Going Through The Immigration Process To Bring Your Nigerian Husband To America (Part I)
I am Patricia Machele Daboh, and I wrote and submitted two articles entitled, Nigeria Is Beautiful To Me and Rejected For Loving A Nigerian Man on Nigerians In America. You can access that website at (http://nigeriansinamerica.com). As a result of that article, women, who are engaged to Nigerian men and want to fly to Nigeria to get married, have asked me questions ranging from purchasing a passport, visa, shots needed, purchasing the airplane ticket, the wedding ceremony, and filing the necessary paperwork in order to bring their Nigerian husbands back to their country. I am by no means an expert on this subject, but one thing I have that these women lack is “the experience of the Immigration process”. Matter fact, we are still going through that process. At this point, my husband’s visa-issuing paperwork has been sent to the Lagos, Nigerian Embassy, and we are now going through the “Visa” process, which is conducted by the National Visa Center. After we successfully complete that phase of the Immigration Process, my husband will have his interview at the Lagos, Nigerian Embassy. So, with that in mind, I want to share what I know at this point and have experienced, for I do not want you to have any misconceptions about the length of time it will take to finally be reunited with your husband. It is not an overnight process, and to have a better idea of what to expect will eliminate some stresses and disappointments that may come during the waiting process. Therefore, I have put together this information to aid women in bringing their Nigerian husbands to the United States. Best wishes to you all!
Before I begin, I want you to understand (with 100% clarity) that if you have not met your Nigerian fiancé in person (meaning you met him over the internet or by some other means and have not physically been in his presence) DO NOT waste your time and money by filing an I129F Petition For Fiance, for you will be denied. That petition allows your fiancé the privilege of coming to your country, but one stipulation, which they will adhere to, is that you must first have met your fiancé within two years prior to filing the fiancé petition. How do I know that? My husband and I tried it (without my having met him), and we were denied. The cost of the I129F Petition For Fiance is $170.00, and you will not get that money back when you are denied. The Immigration does approve some of those petitions if you have not met your fiancé in person, but those are circumstances where perhaps his cultural custom does not allow you two to meet prior to the wedding day (that was stated in my denial letter). If that is not your case, do not waste your money. The cost to appeal your petition, once denied, is $385.00, but why try to appeal the decision when your circumstances does not warrant an overturn in your situation. We learned that the hard way. You do not have to learn this lesson the hard way, for I am writing this to help you avoid that!
I wanted to talk about the travel documents you will need first because many of these documents are time sensitive, meaning you MUST have these documents and forms way in advance of your planned trip, or you may not be eligible to travel during the time period you desire.
http://www.traveldocument.com/). There are other ones out there also, which are probably full of important and necessary information as well, but I, personally, liked the Travel Documents website the most.
I recommend this website highly, for it fully explains every piece of document you need to travel. Traveling to meet and marry my husband was my first airplane ride and the first time I flew out of the country. So if I, an inexperienced flyer, can get it right the first time, so can you. I will give you the short version of that information. You need the following:
- PASSPORT – There is a time frame in processing a passport, so you should purchase one well in advance of your expected travel date. I went to our main post office branch in the town where I lived and got an application. At our post office, I had to make an appointment to do the actual processing of the passport, but you should pick up your application prior to your appointment and have the application filled out. The cost for your passport is on yhe application, so you can refer to that for the cost.
- PASSPORT IMPORTANT INFORMATION – If you already have a passport, you must have at least 6 months travel time left on it before it expires, or you cannot use that one.
- PASSPORT PICTURES – You will need 2 passport pictures to submit with your passport during your appointment. But, it was cheaper for me to get my passport pictures taken somewhere else and bring my pictures with me. The post office has equipment set up to take your passport pictures, but it is usually a little more costly. For example, the post office charged $15.00 for 2 passport pictures, and I had them taken somewhere else for $7.99 for 2 passport pictures. Make sure you choose the RIGHT background color for the passport application (read the color requirements on the passport application before taking the picture).
