Saturday, 24 December 2011

Early Christmas present

Our immigration story arrived in New Hampshire from California. New Hampshire seems like a much more festive place to be over Christmas than sunny CA, and that's where our life story will be for a wee while yet.

Just as our last update was in time for Thanksgiving, this was a nice treat to hear the night before Christmas, although it does mean we received a bill to pay. It's a Christmas gift with strings attached!

Mr is over here in Scotland, which means Queen's Speech Bingo of course, along with his new favourite seasonal delicacy:

"What are these delicious things?"

"That's a sausage, wrapped in bacon."

"Two kinds of meat? That is amazing! Wait, what's that on the turkey?"

"That's a turkey, with bacon on top."


Who'd have thunk it, but every day is a whole new cultural experience with us.

It's been six months since we got to spend any time together, and that was for our wedding and honeymoon. We've had a tough year (although getting married was a highlight!) topped off most recently by me having my wallet stolen last week. That was a small inconvenience in comparison, but a total pain just before Christmas. We're taking it easy over the holidays, heading down to London by train to see family, and catching a sleeper train back for a super-quiet new year in my little Scottish hamlet. We're not entirely sure yet, but this could be the last time we spend together for another six months, and by then I could be over there and our visa journey will be over (sort of).

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

CaliforNOA! First stage of visa journey over.

Almost five months to the date from our application we finally had our visa petition approved! That's great, because their time limit is five months, and it's Thanksgiving tomorrow.

From what I know, Thanksgiving doesn't involve presents (just pumpkin) but this is a pretty sweet gift nonetheless. It's almost as sweet as sweet potatoes and marshmallows, which I hear is a 'thing'. At any rate, I'll give thanks for bureaucratic processes with truthful timelines.

So what happens now? California sends all our papers to New Hampshire, and then they send us a bill for more money. Soon after that I can actually apply for the visa itself. There's still a lot to do, but we've just about reached the halfway mark.

I do believe they send actual, physical paper to the other side of the country, rather than doing the processing electronically. I must admit this does fascinate me a little bit. I've been reading The Pale King, an unfinished work by American author David Foster Wallace. I'm only a little way through and it's fairly heavy-going but the book is essentially about bureaucracy: It's about IRS agents and the paperwork they deal with, and the boredom they deal with while dealing with the paperwork.

While my entire future family life is in the hands of some office workers, these office workers see the same old forms every single day from thousands of people like me. One day to them, or even just the five minutes it takes to review my case, is the difference of a lifetime to me, and it makes me wonder when I'll see that paperwork again.

I guess we just have to wait. Again.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Grey matters

As you may well know by now - the USA raised its debt ceiling in a curtain-call deal, Standard and Poors downgraded the USA's credit-rating and the stock market has been in fluctuation ever since. Amongst all this financial blustering our little life package is still sitting on a desk gathering dust somewhere in California, as yet untouched.

In a previous entry I mentioned that Mr and I try to see each other every few months, yet we'd been worried that we wouldn't be able to meet up at all during the visa process. I'll explain:

It is not illegal for me to visit the USA. I can theoretically visit the USA any time I want during the next year.

However, while the law is clear for citizens from VWP countries (Visa-Waiver-Program: that is, folks like Brits who don't need a visa just to visit the US), the practicalities are not so clear.

When Mr touched down in his home state in June after our wedding/honeymoon, he asked the immigration officer who served him what those practicalities really were. The answer, unfortunately, was the one we already knew but had hoped was only hearsay.

The officer stated that it was at the discretion of whoever served the 'alien' at the passport desk whether or not said alien would be allowed to enter the USA. If there were any doubts at all about the alien's intentions to return to their home country, they could be questioned for hours and sent back on the next plane home at their own expense and without even a peak at their spouse.

It is not likely, but it is not desirable. I have read and heard of many couples who have and do visit regularly with visas pending. But the possibility of two long-haul economy flights interspersed only with a terse interrogation with immigration at US border control is something this alien just can't afford. Two airplane meals in the space of 12 hours would play havoc with my digestive system and the airport air con would be unbearably drying to my complexion - it just wouldn't be worth it. Plus there's only so much those baby-wipe wash-downs can achieve and I would feel terribly sorry for the olfactory system of the person next to me on the return flight. And as I couldn't afford to fly home short-notice with Virgin then not even my socks or teeth would be clean. It would be pleasant for nobody.

