Help me live in my own country (USA) with my Canadian wife! AAAH!
March 12, 2013 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I came to Canada on a visa (NAFTA treaty visa, technical writer) and I met the love of my life and married her. I'm the breadwinner in Canada, and I have been since shortly after we moved in together. How on EARTH do I move her home with me???

I'm a US Citizen, on a visa in Canada, and I met the love of my life. We've lived together for now almost a year. I quit the visa gig and I'm coming back home to the US. It is really, really unclear as to the process, and it seems like the right route is to get a lawyer. WTF - does anyone who has to deal with the government anymore have to go to a lawyer?

I'm going to be the one working (I do just fine for us), and I am the one who will be providing for both of us. I will be the one paying rent and taking care of both of us. My wife has been living with me now for 8 months, we've been seeing each other for a month before that, and I have always been the breadwinner here in Canada for us.

What's the right answer here? Since I'm doing the money making, it doesn't seem like I need to file for Form I-130, and it doesn't really seem that I need to file for a green card for her, I'm the one who's working.

What have any of you awesome MeFi'ers done successfully? Who do I call? What do I do?

I really appreciate the help. If I've overlooked something, please let me know.
posted by Jim On Light to Law & Government (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
...does anyone who has to deal with the government anymore have to go to a lawyer?

When you're dealing with the USCIS? Abso-fuckin'-lutely. You're talking about one of the single most byzantine US governmental organizations. I've dealt with them on both a professional and personal basis, and doing anything without a qualified immigration lawyer is such a remarkably bad idea you should not even be considering it.
posted by griphus at 10:08 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

(Also, keep in kind if you fuck up immigration paperwork, it can have permanent consequences.)
posted by griphus at 10:09 AM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's a pretty simple process I'm told (as a Canadian living in the US who know plenty of people who went through this) but seriously, get a lawyer. Feel free to shop around as it should really not be expensive, but it's sufficiently easy to screw up that you should just get professional guidance.
posted by GuyZero at 10:10 AM on March 12, 2013

I'm in a similar situation as you, and have been looking into this. You need to first contact the nearest us consulate in Canada. They can give you the latest information. I don't really know if you need a lawyer, but you should definitely be thinking green card for your wife. Otherwise she can only stay 90 days, working or not. You will need to get things in motion before you come to the us.
posted by Steakfrites at 10:18 AM on March 12, 2013

A green card is about much more than the right to work, it's about the legal authority to stay in the USA. My husband is an immigrant, and believe me, it was a significant process to get him a green card, and this was before 9/11, when everything tightened up significantly. I was astonished, even alarmed at how powerless I felt. We had undeniable, overwhelming evidence that ours was a real marriage, performed in the USA, and we still needed an immigration attorney and several interrogative appointments at INS. It took many months.

So, in short, you need an experienced immigration attorney, even when it seems like an obvious open-and-shut case to you.
posted by citygirl at 10:25 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

She needs a green card. You can't just import people you're willing to support, for now, without filing papers. You sound like you're in danger of violating the first rule of immigration, which is simply:


Like wizards, UCSIS is powerful and quick to anger.

There are two basic ways to do bring her in. Both are expensive, cumbersome, and take time. In both cases, unless you've been married for two years when she enters, she will only get a two-year green card. Then you'll have to file more forms, possibly do more interviews, and then get her a 10-year card.

I often suggest that straightforward immigration cases (ie no criminal records, no overstays, etc) shouldn't require a lawyer if you're well-educated and detail-oriented. I hope you won't be too offended when I say that your mistaken preconceptions mean I would suggest hiring an attorney. Note: do not hire some local attorney. You want a full-on no-shit immigration attorney in AILA.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

Visa Journey, which has a Canadian forum. If you've been married less than two years, my recollection is that you need a CR-1 and that an I-30 is part of that. You'll see that the paperwork is killing and requires and interview, and the wait times are long.

For someone with a detailed understanding of this process, I would say you don't need a lawyer but your understanding by your own admission is not great, and it needs to be. I think you need one, because you're not even clear at this stage on what your Green Card and non-Green Card options are, and your statement that you already quit your visa gig and are returning to the US makes me nervous you've already fucked up your ability to stay together without a separation period. She must have residency to stay with you for more than 90 days.

