More visa woes

We just heard from our friend Helen that she was this morning denied a tourist visa to the US for the second time. Frankly, I find this difficult to believe. She has just purchased a house in Shanghai, something which should go a long way toward proving that she is going to return to China after a short visit in America. She is going to be accompanied by her boyfriend Brad during the entire trip. When will they introduce sanity to the visa-issuing process? It makes me realize how incredibly lucky Xianyi and I were to have ever received a tourist visa. I feel like we must have been guided through the gates by an angel or something. Buddha sneaked us past the guards.

Shutting the green card door

I just received this email from the US Consulate, Shanghai:


Notice to American Citizens regarding the filing of I-130 petitions

Recent legislation has led to changes in the procedures American citizens resident abroad will follow if they wish to sponsor an immediate relative (spouse, parent or minor child) for an immigrant visa. Effective immediately, the immediate relative petition (I-130) must be filed with the USCIS office responsible for the petitioner’s place of residence (that is, the place of residence of the American citizen who is filing the petition). Consular offices at U.S. embassies and consulates are no longer authorized to accept I-130s, although they will continue to provide guidance to American citizen petitioners and their family members. Responsibility for acceptance and approval of immigrant visa petitions rests solely with USCIS. American citizens should submit their I-130 at the CIS office responsible for their place of residence. This procedural change may result in a processing delay for some applicants. The Department of State recognizes and sincerely regrets the inconvenience this may cause.


What this means is that if we were submitting our I-130 today (instead of having done so last April), we would have to file it in the USCIS office responsible for New Jersey, which, as it happens, is located in Vermont.

Hopefully this will not affect us, as our I-130 has already been processed and approved (that happened last July). Now we’re working on something called a CR-1. But this is the US government we’re talking about, and it’s immigration, which is next to terrorism on the list of sensitive subjects for Uncle Sam, so you never know. The bulletin boards and blogs are going crazy right now with people freaking out about what is going to happen to their applications.

Why has this happened? Apparently it has something to do with “The Adam Walsh Child Protection And Safety Act Of 2006” which went into effect yesterday. Among other things, this has some provision which has been dubbed with the very War-on-Terror-friendly moniker “Operation Predator.” Am I the only one who thinks that sounds like a government plan to rape and kill children?

The Administration launched Operation Predator to help law enforcement track down and arrest foreign pedophiles, human traffickers, sex tourists, and Internet pornographers who prey on our children.

So now US embassies around the world are not accepting family-sponsored immigration petitions because of the risk that these spouses and other immediate relatives of American citizens are evil sex-crazed pedophiles.

To be fair, the new law does seem to do some good things, like integrate the individual states’ sex-offender registry systems into a national database, “helping prevent sex offenders from evading detection by moving from State to State.” Clearly that should have been done a long time ago.

Anyway, I’m still not sure how this will affect our application, or if it will affect us at all. I did pick up a good tip from the VisaJourney forum today, though: if we had an American co-sponsor (meaning another sponsor for Xianyi in addition to myself, one living in America), I wouldn’t need to have a job or residence. So we’ll be looking into that as well as employment.


NOTE: This is the email I sent out to many friends and family yesterday. We have received many replies of support, all of which I will answer within the next few days. There are quite a lot of them. Thanks, everybody.

Dear friends,

Yesterday Xianyi and I went to the US Consulate in Guangzhou for her immigrant visa interview. We got good news and bad news. The good news is that we passed; her application was accepted and the officers saw that our marriage is legitimate. The bad news is that they didn’t issue her a visa yet.

They said that because I have been living in China so long, have no property in America, never held a job in America and have not been offered a future job in America, I am not “legally domiciled” in the US and therefore cannot sponsor her as an immigrant. I had expected that the domecile issue might be a problem, but thought that we had offered proof of intent to move back to the States: the guidelines stated that one should show that he has kept up his American bank accounts (I offered ample proof) and kept a residence in America (I used my mom’s house, which is listed as my address on my checking account statements). Apparently, this is not enough.

