Til alle jer, der laeser med paa dansk. Dette indlaeg bliver kun paa engelsk, da det er langt og jeg ikke orker at skulle oversaette I dag.
The blog is quiet these days as we are in the middle of the longest and most intense waiting period of our life - to find out if we are staying in the US or leaving to go back to Denmark (where we have no jobs, no home, and no belongings). And it is completely out of our hands by now, which is a strange mix of relieve and even more stress.
We get a lot of questions about the Green Card process as it IS confusing and honestly does not make a lot of sense, so I thought I would dedicate a blog post to this only with a description of our experiences. I have chosen to break it down into a blogpost FAQ style to hopefully make it more digestible. So here it goes. Henriette interviewed by Henriette.
Why are you even applying for a Green Card?
Because Kristian has no work permit with his current visa status which is H-4 derived from my H-1B. Usually post docs get a J1 visa from the University (which was exactly what we had in California), and with this visa the spouse can relatively easy get a temporary work permit. But the Medical Faculty at University of Michigan are very strict with their rules, and unless you can prove that you have a job waiting for you back home, as you start your post doc in the US (as if any post doc ever has……..) then they give you an H-1B instead of a J1.
In theory Kristian should be able to find an employer giving him an H-1B as well – but in practice it is a whole other story. As soon as the potential employers figure that situation out, they are “hands off” faster than you would imagine. Simply because it is paperwork, it costs money, it takes additional months, and on top of this it is almost impossible to apply for unless the employer is a governmental or non-profit organization.
But didn’t the government just enable H-4 visa holders to work?
Yes and no. There are lobbyists working ever so hard to enable H-4 visa holders to work, and now the government finally gave in, and ensured that if you have an approved green card application you are allowed to work while waiting for the green card, or if you have survived for 6 years in the US without any work, then you can also have a work permit. In my opinion that is a deal that at first sight looks as a beautifully wrapped gift (yay – H-4 visa holders are allowed to work) but where the content turns out to be a few crumbs in an otherwise empty box.
Why did you have to apply yourself? Isn’t that the university’s responsibility?
The university has a whole department that can help you with Green Card applications – if you are permanently employed and has been working there for more than a year, that is! A post doc is a temporary position and there are many of us, so we don’t get any help (we don’t get retirement benefits either, and our salary is not very good – but hey, we get to do what we love to do, and that’s a reward in itself! This last statement is actually true – why else would I be here myself – but readers are more than welcome to add their own sarcasm……)
What kind of Green Card are you applying for?
There are many different categories of employment based green cards and I have applied for a so-called self petition EB-2 NIW (NIW stands for National Interest Waiver). The application has 3 main prongs it needs to address:
1 The applicants employment is in an area of substantial intrinsic merit;
2 The proposed benefit of the applicants current work is national in scope; and
3 The national interest would be adversely affected if a labor certification were required.
This I could not have done without attorneys as there is a whole language and way of presenting the evidence that is not for us common mortals to figure out. But basically it should be OK as I work with bariatric surgery (and if there ever is anything that could be consider of national interest to the US, then I guess this is a pretty good bet) and since I have sufficient publications and some good previous research environments under my belt.
What is the process?
- In December last year I signed a contract with the attorneys. Then I immediately started working on a 20 page document with the “story of my life” written in professional as well as common language
- I also provided them with a list of potential recommenders (at the level of internationally recognized professors or vice presidents from the pharmaceutical industry). They chose 5 from that list, where I needed to get written consent that they would be willing to sign a recommendation letter.
- The attorneys then drafted 5 letters – they went back and forth a few times – and I send them out to the recommenders, who signed them and sent them back.
Once the letters were signed the attorneys starting working on the actual application which ended up being 18 pages long, and where they did an amazing job citing all the recommendation letters in a manner that had the whole document ending up as a cleverly assembled puzzle.On top of this there are of course a truckload of documents proving my education and achievements etc etc.
This whole package (the socalled I-140 petition) was filed in the beginning of March with a service center in Nebraska, and they take on average 4 months (it could be anything between 6 weeks and years) to process it. You will not be told how far they are in the process but there is website where you can check if it is approved yet.
- Next step is then filing the I-485. This is documentation that we are, who we say we are, that proofs that we are in good health and “good standing’ (e.g. won’t be of financial burden to the US), and where we pay for the green cards (about $1000 pr person). This application can be submitted at the same time as the I-140 (the one that the attorneys made), while the I-140 is being processed, or after the I-140 has been approved. As we are short on time (we have return tickets coming close and a fast draining savings account) we have chosen to file it while we are waiting. This second filing has taken longer than we first anticipated due to an immigration physician cancelling our appointment with a very short notice, we had to get new birth certificates from Denmark, and we postponed it a few weeks as we were also in the Green Card lottery drawing, where we would have needed to submit some of the same documents in case we had been drawn – which we did not. This stack of documents has been shipped off to Arizona, where it will be processed and then awaiting the decision. We have additionally filed for a temporary work permit for Kristian, such that he can start working sooner if the Green Card is approved, as it takes several months to actually get the green card in hand once approved.
Phew – that was long…. I you are still hanging in there, here are a few pics to rest your brain:
The Frikke-Schmidt family at the immigration physician office waiting to get the results of their syphilis blood test and TB test:
The VERY sealed envelopes with the health forms inside:
The I-485 applications "empty an Officemax for colorful tabs" style: