I’ve even had people tell me this while we have been in the process for my wife, like I was doing something wrong or didn’t know the correct way. This misconception may come from more than a century ago when a foreign-born woman would gain U.S. citizenship (but not the ability to vote) if her husband naturalized or was a native-born citizen himself. The closest modern equivalent is an Active Duty servicemember going on an “accompanied tour” (meaning to be stationed outside the United States at a location where family members are allowed to be with them) with a foreign spouse that is in a U.S. Legal Permanent Resident (a term you will learn if you aren’t familiar with what it means, as it is very meaningful in immigration) status. The military expedites U.S. citizenship for the spouse blazingly quick (largely for their convenience of having only U.S. citizens at the post), which is quite an ironic contrast when you learn our story.
The reality is that marriage to a U.S. citizen doesn’t even provide the ability for lawful residency within the United States in itself, although it is defined by the U.S. government as “immigrant intent”. That also has an ironic implication, as the spouse does not then qualify for an easier obtainable “non-immigrant” visa (except for a specific “K-3” type, which I will cover later). It does, however, provide the ability to file an immigration petition with USCIS – the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency that is under Homeland Security.
I met my wife online after returning from a 15-month deployment with the U.S. Army – including a full year in Kuwait and Iraq. Upon returning to the United States, I switched service branches, returning to the U.S. Navy where I had served on Active Duty 12 years earlier, with three tours to the Persian Gulf aboard minesweepers before and during Desert Storm. Now I was in the Reserves as a Navy Seabee, in the IT field that was the same as my civilian employment.
After trips to Mexico, where I could visit without even having a passport (amazingly, I had been issued a diplomatic passport for my third Navy deployment, but it had expired a few years earlier), we began to talk marriage. I thought it would be a fairly easy process, even somewhat believing the myth of “instant” citizenship until I searched online. Those searches led to USCIS, whereupon I printed and filed an I-129F “Fiance(e) Visa” – with the petition fee – and started our waiting process.
In October of 2005, we determined that without any news of when the I-129F would be approved, we would marry and tell them during the interview. Marriage was more of a commitment, right? I continued to visit my wife and three stepchildren in Mexico, whom now qualified for a military dependent’s ID card since I was in the Navy Reserves, allowing them on almost any U.S. base worldwide – but not admit them into the United States.
The I-129F interview was in January 2006. We weren’t even let in the grounds of the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez. Our I-129F was invalidated, we had married, which would mean a different petitioning process – for an I-130 “Immigrant Visa” for her and each of the kids, and ironically another I-129F for a K-3 visa (and K-4 for each of my stepchildren), which was specifically for the spouse of a U.S. citizen.
The ‘K’-class visas are “non-immigrant”, but designed to admit the fiance(e)/spouse/minor children relatives of a U.S. citizen while their immigrant petitions are being decided. If that sounds like it takes some time – you are correct. If we had only stayed unmarried the three months before that first interview, we could have then adjusted status later while in the United States. It would have unified our family here – I was having to figure out how to pay our income taxes, applying for ITIN numbers from the IRS (which would be denied: if a person is viewed as eventually qualifying for a Social Security number, they cannot be issued an ITIN) – and simplified things tremendously had I known.
Some time after filing the I-129F and I-130 petitions, I was notified that our K-3/K-4 petitions were rejected. At that time, USCIS had different addresses for each petition type and would merge them for processing. Our “adjudicator” informed me that USCIS had forwarded our I-130 petitions slower through their system, so two months earlier the I-129F had arrived several days before the supporting I-130s. The fact was that he did have all the petitions at the point he denied the K-3/K-4 applications, but was canceling them based on a technicality.
We were required to file for another I-129F – more petition fees (whatever the outcome, petition fees are not refunded, and USCIS operates from petition fees, not taxpayer money) – and further waits. I had included notice of my military status with each petition form, to inform them that my Seabee unit had a high likelihood of being mobilized. Finally in May of 2007 my wife had an interview date set for the K-3/K-4 “non-immigrant” visas once again at the U.S. Consult in Ciudad Juarez.
It was a female interviewer, starting by asking my wife where her “husband” was. This wasn’t about me, but the man that had abandoned her and their children several years before in Mexico. When my wife answered truthfully that she didn’t know, the interviewer shouted “No!”, and threw our folder of documents across the table at her! The tension did ease when she leafed through the photos, and saw the last strange picture of me at the top of a tree in a Mexican park. What was I doing there she asked. I was risking life and limb to retrieve a soccer ball the kids had inadvertently kicked into the tree. That is where the interview eased, and my family was admitted to the United States, over eighteen months after my wife and I had married.
My unit now had a deployment date set for that October (to the hotbed of Fallujah, Iraq, for six to eight months), but I learned of a policy that if our I-130 petitions were not yet approved, and something happened to me (their immigration sponsor), they would lose the ability to stay in the United States. Remember when I talked about irony? I was getting ready to go on a fifth military deployment (unaccompanied), and if I was “killed-in-action” my family would be removed instead!
They did gain residency in January 2008, but I had chosen not to deploy with my unit. It tore at me, especially when I had volunteered to go on my third deployment with a crew I had trained with (having the same mission as my two prior deployments, and not wanting them to be with someone new in my position). I felt it was ending my military career, but didn’t want to risk my family losing everything we struggled for.
Within weeks of President Obama taking office a year later, he changed the K-3/K-4 policy, requiring an immigration hearing that would likely be successful if the immigration sponsor died while in service to our country. I would have had less of a worry to go on that fifth deployment had the policy been in effect earlier. President Obama is often lambasted for his immigration actions, but that first one would have made all the difference in the world for me.
We are now a month away from our ten-year anniversary, and my family has not naturalized yet. There has always something that has come up when saving away that much money weighed only against gaining the ability to vote. I did plan to file before we would be required to renew the Resident Cards in 2018. You can help if you would like, I’ve set up a page at “Go Fund Me”, Thank You for donating and sharing the link.