It would have been helpful if they had said somewhere, clearly, that this would not be enough. On the letter of denial, the Consulate wrote that if we return with evidence that the sponsor (me) “intends to return to the United States and establish residence there and relinquish his residence overseas.” Bit of a catch-22 and quite ridiculous, if you ask me. Sponsoring your wife for a visa to the US is apparently not enough evidence of an intent to return to the US.

Anyway, all we have to do now is get me a job. Should I be offered employment in America, I only need to get a letter from the company stating their offer and mail it to the Consulate here in Guangzhou, who will then issue Xianyi’s visa. Not ideal, but not an outright denial, either.

So the job search is going to intensify, and we are going to be in China a little while longer (which we planned to be, anyway). Our lease in Shanghai runs out in July, so clearly we’d like to move on by then – but we’re still not sure what will happen. Once I am offered a job, it could still take a little time for the paperwork to clear, which makes it difficult to plan a move. It’s just extra added trouble from Uncle Sam that seems rather unnecessary to us. I’ll probably have to fly back to the States for job interviews, which means I’ll have to leave Xianyi here while I do so, something I never wanted to do, but have been forced to by these onerous regulations. I may even have to start working in America before Xianyi is totally cleared to enter the country, thanks to the bureaucrats who make the rules.

That is the extended explanation of what happened. Feel free to respond to this by leaving comments on the blog; we appreciate everyone’s support and even though we’re disappointed not to have the visa yet, we’re happy we’re going to be around the good people of Shanghai a little longer.

Zero Hour

It is now 6am in Guangzhou. Her visa interview is in exactly one hour and fifteen minutes. We are staying across the street from the American Consulate in the Grand Palace Hotel, which is comfortable enough and offers internet access…

We left yesterday morning, early, and now we’re up early again. Not looking forward to waiting outside the consulate, as Guangzhou is not as warm as it usually is, and yesterday was raining, so I’m worried we’ll be huddled under an umbrella for 3 hours before we can get inside. Even though our appointment is for 7:15, I have heard that a line forms outside and doesn’t move for hours. We plan on eating light, bringing snacks, and showing up early (like right after I finish this post).

We are excited, not nervous; we are excellently prepared. I have extreme confidence in her ability to sail through the interview and come out the other side with that stamp in her passport. And certainly we’re both looking forward to completing this chapter in the immigration saga and moving on to the next step. Wish us luck!

Visa Interview Scheduled!

Folks, this is it. The one we’ve been waiting for.

After months of stalling and strage emails/phone calls/faxes, we’ve finally got word:

The magic date is January 22, 2007.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was writing the consulate at the email address they had provided me to see if they could give me an estimate on when the interview would be. The email bounced. Checking their website, I found an online contact form which I used to ask my question. Five days later I got a message saying that my question could only be answered on the phone – even though the original letter I received from them said it could be done over email.

I called the number (which required using the final 2 minutes of my prepaid phone card, a special card JUST for calling the visa section of the consulate, which you can only purchase at a specific bank, and asked my question, adding, “Please hurry, before my time runs out.”

“They are running a background check on your wife.”

“And how long does that take?”

“I don’t know, I can’t tell you.”

“Can you guess?”


“Is there any former experience you have that could estimate for me how long a typical background check takes?”


And that was that. So I figured we were in it for the long haul. Then last weekend, while she was back in Chengdu on business, hanging out with her parents and eating her Mom’s food again, I was laying on the couch in Shanghai watching a movie when the doorbell rang.

What the…?

“Ni you kuai jian,” the doorman told me, and I wondered, Who has mail delivered at 8pm on Saturday night?

Only the US Government, I suppose. Victory is within our grasp, dear readers. Wish us luck.

How to get a US visa

Basically, it takes serious determination. Our experience has taught us that the US has a purposely Byzantine system of application for an immigration visa specifically to weed out those who are not full-throttle determined to get one. And really, you can’t blame the US. Just look at all the people trying to get into the country every day.

