To immigrants, life is “unpredictable” but there are 5 things that can help
In a survey of over 500 people in the middle of their immigration process, I asked about their biggest frustration before coming to the US. I was expecting responses like: “the procedures are complicated”, “instructions are vague”, or “the forms are long”.
Instead, one surprising theme kept repeating almost every time. People said life was unpredictable. It wasn’t so much as a legal concern to them as it was a mental struggle. They didn’t know whether they’d be approved and allowed to reunite with family. They didn’t know whether to raise hopes for a better life or not. They didn’t know if, and when, they could leave their current jobs, property, or life behind.
Having a bit of certainty goes a long way; it provides direction in life. However, there’s not much you can control in immigration. Things take as long as they do. Things are confusing as they are. And the government never responds clearly to our questions.
Nonetheless, you can control how you deal with the uncertainty — how you handle the waiting process, how you handle paperwork, and how you ignore minutia. I want to share with you what lessons are most important to “survive” immigration to the US.
Lesson # 1 — Do your research
Research the basics of whatever process you’re in otherwise you’ll suffer needlessly.
A young man once reached out asking about the Fiance visa process to the US. He questioned about the requirement where couples have to meet in-person during the last 2 years before they’re eligible to start the process.
He thought he did good research by taking a quick glance at the instructions and effortlessly scrolling through a forum, concluding, “so we have to wait 2 years before we can file for our visa, right?”
“No, of course not.” I explained, “the rule is simply that you must have met one another in the last two years. That’s it.” After a while, the young man answers, “I guess we already wasted 6 months then”.
His error was misinterpreting the 2-year rule. But had he taken just 2 minutes to look through a simple explanation of the process, he would’ve instantly realized his blunder. He could’ve saved 6 months of his life.
Lesson number one is to avoid that fate. Avoid wasting time. Avoid wasting money. Do basic research on the visa process or whatever you’re applying for because your life depends on it. And realize, you don’t have to become the next expert on the topic or hire an expensive lawyer… as long as you know the overall steps, timeline, cost, documents required, and more, things will flow smoothly.
While you’re at it, do yourself a favor: stick to trustworthy websites, government sites, and experts. Read from credible sources. Join forums, Facebook groups, and other communities for emotional support and guidance. But be wary when accepting advice from memes, social media, or comments left by anonymous strangers… after all, it’s your future on the line.
Lesson # 2 — Take a deep breath. Be patient.
One fact that surprises everyone is that most immigrant visas are approved by the US. In fact, the majority of cases are approved. As per the official US Department of State’s statistics, 75%+ of immediate relative immigration applications and 80%+ of fiance K visa applicants see success (official figures for 2019: visa statistics).
So, then, why does it feel like immigration is difficult? Well, it has partly to do with the news on TV and partly because of the excruciating waiting time. Immigrant visas (such as spouses, parents, children of US citizens) wait 14–24 months before their turn is up. The fiance visa takes up to 10 months on average. But if you add tragic news on TV about immigration to the mix, it sets the stage for a fearful experience.
That’s why it frustrates people to wait this long. In addition to wrestling with doomsday scenarios conjured by the media, they have to maintain long-distance relationships, pay extra costs, and remain separated. But, like I just said, since most applicants are approved, really the only obstacle is being calm and patient while waiting your turn.
Yes — you will hear the occasional horror story of people being mistreated by an immigration officer and cases dragging on for years. But, to be frank, those are statistically rare.
Lesson # 3 — Don’t expect a clear answer (from anyone)
This one also surprised me when I first discovered it: things are seldom clear and you shouldn’t expect a “yes” or “no” response from anyone. Instead you should expect lots of “it depends”.
Here’s a common example: the law requires an incoming immigrant to be “sponsored” by a family member or friend in the US willing to take up financial responsibility. And although there’s a precise number on what the minimum income must be, the officer is still expected to base a decision on his or her “gut feeling” surrounding the circumstances of the case.
Let’s say the immigrant has a nasty health problem, the officer may think, “well, the sponsor makes enough, but what if the immigrant needs expensive medical treatment? Can the sponsor provide? And what if she can’t?” Then officers will push aside the paperwork, look up, and internally debate whether or not to approve your case.
And that’s something the government requires them to do because they know life is complicated and they must rely on immigration officers to look at your case through human eyes. Shockingly, you may be approval-worthy from a paperwork perspective, but if you give the wrong “gut feeling” to the officer, you can kiss your chance of a visa “goodbye”.
In the end, despite anything anyone tells you — no one can positively, absolutely, 100% tell you the outcome of your immigration case… because it all depends on gut feelings.
Lesson # 4 — Focus on things that move the needle
Don’t get caught up in minutia; focus on what really matters and forget the rest. Minutia is debating which color tie to wear to your interview. No one cares. No one will notice. It will not affect your visa application.
“Big ticket” items, however, make or break your case. Based on official statistics from the US DOS for immigrant visas, the biggest hurdle for applicants is walking to the interview unprepared with documents (75% of denials), not answering questions clearly, or having enough income from the Affidavit of Support.
So be sure you cross your t’s and dot your i’s in paperwork. Gather everything on the checklist. Make sure you’re prepared as best as you can.
To say it in another way: I’ve never heard of anyone getting rejected for a visa because they didn’t use the perfect shade of green for their cover letter. But I do hear on a daily basis of people being rejected for not completing their paperwork.
Lesson # 5 — Shop around for legal help (if you want it)
Another surprising fact: not all lawyers know about immigration. In fact, “immigration lawyers” are actually a subset of lawyers who specialize in immigration. Interestingly though, there’s no official process to become one and anyone can claim the title. So what really sets one apart from the other? The good from the bad?
It’s all about their experience.
Each legal expert has developed his or her own understanding based on their unique experience, observations and more. In practice, you may consult with two experts on the same issue and get completely different answers. That’s normal.
If you choose to hire a legal expert, be sure that you hire an experienced one who has actually worked in immigration. Do they specialize in your particular visa, category, or procedure? Have they dealt with similar cases? What’s their success rate?
Secondly, you have to decide if you really need legal help to begin with. Most immigration procedures are manageable by average people on their own with a bit of research. However, for tough cases with criminal history or past immigration violations, for example, it’s best to work with an expert.
We need “certainty” (even if the future is uncertain)
As was clear from the survey responses, people find comfort if their future is predictable.
The surprising twist though, is that people also find comfort if they know they haven’t done anything wrong and everyone else feels the same stress. For example, once I tell immigrants that thousands of others are in the same exact situation and uncertain of when they’ll be approved, the listener is instantly relieved. It takes weight off their shoulders to hear that things are supposed to be confusing, long, and messy.
And if they remember key principles, it will help ease their stress. Remember:
- Do your research
- Have patience
- Don’t expect clear, direct answers
- Focus on big items
- Shop for legal help, if necessary
The way YOU accept your journey makes the difference between success and failure. It helps you get a grip on what’s happening. It makes the process clearer. It helps make “sense” of things and make your already-frustrating process a bit bearable.