The path to citizenship

5 May

002This week my dear husband became an American citizen!

It has been a process 6+ years in the making. We still can’t quite believe we’re done with all the bureaucracy and we officially are an American family! Since much of our history isn’t on this blog, I figured I’d fill in a bit of the back-story here…

We met in January 2005 while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. Our dating quickly became serious, enjoying a wonderful vacation to the Black Sea that summer. He did try to break up with me once, but I wouldn’t let him because his only reason was that he was busy with ‘work.’  When my Peace Corps time was up in December, I went home, which left our relationship up in the air. Hubs wouldn’t commit, but after losing me he was quick to miss me and beg me to come back.

By the end of February 2006 I was back in Ukraine and together we were trying to figure out his future. I had applied to grad schools in the US and in Hungary (there’s a great international university in Budapest). I was admitted to my two best options, so we really needed to decide whether we would stay together, or end it for good.

We got married in August 🙂

Planning a Ukrainian wedding was quite the process. It wasn’t filled with table settings, floral decor, and guest lists. . .instead it was getting legal approval to marry, finding a dress that wasn’t too tacky, and choosing a location at the last minute that we didn’t hate. Ukrainians don’t plan weddings too far ahead of time–things just dont’ work that way. We did virtually all of our planning in the last 2 months, once we had official approval from the US Embassy and Ukrainian civil registry to marry. I also got baptized Russian Orthodox in May so we could marry in the church.My christeningHubs’s parents, sister Ruslana, and her (ex-) boyfriend, Vasya. Vasya and Ruslana are my Godparents. Orthodox wedding Our Orthodox wedding.

During the wedding planning, I decided to begin my Masters degree at Central European University in Budapest. I would be heading to Budapest one month after our wedding to study Political Science for a year. I knew it would be hard, but it was my way to balance my own future and my independence with keeping this relationship that was so important to me. From day one, hubs had no interest in moving to America. He had his own career (first lieutenant in the police department, legal degree, ten years already spent there). He always said he fell in love not because I was American, but in spite of me being American. When we married, we planned to stay in Europe. We didn’t have a specific plan, but my studying in Budapest was in part to advance my education and make connections that could maybe lead to a job at an NGO or embassy or something somewhere near Ukraine.

As the months passed, a few things happened. Hubs’ job got worse–he was always under-paid, over-worked, and under-appreciated (as in, $100/month, sometimes working shifts 24-hrs on, 24hrs off, and all kinds of bribes, scandals, etc). The final straw was having to guard several prisoners with active tuberculosis without any kind of protective precautions. The last thing anyone needs is to deal with TB!

SO, we decided to move to the US. It would have been a huge hassle for hubs to join me in Budapest (though that would have been a dream! I love that city!). Money was tight, visas would have been necessary, and I didn’t love my program–I loved CEU just not political science. I finished out the semester and moved back to Ukraine in December when I applied for permission for Hubs to apply for a visa. It’s a slightly convoluted process, but that’s how it works if you’re married and living abroad. I apply and have an interview. Then hubs was granted permission to apply for a green card. He was scheduled for an interview in January and we set up the medical screening the day before in Kyiv. He needed to have a general medical exam and a screening for communicable diseases (like TB!). He HATES needles, so it was quite the nerve-wracking day for him. As we were awaiting the results, the embassy called. The Department of Homeland Security changed its procedures that day and his application would need to be re-screened at the regional office in Moscow. The interview was off, it would be sometime in the future.

We were devastated! We hadn’t yet bought tickets to the US, but we were ready to go. I only had a few more weeks on my time in Ukraine (they have a 90-day visa free policy for Americans. At that time, you could do 90-days in country, cross the border, and have another 90 days. That has since changed: you can have 90 days in, 90 days out, 90 days in, and so on). So, we planned a trip to Poland. Hubs had never been out of the country and we needed a vacation. So we got him a visa to Poland and we headed to Krakow for a long weekend in February.

