Best way to immigrate?
August 4, 2009 7:55 AM   Subscribe

What's the easiest/best way for us to be together with regard to immigration and all the associated considerations?

I am in the UK, she is in the US. Obviously, this is not ideal. We're both willing to move to the other's country, we're just having a hard time figuring out which way round will be best. Long explanation follows.

We met online around two years ago. She came to the UK for NYE this year (not strictly for me, but her other plans fell through and she ended up staying with me for the whole week). I spent the maximum allowed 3 months on the Visa Waiver Program with her in the US between March and June. Since then, I've been working in the only job I can find -- line picking in a refrigerated warehouse, it is awful -- and not really earning very much. She has been doing much the same, in that she's working the only job she can find in her field, which is a couple of part time jobs at a University. Neither of us earn enough to comfortably afford any immigration costs without considerable saving. It's taken me this long to have a plane ticket to the US in sight (but I've only actually had my job for a month).

Some background: she has had a pretty fruitful career up until the last year or so. She has a Master's degree, and has worked in pretty good jobs in her field more or less every day of her life. But the last year she's faced unemployment, debt, her car got repossessed, and just a whole heap of bad luck. At the moment, she is preparing to file bankruptcy and start fresh. For my part, I dropped out of sixth from in the UK, then dropped out of college when I tried again, then did a 1-year access course successfully, and got accepted into university to study Linguistics. I dropped out within a semester, due to problems mostly beyond my control (and, for once, not my own laziness). So I have very little qualification, and I haven't worked much in the last 5 years. (I'm 23 and she's 27, by the way.) So neither of us are in ideal positions.

At the moment, we're trying to figure out what our best move for being together is (and we are 100% sure the other is The One, etc). Our current plan is for me to buy a plane ticket and spend another 3 months in the US with her, for now. Meanwhile, we will both be saving as hard as we can for the inevitable immigration costs when it comes to it. For now, our main focus is me moving to the US. Since I don't have a degree, or very relevant experience in any focused field, an H1-B visa is not a particularly viable option, so we've been looking at marriage visas. All of them seem to entail being apart for considerable time, which is obviously not ideal, but if we save well enough, I might still be able to afford 3 month trips while all the paperwork is being processed and so on.

So question 1: I know this is frowned upon, but that seems to be about the only information I've been able to find, which is not helpful. If we just got married over there, with me in the country as a tourist, what would the following steps be? Am I likely to be denied whatever I need to be approved for because we didn't do it the proper way?

2: Whichever route we take, how is her financial situation likely to factor in? As I understand it, there is an element of her being able to support me until I can work in most of the K visa routes, and while she definitely earns enough for us to both survive on her income, I don't know how her limited income and her filing bankruptcy (which will have already been done by that point, if all goes to plan) will look to officials.

Another option we've been considering mainly as a last resort is her moving to the UK instead. It's not forefront, because she has a lot of friends there already, a pretty considerable and far-reaching professional network, and so on, whereas my career is nonexistent and I'm pretty light on friends and commitments, so I'm willing to go anywhere. That said, she's grown frustrated with the US, so is probably willing to consider it if it offers enough advantages. I am definitely unable to support her on what money I make, though, so it would be important that she be able to work ASAP (putting aside the recession-based difficulties in finding work, for now, yuck). That said, my googling for information on US to UK immigration has proven largely fruitless. The information doesn't seem as readily available as it is for US immigration. Maybe it's my google-fu failing me, or maybe it really is just harder to get hold of. So my hope is that there is someone on MeFi with UK immigration knowledge that can either fill me in or give me some helpful links/a starting point.

One thing that only came up very recently is the direct consular filing route. If she lived here for a year or so, we could then apply directly to the US consulate here in the UK, and have a much easier time, as I understand it. Would that be a viable route? Is there a way we could do this whereby she is able to come here and be allowed to work?