- YELLOW FEVER VACCINATION – In order to enter into Lagos, Nigeria, you will need to get a Yellow Fever Vaccination. I got mine through the Health Department. International shots usually must to be scheduled in advance, so you should call your local health department and see how much of a time frame you need to take the shot. If my memory serves me well, you must get your shot within one month before you leave (please double check this out on the website in order to stay within the time frame). The total cost for my Yellow Fever Vaccination where I live was $122.00 (Ouch it stung, girls)! Now there are many more international shots you can get if you want to (optional), but you MUST get this one in order to enter into Lagos, Nigeria (not optional). My Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate was stapled in my passport, so it could be verified as I went through the custom check when I landed in Lagos, Nigeria.
- VISA – You MUST also purchase a Visa in order to enter into Lagos, Nigeria. Again, the website that I recommended, can process that for you. I had my visa processed through them (Travel Documents). In order to process a Visa through them you must:
1. Apply for and receive your passport first, for you must send the passport to Travel Document Systems, Inc. in order for them to put your Visa sticker on one of your pages in your passport.
2. Send your original birth certificate with your visa application and passport. They will return it when they send your passport back to you with the visa attached to one of the pages.
3. Send your International Certificate of Vaccination (what you receive after you take your Yellow Fever Vaccination) along with your application and passport
4. Send them a Letter of Invitation from your fiancé (he has to write it, sign and date it). The letter invites you to come to Nigeria as his guest. It should include the dates in which you will actually spend in Nigeria. NOTE: This was required on Travel Document Systems, Inc. when I purchased my Visa. Check to see if the Letter of Invitation is needed now. If in doubt of this being needed to obtain your visa, call Travel Document Systems, Inc., and talk to a representative.
5. You must send Travel Document Systems, Inc. a copy (not original tickets) of your round trip airplane ticket or an itinerary from the Travel Agency who booked your flight. This will show you intend to go back to your country after your visit.
6. Do not forget to include your visa application, passport, Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, original birth certificate (not a copy), fee, and invitation letter (if needed ) when mailing your documents to the Travel Document Systems, Inc
7. You can purchase a visa for single or multiple entries. If you need it expedited (processed quickly), there is an additional fee for that.
8. If you have any questions prior to sending in your documents to process your visa, please call them, for you do not want your visa to be denied or delayed.
IMPORTANT NOTES ABOUT TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
- It is totally your responsibility to have all of your REQUIRED documents on you to enter into Lagos, Nigeria once you board an airplane. Not having all the documents after you land in Lagos, Nigeria can get you in legal trouble. You can be arrested for that! Make sure you have everything you need!
- Make at least 2 copies of your passport and International Certificate of Vaccination (your visa will be on one of your passport pages, so if you copy your entire passport, it will be copied also).
- Give a copy of your passport and International Certificate of Vaccination to two reliable people. If you lose your passport, or it is stolen while you are in Nigeria, you CANNOT leave the country without it! If you make copies, than you can contact those persons and have them sent to you Fed-Ex (not the regular mail please for security reasons). Take that copy to the Nigerian Embassy, and ask for assistance.
- The phone number to Travel Documents Systems, Inc. is 1-800-424-8472 (toll free) or (202) 638-3800 (direct number)
MISCELLEANOUS TRAVEL INFORMATION
- You will be highly encouraged, on the Travel Documents Systems, Inc., to register your trip with the U.S. Embassy online due to the many “Travel Warnings” in that part of the world. I registered my trip, for it is just a “wise” thing to do.
- I did not realize, since it was my first time flying and my first time traveling abroad that my cell phone (even with international calling) would not work once I crossed over from the United States to another country. Therefore, if you want to communicate with family and friends during your travel and stay in Lagos, Nigeria, you will need to purchase a “World Phone”, which can be purchased online.
