Want to bring your foreign wife to the US? This is what you’ll have to do.
This is a post I wrote on Facebook about my immigration experience bringing my wife into the US.
Let’s talk about “extreme vetting” for immigrants wanting to enter the country legally. And let me be very clear. President Trump’s latest executive order suspending immigration from a number of countries is about legal immigration, a very complicated process that can take up to two years for people from the countries affected.
That is not my story. However, let me tell you about my experience with “extreme vetting”, which is to say the normal, almost year long (10 months) process it took me to get my white, western European wife, Suw Charman-Anderson, into the US. We started the process in October 2013, and she landed on 30 June 2014. She had to have a criminal background check.
Next, she had to have a medical check, both physical and mental. What does the medical check include? TB test. Blood test. Vaccine check and vaccinations if she didn’t have them. (She had to get the MMR jab.) We have a male British friend who had his genitals physically examined to ensure he didn’t have any STDs/STIs. Fortunately, Suw didn’t have to suffer through that.
As I said, it also includes a mental health check. Her arrival was delayed by a month because she was briefly treated for depression in her mid-20s, and due to the records being on paper rather digitally stored, they were hard to track down. In the end, it was a single line in her record, totally unremarkable. But that is how thorough the review process is for spousal immigrants from the UK.
UPDATE: Suw posted this on Facebook and asked that I add it. My post continues below.
If anything, Kevin is underplaying the sheer horror of the medical, the invasive questions about my past, knowing that they had to right to demand to examine my genitals and my breasts if they wanted to. Demanding such an examination is ridiculous because it is not a reliable way to asses someone’s sexual health. There are serious infections that simply do not show themselves visually, so this is not about health at all, it is all about exerting power over the applicant.
They asked if I’d ever had chicken pox. I remember having it as a kid, and indeed I have a single pock scar from it, but when he asked when that was, well, I have no clue. None. I was a kid, I didn’t mark this on a calendar. My mum doesn’t even remember me having it.
And the questions about mental health were invasive and overreaching. Had I ever been treated for mental health issues, including depression. When? What was the cause of my depression? What drugs did I take? For how long? Had I had any relapses? Did I have any other mental health issues? I would have to get a letter from my doctor confirming everything I’d said.
Then came the fear of not knowing what was in my medical records, and thus not knowing what the doctor would say. I was a mess by the time the interview was over, and I rang my mum to cry down the phone a bit until I’d calmed down. It was awful.
What I know now, though, that I didn’t know before is that my GP and the NHS were on my side. My GP, when my letter request finally came to the top of the pile, phoned me to ask me roughly what year this was, so that he could leaf through the paper records. In the end, he found a single line, no mention at all of the drugs I’d been briefly prescribed. He checked the wording with me, and then I got to see the letter and had the option to request changes. He did a fabulous job, and was incredibly kind and gentle with me about it. I got the feeling he’d had to do that before.
What I wish I’d done, though, is request to see all of my records *before* the health check. I’d have been able to read through everything, to know exactly what was recorded, know the years, know the full diagnoses.
What I’m lucky about, though, is that a few months earlier I had been in my nurses’s office for something routine, and had glanced at her computer to see my record, and to see a flag for alcohol abuse on it. I pointed out to her that I do not have any history of alcohol abuse at all, and she deleted it without any argument. I have no idea how it got there — she said that it’s quite common because the system uses codes, and it’s easy to hit the wrong keys.
So if anyone is going through any kind of immigration process, I highly recommend that the first thing you do is request to see your records, take your own notes, and make sure that your record is accurate.
Moreover, I, like so many spouses, signed an Affidavit of Support. I had to prove that I was employed, and if Suw ever collected means-tested support from the government for the next 10 years or until she becomes a citizen, I, personally, had to commit to repay every cent to the agency. Oh, and if ICE calls me up, I need to be able to tell them where Suw is for that period of time too.
So to recap. The reality of legal immigration, which is what President Trump just signed an executive order about, is that the person has to go through a criminal background check and a physical and mental health exam. I don’t know whether someone from Syria or Iran has to sign an Affidavit of Support. I do know that migrants from these countries countries go through much more than we did.
That’s reality. People going through the legal process don’t simply traipse into the country, even if they are married to an American and had been married to an American for six years at that point. The President’s assertions that there is no process is a lie, and I’m quite comfortable calling it a lie. It is intended to deceive. So few people have any direct experience of the immigration process that it’s a blank tablet for demagogues.
This is my story. This is my experience. I was separated from the woman I loved for five months (the first five months of the process we were still together in the UK). When I wrote about this when I was editor of the local paper, most people had no idea. They thought I could simply bring Suw over. She was married to an American citizen. No, it was easier for us to import our cats, than it was for me to import my white, western European wife. That’s reality.