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

green card wedding
The Enchanted Deli Line of Love

In parts one and two of this series, I wrote about getting my permanent residency materials in order so I could submit them as soon as possible after the wedding. By Thursday, Jan. 29, everything was in order except for the marriage certificate that we would get the next day at the wedding.

We were keeping our plans secret from everyone except our families and our witnesses, and a marriage is a really fun secret to keep. Thursday night I had an out-of-town friend stay over; we made dinner, drank beer, talked city politics, and didn’t let out a peep. Friday morning P went to work and I went to yoga; we planned to meet up with each other and our witnesses at the Office of the City Clerk at 1 p.m.

At 11 a.m. I got home from yoga, showered, changed my clothes, and called my parents. “Are you married?” they asked.

“No,” I told them. “I’m getting ready to go now!”

I wore a blue J. Crew dress I had bought for my cousin’s wedding a year and a half ago, a black cardigan, a pair of new earrings that I had purchased especially for the occasion ($52), and a pair of SmartWool socks over my tights and under my boots. (Maybe the best part about quasi-eloping is that I got to wear SmartWool to my wedding.)

I took the subway to the City Clerk’s Office and met P, who was standing outside chatting with the flower vendor. “Do you want flowers?” he asked. “They’re $30.”

“What the hell!” I said and picked out a bouquet of dyed-orange roses. The flower vendor said that he was a veteran, had worked doing tech for a Wall Street bank until his job got outsourced to India, and then took over his uncle’s City Hall flower stand. He told us that it wasn’t too busy at the marriage office that day, especially for a Friday.

Inside the building we gawked at other couples: a tall blond lady in four-inch Lucite heels and a full-length sparkly wedding gown next to the old gay men next to a family group so big and well dressed we couldn’t tell who was getting married. We met up with two friends who served as our witnesses, took a number, and waited to be called. It was, as the cliché goes, like a DMV where everyone is in a good mood. It’s an administrative process of going from a desk to a window to a bench back to a window and showing your ID and your marriage license and paying the fee ($25). The processing and waiting was maybe 45 minutes; the ceremony took 90 seconds.

We posed for some photos outside; one of our witnesses works for a big media company and had borrowed some fancy camera lenses. P and I had drafted a “we-just-got-married-please-meet-us-at-the-bar” email the night before—we attached a photo and hit send while standing in the park outside the building. We walked past the city jail and the bail bonds place to a Thai restaurant around the corner, our phones blowing up with emails and phone calls.

“CITY HALL WEDDINGS ARE THE BEST!” replied one friend, “It is the enchanted deli line of love.”

After lunch ($50 for me and P’s share, including the bottle of wine) we took the subway back to Brooklyn and went right to our local bar. We were met with prosecco and flowers thanks to some suspicion and colluding on the part of some friends and a favorite bartender. There were drinks, cake (baked by one of our witnesses, complete with bride+groom figurines), and ridiculous balloons sent by a dear out-of-town friend. There was a lot of hugging and shoulder punching and at some point there were burritos. While walking home, some drunk dudes outside a different bar yelled “what are the balloons for?”

“I just got married!” I shouted back, and then we all threw up our hands and hollered for a moment.

Saturday morning we got up, went for a walk for coffee and doughnuts ($10), and then finalized the application. We signed and dated all the forms, counted the passport photos, and wrote the checks.

Sunday morning we went to P’s office to scan the application (109 pages!), took the originals to the postal place to send them to the USCIS office in Chicago ($33.10, with tracking info). It should be about three months before I get my Employment Authorization Document, which lets me work, and Advance Parole, which lets me leave the country without abandoning the application. We expect a green card interview three months after that. Then I will be a provisional permanent resident (wrap your head around this one), and after two years, I’ll can apply to remove the provisional status.

Sunday evening we went to a Super Bowl party and ate chips and dip as husband and wife.

Costs so far

Previous total: $364.75

• Yoga mat rental Friday morning: $2 (I forgot mine at home because I was a bit distracted)
• Earrings to wear to the wedding: $52
• Rings (bought on Etsy from a friend of a friend): $665
• Street vendor flowers: $30
• Marriage ceremony: $25
• Presents for our witnesses: $80
• Thai lunch after the wedding $50 (me and P’s share)
• Money spent on drinks at the surprise party we threw for our friends: $0 (thanks, friends!)
• Nuptial burritos: $0 (thanks again, friends!)
• Post-nuptial coffee and doughnuts ($10)
• I-130 (Petition for an Alien Relative) Fee: $420
• I-485 (Adjustment of Status application) Fee: $1,070 (includes $85 biometrics fee)
• I-756 (Employment Authorization) Fee: Free. No fee if filed with form I-485
• I-131 (Advance Parole) Fee: Free. No fee if filed with form I-485
• Expresspost of envelope to Chicago: $33.10

Total this installment: $2,437.10
Cumulative total: $2801.85


Wedding related expenses: $949
Immigration related expenses: $1852.85


The writer lives in New York.



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