- I purchased my airplane tickets online, and in that process there was “travel insurance” advertised for purchase as well. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT, for our American insurance does not have to be accepted in another country. If you become ill or get injured, you will have to pay for medical expenses right then and there on the spot, out-of-pocket. Unless you can afford those costs, I suggest purchasing “travel insurance”. I did not find the cost that expensive!
A friend of mine told me about a woman that flew to a country to marry her fiancé. The couple had no pictures taken, no official documentation proving that they were married, and it took three years (yes, shockingly 3-years) to get her husband back to her country.
After hearing that story, my husband and I decided that we would not let that happen to us, and we do MORE THAN WAS REQUIRED OR ASKED FOR in order to prove and validate that our wedding was legal. Some of what I am going to tell you is not required, but again I say, we did MORE THAN WAS REQUIRED in order for Immigration not to ask us for even one more piece of paper to make a decision on our petitions. Therefore, we did this when we were married:
- We were married at the Marriage Registry in Apapa, Lagos, Nigeria. At the time we were married (January 4, 2007), the Marriage Registry married couples on Thursday and Saturday only. We choose to be married there because:
1. A couple must undergo marriage counseling prior to the ceremony, and when we did that, it gave us a legal paper trail of what we had done.
2. The Marriage Registry gives you a Marriage Certificate, Witness Books (thumb prints of your witnesses in your Witness Books), and it is also a very strong legal paper trail of what you have done
- My husband hired a person to videotape our wedding
- My husband hired a person to take multiple photographs of our wedding
- We had two witnesses at our wedding (my husband’s niece and my husband’s best friend, who was his best man)
- We asked my husband’s niece to sign a SWORN AFFIDAVIT that she witnessed the wedding. We also had some of our wedding pictures stamped and sworn in along with our Sworn Affidavit to make the pictures legal documents of the court. The Sworn Affidavit was registered in the High Court of Lagos, stamped, and given back to me to include in my paperwork for when I would came back home and filled out the petitions to bring my husband and stepson to the states. My husband secured the services of his lawyer to assist us with the Sworn Affidavit, and he processed this for us (for a fee of course).
- We opened up a joint savings bank account with both our names on it to prove that as a married couple we have assets together in Lagos, Nigeria. It does not matter the amount of the bank account, but the savings account record will show you own something together as man and wife.
NOTE: The things above were done to make sure that Immigration did not come back and question the legality of our wedding, for the Marriage Certificate, Witness Books, Sworn Affidavit, photographs, and savings account strengthen our position as having a legal and valid marriage. We were prayerful and determined that it would not take us three years (as was the case in the other woman’s situation) for my husband and stepson to get approved. And, thank God, he blessed us in that respect!
G-325A BIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION FORM
Before going to Nigeria to be married, you should call the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office and order the forms that you need to fill out on behalf of your husband when you get back to the states. One form in particular that you need to take with you to Nigeria, so your husband can fill out is the G-325A Biographic Information form. This form requires residency and work history information for the past five years. You must submit one for your husband and yourself for each petition (I130 and I129F) you file. Your husband needs to fill out two of these forms, so you can file with each petition when you go home, so take two with you when you go. The phone number to USCIS is 1-800-375-5283. You will need to order (1) I-I130, I129F, and G-325A forms. I suggest you order at least two (2) I130 and I129F petitions in case you make an error, and four (4) G-325A forms in case you also make errors. Usually the G-325A comes attached with the I-129F petition, but make sure to request it anyway.
I130 IMMIGRANT PETITION FOR RELATIVE, FIANCE (E), OR ORPHAN
www.state.gov/travel. You may choose to go another route, but I am giving you information for following the route my husband and I took.
FIRST, I filed the I130 Petition, and as soon as I received the I-797C, Notice of Action (which is a notification from the USCIS Office letting you know they received your petition and how it is being handled), I made a copy of the I-797C Notice of Action and included it in my I129F Petition that I filed next. Please do not delay filing them back-to-back, for if you do, it will take longer in getting your husband approved.
