Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lessons Learned from My Greencard Renewal Saga

Greencard, I-90 Visa, Permanent Resident Visa, etc. However you want to refer to it is fine, but they all mean the same thing. I (Akiko) am a Japanese national, living in the States with a permanent visa since 1990. At this point in my life, I can't imagine living and working in Japan; so I am VERY grateful for this opportunity that has been given to me and my brother through efforts that took over a decade with the help of many people, including our uncle Yoshi. (And no, despite the movies and popular belief, one does not automatically receive permanent residency or citizenship by marrying an American).

One recent unexpected stressor in our travel plans has been the renewal of my Greencard. The visa needs to be renewed every 10 years. So, a permanent visa is not so permanent after all! But, no big deal. I've been a model resident - I've renewed it before, no problem. I knew my visa expired in March 2012, and with all the upcoming travels, it was definitely a priority item.
 Being the planner-aheader that I am, I went online to apply for my renewal visa a while back with, what I thought, was plenty of time. I did get a notice that they received my application within days...great, this is going well. And, they took my $500. But then, ** further communication. The online status said something like, In Process. Weeks and weeks went by, and I was getting worried. My worries were heightened after reviewing the Nebraska Service Center's website showing how long each of the application processes were taking. It seems they were just getting around to August 2011 renewal applications. OMG! After doing some quick math in my head, I began to panic that this wouldn't be resolved before I leave in May (not to mention a temporary illegal state during the lapse).

10 years ago, the renewal process was completely different. I actually went to the Immigration office in Kansas City, near the airport. The application, photo, and fingerprints were done right there, and I was on my way to getting my new card. Easy-breezy.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I decided I just needed to make an appointment with our local office so I can talk to a real live person, but I didn't have to. Literally, right before I was picking up the phone to schedule an appointment, Mike calls me and says a summons came in the mail from Homeland Security to appear on February 10th at their office. Nice...surely, a 3-days notice is sufficient for most people to re-arrange their calendars, right? Well, I dropped everything (as most people in my predicament would) to go to this appointment; especially after reading the statement that said something like, "if you fail to appear as scheduled, your application will be considered abandoned and denied." I've never been so happy about being contacted by a government agency!

I am pleased to share that my experience with Homeland Security was very efficient and pleasant. I showed up early to my appointment and they saw me right away.
Everything is high-tech now, making the process a lot smoother. I didn't even have to ask for an extension - they gave it to me automatically and said I should have my permanent card before August (which I'll have to have someone mail to me in Spain or wherever I'll be). I now have some breathing room.

Next time, it won't be an I-90 application. It'll be an application for citizenship.

I guess an even worse case scenario would've been if it expired while I was traveling abroad. I wouldn't have been able to make it to an appointment at a moments notice. Lesson learned? If you are planning anything major like this, be sure to consider anything important that may require your presence and take care of it in advance, or schedule around it. For example, my nursing license renewal will occur during my travels. Fortunately, it's an online process but if they ask to audit my continuing education documents, I need to make sure I have all that put together in advance and ready to send. I definitely do not need my RN license to lapse.