Get a lawyer, print out the Journey Visa wiki list, and follow along with your lawyer's advice.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:31 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

First of all, yes, Find a lawyer, or ask people you know with experience for recommendations.

The reason? This is high stakes. You are talking about your wife, your life, and how the two of you will be able to live it, and what kinds of freedoms you will have, and when. The immigration system in the USA is broken and does not make sense (do not expect things to make sense). Getting expert advice on such a matter is investing in yourself and your family. It will also make the process easier because you'll have straight answers to your questions and direct guidance. Don't be penny-wise pound-foolish.

I'm not suggesting that you can't do the process yourself, but do it yourself after you've talked to a specialist who knows what things you need to know but probably don't know and can fill you in and set you off in the best direction for your situation. That route might be $100 for enough lawyer time to bring you up to speed and set you in the right direction, and regardless will cost a lot more than that for the immigration applications and hoops to jump through - fees you'll have to pay no-matter what.

I think it's better to have an attorney on your case - even if not doing much, just checking your i's are dotted and your t's crossed and being up to date on any new problems and delays in the system, and translating any problems into actions you need to take.
posted by anonymisc at 10:34 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am a Canadian citizen, living in the US, and am a US-trained lawyer. I am not your lawyer. This is not legal advice.

Your wife needs a green card and you need a lawyer. It's possible for some laypeople to succesfully navigate the system, but based on your question, I don't think you're one of those people.
posted by ewiar at 10:36 AM on March 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

some other notes:

You should expect that it will be at least several months to, quite possibly, more than a year before she can enter the US.

If you move back to the US ahead of her, it's notionally possible for her to visit, but she would probably need extensive evidence of her intent to return. Not having a job will probably make that more difficult -- to an immigration agent, she will look like someone who has no reason not to just overstay.

You should expect the process of importing her to cost at least $1000 before attorney's fees.

You will have to promise to support her for at least 10 years or until she acquires citizenship. If you split up and she takes any of several forms of US welfare, the US government is going to take that out of your ass.

You should expect to have to file additional paperwork and pay additional fees to keep her in the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:37 AM on March 12, 2013

She must have residency to stay with you for more than 90 days.

I would not bank on her being able to do this, as she'll have no evidence of an intent to return. With this too, DO NOT FUCK WITH IMMIGRATION. It might be possible for her to bluff or lie her way past ICE at the border; this would be catastrophically stupid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:40 AM on March 12, 2013

Some friends did something similar a few years ago: he, an American, moved to Canada to go to school and was here on a student visa. He met his wife, a Canadian, at school and they married a few years later in Canada and then about a year or so later moved to the states for him to go to school.

I don't know the exact process that they followed for her green card, but I do know that you can expect to provide wedding photos or something of that sort to prove you're married because you love each other and not for her to get US citizenship or a green card, and that you can also expect her to need a medical examination (potentially done in Canada) to prove that she's not moving to the states to take advantage of their fine free medical care (because... that happens? My Canadian friend was flabbergasted by that part of the requirements).
posted by urbanlenny at 10:42 AM on March 12, 2013

Also, who is the breadwinner is really irrelevant - things happen. If for some reason you cannot support both of you in the future she may have to work. So do both of you a favour and get this right.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:45 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

you can also expect her to need a medical examination (potentially done in Canada) to prove that she's not moving to the states to take advantage of their fine free medical care

They don't give a shit about that. They care about some incurable conditions that will end up putting an immigrant's family on medicaid, like ALS, and about infectious diseases like HIV and TB.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:46 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

If for some reason you cannot support both of you in the future she may have to work. So do both of you a favour and get this right.

This is why your question rubbed me the wrong way a little. It would be colossally stupid of her to pick up an move to a foreign country in such a way that she would be completely depend on her husband for support no matter how much you guys may love each other. Women moving to countries where they can't work legally is how human trafficking happens.

Even if you can get her in on a temp visa before her green card is fully processed (which a competent lawyer can determine whether that's possible or not), she needs and Employment Authorization Document (EAD) so that god forbid something happens she can go find a job at Walmart or something to get by.

