Archived Story

The U.S. naturalization process isn’t easy

Published 9:59am Friday, June 6, 2014

Things I Tell My Wife by Matthew Knutson

“We have nothing to worry about,” I whispered to my wife as I grabbed her hand tighter, knowing that we in fact were both apprehensive walking into our immigration interview. We’d spent months waiting and preparing for the next 20 minutes.

After going through what seemed like airport security, we entered a waiting room filled with other immigrants, their petitioners, and people who looked an awful lot like lawyers. The room was nearly full and nearly quiet. I was thankful our interviewer quickly entered the room and call out a mispronounced version of my wife’s name, allowing us from the room of awkward tension.

I don’t know about you, but the concept of proving the legitimacy of your marriage to the government was far from appealing for us. Most people don’t understand the process we’ve been journeying on for the past 10 months. It took many hours of complicated paperwork, thousands of dollars, and months of waiting and worrying to get us to this immigration officer.

His office was filled with iconic images of America. A painting of Statue of Liberty hung on one wall, and I couldn’t help but recall this American treasure was an immigrant herself from France. Perhaps during the late 1800s immigrants were still thought of as gifts.

After taking an oath, Sera and I began answering numerous questions about our backgrounds and when we fell in love. We’d spent the past several weeks quizzing each other on our family history and memorizing odd facts about each other to be prepared for this. I frequently struggled with pronouncing her hometown, Fianarantsoa, which is when I discovered if I mumble, “final-rat-soup,” it sounds at least similar enough for an immigration officer who has never been to Madagascar to believe. Of course almost none of our practicing was worthwhile, as only the most basic of questions were asked of us.

Following our questioning came the physical evidence review. We’d compiled an enormous binder of evidence, things like photographs of us with family, friends, at our wedding, other people’s weddings, etc. Documents that showed we were living our life together were inspected like our townhouse lease and bank statements that showed the account was in both of our names. We even brought wedding cards and envelopes addressed to both of us for additional proof. Proving your marriage is real is often a lot less about being in love than you would hope.

Thankfully we were told my wife’s conditional green card will be coming in the mail in about two weeks. 10 months of preparation and worry had led to an intimidating immigration officer handing us a paper receipt to acknowledge our visit. This is just one example of legal immigration looks like. At least up until this point. My wife won’t be eligible to become a citizen for many more years and hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars more. Over the next several years there will be more paperwork and waiting and worrying.

We’re doing it the right way, and so are nearly 800,000 other people who are being naturalized as U.S. citizens each year. If our government worked more effectively to make this process smoother, the costs affiliated with the American immigrations process could decrease. The financial burden alone is enough to keep someone from doing things the right way, and Sera and I are attempting to do it without the extra costs of a lawyer.

I’m not an expert on immigration and naturalization, but I do know that our marriage visa process is one of the easiest one for immigrants. We’re blessed with the simplicity that I’ve described, if you can imagine that. I honestly don’t know that a great immigration reform plan will make this process better, but I do know that something needs to be done.

I think most American citizens who have experienced the immigration process first-hand would agree, and I encourage you to think about it from their perspective. My wife and I are very excited she is now one step closer to the American dream this week; I just wish their weren’t so many steps on the flight of stairs we’re climbing.


Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.