So that's more or less where we stand right now. We haven't done a great deal of research on all this yet, because we're both broke and can't afford this stuff yet, so it's just frustrating more than it is informative (more for her than I, I'm an anal has-to-know-everything planner). And she's busy with all her bankruptcy, and trying to find a decent job, and some other unrelated personal issues. Most of the research we have done has been mine, since I have nothin' but free time when I'm not working.

What I'm mainly asking is what's the best route, and how likely are we to be successful, given her financials and my lack of anything desirable to the US (other than not being a criminal).

Apologies for the super-long post; as much detail as possible seems helpful when it comes to this, I think. Happy to answer questions if it helps to give clearer advice. And I know we'd be far better off asking an immigration lawyer, but that's something we can't afford right now, and all the reading I've done suggests the process itself should be simple enough with enough research (and consultation of Visa Journey), we're just having a tough time figuring out where to start.
posted by nostrich to Law & Government (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
You could enter the US on the K-1 visa, marry, then adjust status. But your girlfriend would need to show that she could support you at 125% (or maybe 150%, I forget) of the federal poverty guideline. Look up form I-846. One of her relatives could also sponsor you, so consider asking her parents to sign the I-846.

Entering the US on any visa requires you to show that you won't become a public charge. If you can't overcome it on your own, get her parents to sign the 846 or post a bond for you.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Forgot to mention, but we discussed that: we're extremely unlikely to be able to get sponsors from her family.

It is nice to know there's a solid figure for what we need though. I hadn't read about that anywhere.
posted by nostrich at 8:17 AM on August 4, 2009


"One thing that only came up very recently is the direct consular filing route. If she lived here for a year or so, we could then apply directly to the US consulate here in the UK, and have a much easier time, as I understand it. Would that be a viable route? Is there a way we could do this whereby she is able to come here and be allowed to work?"

As US citizen, she's only allowed to stay in the UK for six months at a time on the tourist visa issued upon entry, so this appears to be a non-starter. Do you have any more details on this approach? I've never heard of it but I (American) came in the front door, so to speak. But I'd be curious how this would be executed in practice.

One posisble approach: if she comes to the UK to attend University, she can legally work for twenty hours a week. I say legally as I teach part time at a couple of Universities, and it seems most students work far more. Also she can work full time during holidays. She could take another Masters, which might help with an eventual relocation as Home Office is no longer recognising many US Post Graduate degrees.

After completing a degree in the UK she can get a two year work permit. It used to be the case where after completing an UK degree and working here for two years, one could apply for permanent residence. But they've tightened up the rules recently and things seem to be in a state of flux a fair amount on the topic on immigration, so you might want to ask this over at the UK Yankee Forums, as this is pretty much all they talk about there, and, in fact, many professionals answer questions there.

I'm not totally current on all the ins and outs but, where there's a will there's a way. Best of luck to you guys!
posted by Mutant at 8:29 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mutant, Here is VJ's page on direct consular filing.

Also, I just consulted with the girl in question, and we're definitely above the 125% requirement, so that appears to be a non-problem now. (Thanks, lockestockbarrel.) That seems to make the K-1 a lot more attractive than it was.
posted by nostrich at 8:42 AM on August 4, 2009


I've never been through this myself, but have a close American friend with a (now) husband who's British. They are gay, but that's not particularly relevant. He followed a path to UK immigration similar to what Mutant mentions (getting a student visa, then two-year work permit, then conjugal visa before he and his partner were married in a civil ceremony). This was much easier and straightforward than the multi-year process they had to go through when moving back to the States recently.

I also have an Austrian friend who is married to an American. It took nearly five years after they were married to get his visa status sorted, and that was only after making a connection to a congressional representative who pushed the paperwork through. Luckily, he was on H1-B the entire time.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:43 AM on August 4, 2009


Here are some K1 numbers:

She needs to make 125% of the federal poverty level for two people. The two person poverty line for 2009 is $14570, so she needs to make at least $18212.50 to satisfy the government that she can support you on a K1. The filing fee for K1 right now is $455, and you'll need a couple hundred pounds for the physical and visa fee on your end as well. Then you'll need to pay for a flight over, get married, and file for adjustment of status, which currently costs $1010.

