While figuring out the details of our move to the States, a big factor in deciding when we would move was obviously when my husband could get his visa. There is a great website (not an official government site), Visajourney.com, that I poured over for ages, looking for a timeline of a US spouse visa similar to our situation: the US citizen is already living abroad with their spouse.
This is actually not as common as you might think, at least in France, if you go by the posts on the site (which, admittedly, is a very small sample size!). Most of the information I saw was for fiancé visas. It makes sense that this is the more frequent type of visa, since if you meet someone from another country, you’ll probably decide to get married in the country you’ll be living in. The timeline for those visas are much quicker, since they skip a step and go straight to the Embassy in Paris for the last part of processing.
If you get married abroad and then the US citizen goes back to the States to wait for their spouse to get the visa, this can take a very long time, if there is no possibility to file directly with the embassy. This has been the situation in France for the past few years, and you have to mail everything to the states first.
This first step, just petitioning the USCIS for a spouse visa including all the proof that it’s a real marriage, can take at least 5 months to get approved (and costs over 400 dollars that is not refunded if you don’t get approved!). Then once it’s approved, it goes to the National Visa Center and you pay more fees and submit all the financial documents required. This part can actually go fairly quickly if you have everything together and aren’t missing any documents. But it’s still at least two or three months. First the NVC has to get your file from the USCIS and put it into the system. Then certain forms are only available once certain fees are paid, and vice versa. Then once everything is submitted, they have to review it, which they say takes a minimum of 30 days (and there have been times they say it’s 60 days). You can speed things up a bit if you call them for certain information rather than waiting for emails or letters. But then you still have to wait for the interview, which can take awhile depending on the embassy.
Overall, it’s a minimum of 8 or 9 months, which is not that long when thinking about a 50-year marriage, but if you’ve ever been in a long distance relationship, even a week can last forever. A lot of people wait even longer, because the first part, getting the USCIS to approve the petition, can take quite some time if you forget documents, or if they ask for additional information. There are ways of requesting an expedite, but for US citizens living abroad, there is kind of an unofficial, automatic expedite. The first part with USCIS actually goes very quickly, about one month instead of five. I haven’t been able to find a reason for this, but my theory is that as long as a US citizen is living abroad, their income can’t be taxed (up to a certain amount), so they speed things up to get you back as fast as possible . . . Whatever the reason, if the NVC and embassy are also quick in their processing times, the overall waiting time is reduced to around 6 months.
In our situation, things went about as fast as they could, and even faster for some things. From the day I sent the first documents to the USCIS to the day my husband had his interview in Paris, it was about five and a half months, which I believe is only a little bit longer than it used to take when you could file directly at the embassy. In large part this was thanks to the super advice I found on Visajourney.com that meant I submitted all of the documents needed without errors, but also it was just luck. The NVC was reviewing things in about 3 weeks instead of 30 days when our case came through. They had been having issues with their computers earlier in the year, which meant payments and reviews were delayed, and that could have easily happened to us instead. But I tend to be an optimistic person, and anyway, if things had taken longer, we had jobs and a creche lined up for bébé, so no big deal if we moved in Spring instead of Winter.
That being said, we had set the rough goal to be in the States for the next Superbowl (my husband’s a big American football fan), so we’d definitely have been a little bummed to wait too much longer. But once all the papers were sent in, I couldn’t really do anything about how long things would end up taking. However, I also knew that once he had the visa, we had to enter the states within 6 months so we didn’t want to start in January and have an interview in June or July. Also, if you submit financial documents before taxes are due April and your interview is after, you’ll just need to resubmit the updated documents anyway. Still, I could have started things a little earlier than I did and have had more control over the timeline, since until you send in all the financial documents to the NVC they won’t review your case, and you can reschedule the embassy visit. In the end, it worked out pretty much the way we needed.
I’ll probably do one or two more posts about certain details of the process (like the financial documents since we had a joint sponsor), but really, the website I mentioned above is amazing, especially for someone like me who likes to over-plan and look at lots of numbers and figures before doing something. Every situation will be different, of course, but knowing about when everything should happen was very reassuring.