Not to mention, of course, the emotional to-ing and fro-ing of discovering that I'd definitely-maybe-absolutely-not be allowed to see Mr Husband's face, as he stood on the other side of the screen waiting fruitlessly for his jetlagged 'non-resident alien relative' to appear. It's an experience that neither of us hope to have.

But Mr will be with me for Christmas, Queen's speech bingo and Corrie omnibuses - snuggling up over Quality Streets and Coronation Streets. And so 'til next time, Mr and I are both being kept busy as usual. Mr is closely tracking the 2012 caucus marathons (by which I mean US politics and not the Olympics). Later this week I'll be at the Edinburgh TV Festival to talk and learn about our digital fictional/factual futures, Jersey/Mersey/Geordie/Essex shores, and to likely listen to a 'eugoogly' from Google on analogue telly as we know it. I really need to patent my Queen Speech Bingo app idea.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Staring at the ceiling

It's something I never particularly cared to get dragged into. It's something that my husband refuses to talk to me about. It's purely political not economical (for now), and I mean politics with a small 'p'(for now), despite what the media would seem to imply.

Is it a Shakespearian farce?
Is it a Greek comedy?
Is it an episode of Monty Python?
No, siree, it's the DC beltway tussle over the US debt ceiling.

I only mention it now, and selfishly so, because it's coming very close to the time that I thought a 'midnight hour' deal would have been achieved. I do still truly believe that they'll pull a ragged looking, beaten ol' rabbit puppet out of their magicians' hat by August 2 and the world will be saved and the DC belt can keep on turning. It does make me very nervous however, and like I said, Mr won't talk about it. He is nervous too.

His government is having a huge, embarrassing domestic at the supermarket checkout.

The best basic description of this housekeeping argument can be found in genuine 'house keeping' terms courtesy of the fantastic pop-economist Tim Harford. He explains what happens if mummy can't find a job and keeps on buying handbags when the family still need to pay the mortgage.

Propublica offers a more extensive discussion which boils down to this: The US Constitution says that Congress has 'power of the purse' and decides what can be spent where. The US Government is into its overdraft, but also has high-interest loans to pay and a number of pre-agreed direct debits coming out of its account. Congress needs to decide whether or not to increase its overdraft limit, even though Congress knew (by tracking their interest-rates and expenditure) they'd reach the limit of their overdraft in August. Congress has increased its overdraft before, but not without a huge, rancourous tiff about household expenditure and income.

But this tiff is not about the US Government deciding to spend more than it has already agreed. As the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner explained back in April: Increasing the limit “does not increase the obligations we have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations that Congress has already established.” Ignore all the potential deals and tax-rates and budgets for now, because they aren't really part of the short-term issue and nor should they be if a budget has already been agreed.

Poynter published some super background details on the subject, in its article "Seven mistakes journalists make when covering the debt ceiling debate." This article provides some important additional details to Tim Harford's simplified depiction of dinner table arguments.

If, after that, you want even more background reading, here's a handy reading list of some of the media's attempts to explain this very political crisis.

Pay special attention to the section of the reading list on what happens if the debt limit isn't raised. This is where the politics ends and the speculation begins. The Financial Times put it best last week, envisioning a scenario as the Treasury reaches the dregs of the overdraft and receives a call from the Fed: "would you like to put more money into your account or stop the payments going out?"

It is widely predicted that if the debt ceiling is reached next week, then the US government will have to stop paying for 'non-essential' items, stuff that it had already commmited to paying such as staff members (including military staff), social security, unemployment benefits, etc. This wouldn't happen immediately, as I understand; only when the Treasury is unable to balance revenue (tax) versus expenditure (spending plus debt interest) will things get halted, cut back, prioritised.