Now, let’s back up here somewhat. The I130 Petition is the first petition you should file when you return home. If you have ordered the petitions (I130 and I129F) prior to leaving for Nigeria, then there will be no delay. The cost to file the I130 Petition is $190.00. You should fill out the form in its entirety, and follow all instructions. Make sure you fill the petition out correctly, for you do not want delays due to errors made on your part. Do not forget to include the G-325A Biographic Information form with this petition! Read carefully which USCIS Office you should mail your petition to, for that will vary according to where you live. I read through the directions, highlighting important information, so after I filled out the petition; I knew exactly what to do with it. Again, mistakes can cause delays, so if you need to get someone to double-check behind you, please do. Better safe than sorry!
Important note: Make sure they have your husband’s name spelled correctly on the I-797C Notice of Action. If they do not, contact them immediately, so this can be corrected. You do not want problems later when his visa-issuing papers are sent to the Lagos Nigeria Embassy, and his name does not match the paperwork sent.
I129F PETITION FOR FIANCE (E)
Immediately after you receive the I-797C, Notice of Action, letting you know that your I130 Petition has been received, make a COPY of the I-797C, Notice of Action. You will include it in your I129F Petition for Fiancé (e). If you DO NOT include the I-797C, Notice of Action, the immigration process will not be sped up on your behalf. IT IS A REQUIREMENT THAT YOU FILE BOTH THE I130 AND I129F PETIIONS. AND WHEN YOU SEND IN YOUR I129F PETITON, YOU MUST SEND A COPY OF THE I-797C, NOTICE OF ACTTION FROM THE I130 PETITON. Do not forget to include the G-325A Biographic Information form with this petition!
As was said about the I130 Petition, you should already have ordered the petition before you went to Nigeria, and therefore, you can file the petition as soon as you receive your I-797C, Notice of Action from the I130 Petition. Do not delay doing this! The cost to file the I129F Petition is $170.00.
Make sure you send the I129F Petition to the right location. The directions say if you filed an I130 Petition and are also filing an I129F Petition, then you must send it to a particular location.
For example: I mailed my I130 Petition to the USCIS Texas Service Center, P.O. Box 850919, Mesquite, Texas, 75185-0919. I live in South Carolina, and South Carolina residents are required to mail them at that location. I mailed my I130 Petition on January 19, 2007 to the USCIS Texas Service Center. The USCIS Texas Service Center forwarded my petition to the USCIS California Service Center (for that office processes the I130 petitions), and the USCIS California Service Center received my Petition on January 22, 2007. My I-797C, Notice of Action for my I130 Petition was dated January 26, 2007 (fast turn around)!
NEXT, I mailed my I129 Petition to USCIS, P.O. Box 7218, Chicago, Illinois, 60680-7218 (for the directions said to do so) on March 1, 2007 (overnight mail). As you will see, I did not file my I129F Petition immediately after receiving my I-797C, Notice of Action from my I130 Petition. The USCIS, Chicago, Illinois office received my I129F Petition on March 2, 2007, and my I-797C, Notice of Action was dated March 6, 2007 (fast turn around).
On March 15, 2007, the National Benefits Center in Lee’s Summit, MO sent me an I-797C, Notice of Action stating that on March 6, 2007 they received my I129F Petition, and they were transferring my I129F Petition to the USCIS California Service Center in order to speed up processing.
On April 24, 2007, I received an I-797C, Notice of Action informing me that my I130 Petition was APPROVED for my husband (stepson included). On April 25, 2007, I received an I-797C, Notice of Action informing me that my I129F Petition was APPROVED for my husband (stepson included), and the dates of the I129F Petition will be valid from April 25, 2007 to August 24, 2007.
So it took from January 19, 2007 (the date when I mailed my first petition) until April 25, 2007 to receive APPROVAL NOTICES for both petitions (3 months and 6 days)! God is good!
