Our immigration story part 2: from resident visa to citizenship

2010: We planned our first trip to the US for Christmas. We were told that it could take anywhere from 2-6 months for Leo to get his green card, so we worked it out for other people to stay in our apartment, take over our classes and ministry duties and set off.

Leo had a bucket-list of things to do in the snow, and he checked most of them off, including sledding, a snowball fight and peeing his name in the snow. Lol!

I had an absolute blast introducing him to my family, and we even took a road trip to Chicago to visit friends there. It was amazing!

Even more incredible, we received his green card just 3 weeks after arriving in the States.

It said “conditional”, and we honestly didn’t pay much attention to that. We were just so happy to have that little expensive piece of plastic.

Since we were truly hoping to NOT be gone 6 months, we headed back down to Colombia just 2 months after arriving in the US.

It was never our plan to live full-time in the US. We really loved our lives and ministry in Colombia, and thought we could play it right by being employed by a US mission agency for Leo to keep his residency status even though we lived in Colombia.

We knew that he couldn’t be out of the US longer than 6 months, so we came back up for the summer months, enjoying all the fun of summertime in the Midwest.

We went back to Colombia to start the school year, and then came back to the US for 2 weeks in October.

In 2012, Leo came to the US alone in March and stayed for a week in Chicago with some friends. He had a blast!

His next trip in July, however completely uprooted us.

He flew into Florida, and as he was going through immigration, the officer looked at his passport and asked

“Where do you live?”

“I am a resident of the US, but I work for a US-based mission agency in Colombia”, Leo replied.

“Sir, you were given a 2-year conditional resident visa, which means that you need to reside in the US. You need to apply to remove the conditions of this visa in a few months, and if you aren’t living here, they will probably deny your request.”

What?!?

He called me, panicked, from the airport.

We weren’t ready to pack up and leave.

But we had to.

We worked it out that he would complete his 2 week trip, staying with dear friends in Memphis, and then come back to help me pack up and move.

We had 5 weeks.

You can read more about that trauma in some earlier blogs.

We came to the US and lived out of my parents basement. Our #1 priority was getting jobs.

In October 2012 we filed form I-751, paid $595 + $85 biometric fee, and hoped for the best.

We got word in November that the conditions on his visa were not removed, but that he was given another year with the conditions.

We continued working our tails off, moved out into our own place and filed again in 2013 for the conditions to be removed. We filed form I-751 again, and paid the $680 total in fees… again.

The conditions were removed, and he had permanent resident status. We bought the house we had been renting, and continued working our butts off.

Leo’s entire family came to the US for a month for Christmas, and it was one of the coldest December’s we’d had in a long time. They LOVED experiencing snow and the cold air. We all packed 12 of us into our tiny 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house and had a blast!

We were also free to finally travel! So the following year, we went to Colombia together. I had gone twice without Leo, and it was amazing to be able to go together again!

In 2014, in addition to traveling to Colombia, Leo was invited to travel to Bolivia to help with a conference. The weeks before he was to fly out, he was at the music store purchasing things he needed for the trip, and his wallet was stolen. It just happened to be the day after he was getting his license renewed, so his green card and license were in his wallet.

He can leave the US without his green card, but he can’t get back in without it as proof of his status.

He had to apply to replace it, which meant filing a I-90, and paying $455 + $85 biometric fee.

They gave him a stamp in his passport, valid for 6 months, that showed he had filled out the paperwork and was allowed to travel.

They said it would take up to 6 months.

We got a letter 6 months later, saying that it would take an additional 6 months. He had to take that letter to the immigration office so that they would give him yet another stamp valid for 6 months.

In 2015, we were spending a month in Peru helping with some amazing churches. While there, I got a message from the girl staying at our house saying that we received a letter from USCIS. I asked her to open it.

It said that his application for replacing his green card was denied because he missed a biometric appointment.

He had never gotten a letter about a biometric appointment, and our mail carriers were awful! We would often get mail for other houses, and neighbors would deliver packages to our house that were mistakenly delivered to theirs.

I was terrified. We were out of the country. Would we be allowed back in?!?

I put in a panicked call to the immigration lawyer at our church, and she re-assured me 3 days later when her call finally could get through.

“The green card is just proof of his status. His status hasn’t changed. It will take him longer to get through immigration, but he has full rights to come back.”

After we hung up, I bawled for an hour straight. In those 3 days, I had gone through every emotion that I went through 3 years before when we had to leave Colombia. I was willing to trust Jesus if we had to leave everything again, but still traumatized from the last sudden move.

And she was right… it took us a lot longer to get through immigration, but they let us in, and suggested that Leo just apply for Citizenship.

In all the paperwork we had looked through, it said that he had to have a physical copy of his green card, but they assured us that if we had a copy of it, that would be enough.

In 2016, we had saved up enough to file the N-400. The cost break-down: $199 for the instructions, $640 for the application fee, and $85 for the biometrics.

Leo became a US citizen in August of 2016. The ceremony was incredible, and in addition to my family and our pastor, Leo’s Mom was there to witness it.

We did all of this without hiring a lawyer. It was an expensive journey but completely worth it.

We have friends who have chosen not to get citizenship, but to renew their permanent resident status every 4 years.

We also have missionary friends whose spouses are from countries where it is even harder to obtain a resident visa, no matter how long they have been married.

Leo is also fortunate, in that Colombia and the US have a dual-citizenship arrangement. Not everyone has that opportunity. This means that he did not have to give up his Colombian citizenship to become a US citizen. This also means that our son has full rights as a dual citizen. We haven’t filed his Colombian paperwork yet, but plan to do so.

I will say that the first time we travelled with both of our blue passports was very emotional. We had taken so many trips where the immigration lines were long and the officers were not friendly.

But now, we are free to roam about the world.

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Author: colombiatotheworld

Our desire as a family is to be an extension of the Kingdom of God to all around us, living and speaking the truth of Jesus Christ; and as Leo and I are continuing to grow in our ministry as a couple, one thing is for certain: we are called to help develop youth in a lifestyle of worship, using their gifts to impact our world. As our hearts are truly for the “least of these”, it is funny how God put us right in the middle of upper-class Bogota. But, as we model what it is to love those who have less opportunities in life, our students are developing hearts for the same, and we are seeing that our passions are being multiplied exponentially through our students! This is a very exiting time for us as we disciple and encourage our students to continue stepping out for God, believing that He can do amazing things!

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