Both Men I Married Were Immigrants*

“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25: 42–43, 45)

Just sayin’, y’all.

* My first husband was born in Nicaragua and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was a little boy in the 1950s. When I married him about twenty years later he was still here on a green card. You know about my second husband. I find it fascinating to watch the unfolding of current events through his eyes.

We Think the IRS Must Be Gaslighting Us

Gaslighting, according to Wikipedia, is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting his own memory, perception, and sanity.

I’m only sort of joking, y’all. We’ve had lots of adventures on the immigration quest …

Immigration Woes (Part 1)
Our Immigration Attorney Laughed At Us
Immigration Woes (Part 2)
Like the La Brea Tar Pit
Slogging to Dublin
A Long Day at the Airport
An Early Christmas Present from Uncle Sam

… and this is just one more (frustrating) step.

My husband, until very recently, has lived his whole life in Ireland. He is an Irish citizen (with a US permanent resident card) and he pays taxes there.

But, hey, when you come to the US, you live here, you drive on the highways here, Uncle Sam wants you to contribute. And no prob—the US has a “tax treaty” with many countries, which means, in very simple terms, no double dipping. You only have to pay taxes to one Caesar. When you live in the US, no matter where your income derives from, you pay taxes here. To avoid paying twice, you invoke the treaty.

• • •

In Ireland, as here in the Home of the Brave, taxes are withheld from paychecks … to (ahem) make sure said taxes are paid. To stop that—to avoid paying twice, to invoke the treaty—now that Gerry is living here, he has to submit a particular form to the Irish Tax Office, called form IC-2. You can go to Revenue{dot}ie and print one off. And in most other countries with which the Republic of Ireland has a tax treaty, you take the IC-2 to your adopted country’s tax office and have it stamped. When you return the stamped (validated) form to Revenue{dot}ie, Ireland will stop withholding money for taxes.

From your pension, say. From your fixed income.

But that’s not how it works in the United States. America’s version of “stamping the IC-2” is to provide Form 6616. Form IC-2 must be accompanied by a Form 6616. (And, as a side note, it’s only good for three years at most; in some situations, only for one year. So we will be doing this for the rest of our lives.) In order to have a Form 6616 issued, Gerry has to submit a Form 8802, to request it.

Still with me?

• • •

So we download Form 8802 (it’s ten lines long, on two pages) and all eighteen pages of instructions. Since I have a little bit of experience with US government-speak, I think, Oh, no sweat. Ten lines. But no. I get stumped on line 4, so I start reading the instructions.

The instructions seem contradictory; I can’t make heads or tails of ’em. I start scribbling questions in the margins. We make an appointment to meet with our CPA, Jan, because, holy moly, this is way beyond us.

At the meeting, Jan and I spend two hours reading the instructions back and forth to each other, trying to figure it out, talking it out, and finally we do. I fill out the form. Jan says, “Don’t worry, if we’ve done something ‘wrong,’ they’re usually pretty good about telling you what it is, and you can correct it.”

As instructed, we make a copy of Gerry’s permanent resident card, a copy of the Form 8802, the worksheet, enclose an $85 check (because none of this is free, of course), and trip off to the post office to mail it. This was on 7 June.

Toward the end of June we get a letter from the IRS (dated 8 June, just one day after we mailed Form 8802!). “We received your application for a US Residency Certification [that’s Form 6616] and we need more information,” it says. “We need the following.” And there is the first Twilight Zone moment:

If you hold an F1, J1, M1, or Q1 visa and filed a Form 1040, you must provide us with a statement explaining why you filed a Form 1040 and provide a statement and documentation showing that you reported your worldwide income on Form 1040.

Didn’t anyone read the materials we sent in? On Form 8802 we checked the box that said Gerry did not file a Form 1040. He wasn’t required to. He didn’t live here in 2015; he was in Ireland.

Furthermore, the form lists four visas:

> F1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa.
> J1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to research scholars, professors and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange
> M1 visa is a temporary student visa that allows international students to attend an accredited vocational or non-academic school
> Q1 visa is a temporary work visa for adults (at least 18 years of age) to participate in a training, employment, and cultural exchange program.

