Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Year Of Hell For a Life of Bliss (How We Dealt With A K1 Visa)

Well, today is the day. My baby finally fucking comes home to me. It's been a long, hard year and I couldn't have made it without my friends by my side. I owe a debt to each and every one of them that I can only hope to one day repay. They all got me through what was easily the roughest patch of my life.

Liv and I
What happened? My incredible life-mate went with only a bag of clothes to Sydney to visit her family at Christmas for two weeks, and was stuck there for an entire fucking year. Most people and most relationships could never weather a storm such as this, but we managed it. In a testament to how big of a badass this girl is, after initially (and completely reasonably) freaking out, she had a job and lodging within weeks of this horrid news. She is the hardest working, most talented, never-say-die person I have ever encountered in my life and will be proud to call her my wife in the coming months. 

For those of you who do not know, my fiancé took said vacation home for Christmas last year and was not allowed back in the country. To add to the kick-in-the-ass of this, I had just signed the lease on a house for us so that we no longer had to sleep in my buddies bedroom. This kept me from simply moving to Australia, which I assure you was my knee-jerk reaction. She was out here visiting on the ESTA Visa Waiver program, and our plan was for her to get visit family, get a Holiday B2 Visa and return to me in two weeks time. That never happened. She was denied the visa due to her having a boyfriend in the United States and them suspecting her of traveling over and potentially attempting to marry under false-pretenses. Basically, a bunch of fucking bullshit. Once flagged as "being denied" you are no longer allowed to travel abroad on the ESTA Visa Waiver, basically FORCING you to get some type of Visa if you are to ever reenter the country.

The consulate made their ruling on the fact that we were unprepared for her interview. So for those of you who may see yourself in this predicament, I will outline what we went through with as much clarity as I feel comfortable in doing. Our rationale was that since they denied us, we merely needed to make a stronger case in order to proceed. So she went to work on a plan to come and visit the US on an ACTUAL holiday. We bought her music-festival tickets, were going to take a planned cross-country trip, and it all had the benefit of being legit. Money was spent. However, her being denied once put us on a blacklist and they almost immediately denied her second attempt at the B2 Holiday Visa without so much as a look at her documents. Gotta fucking love America sometimes.

At this point we were fastly running out of options and we began to consider the K1 Fiance and K3 Marriage Visa (K3 isn't ACTUALLY the marriage visa, its a type of expediting a husband/wife into your country, the CR1 is the actual Visa). But this is a HUGE step for a couple and we decided we needed some time to consider it. During this time, we also decided that it would be in our relationships interest if we were to see each other (it had been 3 months up to this point). However, I had just got us a house to rent so I was flat broke. Once again, my amazing counter-part stepped up to the plate and bought me airfare to come and visit her.

On my first trip to Sydney
This was amazing of her, but the three week planned trip didn't allow me the time off work to still cover my bills in my absence from work. Thankfully I have some pretty kickass bosses and we worked out a deal: I was allowed to work extra hours to build vacation time to use during my absence. Throughout this year, I made 4 trips to Australia for at least two weeks at a time. When I wasn't there, doing a freelance gig, or on a movie-set, I was at my desk. Eating, breathing, sleeping, showering, at work. I would work until 2AM, catch a 3 hour nap, wake back up at 5, take a shower, and then guzzle 60 OZ's of coffee each and every day, seven days a week. I did this for an entire 9 months, living under my desk in order to be able to visit my love. This resulted in 6-8 weeks of absolute torture to my body, and occasionally my mind, followed by 2-3 weeks of vacation. I'm firmly convinced that the back and forth has aged me more this year than the last ten years of my life.

32 Page K1 Packet
So in late August I purposed to her and the day I returned from my trip, we filed for the K1 Fiance Visa. The entire packet was over 32 pieces of evidence and forms documenting who we are and every nook and cranny of our relationship. Ever the impatient one, the day we got out NOA1 (stating the government has received your request) I also filed ten additional pages for an expedite based on my money situation. I cannot and will not go into the entire criteria I used to get this expedite, but much of it was claiming a severe potential-financial loss due to my constant inability to be at work. This was true, if I was not at work, it stood to reason I might not be able to make money. It was also true that I was missing out on freelance gigs left and right out here due to the situation.