For her sake, get a lawyer, and allow that lawyer to give her advice independently of you. (Even though I am sure you want the best for her).
posted by sparklemotion at 10:57 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I used to do a lot of immigration law, not so much anymore, but here's my take.

One: You are doing the "easy mode" of immigration because you're both coming from Canada and are married. Unless there are some facts you're not bringing forward this is as close as a "no brainer" as you get in immigration law.

Two: Even the "easy mode" of immigration is harsh, unforgiving, and cruel. Hire a lawyer. I actually think it's easier to defend a criminal case where you're dealing scientific evidence, forensic accounting, and eyewitnesses than to deal with immigration. The reason is that your basic idea of right/wrong fair/unfair has some base in criminal defense. Immigration law is not like that. Ideas of what's intuitively right and wrong have no place in it. The rules are arbitrary, strangely interpreted, and can be exceedingly unforgiving and the stakes are high.

Get a lawyer. Get a decent one. Yeah, it'll cost you three to four grand more, but it's worth it.

Also, get your wife a green card and get her her citizenship asap. I hope you got your Canadian citizenship too.
posted by bswinburn at 11:02 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Chiming in to n-th using a lawyer when bringing your wife to the US from Canada.

I married an American as a Canadian. It's just easier -- and feels much more secure -- regardless of who is financially supporting whom.

Even married for over a year, it took about 10 months to get our interview at the US Consulate in Montreal (this was 11 years ago), so plan accordingly and please refer to your lawyer about your particular circumstance.

I also became a US citizen for many personal reasons, but a green card is the important first step.

posted by mamabear at 11:06 AM on March 12, 2013

When you're dealing with the USCIS?

Let's not forget that they are now under the DHS - Department of Homeland Security - thus all the more reason to ensure your paperwork is in order.
posted by infini at 11:12 AM on March 12, 2013

This is why your question rubbed me the wrong way a little. It would be colossally stupid of her to pick up an move to a foreign country in such a way that she would be completely depend on her husband for support no matter how much you guys may love each other. Women moving to countries where they can't work legally is how

is how the imbalance of power enables challenges with abuse of the inherent difference. Protect her if you love her.
posted by infini at 11:14 AM on March 12, 2013

Congrats on falling in love & getting married!

I'm here to join the chorus regarding getting a lawyer. I went through the mindblowing nightmare of after-the-fact lawyering with what was then INS (pre-911) and, oh, sweet gods, it was devastating. Just horrible. There are people who will try to tell you that this is doable on your own. And, you know, for a certain type of person, it maybe is. But they are in the gross minority, and it's waaaaaaay better to assume you are not that person and going without a lawyer would be a painful error. And expensive.

It's pricey with a lawyer, too, but far more affordable than the effects of messing up even one tiny field on one of dozens of forms. And having a lawyer involved can make it go faster, too.

You don't say where you would be moving to, and that might be helpful for recs. If you happen to be heading to Seattle, I'll recommend without hesitation the amazing legal acumen and fierceness of Carol L. Edward.
posted by batmonkey at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2013

I know it's possible to navigate US immigration all the way to citizenship without a lawyer and as the spouse of a US citizen, because I did it. I was not well off and had time to spare back then. It takes a lot of research, patience, diligence, and a high tolerance for stress. I don't recommend it if you can afford a lawyer and don't need the aggro. Be sure to use a specialist immigration lawyer. They know the latest rules (they change arbitrarily and maddeningly), know how to best present your case (necessary even for supposedly easy cases like yours), and have access to information like processing times that it's hard for the rest of us to get.
posted by normy at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2013

Response by poster: I am floored by the responses here, thank you so much everybody.