But—again, was anyone reading? Gerry didn’t enter the country on any of those visas. They are all non-immgrant visas. Gerry entered on an immigrant visa—and the IRS has a copy of it—which triggered the Permanent Resident card, which he received two months later, exactly as promised. And the letter said if. IF you entered on one of these visas, we need more information.

So … what? What does the IRS want from us?

I call Jan. She says, “We see this type of thing all the time. They either don’t read what was submitted, or don’t know the correct answer, so we have to break everything down for them.”

Oh. That’s reassuring.

There’s more. Jan goes on:

Plus, their data-entry skill level has declined over the past 12–18 months.
We particularly have to point out when payments have actually been made, and cleared (often showing front and back of check).
The more I read the letter the more I think they are just asking for clarification. And that the reference to “F1” or “J1” etc. is just standard verbiage not even coming into play here. If it makes you feel any better, we help clients respond to notices like this almost every week.

I fasten on the word clarification. OK, we can do that. We compose a letter:

I am a US lawful permanent resident (green card holder). I officially retired from my Irish job in 2016 and now live with my wife (a US citizen). I began collecting my pension in 2016.
I would like to pay tax on this pension income in the United States, but until I can provide Form 6166 to Irish Revenue, they will continue to withhold tax.
In the attached letter I received from you, you ask for information, to wit, “If you hold an F1, J1, M1 or Q1 visa and filed a form 1040 …” but I do not hold a visa (I enclosed a copy of my permanent resident card with Form 8802) and did not file a form 1040 for 2015 (this was indicated on line 8 of Form 8802).
I am simply trying to get out in front of my tax situation so that I can properly file a 2016 tax return in the US. Currently taxes are being withheld in Ireland on income that will also be taxed in the United States.
Please help me understand what I can do to move this application forward.

And we mail it off. A month goes by. And two days ago, another letter. “We received your application for a US Residency Certification but we are unable to issue a certification.” Why? Because the IRS says we failed to respond in thirty days. Furthermore, they say our $85 is forfeit.

Honestly, it was hard not to cry, looking at this letter. I felt completely demoralized. We have done everything we know to do, but it feels like they are toying with us. We’ve spent at least $20 on postage (I note this because these things add up—as does the time spent).

We only want to do things the right way—by the book. We’re not trying to cheat. Just getting Gerry into the country legally was enormously expensive—more than $5,000—but we accounted for every jot and tittle of US immigration law. Now we are trying to prepare to pay our taxes, straight up. Neither of us objects to that, to paying our fair share. I am self-employed—which means I am both employer and employee: I pay both sets of taxes. And that’s OK.

So why can’t we satisfy the folks at the IRS when we are trying so hard to do so? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. We are two mature, intelligent human beings and English is our native language. I can only imagine how frustrating these things must be for people who do not have our advantages.

UPDATE: After consulting with Jan, we wrote another letter to the IRS, made copies of all the previous correspondence, and spent another $8 or so to mail it to Philadelphia, return receipt requested. Two days—two days!—after we mailed it, we received a new letter from the IRS. “Dear Taxpayer,” it began. “We have certified your request for relief from being taxed twice (double taxation).” Gerry’s Form 6166 was enclosed. To our minds, this confirms at least one thing we suspected: the person who opens the envelope automatically rejects it. It also makes us think that the final-notice-forfeited-fee letter was programmed to print and mail from the very beginning, and there’s no one clicking that “reject” button to the “off” position—even though we can now see they got our second letter and initiated proceedings to issue the form we needed well before the reject letter was issued. This is a sad reflection on the IRS.

An Early Christmas Present from Uncle Sam

It’s been an interesting season, this one, starting with Gerry’s arrival in the US on an emigrant’s visa toward the end of October.

Usually he arrives and we have a whole list of things that need to get done (by him) and we have to rush rush rush to do them. He even said a few days after his arrival, “I almost said to you, ‘I need to do X, Y, and Z before I go back.’” We had a good laugh about that.

