When Hong and I first got married, we applied for a green card for her. (Before that point, she had been in this country on an H1-B work visa.) We went to the INS office, took a number, waited in a crowd of 50 people (much like going to the DMV), and eventually had an interview with an INS agent to prove we were married. Unlike the sitcoms, he didn’t put us in separate rooms and grill us with personal questions like “What kind of toothpaste does your spouse use?” Our marriage license and the fact we appeared together was good enough for him.
When you marry an American citizen, though, they don’t give you an out-and-out green card, but a conditional green card that is only good for two years. After two years, if you can prove you’re still married, they’ll remove the condition and it will become a full green card. This deters any quickie marriages for the purposes of attaining a green card. Of course, it hasn’t worked out quite that easy so far.
After 9/11, the INS ground to a halt, presumably because they perform many more background checks on their applicants these days. When her two-year expiration was approaching, the INS (now reapportioned as a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security) sent her a letter saying they didn’t have the time to remove her condition but gave her a one year extension. That extension was due to expire on October 16 of this year.
Of course, we didn’t hear from them at all within that year, so Hong called them about a month ago. “Call us back when it’s 10 days away from expiring,” they told her. Thoughts of not being able to remove the condition and Hong getting deported are going through our minds. We stayed on the ball, though, and on October 6, Hong called again, at which point we made an appointment for 2pm the next day.
I blocked out the entire latter half of the afternoon in my calendar, thinking that if we show up at 2pm, they won’t be able to see us until 4:30 due to the queue of people who got there before. But once we entered (after being checked for bombs and weapons), we found the place was completely empty. Apparently, they only do things by appointment now; I guess the idea of having 50
potential terrorists immigrants in one room is too much to handle these days. In any event, we were seen promptly at 2pm, and was given…another one year extension. “Oh well,” I joked, “I guess that means we have to stay married for another year.”