A Visa odyssey
This is the story of an L1 Visa. I will try to make it short, although some details have to be explained to be believed…
In August of 2011 I thought of starting a US subsidiary of my software company in the USA, so I decided to move to New York to start it up and manage it. Since I needed a visa (form I-129) to live and work in the USA, I contacted an immigration lawyer (form G-28 and thousands of dollars) through a friend, and we started the whole process.
I sent the lawyer (David) all the papers he needed: business plan, letters from my company, contracts, job description, org. charts, company literature, office and employee pictures, bank statements, college diplomas, passport copy, translations, etc. He decided I should apply for an L1A Visa (“Intracompany Transferee” also known as the “International Executive” visa), which would automatically grant my wife the L2 visa.
In October my wife and I spent a week and a half looking for an apartment and offices in Manhattan, setting up the corporation (in a matter of a single day), and opening up bank accounts (that was fun: they will not let you open a bank account without a visa, and will not give you a visa without an account! so it took 5 trips to the bank and a little of my RDF magic to make it happen), and in November we moved to NY, entering the USA through the visa waiver program (after David assured me it was OK), so we had 3 months to get the visa before having to exit the country (the visa waiver program allows you to remain 90 days in the USA without a visa). More than enough, right?
The first problem arose when I decided to work from a co-working space (which is really cool, because there is a great energy and “community feel” to it) instead of a “regular office”. I read a NYT article about how co-working places were hot in New York, how the city had decided to support that option, so after I met Tony and the NWC crew (after visiting some other great places), I felt right at home and decided to join… WRONG, said David when I sent him the agreement. In his experience this would not be good enough, and would be rejected by Immigration, so I needed to get my own office in an office building.
So, another month of looking, before settling for one of the most expensive locations and newest/coolest offices in NY: the Viacom building (MTV’s HQ) in Times Square. That would definitely do it, right?
Problem number two: for some reason, even after submitting my signature and bank check, the management company took weeks to return the lease signed (same thing, by the way, with my apartment building). Time was running out…
Just in case, I applied for my visa (form I-907) through the “expedite process” (which means if you pay $1,500, they have to reply within 15 days). And they did, indeed, reply in time. BUT, they replied with the dreaded RFE (request for evidence). They asked us to provide (AGAIN) my job description, bank details, org. charts… plus new info, such as the college diploma of EVERYBODY working in my company!
David did an excellent job (another large invoice) collecting all those documents, and I spent hours answering absurd questions… so finally we submitted the reply, and kept our fingers crossed: they had 15 more days to reply (until February 17th), but we had to leave the country before February 15th, and I did not like the idea of having to leave without knowing if the process would take much longer or not.
Fortunately they replied (form I-797B) on the 10th, with a positive answer, and send me via mail the form I-797C needed to process the visa at the Embassy. For a moment I was scared, because I had received a link to a National Foundation for American Policy report stating the incredible increase of denied visas. Even more, after the whole process was over, somebody very familiar with the whole process confessed to me that:
USCIS is causing some immigration attorneys to change to another area of law and or retire early… everything takes 2-3X longer than it used to.
They are doing that [RFE] even to company’s like HONDA and TOYOTA ……and even issuing denials for top engineers ( “L1-b’s with specialized knowledge”).
The problem, though, was that they asked us to go to Madrid to get the interview in the US Embassy and to get the visa stamped on the passport. The only problem is that, according to the US Department of State’s website, Madrid’s waiting time in order to go through the whole process would be 60 days for the interview and 5 for processing plus 2 for delivery… over 2 months! (they even scare you further saying that if they find the need for further investigation, it could take up to 6 more months).
[By the way, David had given me a site to check that info, and turned out that site was false and is now under investigation… good thing we realized before they tried to pull some scam on us!]
I compared embassies, and saw that both Mexico and Canada had processes that lasted between 3 and 4 days in total. So I decided to go to Mexico (that way I could visit my friend and client Germinal). But when I asked for an interview date, I noticed that they have an exception in Mexico’s embassy due to the increased narco-violence: you can not come from the USA to Mexico to get your visa interview for an L1A. So, Canada, here I go. But first, fill out a 7 page (it used to be just one) absurd and hypocritical DS-160 form, including things like the complete and comprehensive list of countries visited in the last 5 years (32 in my case), and pay $150 in order to get an appointment.
We left NY the very last possible day (February 14th) because the day before I had an unexpected business meeting in Washington DC (although I had already bought tickets for that same day to a Philip Glass & Friends concert at Carnegie Hall in support for Tibet House, which was enjoyed by my wife alone).
The trip to Ottawa was fine. Fly on Tuesday, appointment at the Embassy on Wednesday (they had us wait in line outside, snowing, freezing temperatures…), quite relaxed and speedy. They took our passports and told us “you will see on our website when you can pick up your passport from DHL/Loomis”. So back to the hotel and wait. And wait. And wait… Friday afternoon and I was already getting nervous: I had the return plane tickets for Saturday morning. I called, but the reply was: we can not give you further information. At 6:05 pm I receive an email stating the passport was ready. Great! So I call DHL: they close at 6:00pm, and do not open during the weekend PLUS Monday is a holiday so… no passport until Tuesday. What??!! You have to be kidding me!!! After carefully and very politely explaining the situation, they carefully and very politely replied: sorry, see you Tuesday.
So, stuck in Ottawa. Time to book new plane tickets and extend the hotel stay (which was not easy due to the Winterlude festival, but money seems to solve those problems more often than not). Finally on Tuesday we get the passports, and fly back, only to find a US Customs agent “not too awake” at the Toronto airport US border.
– Sir, why the deadline in that stamp? – I ask the agent, after he stamps my passport and writes down a May 2012 date on it – Don’t I get to stay longer with my new visa?
– Oh, do you have a Visa? – duhh!!?? – Oh, then you have to fill out an I-94 card, and I don’t have any, so you have to get out through security again, and ask someone from the airline to give you one.
– Only one?
– Yes, your wife does not need one.
– OK – I am surprised, but who am I to disagree?.
So I go out, get one, fill it out, return, and once I have it all ready to go, the agent asks:
– Where does your wife live?
– With me – I answer, not believing the question.
– How long is she going to stay in the USA?
– For a year at least, just like me.
– But, does she have a visa? – WTF!!!???, what is that big sticker in the passport for???!!!!! – Oh, then you have to go out and get her an I-94 for her too.
Ohm, Zen, breathe, smile, there are cute kitties somewhere, and the waterfall soothes your soul… welcome to the U.S. of A.
At least we can now finally clear customs with our stuff from the international movers, get health insurance, driver’s license (used as ID in NY, along with driving bikes in the summer), register as resident at the Consulate, get a work contract…