But it’s been busy, what with Thanksgiving and Christmas, and emigration issues weren’t formost on our minds. Then they were: when the mail arrived on Christmas Eve, Gerry had an early Christmas present—his green card!

Wow! There it is!

Wow! There it is!

The culmination of a year’s worth of fret and worry, in one little first-class envelope.

It’s not over yet. This card is good for two years, and then he’ll have to file for a permanent one. But this’ll do for now. 🙂

• • •

If you want to read about our immigration story, here are eight posts: Immigration Woes (Part 1); Our Attorney Laughed at Us; Getting Back to Normal; Immigration Woes (Part 2); Like the La Brea Tar Pit; Slogging to Dublin; It’s a Great Day for a Celebration; and A Long Day at the Airport.

 

A Long Day at the Airport

20 October 2015, Monday
We were up at 5:30 with no time to do anything but shower. No breakfast, because we had to leave before the dininng room opened. But the cab driver was great, right on time, loaded it all up and unloaded it at the airport—and he and Gerry had a great chat on the way.

We both know Gerry’s not leaving Ireland forever—that’s such a dramatic word!—we can come back any time we want, for heaven’s sake. But he won’t be living in Ireland anymore, and that’s pretty momentuous. A lot to process. And I don’t think Gerry would disagree that he was addled, kept forgetting where he’d put things and doublechecking and just generally was a wreck. At one point thought he’d left his phone in the cab but there it was in his breast pocket. 🙂 It wasn’t so much the leaving as it was nerves that somehow something would go wrong and he wouldn’t end up on the plane with me.

The first test was at check-in. There was a long line to check the luggage, and the woman operating the computer check-in for the airlines—the fast-moving line—said, “I can’t seat you together.” I said, “Well, that’s interesting, because we paid extra to sit in the bulkhead together and to board in group 1.” (In my opinion—and I know the airlines don’t care what I think—all this group number stuff is bullsh*t; they should just load the plane from the back forward and be done with it. Yes, that means the first class folks would board last. But I for one hate having to sidle past people trying desperately not to bump them even though they’re hanging their arms out into the aisle like it’s their godgiven right to hang their arms into the aisle. Boarding would go a lot faster if we loaded from back to front, IMHO.)

The clerk’s response was, “You’ll have to get the guy at the counter to fix it for you.” OK, that’s fine, we had time, but Gerry was grumbling. He paid for those tickets, dagnabbit!

And I get that. But usually the airlines can sort these things out if you keep pushing … with a smile. I said, “Put on a happy face, honey, because if there’s any problem, the clerk is more likely to want to fix it for us if we’re nice. In particular, we have heavy bags; we’d like him to see those borderline bags as underweight rather than overweight.”

This makes sense, of course; it’s the whole you-catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-you-do-with-vinegar thing, but in the heat of the moment—we paid good money for special tickets, after all—it’s easy to get distracted from the end goal. So we were at the window for quite a while—we were checking four bags, plus the clerk had to fix the ticket problem—but we used our happy faces and there was never a problem, never a doubt that we’d be sitting together. In fact, we chatted and chuckled. At one point I made some remark and the guy laughed, and I said, “Thank you for laughing” and he said, “No, thank you for laughing.” So this is my theory about the airlines: you can be an asshole and let a moderately stressful situation escalate—and think about it, there are probably all sorts of ways an airline clerk can make things difficult for you and you’d never know—or you can be not-an-asshole and keep your travel experience in the moderately stressful zone. Air travel isn’t fun unless you can afford to fly first class. (And I’m not sure it is even then … but I wouldn’t know.)

It’s also exhausting. Our flying/changing planes/flying time alone was twelve hours, and we were at the airport three-plus hours before flying, and up an hour before that—so sixteen hours. At least we left the line happy, right?

So here’s what it was like to leave Dublin on this day, the culmination of a year’s worth of correspondence with the Department of Homeland Security:

1. Check bags, obtain boarding pass; show passport the first time (but not the last).

1a. Put on a happy face for the clerk who will weigh your bags (let them be underweight, ohplease ohpleaseohplease) and also help you find that expensive bulkhead seat the first clerk couldn’t find (it’s there, just couldn’t be accessed through the automated system); the happy face assures this happy outcome. Clerk even laughs. Mission accomplished.

