A week, two weeks, a month passed with no update. In late October I scheduled a meeting with the Field Office from sheer impatience. To get an appointment at the USCIS Baltimore Office you have to stay up till midnight and then log into the system at 12:01 am and grab 1 of 40 or so slots that run out faster than concert tickets (because every pained immigrant soul who is waiting or has a case would love nothing more than to speak to a human and ask them what’s happening). I got an appointment for the following week and went in to discover that they actually didn’t have our applications in Baltimore anymore. I felt queasy. I told the front desk agent “it was only two days, you’ll couldn’t keep the file to make a decision till the new supply of visas came? I thought I remembered the Officer saying she’d keep it for two weeks to make a decision.” With a blank face he responded “no we don’t keep applications that are not current, not even for a day”.
As I was driving back home the emotions seemed to shake the steering wheel. All I wanted was a decision, regardless of what that decision was. And now I knew for sure things looked worse. That’s the other thing about this immigration system. There are so many of you, you are almost worth nothing to the system – just a number, replaceable. The truth is we were looking at a black hole now. The applications were in an unknown location with an unknown processing time. You can call any number you’d like and all you’ll get for a response is that “it is in processing”. I tried to not drown in the sorrows and joys of online forum sites but I couldn’t help but go somewhere. So many hundreds and thousands of stories, some positive, others mostly hopeless. So many differences in experiences and so much of variation in outcomes, details and assumptions to the point of nausea. I read that another Sri Lankan girl with a similar profile to mine got her’s six days after the interview, and others have been waiting for 6 or more months after their fates have been handed to the NBC. There’s an online Case Status website that you can put your code in and see the status. I logged in every day for the first and second week hoping we’d see the decision only to be disappointed after every Enter. I told myself I wouldn’t check this site again but I’d come back in intervals of weeks or months like an addict to no avail.
At some point, even though I had thought I’d already reached that point, something switched in my head to seriously learn not to care. My visa for the H1-B would expire in September 2019. ICF, being ever so gracious as always, said they would renew my visa for another three years – but I didn’t even know if this was what I wanted anymore. So I decided to hang on for a few more months and let fate take its course. My key decisions on getting married, where we would live, next goals etc. all hung in the balance of this verdict and no one could do anything about it. So I did what I always do – I prayed a lot, and I went to Sri Lanka. In December I wanted to get away, forgetting the precautions of being advised to limit travel when in these sensitive adjustment of status situations. What was the worst that could happen? Ban me and send me back to Sri Lanka?
In January, on a normal evening when I was working a shift from home in Sri Lanka, I was in the middle of checking some paperwork for an item unrelated when I stumbled across a cryptic update in my lawyer’s account profile that said “certificate approval notice” received on January 7, 2019. Not knowing what this was I followed up and soon learnt that the lawyers had received approval notices for the Green Cards. Not even being outraged at them for not sharing this vital update I remember thanking God and then informing the closest people around me. I’m the type of person that doesn’t get my hopes up until I see it to believe it. So until I had the physical Green Card I didn’t trust the update or what it was implying. I came back to the U.S. at the end of January and still didn’t receive the Green Cards even though we had official Welcome notices sent to us. A call to USCIS had an agent tell me they should be coming soon. A few weeks later, another call to USCIS had an agent tell me “did the previous representative file a ‘card not received’ case for you?”
“No” I said, not even taking the time to feel an emotion.
We filed such a request, and received the cards in two weeks.
And yet, after telling you all of this, I would also like to tell you that I am by far one of the luckier ones – just because I was born in Sri Lanka. Had I been born in a country like China or India, I’d probably be writing this very article a decade from now or maybe not even at all.
A Few Parting Words
To those readers who are currently in this journey or are preparing to set down this road, I would tell you what I always tell my mentees. Do everything you can that is within your power to do, after that let the Universe take its course. There is no point getting frustrated with forces that are larger than you. The yes/no is not a reflection of you but a reflection of this broken system. It is a system that chases eager talent away from its shores to eventually rise in other lands and compete against its very economy – ironic I know. Because I have faith in God (Allah) this journey was made much easier for me, knowing that every misstep, delay, failure and success is part of a greater higher reason—ultimately that everything happens for the best along the lines of divine reasoning. I know not everyone has this view, but simply understanding that every stressor is not yours to bear and doing what you can and learning to let Life take its course is important when you set yourself up to take this journey for what you think you deserve.
We constantly hear that the U.S. Immigration System is broken. As much as it is, and as tedious as it is to navigate, it has its merits and good intentions – this is undeniable. It is because I believe in the prospects of this system and the opportunity in this country that I still remain here. Flawed as it might be, the system’s intentions are noble to allow someone a shot at immigration and others who want it – naturalization. Yet it needs efficiency, and it needs to favor transparency and accountability. It needs to be patched where loopholes exist and it needs to help the own country it wishes to serve by making it easier for innocent, eager talent to stay and rise in a country that relentlessly beats the drum of the American Dream. Why should a prospective international student come to America when Canada and Australia make it so much easier should they wish to start a new life and contribute to the host economy? Recent statistics show that U.S. admissions rates have declined significantly after 2017 relative to previous years, impacting a $39 billion industry. International students play a key role in university budgets given that they pay higher fees in full relative to their American classmates.
In terms of navigating this system to get the information you need, it’s always good to have a range of resources to support you because you alone will not have the answers. Officially documented immigration policies, procedures and rules do not really exist on a single website or any specific locus. They exist in the brains of lawyers, sheets of secret and public memorandums, on occasional sparse USCIS web pages and in registries with Congress. No one place has all of them. In this fragmented landscape of official immigration law, when you have a FAQ, get ready for some digging. Having a lawyer to be the easy Wikipedia go-to resource always helps but comes at a hefty cost. I wish you the best, and I hope you have all seven of those best friends with you at every step if you decide to walk this path. Remember it is never a dead-end, just new forks that can take you to places even brighter that you could have never known of. Adieu.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article does not serve/constitute for legal advice. If you have a particular immigration question related to the Green Card process, please consult an immigration attorney. For the most up-to-date information, refer to the U.S. government’s official website: www.uscis.gov
- August, 2009: Arrived in the U.S. on an F1 Student Visa
- January, 2013: Adjusted status to OPT
- February, 2013: Hired at ICF
- April, 2013: Filed for an H1-B: Round 1
- October, 2013: H1-B Round 1 begins
- January, 2014: OPT expires
- September, 2016: H1-B: Round 2 begins and expires in September 2019 (a new stopwatch starts)
- October, 2017: ETA 9089 gets approved and the Priority Date is established
- June, 2018: Filed Green Card applications
- July, 2018: Biometrics given
- September, 2018: USCIS Final Interviews
- January, 2019: Green Cards received
It has taken 301, 104, 000 seconds/5, 018, 400 minutes/3, 485 days/9.5 years since I first arrived to study to obtain a Green Card. Still, you can call this case one of the luckier ones. God is good; Alhamdulillah.
Some other useful supporting resources that I’ve personally used and found valuable include:
Fragomen’s website, immigration alerts: https://www.fragomen.com/insights/alerts
Great for the latest immigration alerts. I used to check this all the time to monitor how the Administration was coming up with new ways to make our lives more difficult.
TrackItt forums: https://www.trackitt.com/
A useful place to track the progress of real cases and to engage in discussions. Be warned that you can get lost in all the conversations, leaving you even more hopeless. Keep in mind that experiences in immigration are extremely individual and cannot be compared like apples to apples. Nevertheless, there is comfort in knowing you are not struggling alone.
USCIS Official Homepage: https://www.uscis.gov/