The destination is Dallas, TX; I work in the Lighting industries. I'm moving back home for a great job I've been offered. I'm also planning on buying a business, but that's in another post. :)

Another question related: Should we get a Dallas based lawyer or someone based in Toronto?
posted by Jim On Light at 11:32 AM on March 12, 2013

I don't think you necessarily need a lawyer, but I second the recommendation that you start exploring Visa Journey. There are people there who have been through every situation. It was very helpful when my husband and I were navigating our immigration process. We filed all the paperwork ourselves after one initial consultation with a lawyer, which cost less than $100. One thing: your wife SHOULD NOT cross any borders until you guys get this sorted out.
posted by jrichards at 11:46 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will second that I don't think you need a lawyer but your wife will need a green card, working or not. Visa Journey is a great resource and I highly recommend this book.

If you are confident in your paper filing skills and your ability to follow all directions from Immigration to the letter you should be fine. Do not try and "outsmart" them or bend any rules, follow all the steps and instructions no matter how redundant they seem, I still get interrogated like I am trying to put one past them every time I enter the US even with a green card. Be aware filing paperwork can be expensive. I am in the process of filing for citizenship after marrying an American and moving from Australia and have handled the past 3 years paperwork from EAD's to green cards with no problems all by myself and I am not super smart just super methodical and followed the check lists in the book. If paperwork is not your strong point get a lawyer.

Do not let your wife enter the country until you have the paperwork sorted even to visit, you want to avoid even the slightest hint you are trying anything questionable or trying to get around any rules. Even if you aren't trying to break the rules you have to also give the clear and easily documented proof of following the rules.

Start saving any single thing you can think of that is proof that you are in a real relationship, this is pretty much the most important thing you can bring to an interview and you will have to file copies with your applications. Get both your names on all your bills, leases and bank accounts now before you start. Keep copies of letters, and photos, get all photos of you two together and with each others families from family and friends and put them somewhere safe.
posted by wwax at 12:17 PM on March 12, 2013

Supporting Normy and jrichard's comments about DIY. There are a few other sites which provide instruction and moral support if you'd like to do it yourself: and and Although they focus on Chinese emigration, the process is similar. The folks on those sites completed their spouses' emigrations without the assistance of a lawyer. They recommended going without one until you're experiencing a logjam. The lawyer is paid $3000 to complete your papers. If you choose a big law firm, it might not be a lawyer completing the papers, just a paralegal or plain secretary or recent law school graduate but hasn't passed the bar yet. The paperwork isn't difficult to comprehend. The application's difficulty is comparable to completing your own state taxes by paper or maybe federal 1040A.
posted by dlwr300 at 12:23 PM on March 12, 2013

All advice upstream is excellent and on the mark. I just want to admonish you to TAKE IT ALL SERIOUSLY. Very seriously. Don't think, well , the advice is all well and good, but we'll just talk our way through this part, or if we just get her over the border okay, then it will all be fine. DON'T FUCK WITH IMMIGRATION. It bears many repeats. Listen to the advice and adhere to it.
posted by batikrose at 12:48 PM on March 12, 2013

Should we get a Dallas based lawyer or someone based in Toronto?

I'd choose someone you can visit in person, with your wife. There must be some capable US-immigration lawyers available in Toronto.

My husband is Canadian and we live in Los Angeles. He came here on a fiance (K-1) visa and we had our wedding here, but the bathtubs full of paperwork and rats-in-a-maze frustration is consistent across all immigration situations as far as I could see. We filled out 90% of the paperwork ourselves, but still needed a consultation with a professional to make sure nothing comes back to haunt us. Because if it does, it could be Really Serious And Forever.

VisaJourney was priceless.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 1:07 PM on March 12, 2013

Would you consider staying here? It's possibly less of a challenge.
posted by windykites at 1:40 PM on March 12, 2013

Nthing Visa Journey. My wife is Chinese, and I successfully navigated the USCIS hoops from our home in Shanghai, without ever needing a lawyer. I felt that the instructions on the USCIS site were fairly self-explanatory, and a few searches of similar cases on Visa Journey answered my remaining questions. Overall, the IR-1 visa process took a total of about five months and cost about US$2000 (including Chinese govt fees and travel to/from the consulate).
posted by bradf at 1:51 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @windykites: absolutely not. No offense, I don't like it here. Torontonians are rude as fuck to me, and I'm a nice American guy. I'm arthritic from years on the road in lighting; the cold up here is murderous. My wife is also arthritic, Dallas was just an easy pick since I lived there for 6 years before moving, and it's warm.

