I moved to the US on a K-1 Visa

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In September of 1998, I came to the US. I had a K-1 visa, colloquially known as a Fiancee Visa.

After the recent shootings of San Bernadino, where the female shooter is said to have come to the US on a K-1 visa, I saw a lot of rhetoric from people on social media, calling to completely stopping immigration till the immigration law is “getting fixed”. I responded to some of the comments, while I let others pass.

Here is what you should know, from a normal person’s perspective. Getting a K-1 visa is no easy matter.

In 1996, I was living in China as a full tuition scholarship student from Romania, when I was introduced by my friends to a young American. He was a finance officer in the newly opened Motorola office. I was smitten with him: smart, charismatic, determined. You get the idea. Fast forward two years (one of each was spent apart, as I was finishing my studies in Bucharest, while he returned to Chicago then back to Denver) and we are finding ourselves in an impasse. While visiting me in Romania, we tried to obtain a tourist visa for me so that I can come to the US and meet his family. Unfortunately, I was told, with my now-husband by my side, that I cannot obtain a tourist visa: I did not have a job yet, I did not own real estate in Romania, I was educated. There were no guarantees I wasn’t going to stay in the US after my visa expired. Quite humiliating.

My now-husband decided the only way for me to come to the US was a fiancee visa. He completed the K-1 forms, sent them over and it started. For those who think this is an easy process, they would be wrong. Not only did I have to fill out a LOT of paperwork (a lot of the background paperwork had to be notarized), I had to contact the Chinese authorities to obtain police certificates that I had not broken the law while living in China (you have to do so for any foreign country you spent time for more than six month). I had to go through rigorous and costly medical exams (at the only US-embassy -approved centers) and of course, go to the US embassy for the interview.

I will never forget that Friday in September 18 of 1998. I arrived for my confirmed interview time with a folder containing all the paperwork required, including the paperwork from China, which had been translated by an approved government translator, and notarized. As she went through the paperwork, the same embassy staff who had interviewed me (and politely declined my tourist visa),  pointed out the only document missing from the plethora of papers I had painstakingly gathered was the original Chinese police report. I told her the document has been faxed to me, and the original was with a friend of my family’s, who was to land at 3pm at Otopeni airport. She closed my folder and said unless I was going to provide the document by 5pm, I was to reschedule the embassy appointment.I had a plane ticket for Denver, leaving first thing on Monday, September 21st. I had three hours to obtain the document. Suffices to tell you I spent a very intense two hours calling friends of friends who had the woman’s phone number, begging another friend of my mother’s to take a cab to meet the woman at the airport, and bring the document to the embassy. I ran out of the embassy at 4:45, grabbed the document and I will never forget waving the paper at the security officer, yelling: “I got the paper, I got the paper”.

For those who wonder, there were those questions about my relationship and soon-to-be husband ( the embassy staff never asked me what color socks he is wearing, although I was prepared with an answer), but since she had met him in person couple months before, she knew I wasn’t making the story up to get a visa.

We got married on December 8, 1998 (BTW, we had three months to get married, before the K-1 visa expired).

I am an American. I had to learn its history to become a citizen. I since perfected my English (although I am still confused about certain idioms and colloquialisms). The road of coming to the US on the K-1 visa, and subsequently the one obtaining the citizenship is not an easy one. It takes time, money, lot of paperwork. And a lot of patience.

I am not alone in this. I am sure you will find a lot of stories like mine,  just as you will find a lot of grateful naturalized American citizens, like me. All I am asking is that you learn about immigration policies before making a judgement call. Can it be improved? Absolutely. But going to extremes is not the solution.

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