This ABC news article from April, when the US Government was close to shutdown over budget negotiations, has a list of offices and functions that would cease operation. I shall be explicit that this is not the same situation as in April, but it's worth looking at for an idea of what could be cut back on if the US sees 'no deal' in the coming weeks.

The reason I said I was selfish in mentioning this issue is because one of the functions that would likely halt is, of course, visa processing. Visa applications and petitions would pile up on empty desks, creating bureaucratic backlogs for when the budget situation was solved. If it came to this, though, at least we could wait, and we're certainly good at waiting.

Unfortunately I'm not sure those who await pay packets or benefit cheques could wait as long as us. I hope those taking part in this check-out conveyor-belt barney do realise that it's not just the stock markets that are anxiously following this tussle, but that ordinary peoples' lives are affected too.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Visa Vis

There are two assumptions that people often make about our situation:

1. Immigrating to the USA only takes a few months, and;
2. My husband and I get to see each other on a regular basis.

Unfortunately neither are true.

First of all, as I've already explained, the spouse immigration visa is a two step process. Before I can apply for a visa, Mr has to petition for me to be able to apply for it. Realistically the whole process takes 10-12 months. But we both make the situation work, and usually approach the visa process with a calm zen-like patience and 'vis'. It helps that we are fully aware of the process and all its minutiae: I have read stories from couples who have submitted forms with no supporting evidence, only to find out eventually that their application has been denied and they have wasted $420 and several months of separation. I have also read stories of those who have started the petition process with no idea of how the rest of it works, or indeed how long it takes. Before Mr and I planned our wedding in any detail we made a sincere decision about the way we'd go about it. You need to read the recipe before you attempt to bake a cake.

Mr's original preference was to apply for the fiance(e) visa, because it would have united us sooner rather the spouse visa would, which has us endure most of the long data-less wait individually. The fiance(e) visa involves a similar process to ours, although I think it can take longer because couples are not married when they begin the petition. Once the visa is approved, and the 'alien' arrives in the USA, the couple must marry within the USA and within a certain time limit, and then let the government know so that residency status can be affirmed. Many couples opt for this because it means that they can start their married lives together straight away. It was my decision not to.

Instead we got married and then applied for the spouse visa. The plus points are that my grandparents and the rest of my family could attend our wedding, we have split the cost of the wedding and visa to allow us to save up for both, and I can save up for my first few months of life in the USA. I will also be eligible to work from the moment I arrive on US soil (as a fiancee I would not have been).

But it does mean that we remain separated during the first year of our marriage, and by the time we will be living together again we will have been apart for almost three years (writing and realising this does make me rue my decision a little). And after all that we definitely plan to throw a super-fantastic BBQ/anniversary/homecoming party once I arrive in the USA. Two parties are always better than one, and especially when they involve a well-baked cake!

Secondly, while we have been apart we have managed to see each other about three times a year. Going on a date costs £400 in air-fares at present, not to mention 7-21 days of annual leave each time, so we are limited by both time and money. But we make it count - we've been to DC, NY, Malta, dancing lessons, jeep riding, swimming in blue lagoons, visiting deco hotels and local bars all over the world for pub fare and varying quality of service, and of course many trips to airport hotels, trysts in airport arrivals (and teary goodbyes in airport departures).

People often remark how romantic it sounds, but after 14 hours of travelling through grey terminal buildings and sitting jammed in coach for a sleepless nine hour flight and being questioned by a skeptical immigration officer about numerous passport stamps then stumbling to Mr's arms after having freshened up earlier with wetwipes and eyeliner in the plane's rudimentary plastic toilet cubicle, one's image of romance is certainly rendered more real than the phoney depictions of rose petals and candlelit poetry, or whatever.

Plenty of people have asked when we'll see each other next after our wedding soiree and honeymoon two months ago, and the answer is Christmas. Mr's coming back for more bacon-topped turkey, cracker jokes and mince pies, and we're both super-excited that we'll be able to see each other during the visa journey. We had both been concerned that it wouldn't be possible to see each other at all with 'visa pending', which would have required an even stronger kind of 'vis'.

Friday, 22 July 2011

On the Visa Journey: First base and getting touched

Sorry about the crude title, but it was too easy.