@batikrose: none of this is trivial or iffy to me. If I can't take her, she's homeless. I won't be having that.
posted by Jim On Light at 3:19 PM on March 12, 2013

Response by poster: This is why your question rubbed me the wrong way a little. It would be colossally stupid of her to pick up an move to a foreign country in such a way that she would be completely depend on her husband for support no matter how much you guys may love each other. Women moving to countries where they can't work legally is how human trafficking happens.

Sparklemotion, I don't understand -- rubbed you the wrong way how? My wife and I sat down and made a conscious decision in our relationship that she was going to not work and I was going to continue with my very steadily and rapidly growing career. I'm opening a business in the US, and I'm a very professionally minded person.

Are you upset because my wife chooses not to work? Frankly I kinda love it; she's not career minded like me and really doesn't give a shit about some stupid job she could give a crap about either. If I can take care of us both comfortably, why on EARTH would I ask her to work some shit job she hates? We're both the same age, and if you think that there's some kind of abusive man-over-woman thing, you're out of your fucking mind, L would whip my ass if I decided that was going to all of the sudden going to partake in some misogynist attitude. Your answer just rubbed me the wrong way.
posted by Jim On Light at 4:06 PM on March 12, 2013

OP, it rubbed me the wrong way too, and I think you're taking it too personally. We don't know you. There is a difference between "mutually choosing not to work" (I am a SAHM, this was a mutual assent decision) and "rendering her legally prohibited from working, and therefore bound to a choice between me and deportation."

Please be aware that you are going to be asked questions far, FAR more personal and have assumptions far more offensive made about you than this during the immigration process, and practice not responding in a hotheaded way. I cannot overemphasize how easy it is to fuck this up.
posted by KathrynT at 4:19 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I can't take her, she's homeless.

This means that if your plans were to move back to the US before summer, you will probably need to change them. If they were to move back later in 2013, you should have flexible plans that can be put off.

If you need to have it done before you move, that means working with a local attorney. Again, this is weird specialized crap that you do not want J. Random Lawyer working on. You need an immigration-to-the-US lawyer; a simple way to tell is membership in AILA. There seems to be one AILA attorney with offices in Toronto, who also works in Buffalo. There are a bunch more in Buffalo if you don't mind driving.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:56 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't speak for other commenters, but it might have rubbed some the wrong way as very few women without children choose to not work, and to do so is a choice that very few people make these days. And you say your wife is totally dependent on you, including being homeless without you. That is not healthy for you or your wife, and leaves her extremely vulnerable as a woman without immigration rights in a foreign country. No-one here knows you, but your wife has made a very unconventional choice, and it's normal that commenters comment on it.

Get a lawyer to ensure you are doing everything correctly - the US immigration system is a bitch. Make sure you are following everything to the letter, otherwise you and your lovely wife are stuck in Canada until you work it out.
posted by goo at 5:49 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with women (or men) choosing not to work if their spouse is willing and able to be the breadwinner.

My concern is choosing to not be _able_ to work. Right now, it looks like you have an awesome and happy future together, and I hope that ends up being the case. But, if things go south for whatever reason -- let's say you got hit by a bus tomorrow (an outcome that no one wants) -- it's important that she be able to survive on her own*.

It's not judging you to say that she needs to protect herself. Every person in her situation (moving to a new country with a new spouse) really should.

To be honest, your family's immigration case should be pretty straightforward, so long as you both take all of the right steps in the right order. I'd give you details of my Toronto-->Minnesota story, but my situation is pretty vastly different (single woman, employer sponsored). I can tell you that with lawyers handling everything, I was under a lot less stress than I otherwise would be, so a lawyer might just make sense so that you can spend your time on other things.

*then again, getting back to Canada if she needed to should be less of an ordeal than getting back to someplace overseas, so maybe the risk is lower.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:44 PM on March 12, 2013

Mod note: From here on out, Jim On Light, please don't debate commenters, and commenters, please stick to the immigration angle not the domestic-work-distribution angle. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:49 PM on March 12, 2013

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