2. Go through security, show passport again, take off shoes, and etc ad nauseam.

3. Go to US Preclearance; to get there, go through a second, more thorough security (remove shoes, show passport for third time).

4. Wait in line to see the customs agent; Americans to the right, “all others” to the left. Americans may go to the left with their spouses if desired (say yes; it’s a shorter line, though in this case I had no intention of missing the Gerry Hampson Emigration Show).

5. Talk to the customs agent; show passport for fourth time, identify your luggage online.

5a. Americans traveling alone (i.e., me, usually) have passport stamped, identify their bags, and are told, “Welcome to the United States of America” (or, alternately, “Welcome home”).

5b. Irish folk traveling alone (i.e., Gerry, usually) must place four fingers and then the thumb, both left and right, on the electronic fingerprint reader and identify their bags; occasionally they have to answer questions, which, if answered correctly, means their passport is stamped and they are passed through.

At this point in the past you entered the concourse and gates; it is not a retail / culinary paradise (at the Dublin airport you need to do that before you go through security, so allow extra time if you want to shop). However, if you are emigrating

6. You get out your sealed papers from the US embassy; you might (or might not) have already noticed that they doctored your well-used passport, creating and pasting in a whole new photo page with your new address and new passport photo and new temporary permanent residency visa number to replace your old Irish passport number.

7. The customs agent escorts you to the office—the Admissibility Review Area—where you wait (see photo) for the next available agent (there’s only one). Your passport and sealed papers are put in the waiting area (see also photo) for the next available agent.

IMG_1589

8. When your name is called, you and your spouse hustle up to the window; you haven’t had breakfast yet (breakfast room wasn’t due to open for another 30 minutes when you left the hotel fully 3.5 hours before your scheduled flight for the 5-minute cab ride to the airport) and you would really, really like to get something to eat before they start boarding the plane. Flight time is about an hour from now.

8a. The agent reviews the papers, sees that all is in order, has a pleasant chat with you, stamps your passport, and says, “Welcome home, Mr. Hampson.”

At that point we had thirty minutes before they would begin boarding, so we ran and got sandwiches. In the Nashville and Chicago airports, it’s like a fast- and not-so-fast-food heaven on the other side of security, full of restaurants, but once you enter the US preclearance in Dublin, there is precious little food. We wolfed our sandwiches and then went to wait, and lo and behold, Richie showed up to wish us a safe journey.

And then we got on the plane.

Hark, now, hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

We only had an hour in between flights in Chicago, which would have been difficult for me, stressful, but it’s a lot easier traveling with two. And that flight from Chicago is a short one, so you have the anticipation of being almost home.

When we got to Nashville, we had a welcoming committee, with homemade signs and ringing little tinkly bells when they saw us! We are so blessed!

Debo (friend), Teresa (sister-in-law), Jon (brother), Gerry, Gwen( friend), Amy (friend).

Debo (friend), Teresa (sister-in-law), Jon (brother), Gerry, Gwen( friend), Amy (friend).

Our friends helped us carry luggage out to the pick-up zone, where more friends, the Byrums, were waiting to take us home.

 Jon, Teresa, Amy, Gerry, Jenny, Kerry.

Jon, Teresa, Amy, Gerry, Jenny, Kerry.

Home!

It had been a year since Bean had seen Gerry, but she just couldn’t get enough of him.

It had been a year since Bean had seen Gerry, but she just couldn’t get enough of him.

Like the La Brea Tar Pit

Waaaaaaaait … I was telling a friend about the Great Immigration Adventure, and when I got to the part about whistling past the National Visa Center graveyard, I had a brain fart. I was going to be in Dublin in two weeks (the June trip). What if … what if I just walk in to the U.S. Embassy and … ask?

It doesn’t hurt to ask, right? And I have firsthand experience that “Sometimes Things Work Out” if you ask. I promulgated this theory to our attorney, and was astonished, a little, when she said she thought it was a good idea. “Let’s meet next week. I’ll coach you on what to say and give you the files,” she said.

