Like all things though, life has decided to become a whirlwind and fly me in a different direction. Quite literally, I flew to another country. I should give some context.
About a year ago Mike and I had a discussion about moving jobs/relocating. I’m sure many people have had this daydream, dropping everything and leaving for a new life. We filled out a few job applications but, as it does, life plodded on and the applications were forgotten. I applied for a new job and became a community staff nurse and Mike continued to travel doing what he does best, making computers talk to things. We moved in, we bought furniture, we started a home, nights out, meals out: nothing out of the ordinary.
Fast forward a few months and Mike received an email asking him to be prepared for a Skype interview the next day for a position at the University of Austin Texas. Cliche – but maybe life was throwing a challenge our way. I would be lying if I said my heart didn’t drop through my stomach, this was a job in America and there was a big possibility that I couldn’t go with him. Personally, I wasn’t all that excited about the prospect of long distance at this point in our relationship. In Mikes mind, I was jumping ahead and the interview would be good practice but, biased or not, I knew he would be offered the position. So it was no shock when he called me to tell me the big news. I won’t say any of our conversations post job offer were easy, there were wobbles and tears (mostly mine) and discussions on how to make it work. I reached some google depths I didn’t think I would, everything just seemed ridiculously complicated and unreasonable. However, with no mortgage and no kids was there really any legitimate reason to turn this fantastic opportunity down?
Mikes job offer allowed him H1B non-immigrant status in the US, the accompanying spousal visa is an H4 which, at one point, Trump was trying to get rid of. Happy days, he has not succeeded at present. Countless scrolling gave either not a lot of information or downright soul-destroying information. Either we could go together, or we couldn’t go together, I would be grilled for information, or the interview was four minutes. Not to mention many of the sites were simply expat comments from 2010. You could say it was a little tense in the Mckellar household.
To their credit, once we figured out which website to be on and when the USCIS and UK embassy websites were easier to navigate than we initially thought. I can’t give any immigration advice, all I can discuss is our experience. Mikes H1B application had to be sent by his new employer to the USCIS who would approve or deny him the new position. I would like to take a moment to highlight that receiving a job offer in America at this time is phenomenal. You and your employer have to prove that no American could fulfill the position that you have been offered. A pretty big ego boost for Mike and I am exceptionally proud. The approval can take several months, however as it was a teaching position the whole process can be expedited. H4 visa relies on the H1B approval, think of it like an add-on rather than a visa in its own right.
Side Note; At this point, it also became apparent that working on an H4 visa is forbidden however studying and volunteering at not-for-profit is allowed – though frowned upon. Slightly backward if you ask me, I couldn’t (and still can’t) get my head around expecting a spouse to simply vegetate if they are keen to contribute. There is nothing wrong with being a stay at home spouse, however as someone who has always been working and studying personally the prospect of not working sounded terrifying. The idea of being completely reliant on a spouse is scary, but sometimes there must be compromise and it really became my mission to view this as an opportunity for some personal growth, without the pressure of keeping the lights on.
After approval, you are given a code that can be entered onto the US embassy website to apply for an interview appointment to receive the visa – it’s important to note that the H1B approval from USCIS is NOT a visa for either of you. After an interview time has been scheduled, the US embassy website – under non-immigrant for the H visas – gives you a rundown of the appropriate documentation required to be printed and taken to the interview eg birth certificate, job application, interview confirmation, marriage certificate, etc. Similar to a UK passport process. Initially, we accidentally researched the immigration sections of the embassy website and were convinced we would require a medical/criminal check five days prior to the interview, which can only be carried out by specific physicians (in London, of course). So, I would like to stress if it is an H non-immigrant visa the medical/criminal checks are not required unless specifically asked for at the interview. Don’t waste your money trying to get ahead on these checks for a non-immigrant visa, and if you are applying for an immigrant visa and require these checks do your research. There was many a website claiming to be qualified for official visa medical/criminal checks that would scoop up your money and run.
Another step completed and we arranged the interview, which can be done together or separately. If done separately they will ask why you didn’t accompany your spouse at the time of their interview. The interview was in the US embassy in London. We chose the London embassy over the embassy in Belfast simply because the waiting times for visas were approx 6+ days quicker and I may not have mentioned it so far, but we were on a tight time schedule. At this point, it is early August and Mike required to be in Texas and teaching by the 24th of August. No pressure.
As a control freak, I again turned to Google and attempted to find any information I could on the H4 and H1B interview process, which (again) was not very helpful. Similar to our initial visa search, blogs and expat sites discussed being able to apply together vs applying solo (which as previously noted is apparently frowned upon) and many had A4 pages of possible questions the embassy could ask. In short, I got myself into a bit of a panic which, for those of you who know me, is nothing new.
The interview day itself was underwhelming. I had prepared for something similar to “The Proposal”. I knew whether Mike preferred boxers or briefs, which side of the bed he sleeps on, his eye colour, if he farts in his sleep (no comment), his meal preferences, allergies, etc. Bringing it back to normality/reality, the H1B and H4 interview, in a nutshell, wants to determine: if you are a risk to the US, if you have a job in the US or, in the case of H4, that you don’t plan to work, if you can financially support yourself (and your spouse) and that you are a legitimate spouse. At the end of the day, they’re really not trying to trip you up, if you are a legitimate visa application there’s nada to worry over.
Paperwork was sorted and they asked all of three questions. What do you plan to do in the US? What do you currently do here? and How do you know one another? Some small jokes about a West vs. East relationship (salt and vinegar vs. salt and sauce on fish and chips). Approved. Up to two days to process and up to three days to return the passports. Ours were back with us within three days and flights booked for two days time. We booked a hotel to stay in for the first week as it is very similar to the UK renting market and you cannot arrange a flat without first viewing. On to a new adventure!
This post is very condensed, and I will not say that any of this was easy. Letting go of control was a huge undertaking, many of the decisions in a visa application are made for you and not by you and a life change as big can test a relationship. But, it is possible and it is not as scary as people are lead to believe.
Throughout this whole process, I have definitely grown. As a highly anxious person, most of this experience was panic-inducing. However, I’ve made a conscious effort to go through the process of identifying what is making me anxious and deciding whether or not I can control/change the outcome. If not, I let it go. Still a work in progress, but progress nonetheless.
I think my main advice is to take it all day by day when going through any major life change. Again, cliche but helpful to be reminded. It’s also important to remember that we have a tendency to take the stress out on those close to us, and in this case, the other person is just as stressed out as you are. So speak to each other with kindness and maybe take a few time outs if you’re feeling heated. I would also like to mention, again, that this is a personal experience of the process and I have no doubt many people will have different experiences to this. I would love to hear about them if you have had different experiences!