And thus concludes Act 1 Scene 1 of our petition. Nothing much will happen for about five months, as the other 100,000 or so June visa applications and petitions in California are also logged, filed, checked, approved and moved from desk to desk, person to person, until someone ticks a box and our little life story then gets sent from California to New Hampshire.

We will expect one of three things to happen in the coming months:

1. We will receive an NOA2, another I-797 form, to say that our petition has been approved and that the package is being sent to the National Visa Center in New Hampshire. Then we can officially 'apply' for the visa; or

2. We will receive an RFE, a Request for Further Evidence. If we filled out the form incorrectly, missed something, or didn't provide enough "evidence of a bonafide, ongoing marital union" then we will be asked to send particular documents to California; or

3. We will receive an NOA2 to say that our petition has been denied. This would happen if they didn't think that Mr was a US citizen; or didn't think that we'd met in person in the past two years; or if they had asked us to send more evidence to counter either of these two suspicions and we were unable to provide it.

Until then we read the scripts that let us know what to do when Act 2 comes around and we can (hopefully) apply for my visa!

There are actually some other things that we can do at this stage. Our petition is sitting like a duck in a sea of paperwork. You know, when it looks like not much is going on, but under the water surface is a frenzy of frenetic activity as the duck's webbed feet paddle frantically to get the old bird from A to B. Or California to New Hampshire. Or UK to PA. I'll explain what I'll be doing as we wait for our petition decision, in not so long a while, when the time comes.

There is one other fun little thing we can do while we wait for our petition decision. As well as being able to check our individual Visa Journey timeline to see how quickly or slowly petitions are being processed (note that link is not ours but overall current processing trends), we are also able to check the progress of our petition at the USCIS website. The USCIS website also allows us to login and check the status of our visa application, and the last date our petition file was 'touched'.

Our file is 'touched' when someone scans the file's barcode with our file number on it. To be honest, it doesn't really mean much. It could just mean that our file has been moved from one desk to another. As one person creatively described: it could mean someone spilt coffee on our file and just moved it to a clean desk. It could also mean that someone is reviewing our case, laughing at our facebook photos, making a decision on our petition, reading our Skype chat transcripts, or issuing an RFE for more Skype chats or notarized affidavits. Who knows. It's just a kinky way of describing the kind of action our package could be getting. Sorry, I don't think there's any other way to make bureaucratic processes sound fun.

But I know you're curious now, yes? When were we first touched?

The last activity on our file was 27th June. So we have a way to go yet to get past first base.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Californ I A: Visa petition hits the west coast

Our paperwork landed in Chicago and a few days later we received what is known as 'Notice of Action 1', or an I-797C, which is basically a notification to say USCIS received our inch-thick petition pack and forwarded it onto a Service Center for processing.

So now we wait.

But we can spin it rather nicely and say that the petition is on its way; it's just taking a slow, scenic roadtrip across America. USCIS has sent our little package from Chicago to California, where one of the four visa services is located (the other three are Vermont, Nebraska and Texas). As Pennsylvania is closer to Vermont we were a little surprised, so purely out of curiosity, and while our petition is rocking its Hollywood lifestyle, I tried to find out the difference between the four locations. Some Service Centers don't process petitions for all visa types (immigrant/non-immigrant/work/family/asylum/tourist and all their various subsections right to 'potential entrepreneur'), but usually petitions are distributed according to geography. Sometimes, though, they are sent elsewhere to ease the processing burden on a particular centre if they are busy or backlogged. I guess that's it.

For example late last year about 36,000 petitions were re-routed from CA to TX to clear backlogs at the CA Service Center. The measure failed when TX couldn't handle them all and they were sent back to CA. This resulted in huge delays for the poor petitioners and beneficiaries who had to wait helplessly as their paperwork was shifted from state to state with little to control its whereabouts in the system. 36,000 relationships were put on hold, while other petitions that hadn't been re-routed were processed in ordinary due course.