I did a K1 for my now-husband, also from the UK. We filed in August and he moved here in February of the following year, so we had about six months apart. That timeline was typical for UK K1s at the time and it's probably similar now, as long as you don't have any complicating factors like police record or a suspicious name. He didn't try to visit while the visa was processing because we really didn't have the money and people do sometimes have trouble getting admitted once they're applied for a visa. Many couples do manage to visit during that time. If this relationship is THE ONE, though, you should be able to stand six months apart. We did not use a lawyer, and VisaJourney was a huge help.

Some people have success with marrying on tourist visa or visa waiver and then filing the I-485 ($1010). You're not supposed to enter the country with the intention of getting married and staying, but if you enter with tourist intention and then suddenly realize you want to get married and live in the US, I guess they think that's okay. The trick is convincing USCIS that this is what happened. I don't really have a feel for how often that works, but I've heard of cases where it has worked and I think it comes down mostly to luck.

I don't know much about UK immigration or direct consular filing. My experience is with K1. K1 worked very well for my situation, though. I did have a joint sponsor, but I was earning a bit over the minimum required level at the time and I think they really do just look at that number. One dollar over it and you're fine. We just saved and scraped money together for everything else.

For reference, here is my Askme from back when we were in your position and trying to figure out what do to: http://ask.metafilter.com/40551/Coming-to-America
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:45 AM on August 4, 2009


Still reading everything everyone's said, but just a quick question: we've been discussing it, and she is favouring the K-3, while I am favouring the K-1 at the moment. Is there anything we should know about the difference? My main gripe is that I have to marry her and then go home again with a K-3, but she seems to think we can handle that as long as I'm able to visit while everything is being processed.
posted by nostrich at 9:08 AM on August 4, 2009


Background on me: American living in UK for 7 years on several visa types. Also weirdly fascinated with immigration law for the US and UK.

"Our current plan is for me to buy a plane ticket and spend another 3 months in the US with her, for now."

This may or may not raise red flags with immigration in the USA. There is a "3 months in, 3 months out" rule of thumb that is often quoted on immigration forums, etc. Although not a hard-and-fast rule, I wouldn't try going back until at least September or October. Even so, expect some hard questions from immigration about how you will support yourself for 3 months. US immigration is also wary of people with no commitments to return to in their home country (such as a job or a mortgage).

"question 1: I know this is frowned upon, but that seems to be about the only information I've been able to find, which is not helpful. If we just got married over there, with me in the country as a tourist, what would the following steps be? Am I likely to b/e denied whatever I need to be approved for because we didn't do it the proper way?"

This is called "the ten foot pole method" by those familiar with US immigration - it isn't legal. It can be tried, but technically if US immmigration even THINK you entered the country with the intent to marry, your application will be denied with no recourse to appeal. On preview, what thirteenkiller said.

"Whichever route we take, how is her financial situation likely to factor in?"

lockestockbarrel's got it, for you to come to the US, she needs to make 125% of the federal poverty level for your anticipated household size (2 if no kids involved). On preview, thirteenkiller also's got it.

"One thing that only came up very recently is the direct consular filing route."

Your GF would need to have lived in the UK for at least two years to go this route.

Good source of US immigration info is the British Expats forums. The people can be a bit snarky, but the information is solid and you will learn a lot from just reading old posts.

As for US to UK immigration, as Mutant mentioned, the UK Yankee forums are the best place to go for information. In contrast to British Expats, everyone there is nice, and again, you will learn so much just by reading old posts.

For UK immigration, student visa followed by work permit is an option, as Mutant said. Also, if she has finished her degree within 12 months, try BUNAC for a 6 month working visa. She also may be eligible for the Tier 1 points-based immigration system for highly-skilled migrants. If you were to marry, the process is much faster to bring her to the UK than the other way round (you to the US). Although you used to be able to apply in-person at the British Consulate in NY, Chicago, or LA and receive your visa the same day, I think you now apply online/via post here. For a marriage visa, you would have to prove that you could support yourselves in the UK without recourse to public funds. This would come from proof of income (yours) and savings (yours and hers). I think this is where a lot of couples run into problems, and sponsorship by a UK-based family member or friend is possible.