KrakowIn Krakow

Just after getting back from Poland, we got the news: Hubs was scheduled for an interview at the end of March!  It was a shockingly easy interview. The consular officer apologized for the delay, had Hubs swear that his application was the truth. . . and that was it. No questions about our relationship, what we’d be doing in the US. He said that Peace Corps marriages were pretty legit and wished us well.

We stayed for Ukrainian Easter and headed to America on April 12th. Hubs had a green card in his hands a month later.

From then on, we built our American life. Hubs opened his business. I had a job and then went back to school. We renewed his green card once (after the first 2 years of a ‘conditional’ permanent residency via spouse, you need to confirm your relationship and renew the green card for a proper full permanent residency). We had a baby. . . and finally we got around to applying for citizenship. Since he got his green card via marriage, he was eligible to apply after only 3 years (2 years temporary green card, 1 year permanent). But at first we were busy, then pregnant and busy, and then very busy with a newborn. And, we didn’t have the extra money (it’s $680 in fees to apply). While pregnant, I applied for medicaid and WIC to help with baby costs, and it turns out that if you’re receiving means-based government support, you can get a fee waiver. I simply sent a copy of our most recent WIC update and a fee waiver form along with his citizenship application and we were able to process it for free. One less worry!

We applied at the end of February. At the end of March, he had his fingerprints & picture taken for a background check. And May 1st was his interview. Super fast processing!

We spent about a month practicing the civics questions for the exam (there’s 100 of them, from which the interviewer will ask 10). We practiced the reading and writing part the weekend before. Hubs was really nervous and I was too–I worried about having all our paperwork in order while he worried about his performance.

On Wednesday, we got there nice and early. Instead of being on the first floor where they do the fingerprinting and visa interviews, the citizenship stuff was on the second floor. We were shocked when we got up there–there were so many people!! He was scheduled for 9:55 am, and we probably got up there at 9:40. He was finally called at 10:30. So it was a fair amount of waiting. Babe was really good, though 🙂

The interview itself took about 20 minutes, and hubs passed with flying colors! The only complication was that he had hoped to change his first name from the Ukrainian spelling to a more widely accepted Russian/American spelling. I guess they couldn’t change it, so he’s stuck. But it meant that he would be naturalized that day.

088

We went outside to get some fresh air, get out of the building, and let N run. After an hour we went back in for the naturalization ceremony, but N had had it. He was at that last hour before he needed a nap and he was tired of that place. So when I brought him into the auditorium, he went crazy. He didn’t want to sit and eat, he didn’t want to play in the accepted area. He wanted to explore and if I intervened in his exploration, he shrieked! So I went out the nearest door to let him calm down a bit, and it led outside. Outside of the security area. And my ID was inside 😦  After N ran around for 10 minutes, he wanted back inside. It was really cute–he kept running up to the doors to go back in. I asked the security guard if he’d let me pass, and he said no–ID is required 😦 I was SO disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see hubs take his oath!! I called my mommy to cry, but after a couple minutes I saw a couple police officers and asked them for help. They asked the main security guy to let me in and he happily did. I didn’t go back into the auditorium, but I was able to look through a window and see everyone go up to get their certificates while N ran around. So it all worked out.

We’re so happy this bureaucratic hurdle is over and that our little family is now all-American. Hubs is relieved to finally, really, belong here. I still can’t believe it that my husband is an American citizen 🙂

104 106We celebrated by having a BBQ in the backyard and enjoying the weather. It was a wonderful day!!!

001 The funny thing about citizenship is that it just re-affirms our relationship. When we married, we took a big risk on our relationship since we had only known each other for 1 1/2 years and hubs had never met my family, never been to the US. When we immigrated, he took a leap of faith. Year by year our relationship has grown and deepened as we have built a life and built a family together. It has been a huge transition for hubs and I am so proud of him!!

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One Response to “The path to citizenship”

  1. Elena Levon May 5, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    congrats!!! it’s been 9 years for me..

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