulate as it was part of my application.
I booked my flight to Sydney and struck major issues. The Queensland border was closed to NSW (Sydney is in NSW) — I could leave QLD, but to go back required getting permission and an expensive, mandatory three-week quarantine in a government mandated hotel (all at my expense). I knew that I had to do it, so I booked the flight and did all the paperwork. I would be flying down and back in a day. Well that didn’t happen. My flight was cancelled only days before I was due to leave because the flights were largely empty. I could fly down but not get back, so I had to rebook my flights according to availability, and that meant leaving the day before the interview, and coming back the day after. As I had to go into a three-week quarantine I also had to drag a massive suitcase with everything I would need for three weeks, including laptop etc so I could work from my hotel room. That suitcase was so heavy I paid a small fortune to get it on my flight.
The interview itself was nerve wracking. You are interviewed in front of everyone else applying and they can hear all of the private conversation. Added to that, you have a mountain of paperwork and are answering questions about your relationship — be prepared for this. The officers are very professional and courteous, but it is an intense process. Despite the weeks of work I had put in, and reading the instructions meticulously, I didn’t have all of the correct paperwork (including the correct federal police check and envelope size), so I was rejected pending documentation. I was utterly crushed. Jim and I had worked so hard to get through the process and it felt as though it was all over. I cried and cried, and woke up with a migraine so bad the next day that I couldn’t make my flight. I could barely stand up. I ended up staying seven days in total as the mandatory quarantine was to be lifted, so staying four extra days would save me the almost $3000 quarantine. The flight back cost double what it should have as the border had opened and the flights were full.
Once I made it back to Brisbane I collected all of the documentation (I can’t begin to tell you the dramas I had there, so I won’t!), and I mailed it off. It took two months to get all of the documentation because of a clerical error with a government department. Within two-and-a-half-days of the correct paperwork being received by the Consulate, my visa turned up via courier and I was stunned — it had dragged on for a year, and then all of a sudden it was all systems go. By this stage it was the end of March. Once the visa arrived I booked my flights (more dramas and huge expenses with COVID flight cancellations), and I had twelve days to pack up my house and a million things to organise. I had just sold my car in anticipation and was borrowing a friend’s, and I had also quit my job. I was so anxious that it would all fall through after so much drama that I couldn’t sleep and I felt really unwell. My friends worked tirelessly to pack up my house, clean it up and move me out. We sent over boxes of stuff I wanted to keep ($1000 worth of postage), but ultimately gave away the majority of my life. I was determined to take two suitcases only, and we managed to do that.
Have a think about this. If you look around your house at all of your belongings, and you can only take two suitcases of your entire life, and a few small boxes, what would you take? I’m in my fifties so I had a lifetime of personal things — little drawings my daughter had done at pre-school, her first baby blanket, my favourite mugs, photo albums, gifts, your favourite pairs of shoes. And what about that drawer of bits and pieces that you may need one day? Everything had to be culled until two suitcases were filled — I can’t tell you how heart-wrenching it is to have to leave behind so much of yourself. You’re also leaving behind your lifestyle, your favourite people and places. The familiarity of everyday that we take for granted until it has gone. This process is purely emotional, and it saps you of energy and joy. I was so fragile by this stage I just cried a lot.
The next real hiccup was trying to leave Australia. With closed borders I had to apply to leave the country, and my initial application was rejected as I hadn’t submitted enough proof of why I needed to leave — Australia wanted to be sure I wouldn’t be returning in a month with COVID. I did all they required and received final approval quickly, but it was three days before I was due to fly out! It was down to the last minute. I had issues with visa info for the airline, but that was because of the stupidity of the call-centre which was offshore, and not the actual staff working on the ground. As a result, I was up all night trying to get through to Homeland Security in the USA to get some information regarding my particular visa and that was a huge waste of time because the airline gave me the incorrect information. I then had to squeeze in a specific travel COVID nasal swab (that cost $150) within a certain amount of hours before I flew out, and the only testing centre open was an hour’s drive away through flooded roads as the East Coast of Australia just happened to be flooding as I was trying to leave the country. It seemed like I would never make it and I seriously thought about quitting — I went one step forward and two steps back continually. I remember crying hysterically to my friend and saying that the anxiety of whether I’d actually make it out of the country was taking its toll, and she said so wisely, “Just one step at a time. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, even if you’re terrified.” And that’s exactly what I did; one step at a time. I also managed to burn my right hand severely with boiling water, and that required daily dressings, and meant I could not use that hand.
My friends picked me up and drove me to the airport, with me sobbing as I knew that this would be goodbye for who knows how long? Forever maybe? I flew down to Sydney safely and peacefully, stayed one night at a Sydney Airport hotel, and then turned up to the international terminal the next morning. I was grilled by security who had become really militant with the COVID scare, but after making it through all of the humps with all of the correct paperwork and my negative COVID swab results which came through in time, I was allowed onto my flight, crying like a baby, and finally left the country. I had a fourteen-hour flight to Los Angeles, and once I arrived there I had to go through another interview with Homeland Security to be allowed to enter the USA on my visa. I was so exhausted and fragile, but the officer was incredibly kind and professional, and I made it through the process quickly. I had a seven-hour layover in LA, and then boarded my final flight to Charlotte which was filled to the brim, and we flew through storms the entire time.
I’m not going to lie, this was one of the most emotionally gruelling processes I’ve ever been through. Many times I asked Jim if this was worth it, and I questioned if I had it in me to keep fighting. Many times I didn’t have it, but Jim did, and so did my friends. That may sound stupid, but I felt as though my life was in the balance for twelve months. I was in a state of limbo; would I ever get there and would it be possible to actually give up life as I knew it, to start a new life in another country with a man I hadn’t seen for twelve months because of COVID closures. It felt as though I was jumping out of a plane without a parachute over and over again. Now that I’m here and married I know that it was absolutely the right thing to do, but I don’t think I could manage it again. We have submitted our final paperwork which was a change of visa status, an Affidavit of Support, and a Work Permit, (the K1 Alien Fiance/e Visa only lasts for 90 days so you have to get married and get that paperwork in ASAP, with a lot more money), and now we sit back and hope all of the paperwork was filled in correctly with all of the right documentation. Next we had a biometrics appointment which was organised by the USCIS, and after that, a final immigration interview will be scheduled, where we need to show proof that this is not a sham, or Green Card marriage. All of this can take up to twelve months. Once all that goes through and it is approved, I will be issued with a Social Security number and a Green Card. We could have paid a lawyer to do it all, but the whole process was expensive enough as it was, and we didn’t want to spend more than we already had. We also didn’t know it would be so hard, or else I think we would have had an immigration lawyer throughout the entire process.
So my advice if you’re thinking of doing this is to be prepared for how hard it is. It’s hard, I can’t stress that enough. It took everything I have. The unknown and waiting is awful — trying to live between two countries and feeling like you don’t have a home. You need to really love your fiance/e and be willing to give up much of your life for them. The pay-off is pretty great though. America is a wonderful country despite what the media might tell you, and I am so glad to be here with Jim. If you want more practical information about the paperwork and documents required please message me — I’d love to help out and support you emotionally. Until then, I will be resting after the arduous process I have been through!