Friday, August 17, 2012

Entering the US with CR-1 Spouse Visa / Applying for Social Security Number / Receiving Green Card

Thought I would post a quick update for everyone.  My wife and I entered the US in June, and everything went smooth at the airport.  Yes!

My wife showed her US visa stamp in her passport to the immigration official at the airport, and then handed over her visa packet from the US Embassy (we brought the required chest x-ray from the doctor in Malaysia who told us immigration may require it upon entering the US, but immigration never asked for it). The official brought us back to the office, where he took fingerprints of my wife and had her sign a couple of forms. He stated that she would receive her green card within 6 months, mailed to our address in the US. And finally, he provided a form for my wife to submit to a social security office in order to apply for a social security number.

A few days after our arrival, we drove to the nearest social security office and applied for a social security number. To apply, we completed a simple form at the office, handed over the form that we received from the airport immigration official, and showed my wife's passport. About a week later, my wife received her social security card in the mail, allowing her to start work immediately.

The green card arrived about a month after our arrival. It shows an expiration date of two years from now. I haven't looked into the details yet, but I believe we need to make some sort of declaration/confirmation of permanent residence about 90 days before the expiration of the card.

[FINAL UPDATE IN MAY 2016: I hope this blog has helped you with your own application!  I'm sorry, I won't be able to answer comments or emails any longer.  It's been almost 5 years since I went through the process, so I wouldn't want to provide any incorrect information to you.  I'm sure some details on this blog will still be relevant, but since it was written in 2011, there must have been many updates to the process since then.  Therefore, please check the USCIS website, and more recent forums for current information. All the best to you and your family!]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Final thoughts on CR-1 Visa Process

It took us exactly 13 months from beginning the CR-1 Visa process to receiving the stamp in my wife's passport.  We were not in as much of a hurry as others might be, so some delays were on us like setting the application aside for a couple weeks to work on other things.  Other delays may have been our fault because we were not sure of the exact process, e.g. waiting for the NVC to send us a checklist and forms, when we were supposed to go to their website and print them off and get started.

Other delays related to mailing forms from Malaysia to the US, and vice-versa, delays in back and forth emails with the US Embassy, delays from required travel to Kuala Lumpur many times, and a trip to Singapore to get the police certificate of conduct.  And finally many delays related to processing times at the USCIS, NVC, and the US Embassy.

So yes, we could have completed the entire process in less than 13 months if we had been extremely proactive and put this application as priority above everything else in our life.  But even if we did, because of so many unforeseen delays, it probably would have still taken at least 9 months to complete.

Overall, the process was tedious, but not overly difficult.  If you have the time, and want to save money, do it yourself like I did.  However, if you are in a hurry and don't mind spending a bit more money, you can always hire a professional to help you with the process.

Whatever you decide, I wish you and your family all the best in the visa process and a very happy life together in the US!

CR-1 Visa Complete!

My wife made her final bus journey to Kuala Lumpur to pick up her passport with the CR-1 Visa stamped inside and to take hold of a thick, sealed packet of forms to hand over to the US immigration upon arrival in the US.  The Embassy actually outsources this process, so she picked everything up at another building in KL. 

The CR-1 Visa stamp in her passport expired 4 months from the date of the stamp.  I read from others that they sometimes give up to 6 months, but that may be 6 months from the date of the medical checkup.  Anyway, the expiration date is the latest date that my wife can enter the US to receive her Green Card.  If she doesn't enter by that date, then the visa is void.  After one year of this fun process, we made sure to plan on being back in the US at least a month before that date!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Final CR-1 Visa Processing at US Embassy

I left off in my last post about my wife applying in person for her Singapore certificate of good conduct.  It was supposed to take two weeks to process, and then be directly mailed to the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

After two weeks, I emailed the US Embassy in KL inquiring if they had received the form.  Within a day, I received an email stating they had not.  I then called the Singapore police, and they informed me that they had just mailed it out to the US Embassy in KL that day.  Therefore, I waited a few more days, and then emailed the US Embassy again.  One day later, I received an email reply stating they had received the form.  In the email, they also provided an appointment time for my wife to go to the Embassy to drop off her passport.  The appointment was scheduled in just a few days time, and with such short notice, we couldn't change our schedule.  I then had to email them back and ask them to reschedule the appointment for the following week.  A day later, I received an email reply with the rescheduled appointment time.

Sorry, probably a lot of unnecessary details there.  But the point I am trying to make is that each step of this process - no matter how simple it might be - will take time.  So plan ahead, this entire visa process will take longer than you think.

To further that point, my wife took a bus from Penang down to KL and dropped off her passport at the Embassy at the appointment time.  We assumed that since it was a Monday (we purposely scheduled the appointment on a Monday, so the visa could be processed without any weekend delays), that the visa would be processed within 2-3 days.  The Embassy worker informed my wife that the Embassy staff would be having a couple of days of teamwork training, so everything would be delayed.  My wife was willing to stay until Friday to pick it up, but the Embassy worker informed her because of the training, she would have to come back the following week to pick it up.  My wife informed her that she was living in Penang, and it was very inconvenient to have to take a 5 hour bus back to Penang, then another 5 hour bus back to KL the next week to pick the passport up, and finally another 5 hour bus back home to Penang.  The Embassy worker looked at her and said confusingly, "You live in Penang?"   Let's just say we are happy this visa process is a one-off experience...