And another example: shortly after the Haitian earthquake in January last year the USA allowed Haitian citizens in the USA to apply for "Temporary Protected Status" (TPS). This status, while not an immigration status or a route to immigration, is a kind of visa or temporary asylum status allowing recipients to stay (and work) in the USA for a set period of time, while it's deemed unsafe for them to return to their home country. It's previously been offered to other nationalities such as to Hondurans and Nicaraguans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and is available to Sudanese citizens as well. I have read accounts (mostly at Visa Journey) that most of the Haiti TPS applications were sent to the Vermont Service Center, though it's unclear if that resulted in an actual slow down in processing in Vermont. Regardless, there was a cut off point for TPS applications for Haitians, and most (if not all) have been processed now.

The Arab spring and the earthquake in Japan, similarly to the situation in Haiti, could also theoretically affect US visa processing times, although USCIS monitors these events and tries to pre-empt potential fluxes in visa applications.

The good news is that California is currently on target and processing petitions in about 5 months. We can even track down the approximate week when we should expect to be contacted next. Visa Journey is a clever and supremely useful site that allows immigrants to enter in their key petition/application dates and compare them to others in similar situations and at similar stages of the process. As more people enter in data the site updates the average waiting times and the likely date of our next milestone.

At this stage, according to the VJ timeline, we should hear again from USCIS in October. If all goes well in October we'll be able to put in an actual visa application and will have a new set of forms to fill out and another 5 or so months to wait (more on that later). However, things can change, and with July/August being popular wedding months I wouldn't be surprised if things slowed down again towards the end of summer, but we can only wait and see.

According to USCIS, 1 million people become US permanent residents every year. That's a simple average of 83,333 a month. If, theoretically, each Service Center had an equal part in processing 1 million petitions (and I know the number of petitions will be higher than the number of approvals/visa applications), then mine would have been joined by 19,999 other petitions sent to California in June. Obviously these numbers are flawed. That 1 million is only those who have been approved, so there will be many more petitions to account for, as well as peaks and troughs within a yearly cycle. I can only presume July/August/September is busy post weddings, but this isn't even to mention the visa burdens experienced by Service Centers for any of the many other visa types available. My very rough uneducated guess is that mine could be one of almost 100,000 envelopes that landed on a desk in California in June. And with that in mind, a 5 month wait for an email would not seem unreasonable at all, really.

And so we wait.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A marriage of inconvenience: starting the visa journey

I've updated this blog with a number of backdated posts that I couldn't publish until after our wedding, although I ditched most of those about my DIY wedding dress as my mum documented the process of making the dresses rather wonderfully, here.

After the wedding, which was a blast, Mr Husband and I went away for a short but sweet honeymoon in Malta, and then spent a week relaxing in Scotland. I had half an idea of taking Mr up to the Highlands, but after all the buzz and excitement of the week leading up to the big event, and the travelling afterwards, we were happy to have a relaxing week at home. It also gave us the chance to begin the visa process for me to go to the States, and it was so refreshing and lovely to be able to tackle the tasks together rather than through laptop screens!

Several people have asked what happens now, and after asking if they are genuinely interested (and discovering that they are), I'm happy to explain:

The first step in this process is "filing an I-130 Immigrant Petition for Alien Relative". This is a form that a US citizen (USC) fills out to say that they have a relative in another country that they would like to bring to the USA. In our case my husband is the USC and I, his wife, am the direct relative (or 'Alien Relative'). This is a petition for me to be approved to apply for a visa. My husband is the petitioner and I am the 'beneficiary'.

We both also had to fill out forms with biographical information about ourselves, our parents, our birthplace(s), and every address we'd lived at for the past five years.

In addition to those forms, we had to include copies of birth certificates, passports, marriage certificate, US passport sized photos (which are a different size to UK passport photos), and evidence of an ongoing marital union. In our case we included: notarized affidavits from Mr's family members, joint invoices and contracts for wedding items, tickets from trips abroad together, tickets from trips to see each other, emails and facebook wall posts, photos, and evidence of my name on Mr's savings account (to show 'co-mingling of finances' as they like to put it).

The package was over an inch thick, and was sent to Chicago along with a cover letter/contents page, and the filing fee of $420.