I neglected to mention it, but last month we received a package from the US Consulate in Guangzhou, where they process all the immigrant visas. They had received our application via Beijing (where it had been approved) and therefore had sent us “the next step.” See, information in this process is given out on a need-to-know basis, and until you reach any given step in the process, you don’t need to know about it.

US flagSo, we get the package and it’s full of papers, one of which is an “application for immigrant visa.” Forgive me if I thought we’d already filled that one out and had it “approved.” With it is a list of documents which we are to procure, including Yoyo’s birth certificate, passport, and something called a “police certificate” which basically asserts that she has never been arrested. But the wording is not clear on that and we weren’t sure whether she needed only one certificate, or one from “every locality” in China, or just one from each place where we had lived for more than 6 months. A call to the Consulate (for which one has to pay $6.50 for 12 minutes, including time spent answering questions by pressing numbers) gave no answers, as the woman on the other line kept saying things like “I think…” until I had to blurt out, “Is that what you think or is that the real answer? Because I’m not interested in what you think. I need to know the truth.”

Luckily, when we received the police certificate from Chengdu, which was procured by Yoyo’s parents (as were the rest of the docs, bless them), it stated unequivocally that Yoyo “has not been arrested in the whole of China through September 4, 2006.” So that seemed to clear it up.

This week I went to the Consulate to have my “affadavit of support” notarized. This is a crucial part of the application, as it seems the number one worry of the government is not that the immigrants it allows to enter the country will become terrorists, but that they will end up on welfare. The affadavit is therefore a way for them to reduce this risk by legally obliging me to take care of Yoyo (which, as her husband, I believe I already am. But not all immigrants are spouses…) I actually had to raise my right hand and “swear or affirm” to support her! Well, if that doesn’t get her into the country, I don’t know what will. Maybe we’ll have to go with Sascha‘s plan…

“Man, just bring her into Canada and take a dinghy out into Lake Superior. I’ll meet you there at midnight. No customs, no red tape, no problem.”

Green Card Square One

The Line

Above you can see the reason that it takes so long to get a green card or a visa to America. This is the line of people waiting to apply for one or the other outside the US Consulate in Shanghai this morning. This line is there every morning. The people just keep on coming.

As an American citizen, I do not have to wait on this line. And my wife is guaranteed eventual success in her bid for a US green card, unlike the majority of the people pictured above. However, because so many other people are married to Americans and waiting for green cards, there is a bureaucratic backup of approximately one year. Attention loved ones: this is a major reason I do not know when I will be returning to America. Please, for the love of God, stop asking me.

This morning I successfully filed the Petition on Behalf of an Alien Relative for Permanent Immigration to the US. The cost was $190 and many a red-tape hurdle. In fact, I should have filed it yesterday, but when I showed up to do so, I was presented with a brand new list of required documents, about half of which I did not have. So I had to come back today. And even though every document I’ve seen for the last year in my research, including the one handed to me yesterday, has said that the fee was $185, when I showed up today I was told that the fee had been raised. When I asked them if it had changed overnight, they said it had changed months ago. Why, then, was I given incorrect information just yesterday? “Oh, ” said the clerk, in a tone that suggested I should know better, “they never update those forms in Beijing.” It seems the Chinese method of bureaucracy is rubbing off on the American embassy. “Besides,” she continued, “it’s only five dollars.” I wanted to smack her.

We have a theory, one which is shared by many other applicants, that the US government purposefully makes it as difficult as possible to obtain a visa so that many people will be put off by the whole thing and just give up. By making would-be immigrants jump through hurdle after hurdle of red tape, getting these documents, filing these forms, paying those fees, they will weed out thousands of people who just aren’t persistent enough to keep up, and thereby lighten their own load of paperwork. It makes sense. But it doesn’t really work. In China, there is no possible way the US government could design a course strenuous enough to put people off. Not a people who have seen 50 years of mind-numbingly ridiculous bureaucracy become the standard form of government. And it clearly doesn’t work in Latin America, either.

One other funny note about today was the amount of chops the Consulate used on all my forms. I swear, with the amount of stamping, inking, sealing and signing that was going on, I thought I had accidentally ended up at the Ministry of Adoption.