Then, as it turns out, that next week—the week before I left—the computer got unstuck, she was able to make the payment digitally, and it was acknowledged. That was 8 June 2015. So we abandoned our plan for me to go into the embassy and beg.

Seven weeks later—the wheels of the Immigration Service grind exceedingly slow—on 28 July, Gerry received this message from the National Visa Center:

All documentation necessary to complete the National Visa Center’s processing of your case has been received. As soon as an interview date has been scheduled, the applicant, petitioner and attorney (if applicable) will be notified.

The applicant should NOT make any travel arrangements, sell property, or give up employment until the US Embassy or Consulate General has issued a visa.

The US Embassy or Consulate General may require additional documentation at the time of the interview.

So … this is good news. But don’t get too excited—we must wait, now, for that interview to be scheduled. And here’s what our Internet friends at Hammond Law Group say:

Once your immigrant visa (green card) case is finished being processed by the (National Visa Center) NVC, you will receive a letter … Once the NVC has completed that process, it notifies the appropriate consulate that the case is ready to be scheduled for an interview, and sends this letter to the applicant advising the case has reached the point at which it is ready to be transferred to the consulate.

The interview is normally scheduled within 30 to 60 days after this letter is issued. The reason the NVC letter says do not make travel arrangements, sell property, or give up employment is that the NVC does not know when the consulate is going to schedule the interview, and does not want the applicant to think the interview will happen immediately. There is no guarantee the interview will happen that soon (not to mention another retrogression sets in, moving the dates back), so they don’t want the applicant giving up property or jobs, etc., until they are sure the interview is going to take place.

If you receive this letter and then do not receive an interview notice within 60 days, you should follow up with the NVC just to make sure you have not missed any communication from them about the interview.

Notice that part about the retrogression. We’ve already experienced one of those during our process.

Now, if you’re keeping track at home, sixty days from the time we received the letter puts us to 28 September—the day before I’m set to depart for Dublin for our wedding celebration on 3 October. Gerry could get an interview appointment while I’m on the plane back to Dublin.

After the party, we’re planning a little honeymoon in Donegal. It’s a five-hour drive from Dublin. We’re hoping, of course, that the interview will happen before I arrive. So we’re thinking good thoughts and hope you will too …

But we’re not going to speculate. If the interview gets set for time we’re scheduled to be in Donegal, we’ll just put Gerry on a regional airline in Donegal Town and he can go straight to the Embassy from the airport. If he “passes” the interview (and he will, of course), he’ll be given the provisional visa right then, on the spot.

So we’re moving forward … and we still don’t know a thing! Not a thing! It’s a little like being stuck in the tar pit … 🙂

Immigration Woes (Part 2)

Now that we’re married and the petition has been filed to obtain the visa that will allow Gerry to enter the country and stay … we have this low-boil wish for it all to just be done.

We have some young friends—she the daughter of good friends, he an Australian she met on a missions trip—who just got married, after having approached the process from the point of view of a Fiancé Visa. Once you get one of those, you have 90 days to get married. The only trouble is you cannot predict with any degree of accuracy when you’ll get the visa until you have it in your hot little hand. They pulled that wedding together, though. 🙂

I hosted a couple of the Australian groomsmen at our place.

Three Yanks, Three Aussies.

Three Yanks, Three Aussies.

But we’re approaching it from a different angle.

We first looked into the immigration process back in 2008 … but it was too soon for us then. We were trying to get our ducks in a row: that is, plan for our retirement, make sure we could cross every T, dot every I.

The Monday after we got married, 27 October 2014, I filed the petition to bring Gerry permanently to the United States. Katja Hedding, here in Murfreesboro, is our wonderful immigration attorney.

On 30 March 2015 (five months!), the petition was approved by the USCIS. They forwarded it to the National Visa Center, where we would be assigned a case number. Katja said it would take two months (because it’s been published that they’re two months behind on opening mail), but as it turned out, it was only five weeks.

That was probably the only part of the process that happened sooner than expected.