So again, I do want to make the point to plan ahead, give yourself lots of time to get this visa process done, because you will run into delays.  It took us 12-13 months from starting the CR-1 Visa process to finally having the visa stamped in my wife's passport.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Update to Singapore Certificate of Conduct (Singapore Police Certificate)

As I mentioned in my last post, my wife was informed at her visa interview at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur that her CR-1 visa was approved, but would not be issued until she submitted the required Singapore Certificate of Coverage (Singapore police certificate).

Let's go back to the beginning.

An applicant is required to submit police certificates for any country they had lived in for at least 12 months since they were 16 years of age.  My wife is Malaysian, and had lived in Singapore for many years.  Therefore, she is required to submit police certificates for both Malaysia and Singapore.

My wife applied for the Malaysia police certificate, but could not apply for the Singapore certificate because of their new rules about issuing the certificates only to their citizens.  Singapore will only issue it to non-citizens if the applicant can provide an official appeal letter explicitly stating that it is required.  In this case, since the National Visa Center requires the certificate, the NVC should provide the letter to the Singapore police.  However, to be safe, I also contacted the US Embassy in Singapore to see if they could help with the letter.  They replied:

"Please submit the memo of Singapore Police to NVC. NVC/Processing Office will issue a letter for her to present to Singapore Police when they are ready for her."

Okay, it sounded pretty clear that the NVC could help me with the letter.

At this point, I had completed all the required forms/documents for the NVC, except for the police certificates - Malaysia one was applied for but we needed to wait the 6 weeks for it to be processed, and the Singapore one could not be applied for without a letter from the NVC.  So I called the NVC and they told me to submit everything I had completed, and they would respond after with what is still outstanding.  So I sent them everything, and directly stated on my cover letter that my wife was still waiting for the Malaysia police certificate, and that we would need a letter from the NVC to request the Singapore police certificate (you can see my cover letter here).

As expected, I received a response from the NVC about a month later with details of what was missing (you can read my post about it here). However, the letter only showed that my wife was missing the Malaysia police certificate - there was no mention of the Singapore police certificate.  So I called the NVC to inquire, and the officer told me that the Singapore certificate was no longer available.  That was surprising, so I asked a couple more times in the conversation to confirm that my wife did not actually need to submit the certificate, and it was clear she did not.  I was feeling pretty good at that point because that was one less form to worry about.

Once my wife received her Malaysia police certificate, we mailed it to the NVC.  About a month later, we received a response letter from the NVC stating the application was complete and my wife's interview at the Embassy was scheduled. On the last page of the letter, it showed a list of all the documents requested by the NVC.  On the list, it showed the Singapore Police Certificate, but it was marked - "The applicant has informed the NVC that the required document is unavailable."  That was a bit strange since I contacted them earlier - both through a letter and a phone conversation - that my wife needed an appeal letter to apply for the Singapore certificate, and they told me it was no longer available.  Because I had received this verbal confirmation, and since my wife's application was approved and sent to the Embassy already, I assumed the certificate was not needed. 

Jump to the present time.  My wife has her interview at the Embassy and the officer informs her that she needs the Singapore Certificate of Conduct.  And the officer provides her with the official appeal letter to submit to the Singapore police to request the certificate.  Why didn't the NVC tell us that earlier?  There must be a severe lack of communication between the NVC and the Embassies, and of course that means the applicants and their families have to waste time and money trying to figure this all out.  What a mess.

Instead of further delays trying to apply for the Singapore police certificate through the mail (you need official fingerprints, a bank draft from a Singapore account, and so on), my wife decided to just get it done in person.  So she flew down to Singapore that same night, so she could apply in person the following morning:

Applicants residing in Singapore are to appear in person at the COC Office located at Blk D Police Cantonment Complex, #02-07/08, 391 New Bridge Road, Singapore 088762. The office is open from 8.30am to 12.30pm, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays).

She just brought her passport, two passport-sized photos, and $45 Singapore dollars.  The process went smoothly, and the Singapore police informed her that the certificate would be issued in two weeks, and mailed directly to the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Hopefully, the Embassy will contact us when they receive the certificate, but we will probably have to follow up in two weeks. Once they receive it, my wife will have to journey down to Kuala Lumpur again and drop her passport off while they process the visa.  That will take at least two more days of her time (I will write a post on it after my wife receives her visa).

Just a few thoughts on this mess:
  • I think for anything really important, call the NVC twice, so you can get two different opinions.  The first officer you talk to may be new, or unsure, and give you incorrect instructions. The NVC very well may issue the appeal letter if you talk to the right person.  You will need to check yourself to confirm.
  • I probably should have contacted the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur as well.  The problem is the Embassies do not take calls, and when you email them, they send you template replies that don't really answer your question.  
  • Even after all of this, I am still confused on the process.  Maybe what happened is the standard process?  That is, the applicant goes for the interview, and then the Embassy officer provides the appeal letter to apply for the Singapore certificate?  Because it seems like the Embassy won't deal with you until they are provided with your file from the NVC.  If that's the case, I think the best option is to immediately contact the US Embassy you are working with once you receive confirmation from the NVC that your file has been sent to the Embassy.  Ask the Embassy for the appeal letter (may have to go to the Embassy in person to request?), so you can apply for the Singapore certificate before your interview.  I can't understand why the NVC doesn't inform applicants that they will not issue the appeal letter, and that applicants should contact the Embassy to request it?
I really do hope that from my experience - and writing it down here - that I can prevent any of you out there from having to go through the same thing.  Good luck and all the best!