A continuation of this journal.
You’d think that, 38 months after our wedding, we would be all through with the expenses. Not true, when you marry an alien.
Oksana has been keeping an eye on the calendar and, back in February, it was time for her to submit another INS form. Her temporary green card (i.e., her permission to work in the U.S.) was about to expire and she needed to apply for the permanent extension. We fired up the internet, sussed out the appropriate I-551 form, and started to compile the appropriate paperwork. We wrote a check for the form submission fee ($200!) and packaged it up in an envelope with 20 pages of supporting documents. It was mailed off to Anchorage on February 3rd ($4.30).
A couple months later, we received notification that our paperwork was in process – that was a good thing, because Oksana’s temporary green card would have expired in May.
In late August we received another letter from the Anchorage INS office informing us that her petition for a permanent green card (for the INS, permanent apparently means “ten years”) had been approved and that she only need to do a couple things to make it official.
Step One: Provide three passport-sized photos.
Step Two: Submit the photos. In person… at the Anchorage office.
In the past, we had come across conflicting messages about which Alaskan INS offices could perform which actions, so we were skeptical about the necessity of flying all the way to Anchorage just to sign something. Oksana stopped by the local office to ask if, contrary to the instructions, someone in Juneau could witness her signature. Unfortunately, the answer was no.
There was no deadline stated in the letter, so we decided to wait before booking an appointment online. In late September, Oksana and I both received e-mails about an Alaska Airlines web special. That morning, she was able to arrange to take two days off from work, booked the appointment, and purchased a round-trip ticket to Anchorage ($177.90).
Back at home, we decided, once again, to create the passport photos ourselves. The INS has a seven-page .pdf document that outlines, in excessive detail, the specifications for an acceptable photo – right down to the nature of the subject’s smile. While I studied the form, Oksana made herself pretty. We then set our digital camera on a tripod in the kitchen and sat her down on step-ladder. Five or six photos later, we had a picture with which she was happy.
I took it into Photoshop and cloned out the shadows on the wall, cropped it to their exacting standards, resized it so that we could easily fit three copies on a single, 4″ x 6″ print, and sent Oksana off to Fred Meyer to make copies. ($.68) She came home, cut them out, and attached them to the paperwork as required.
I used to worry about submitting my own photography for something as official as an INS photo, but I no longer sweat it. In house, I can afford much more attention to detail to things like lighting (not to mention smile mechanics) than your average passport photographer. And now that we can easily submit digital photos for true photographic print processing, there’s really nothing to separate out the “home jobs” from the “pros.”
Oksana left on September 29th, a Thursday, and returned to Juneau on Saturday. Besides the cost, there was no real burden in her trip to Anchorage. She stayed with Anya, who also helped shuttle her around, and they were joined for a night or two on the town with Lena and Ala – all Russian friends she knew, originally, from Juneau.
The trip to the INS was painless, too. She stopped in after lunch, mistakenly neglected to “take a number” because she assumed that her on-line scheduled appointment overruled such necessity, but then, a few minutes after her scheduled time, politely asked what to do. Paperwork here, photos there, inked-up right index finger here, sign in the box, thank you for stopping by. Although they confiscated her temporary card, they put a stamp in her passport that would allow her to travel outside the country and let anyone official know that her new card was in process.
And that was it; the whole trip for a 20 minute encounter.
At least it was productive. Oksana returned on Saturday, October 1st, and we received her permanent (well, 10-year) green card in an extremely, amazingly, astoundingly short 19 days later.
One other bit of good news we learned as a result of this trip: Oksana will be eligible for citizenship in May 2006! We had heard that it would be another 2 or 3 years after the permanent green card was awarded before she could take the big test, but I guess that’s only if she had gotten a divorce. If you actually stay married (i.e., don’t cheat the system), it’s only another year.
So, it looks like Oksana might be a full-fledged United States citizen next summer. Time to start studying for that test, sweetie! (Hint: Slavery was the cause of the civil war.)