Immigration is a daunting prospect. Willingness to marry opens up more options for you, although funds is likely to be your major stumbling point - not just saving up for the actual costs of the application(s) but having enough savings/income to prove you can support yourselves.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 9:15 AM on August 4, 2009


US to UK, she can come over via work permit, student visa, or marriage visa (there is a fiancee visa, but she can't work on that). the easiest of these is by far spousal visa, however you must be able to prove that she will be able to support herself without recourse to public funds.

it's pretty straightforward, though changing every day, so check the website. the cheapest option is generally getting married in the US, then her applying for a marriage visa and coming over. this allows her to work straightaway when she arrives.

you cannot do a DCF through the US embassy here in the UK until she has ILR (permanent residency, which currently takes two years).

good luck.
posted by wayward vagabond at 9:51 AM on August 4, 2009


My wife (American) and I (British) are about two years into this process. She's just got her Indefinite Leave to Remain to stay in the UK (hurrah!), but it's been a long, expensive process. I'd say we've spent, not including flights etc, maybe £5k so far, a large chunk of which on visas etc. We've got her British citizenship to go, which will be about another grand.

All of this aside, it's a cakewalk compared to what I've seen of the US system, which is more lengthy (8 - 10 years to citizenship as opposed to 3 - 5 years), more expensive, more invasive and full of potential trip-ups and bureaucratic nightmares. We hardly even considered going the other way, especially as her job wouldn't have been able to support both of us really while waiting for permission to work (which takes at least a year I believe). Plus, the UK has the NHS and the experiences of my wife and her extended family with American healthcare made my hair curl at the ends.

The best resource we've found is UK Yankee, which is a great place to get a broad feel for the process of US to UK immigration. You need to back it up with your own research though, the UK Borders and Immigration people change things pretty much constantly, and there's a lot of processes which only apply to you if there were in force when you started your process (for example, ID cards for foreign nationals came in after my wife began the process, so she doesn't have to get one as long as they're not a requirement for citizenship).

Basically, as long as you can prove you won't be a burden to the state through drawing on state benefits, and you can prove your relationship is genuine (the most difficult part), you'll be able to go through a relatively fast process and she'll become a UK citizen in about 3-5 years (this might go up, the Home Office is introducing more and more hoops that have to be jumped through, but it's still easier than the US system.

The most enormous benefit, however, is the EU citizenship that comes along with your British citizenship - as a couple, you'll be able to live and work in any EU or EEA member country. It opens so many doors it's not even funny.

If you're willing to really kick some arse and get the money together to fund your girlfriend moving to the UK and marrying you (you could get married in a 3rd country if you wanted to save the cost of a fiancee visa and move straight to the Spousal Visa stage, AKA FLR (M) ), you'll be able to save for the next stage (Indefinite Leave to Remain) and the final stage (citizenship and a passport). Your partner will be able to work from the moment she's granted FLR(M), and won't lose that right while you're waiting for your ILR to be decided. Also, once you have ILR, there's no compulsion to get citizenship (although again that's maybe changing as the government tries to discourage long-term non-citizen residents), so you can go for that next step as soon as you can afford it.

Good luck. MeMail me if you need any further details or advice, happy to help, I've been helping out a couple of friends who have also fallen for Americans, and they're all moving through the process smoothly.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:00 AM on August 4, 2009


All of this aside, it's a cakewalk compared to what I've seen of the US system, which is more lengthy (8 - 10 years to citizenship as opposed to 3 - 5 years), more expensive, more invasive and full of potential trip-ups and bureaucratic nightmares. We hardly even considered going the other way, especially as her job wouldn't have been able to support both of us really while waiting for permission to work (which takes at least a year I believe).