On 8 May 2015, the petition arrived at the NVC and was assigned a case number, provided we paid additional fees (this is not a cheap process, ha). After the fee is paid, we (Katja, really) can start submitting all the additional paperwork (among other things, a “Police Certificate” from the Garda Síochána confirming that Gerry is not a criminal, and including his fingerprints). Once the NVC receives these documents (Katja has all of them ready to go), it should take a couple months to get an interview scheduled. This interview will take place at the U.S. Consulate in Dublin. When Gerry “passes” the interview (which will include presentation of a certified medical exam—presumably so he doesn’t enter the country with Ebola? Oh, wait … someone’s already done that) he will be issued a visa (on the spot? I don’t know).

At that point, visa in hand, Gerry has six months to enter the United States. The visa is good for two years, at which point he will apply for a permanent residency status (what used to be called a green card).

But … we’ve hit a snag.

The NVC’s computer is down and Katja hasn’t been able to pay the fee for two weeks. Sure, she could send a certified check, but it takes two months just for someone to open the mail at the facility, remember (see links below). We know from experience that the computer goes up and down. So she tries every day. And we wait to hear.

We’ve been fairly sanguine about it. I mean, hey, this situation’s been rocking on for twelve years, so what’s a few more days … weeks … months? Right? We have all these lists of things that have to be done, and nothing’s moving. And now that the process is started, Gerry can’t enter the country. Thus the low, slow boil.

Dagnabbit, we’ve both got Immigration Fatigue.

We’re tired, y’all.

We’re tired, y’all.

We would like for this to come to its reasonable conclusion. We would like, please God, for Gerry to fly back with me on the same flight, on 21 October 2015, after our Dublin reception and honeymoon. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Except the NVC computer is still down. I could resort to acronyms, here, to describe my pique (WTF, Uncle Sam? Good grief! Fix it!), but instead I’ll just explain. Or I’ll let Forbes explain:

For foreign spouses outside the U.S., the post-I-130 petition process begins with the National Visa Center (NVC), the quarterback of the U.S. Consular system. It is the job of the NVC to collect all of the paperwork needed to process an application overseas and then to hand it off to a U.S. Consulate for adjudication and approval. This is where things get bogged down.

According to a recent report, the NVC processes 2.6 million cases per year and out of those, about 100,000 are spousal cases. From the numbers provided in this report, one can calculate that they deal with over 20,000 pieces of mail every day. That’s a lot of mail.

Anyone who has dealt with the NVC lately knows that they are severely backlogged. They cannot even look at a piece of urgent mail until it has been in their office for around 2 months. In one case I had, we struggled to get the NVC to expedite an application for a foreign spouse who was dying from cancer so she could join her U.S. citizen sponsor. Urgent e-mails were sent and phone calls were made and still it took four months for the matter to be approved.

But why? I still don’t get the why. The Murthy law firm in Maryland says,

For fiscal year 2014 (FY14), which ran from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014, the NVC received substantially more family-based immediate relative cases than in years past. In FY14, the volume of such cases peaked at 25,000 per week, but has leveled off a bit to 17,000 per week. Still, this is up significantly from the approximately 8,000 per week received by the NVC in prior years. The NVC is also now seeing an increase in other types of cases.

The result of this volume increase has been a delay at the NVC in processing times. The NVC has improved its front-end processing backlog, called case creation. This process was taking 45 days during the summer of 2014. As of November 2014, the front-end processing timeframe has been reduced to approximately two weeks. However, delays continue at the document review stage. The NVC reports timeframes of just under two months for this part of the process. While this is a slight improvement, the NVC is working toward cross training employees and otherwise shifting personnel to address this problem.

Why so much immigration activity? Honestly, I have no idea. I poked around on the interwebs but there’s no hard data I can access, though plenty of speculation. A lot of nurses coming in from the Philippines. A lot of refugees from war zones. Companies importing high-tech workers.

And an Irish husband who would like to join his wife in Tennessee. 🙂

As is always the case in these sorts of things, there are a lot of moving parts. Different departments of the government handle different parts of the process. In Gerry’s case, we start at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), move to the National Visa Center (NVC) and take a brief detour with the U.S. State Department.

