The Cost of Becoming a U.S. Permanent Resident, Part II

Green Card
Part one of this series is here.

In our household accounting spreadsheet, P and I almost forgot to make two separate categories for wedding and immigration expenses; right now they kind of seem like the same thing. The city hall wedding, while a pretty fun engagement with the municipal apparatus—was the first step towards staying in America above board. And like the I-693 described in my last post, the marriage certificate is just one of the many parts of the permanent residency application.

On the morning of January 12, we went to the marriage bureau office in Brooklyn and got a marriage license. You need to get a marriage license at least 24 hours before you get married, it’s good for two months (unless you’re on active military duty, in which case you get six months). We got to the office when they opened at 8:30 a.m., confirmed all the information we had filled in online (our names, birthdays, lack of previous marriages, parents’ names and places of birth). We paid $35 and received a fancy piece of paper that allowed us to get married anywhere in New York state. The woman in the fluorescent-lit drop-ceilinged room asked us if we were coming back to get married; we told her that we were going to Manhattan.

We got married the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 30 with the intent to send in our permanent residency application on Monday. Feb. 2; we needed to have the packet assembled before the actual wedding. The copy of Marriage and Fiancé Visas I had taken out of the library was an invaluable guide to figuring out all the specific pieces and walking us through what to type in every box. We had spreadsheets, checklists, and drop boxes to manage it all. I typed my married name over and over again even though it wasn’t my name yet. I went to the passport services office at the Brooklyn Public Library and got two sets of passport photos taken to include with the various applications. We gathered our evidence of marriage: printed out the statements from our shared bank accounts and affidavits from our friends who would be at City Hall swearing that we were really a couple and that they were at our wedding (they signed them after the actual wedding! We were very certain to make sure that happened in the right order). We assembled the documents that proved that my U.S. citizen husband made enough money so that I wouldn’t need government welfare benefits (form I-864EZ, W2s, and tax transcripts).

On the Sunday before the wedding, we spread everything out on the kitchen table (our 103-inch Ikea Norden finally living up to its full potential!), and re-read the instruction documents and updated our checklists. We needed some photocopies of our passports and birth certificates, and P also needed to get passport photos taken. I also needed another set of passport photos—I had overlooked that they were needed for form I-131, the application for “Advance Parole” which is the authorization to leave the country while my permanent residency application is pending.

On Monday, P scanned and copied the documents and got his passport photos taken. I went back to Passport Services at the Brooklyn Public Library to get another set of photos taken. The woman there recognized me and asked, not unkindly, “Why do you need so many photos?” I explained, and she nodded, skeptically. I contented myself knowing that, though possibly crazy, I wasn’t there to get a passport for a noisy squirmy baby like many others in the room.

Monday night I added all the new things in, checking off my checklists and being very pleased at my project management skills. I carefully re-read the application instructions as I did this, to double check the work I had done, smug about having it all covered. We had everything except for our marriage certificate and the signed letters from our friends.

“Do you think I’d be a good bureaucrat?” I asked P.

“You’d be the best,” he said.

And then, as I looked over the last pile, I saw something I hadn’t noticed before: form I-765, the Employment Authorization application, also required a set of passport-style photos. Two inches by two inches, on glossy paper, with my name written on the back in pencil. This was the only form I had filled out before—I’ve been authorized to work in the U.S. through the pre-completion OPT program—so I must have glossed over the instructions. Of course it requires passport photos: they issue you a little card with YOUR FACE ON IT!

Tuesday was the Snow Day that Shut Down New York, so I couldn’t go back to the library. Maybe I couldn’t ever go back to the library! Maybe they would think I’m a crazy lady who has a collection of $15 pairs of tiny unsmiling photos of herself. (Like a less charming dude-from-Amelie.)

On Wednesday morning I worked my Park Slope Food Coop shift, and then went to the library and got two more photos taken. I walked in quietly and met the woman’s confused eyes. “I miscounted,” I said. “I need another set of photos.”

Costs so far

Previous: $250
• Marriage and Fiancé Visas book from the library (renewed twice): Free
• Marriage license: $35
• First 2 set of my passport photos: $30
• Coffee at the Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in the library: $1.50
• Third set of my passport photos: $15
• Another cup of coffee at the Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in the library: $1.50
• Set of P’s passport photos (at FedEx-Kinkos): $16.75

Total this installment: $114.75

Cumulative total: $364.75


The writer lives in New York.



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