Many people get upset when you "clog" the system with expedites, after all, everyone wants to be first due to impatience. I suppose this is a valid concern, but here is my logic: Fuck 'em. In this kill or be killed world, I would not fault anyone doing anything they could to procure their significant-others happiness. If that means they beat me to the punch, then I should have tried harder, lobbied more, worked smarter, or just refused to say die. Survival of the fittest in every way, keep up or get left behind. Admittedly a cold way to be, but when the options are sink or swim, failure is no option.

I was checking out our CVC (California Visa Center) receipt number daily which allows you to track the process from submitted to accepted. 3 weeks later our expedite was approved (although looking back at historical averages for visas at the time we probably only saved 3-5 weeks) and we received out NOA2 (stating that the packet had been forwarded to the National Visa Center) about 2 days after. At this point we thought that we were on the fast track to getting the approval for the visa, however, due to issues within the government (I believe the Texas Visa Center had recently sent in an abmormal amount of approved visas to the NVC) we still had weeks to wait.

The NVC instructed me after the 5th time that I called them that I should wait 4 weeks to hear from them and they would tell me as to it's acceptance in their system. Basically the NVC just forwards out approved petitions to consulates throughout the world, but they do so in the order received and no preferential treatment is available. I had them SWEAR to me that they would email me the second it was approved. They told me that they had my email address on file and they would automatically email me when the visa was processed. Well... they didn't. Bastards. They caused me to sweat an entire extra week that our application had been lost so when I called on the third week they said, "Oh yeah, that was sent out a few days ago, we don't always email people when that happens". My recommendation? Call them twice a week regardless of whether they want you to or not. It can be VERY hard to get someone on the phone there, although it can be an hour wait at most times. Why press them? Because you NEED their assigned NVC number as soon as possible for the next step.

This pic personifies our relationship
Next up is the medical screening for the fiance. Now for most countries, there are 1-2 doctors that can perform this per major city and most of these doctors refuse to set up an appointment until you have your NVC number (due to this now being your MAJOR tracking number). The importance on getting then the NVC number is due to how few doctors VS how many applicants there are for the screenings. Wait times can be up to a month and in most cases you CANNOT schedule your final interview without having already passed it. Getting your NVC number to them as soon as it is assigned could shave weeks off of your appointment. Also, receptionists are one of the few human elements in this process. If you pester them enough, or give them a good enough reason, you may be able to bump up your appointment a few weeks if you are selective with your words.... we got ours within the week.

Once you have your medical screening finished, you book your final interview appointment. At some consulates, this can be expedited. At the Sydney consulate we were dealing with, this was next to impossible. We sent emails, faxes, and phone calls to attempt to expedite our appointment for valid reasons. However they didn't seem to even read our correspondence. They went ahead and booked the interview 3 weeks ahead, and two weeks into waiting finally responded to our request saying that we were already booked in the next possible appointment. Lovely, thanks guys....

Initial approval
Have a duplicate of absolutely everything you submitted throughout this entire process with you when you finally attend your date. For us this was about 60+ pages of documentation at this point. Be ready to be grilled about everything from what you will do as a vocation to what your significant-other will be wearing to the wedding. They honestly have to have and INCREDIBLY valid reason to turn you down at this point, so be comfortable with your truth and don't stress. Just answer their multitude of questions and you too will walk out with a little sheet of paper with your name scribbled on it saying you were approved. They will mail you out your visa the following week.

So that's it. An entire year of both our life's were completely put on pause in order to be with one another. The entire visa process took 4 months with expediting, a far cry from the typical 6-8 months. Did it suck? Fuck yes it did. At times we both went through bouts of depression, anxiety, paranoia, severe sleep-deprivation, etc. But it was worth it. We both now know how incredibly committed we are to each other, and have came out stringer as a result. I love this girl and am firmly convinced that no one in the world could have handled this ordeal with as much dignity and grace as she has. Today I am whole again.


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