My husband moved to the US in February, we married at the end of April, and he got his green card at the beginning of August, so that was six months when he couldn't work and I supported him. He will be eligible for citizenship three years from when his first green card was issued.

We've had good luck with USCIS so far, though. Dave is right about potential trip-ups and bureaucratic nightmares. I think a lot of people have it as easy as we have, especially if they are from a non-threatening country like the UK, don't have any complicating factors like kids or convictions or drugs, and submit a really nice neat petition (follow the VJ guides). However, things occasionally get mixed up, or someone's petition takes an extra few months for no apparent reason or something, so it's good to have some flexibility. I really think most people with uncomplicated cases get through with minimal pain, though (relative to the horror stories anyway).
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:56 AM on August 4, 2009


My best advice, having successfully gone through the Adjustment of Status (I-485?) process in the U.S:

Get an immigration lawyer. Getting a lawyer will seriously reduce your stress and uncertainty throughout the process. They will help you strategize on the best approach to the entire situation using definitive facts and laws instead of guesses by anon forum posters online. If you embark on this process, you are guaranteed to have numerous detailed questions throughout that cannot be easily answered online.

Your financial situation doesn't sound like you can afford much, but there might be a free-to-reduced-cost legal immigration consulting option in your area or hers.

If you try the tourist->marriage route remember this: you're a noob at this, and the people you're trying to fool do this all day every day. It evidently works sometimes, but if it doesn't work for you, that could be a serious problem for you and your spouse being together.

Get a lawyer. They know better than me and anyone else on askme or the internet.
posted by jsonic at 11:09 AM on August 4, 2009


I think you can do a K1 without a lawyer, as long as you're willing to be a bit obsessive about your research and preparation. We did.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:33 PM on August 4, 2009


My friend and fellow MeFite just got his US green card after being married for a while -- over a year now. He's been in the country forever though, on a student visa first and then an H1-B. It was an easy, expensive process until he got married.

He told me just a few weeks ago that it would have never happened if he hadn't gotten a lawyer. They didn't know about the sponsorship rule, so if you apply in the US without a sponsor it'll delay your paperwork YEARS. And there are many different minefields lying in wait for an unsuspecting couple.

Sounds like you could have an easy time of it moving to the US, if she can support you. Might get expensive, though. Sounds like moving to the UK will be vastly easier if she decides to go to Uni.

I'd do the US->UK route, frankly.
posted by taumeson at 9:58 AM on August 5, 2009


Lost internet for a few days there.

Anyway, we're 99% certain we're going the K-3 route now. If peanut butter milkshake happens to check up on this again: do you happen to have any more info regarding the 3 month in, 3 month out thing? I got accosted by customs the first time I visited -- also my first time flying, it was hair-raising -- and got subjected to interrogation and searching, and was made to promise we wouldn't get married. I suspect having my computer and birth certificate (accidentally) may have raised some flags there. I'm almost certain it will happen again, since I'll be travelling with computer again, but with a lot more money this time (I was only able to get hold of $200 that time).

Thanks for all the great advice! This has been extremely informative. We're both grateful for everyone's input.
posted by nostrich at 7:13 AM on August 6, 2009


The 3 month in, 3 month out thing (or 90 days in, 90 days out, I should say) again, isn't a "rule" but a general guideline to help minimise your chances of being denied entry into the USA.

You technically could stay for 90 days, leave for a day, and come back and try to stay for another 90 days, but it is very unlikely that you would be admitted. You could come for 90 days, be gone for a year, come back and still not be admitted. It is up to the individual immigration officer on the day whether to let you in or not. Funds and proof of ties to the UK help your case. Lots of luggage, half-filled out immigration forms/resumes/ wedding magazines/etc on your person do not help your case.

Here are a couple threads from British Expats about this topic (1, 2). Yes, it's a forum, but i've been reading it for 8+ years and the folks in there are VERY knowledgable.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 5:09 PM on August 9, 2009


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