Immigration and naturalization, a long and expensive road

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Ten years and thousands of dollars. That’s about how long and much it cost my family to enter the United States legally. 

“Well, we spent a lot of money in obtaining all the paperwork. Up to about $20,000 for the whole family,” my father said.”

When some people think of immigration, they think of the undocumented migrant jumping the border, refugees who escaped war or persecution, families separated at the border.

These aren’t the only narratives that belong to immigrants.   

Most immigrants are hard-working, law-abiding individuals who have contributed to the American society like Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant and founder of the Pulitzer Prize program, or Freddy Adu, a Ghanaian immigrant and the youngest athlete to sign a professional soccer contract in the US at age 14.

According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of the nation’s immigrants are in the U.S. legally. Naturalized citizens account for the largest portion of the foreign-born population.  

Information courtesy: PEW Research Center

How it all started  

The journey to America was a long and sometimes tedious process for my family.

It started when my grandmother hired a lawyer and filed a petition for my mom and my family to get a Green Card to enter the United States.

Hiram Kwan is the immigration lawyer my grandmother hired. He is now 95 and still a practicing immigration lawyer. He still remembers my family’s case many years later. 

Kwan said, “most people can’t fill out all that paperwork. There is a lot of paperwork and it is very expensive.”

My grandmother had the dream to bring her children to America for access to better opportunities, that dream was also true of my parents for my brother and me. 

“The American dream to me is the opportunity to accomplish anything that you want to do for yourself and for your posterity,” my father said.

According to U.S. citizenship and immigration services, one must either be a citizen or a Green Card holder in order to petition for another to attain the same status.

In my family’s case, my grandmother was a U.S. citizen when she hired a lawyer and started the petition process.  

The process to enter the United States legally may vary for different people depending on the situation, but below is a list of how the process worked for my family and me.  

The legal process or consular processing: 

  • Determine your basis to immigrate 
  • A petition for an alien relative must be filed and signed with the proper fees
  • Wait for a decision on your petition 
  • Wait for notification from the National Visa Center that paperwork is approved 
  • Go to your visa interview appointment 
  • Notify the National Visa Office of any changes
  • After visa is granted wait for your name to be called (get your visa packet and pay immigration fees)
  • Receive your Green Card after you have entered the United States 

The interview process and visas granted:  

I remember the weekend my father told me our paperwork was approved for a visa interview. At that moment, I don’t think I fully understood what that meant for my family and me.    

Weeks went by. Every member of my family obtained passports in anticipation for the visa interview.

Then came the painful part. All the medical exams and shots.

We got all our shots and medical exams done in a short period of time. During our last round of shots, I remember receiving SIX shots in my thighs; three in each one, and they hurt!

Courtesy: MGN

Then the day finally came.

We woke up early in the morning and headed to the embassy for our interview. We got there several hours before our scheduled interview time with every piece of paperwork they asked for. Marriage, birth certificates, reports for criminal records, bank statements…you name it, we had it. 

I was 16 at the time. 

My father said he sometimes questioned why we needed to show all that paperwork. 

He added, “the people at the embassy were saying that ‘well there are certain things that you need for your children when they go to school that will be requested from them and it is very necessary you obtain these documents before you get there. If we don’t demand these, when you go there it will become a problem,’ so advisedly we produced all those documents.”

We were nervous and excited. Anxious. We got into the embassy and sat down patiently waiting our turn.

Finally, our names were called; we went up to a numbered window. We were asked a series of questions to establish our relationship to each other and my grandmother.  

They asked questions like: Who is your brother? Where does your grandmother live? I was nervous that I would make a mistake and mess up the answers to these simple questions. 

After the interview, they took our passports and told us they will get back to us with a decision. We were directed to another window where my parents received a packet.

Finally, the time came and weeks after our interview my dad went to the embassy and picked up our passports with our visa stamps in them. 

We were elated!

On my birthday, we were on a plane to our new home in the United States of America with two suitcases for each of us weighing 50 lbs.

I will show you what happens in the next 9 years of my family’s American dream in part 2.

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