Welcome to America

She and I have sometimes discussed the possibility of her becoming an American citizen. The usual waiting period for green card holders (permanent residents) is five years, but as the spouse of an American her waiting time is only 3 years; i.e., once she has lived here as a permanent resident for 3 years, she is eligible to become an American citizen.

Well, this summer it will be three years since we arrived back in New York, so the conversation has started to take on new urgency. In the past, we’ve debated the pros and cons. She already has a lot of rights as a permanent resident: she can stay in this country forever, and come and go as she pleases – the only restriction being that she would have to do some explaining if she stayed outside of America for over a year. And even that would be cool if, say, she or I was working for an American firm overseas. She’s entitled to Social Security and Medicare and unemployment benefits and federal student loans, and she’s allowed to hold a job. The only thing she can’t do is vote (which is odd, considering she has to pay taxes).

Being only a permanent resident, and not a citizen, she is able to retain her Chinese passport, which allows her easy entry back home. I do not believe the Chinese allow dual citizenship, though the Americans do. So if she became an American citizen, I think she might have to give up her Chinese passport, and she would have the same issues that I do when I travel there – getting a visa and keeping it valid in order to stay in the country. But I need to look into this more. It’s unclear how the Chinese would find out that she became American. Perhaps she could just keep Chinese citizenship on the sly. Her family is there and we intend to live there again in the future, not just travel back once in a while, so this is a big concern.

So it has been up in the air, and the standard end to the conversation has been: we’ll decide when we have to. But then she came home last week and, out of nowhere, said with conviction, “I want to be an American.” This was pretty surprising, because she likes to talk smack about “Americans” in the sweeping generalizations that are familiar to expats the world over. Anything she dislikes about a person or a specific group of people becomes a cut against all Americans. It’s wrong, but we all do it. I did it in China. “Chinese spit everywhere and wear their pajamas on the street!” is akin to “Americans wear shorts and flip-flops even in winter and would rather complain about their professor’s teaching methods than study the material.” So I’m always jabbing her about her digs on my countrymen the way she did at mine when we lived over there. And when she said she wanted to become a citizen, it was too rich. Wait, now YOU want to be an AMERICAN??? Haha!

It may have been the French thing that settled it. These French bastards (see how easy it is?) gave us all sorts of trouble about our upcoming trip and it looked like we might not get a visa. A visa, that is, for her, because American citizens don’t need visas to go to France, but American permanent residents do. They want to see an itinerary, hotel reservations which must be faxed, not emailed, a certain, unspecified amount of cash in the bank, paystubs, letters of invitation, insurance, the whole nine. Meanwhile, any bum with an American passport can just show up, and is welcomed with open arms, no questions asked. This is one of the many freedoms we Americans enjoy. (She got the visa in the end).

Another thing may be work-related. She has considered recently the idea of working for the American government, perhaps as part of the SEC, to join the effort to rein in the trolls who wrecked the economy. When she said this I thought it was one of the noblest things I have heard. Of course, her classmates laughed out loud when she said it in Financial Accounting: they all want to work for Goldman Sachs (“typical Americans”). I did not know this, but only American citizens are eligible to work for the federal government. Can you imagine what those Red Chinese will think of one of their own daughters working for the Imperial Dogs of Washington? It is too rich to contemplate.

We Done Did It

We got it!

After one year and one month, she finally has the government’s permission to enter the country. The process was long, expensive and weird, but in the end it wasn’t really that hard.

So when she showed up at the Consulate Wednesday, they informed her that she was approved, but that she’d have to wait another two days to pick up her passport and visa package. Should she not be available (she wasn’t – she had a flight back to Shanghai that night) they would gladly mail the documents back to her anywhere in … Guangdong province, which does not include Shanghai.

Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond

She was telling me this on the phone and already I was thinking about paying another two nights hotel lodging when she said, “So I arranged to have them mail it to my colleagues in Guangzhou, and have them mail it to me in Shanghai.” Smart girl!!!

This “visa package” involves some kind of documentation or other and we are NOT to open it by any means. We bring it to America with us, and it is opened on site by the immigration officer at the airport. What it contains, who knows or cares. We’re coming to America!

Cue the Neil Diamond!

Fingers Crossed


So today is the day.

Xianyi showed up in Guangzhou at the Consulate on Monday as instructed, only to be handed a piece of paper which said “Give us your passport and come back in two days.” Still no confirmation that she has actually passed their tests and been granted a visa!

She has had to just wait around in the city for the feds to come through. At least she went over to her company’s local office to check her email and keep busy for a while yesterday.

Today she will return to the Consulate at about 2:30 – two hours from now – and, God willing, be granted entry to the USA.

All our waiting has come down to this, it seems. Hope we get in!

Going to Guangzhou

We received the official letter from the Consulate, instructing Ms.P to return to their Guangzhou office anytime, “Monday to Wednesday, 2pm – 3pm”. Huge window there. So she has booked a flight for next Monday. I will stay home this time to save a little cash on flights. I really think this could be it.

It’s frustrating, though, because the letter, like the email, does not clearly say whether she will be granted a visa or not. I pointed out that we know for a fact any applicant who is granted an immigrant visa must be in Guangzhou in person with their passport to have it stamped, and then pick it up from the post office 1-2 days later. So that would seem to indicate she has passed. But she countered that maybe they have called her down there merely to retrieve the many documents of hers that they held onto, such as our marriage certificate, because they didn’t want to send them in the mail. Perhaps – but I think it would be awfully cruel of them to make her fly to Guangzhou just to be denied in person. I had hoped they would at least give us the truth in the mail and offer us the opportunity to pick up our docs in person or have them shipped.

But one can’t trust the immigration authorities to do anything one might consider civil or logical. After the ordeal one must go through to have his wife admitted to his own country – to have his rights honored by his own government, that is – one learns to withhold all the subconscious assumptions one would usually extend to normal social relations. In other words, one learns never to trust.

So that I may end on a happy note, here is a picture of us from a great party last weekend, taken by our friend, professional photographer Charlie Xia.

Blowing a kiss

Visit Charlie’s site and hire him to do work. He’s awesome.

Meanwhile, we will be hoping and praying that our ship has come in.

Could It Be?

Yesterday I sent an email to the consulate asking them when we would hear some info. So here I am working at the office, just off the holiday, when my Gmail notifier pops up this beauty:

From: Guangzhou Consulate Immigration Affairs
Thank you for your inquiry! We just sent out a notice on 5/7/07 to Ms.P  to inform her…

Aaaaa! What does it say??? I dropped everything and rushed to my inbox to read the full message:

…to come to this office for continued processing. Ms. P  should expect the mail within the next two weeks. Please advise Ms. P to follow the intructions on the notice when she receive it.

Aaaaaa! What does that mean???? I want to reach through the computer and scream, Just give me a YES or NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hysterics aside, it does sound good. We know that, if approved, she has to go to Guangzhou to have her passport stamped. It seems unlikely that they would make her fly to Guangzhou to be denied in person. Our hearts are racing – it’s nerve-wracking!
I relayed this to Dave online, who donated the following hilarious scenario:

She needs to travel to India…. find the mountain which is touched by the crescent moon… there she will find the magic rocks… which will be guarded by ENDOR the gatekeeper…. she should then steal the rocks and bring them back to the consulate…. where she will wait in line

At this point, I am ready to believe anything.

“You may enter,” says ENDOR

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.