I was told that the visa-issuing papers were being sent to the Lagos Nigerian Embassy for my husband.
NOTE: Even though your husband’s visa-issuing paperwork will be sent to the Lagos Nigerian Embassy by the National Visa Center, you still MUST go through the “VISA” process prior to your husband’s interview at the Embassy. That is the Immigration stage my husband and I are now experiencing.
NATIONAL VISA CENTER
The National Visa Center wrote me a letter dated March 11, 2007 informing me that my husband’s visa-issuing paperwork was being sent to the Lagos Nigeria Embassy within the next week.
On June 11, 2007, I received a letter from the National Visa Center letting me know I must pay the $70.00 Processing fee in order for the Visa to continue to be processed. It is called the Affidavit of Support (I-864) Processing Fee Bill. I mailed that on June 18, 2007, and the National Visa Center (in St. Louis, MO for all Visa payments go there), have up to twenty (20) working days to process my payment.
Please note that you cannot apply for federal means-tested public benefits to assist you in taking caring for your husband and/or his children. That means you cannot apply for food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). That also includes any state means-tested public benefits, which vary from state to state.
http://travel.state.gov to see the various I-864 forms you need to fill out once the National Visa Center gives you permission to fill them out and send them in for verification.
After you send in your Processing Fee, you can get your financial documents together, so there will be no delay in sending in these forms.
CHOICE OF AGENT AND ADDRESS FORM
When the National Visa Center sent me the bill for the Processing Fee, they also included a CHOICE OF AGENT AND ADDRESS FORM, which my husband MUST fill out and mail back to the National Visa Center. He is giving the NVC permission to send any paperwork on his behalf to me, who will be listed as his “agent”, so I can process the Visa fees once we pass the inspections of my financial documents.
If you do not have a good paying job or do not meet the I-864P Poverty Guidelines (see 2007 guidelines), now will be the time to seek other employment. You do not want your husband approved to come to the United States only to be denied due to your lack of finances. Of course, your husband may work after he comes to the United States, but he has to file paperwork in order for that process to take place. In the meantime, you must be able to take care of him, and any stepchildren, prior to that happening.
WORDS OF WISDOM
I took a chance on love when I flew to Nigeria and got married, for we all know that everyone who has done this has not had a successful and happy outcome. We cannot ignore the fact that some women fly to locations to meet the man of their dream, and they are either injured or never heard from again. Please do not make your decision based on what happened to me in my life, but first seek God’s direction about which way you should go! Pray about it, seek advise from someone you respect or a pastor, take everything into consideration, including your own personal convictions of your heart, and when you feel you are ready to live with the decision you have made, go from there.
Realize that even after you are married, your husband can be denied at any point in the Immigration process, so you must ask yourself if you are ready to relocate to where he lives if he is denied. Who wants a marriage where you live apart continually? Is that really a marriage then? You must take all of these things into consideration when you accept a proposal from a man from Nigeria, for you are taking a chance. Do not be led solely by emotions, but examine your heart and be honest with yourself about what you are and are not willing to put up with and endure. Do you want to live in Nigeria if he is denied? Will your fiancé still be interested in you if he cannot come to America to live with you? Talk to your fiancé about all these things to see where his head and heart is as well. I leave you with this phrase: “This above all; to thine own self be true” (William Shakespeare).
As I said at the beginning, my husband and I are not finished with the Immigration process, and I still have more to share with you as our experience unfolds. But, I wanted to share our experience with you, so you can have an idea of what you will face when you marry a Nigerian citizen and desire to bring him into the United States. It is a lengthy and expensive process, and you must be willing to wait patiently for your husband to come to you. It also requires a lot of faith, for you can be denied at any phase of the Immigration Process. After reading this article (Part I), I hope it helps you understand it more. Please be on the look out for Part II, in which I plan to share the rest of the Immigration Process and the “joy” of receiving my wonderful, Nigerian husband and stepson, whom I love dearly!
Patricia M. Daboh