As I was writing this, we heard again from Katja. The technical difficulties at the NVC will not allow our case to move forward; she cannot even access our case online anymore (and online is the only place it exists). The computer is down, down, down. So she’s going to do an end-run around the computer: she is contacting the U.S. Embassy to ask them to accept Gerry’s case directly.

Fingers crossed.

Immigration Woes (Part 1)

1 November 2008
Many of you have wanted to know why we were disappointed with what we learned from the immigration attorney, so here’s a brief—though possibly confusing—summary. It seems that Homeland Security does not believe in long-distance relationships, nor long engagements. Put another way, the United States government simply can’t fathom that a man in a relationship with a US citizen might not be ready to break the land speed record to move here. That he might, in fact, have some business to take care of first, even though he would like to declare his commitment to said US citizen.

Some of you may remember that two Octobers ago Gerry had a harrowing encounter with a US immigration agent in Dublin, just as he was to board the plane to come here. She wanted to know why he was coming here so often, and what kind of job he had that allowed him so much vacation time (Americans don’t get nearly the amount of vacation time that Europeans do). She got up in his face, yelled at him, and did everything but call him a liar outright. Gerry is a pretty mellow individual, but he eventually snapped at her that in case she hadn’t noticed, the economy in his country was doing just fine and the Irish no longer needed or wanted to move to the States to make a living. (The attorney tells us this was a mistake. The immigration agent could have denied him entry had he made her really mad, and if that had happened, he couldn’t have entered the US for five years. Oh the bliss of ignorance, eh?)

Turns out, that was the Ghost of Christmas Future.

If Gerry works another seven years at his job he’ll get the maximum pension (yes, they still have those in Ireland, along with the longer vacations) from his company. So he’d like to do that. And it’s that seven-year thing that the folks at Homeland Security just can’t wrap their minds around. Gerry’s not just vacationing here; he has a fiancée here. If you’ve traveled to another country, you know they always ask you why you want to come in. And you might say “I’m vacationing” or “I’m here on business.” You’re expected to tell the truth; if you don’t, that’s considered fraud. But if Gerry says “I’m here to visit my fiancée,” HS won’t let him come to the US on a visitor’s visa—he’ll have to come on a fiancée visa. Once he’s traveling on a fiancée visa, though, he is expected to get married within ninety days (hence the disapproval of long engagements). And that would be OK with us … except that once he marries, he would be expected to move here permanently. In significantly less time than seven years.

Do you see the conundrum? Of the four possible ways to initiate paperwork to get a Permanent Residence document (they’re no longer green, but go ahead and think of it as a green card if you’d like), none takes longer than a couple years. The process also costs a minimum of $3000—so it’s not something we’d want to initiate, then let lapse, then start again, and repeat (this was an actual suggestion made by the attorney, but even if she were to take the maximum time to complete the various forms, drawing the procedure out perhaps an extra year, the repeated lapsing and reinitiating carries its own danger of raising red flags … and would be expensive).

The attorney says Gerry should only come here once a year from now on. That would be the safest thing to do … because the more often he comes to the US, the more likely it is that that unpleasant encounter at the customs desk will happen again. The attorney prepared us for this. She told Gerry to travel with copies of the deed to his house in Ireland, check stubs from work, copies of his utility bills … anything to prove he has a permanent life in Ireland and isn’t trying to sneak into the US. And IF another customs agent gets in a twist (and they’re trained to do this: the yelling, the invading of one’s personal space, the calling you a liar—it’s not a personal failing but an intentional tactic, one’s own personal Guantanamo experience, so to speak), even with all Gerry’s documentation of his Irish life, he should not wait for the gasket to blow. He should say, “I withdraw my application to enter the United States” (thus preventing the agent from denying him access and encountering that five-year prohibition, which is impossible to break). Then he should go home, call me, and have me call our attorney, who will start trying to fix it.

It’s a sobering thought.

So what do we do? We don’t want to deceive anyone, we don’t want to cut any corners; we want to do everything by the book. And we’d also like to plan for our future. These two things seem to be mutually exclusive at the moment.