This is but the start of the 'Visa Journey' and to be honest, most of that journey involves sitting, waiting patiently for nothing much to happen. But there are some points to note and some interesting quirks about this part of our paper-based adventure:

- We haven't hired a lawyer. We made the decision after familarising ourselves with the processes and the forms over a period of months. We decided that most of the required information is personal, biographical information that we (should) know best, and that we would rather be in control of the process at this stage rather than add an extra link for potential delays and errors.

- These are just the first lot of forms we'll need to do. So far it's not a visa application, but rather a petition for eligibility. We have to prove two essential things: That we are who we say we are, and that our marriage is genuine and in good faith.

- That's by no means the only fee we'll have to pay. We joke that ours is a marriage of inconvenience, though it will certainly be worth it in the end!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

All I have I share with you…

Sneak peak of the wedding!

I've said my thanks to all those involved so many times, but it doesn't seem enough. Thanks everyone.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A British bride's guide to an American bridal shower (now with added surprise element)

I was over in PA spending a week with Mr and his family for the last time we'd see each other before the wedding, and the last time I might be allowed in the US for a while (though hopefully I can visit when my visa is pending, after marriage). While I was there I read a blog post on the private Offbeat Bride ning entitled "a British bride's guide to an American bridal shower". I have to laugh now about the moment I read it because I didn't realise at the time that it'd be a guide I'd be using at all. I had only read it out of interest because the author is a fellow transatlantic immigrating bride, emigrating from England and immigrating to NY in a kind-of-the-same-but-different-situation to me.

On Saturday Mr and I went to play crazy golf (I won both games) and eat hot dogs and ice cream. It was very windy out on the crazy golf course, so I wore Mr's hoodie, and my hair went crazy golf windswept wild. When we got back to his place and entered through the garage door I heard "surprise!" and saw a room full of people taking photos of me that look like this:

Mr's mom and sister had arranged it all, a bridal shower just for me, and in the few hours we'd been out of the house they'd decorated and made a fab spread of food and a bowl of punch served in the in-laws' 1930s punch bowl.

They invited the aunts and uncles, including two who'd driven up from DC with their pooch just to spend a few hours at the party before driving back home again. I don't have any friends in PA (yet), but it was a lovely family affair nonetheless. I was handed a glass of punch (against the traditional I'd heard that bridal showers are dry affairs) and told to sit down and open gifts.

As a reserved British girl thrown into a loud Anglo-Saxon-American Bridal Shower environment, I happily did as I was bid. I remembered what the other blog post had said about it feeling a bit strange being the centre of attention and opening gifts, but Mr's sis was great at keeping things moving and handing me gifts. Traditionally bridal showers are slightly matriarchal events, held by women of the family exclusively for the bride to receive housewifely gifts to ensure she's well set up for becoming head of her household's domestic affairs. My Mr was there the whole time though, which I liked. It made it our shower - so when I opened the cereal bowls I could joke that these were for him to make me cereal every morning like he used to when we were at grad school. Later when I opened coffee mugs I told the story about how he made me cereal and coffee every morning, but one day threatened to stop making me coffee because I never drank it, and I had to admit that I don't like it black but was too shy to ask for milk.

This is me with our new slow cooker, asking with desperate perplexity "but what is four and a half quarts? what is a quart? I'm British, I don't understaaand" to which everyone laughed, but couldn't give me an answer in metric. Oh, the adventures I shall I have in Fahrenheit.

Lovely gin and tonic glasses from my sister-in-law-to-be. she got them while antiquing in Georgia.

I was the only Brit in the room, but for the rest of the family a bridal shower is a normal occasion, so I felt quite relaxed, even as my sister-in-law-to-be started putting together my 'bridal shower hat' (a phrase I must admit I googled afterwards to see if it really was a 'thing' and was relieved to see equally daft pictures of blushing brides in bow bonnets).

Then Mr and I cut a St.Patrick's day themed cake and I gave the Americans poor travel advice for where to visit in the UK.

I was goofing around and stabbing the cake. The knife was Mr's parents' wedding cake knife, although they bought us our own for our wedding for a keepsake; Mr was delighted as it's something he had wanted (post wedding update: Mark forgot to bring the knife over to Scotland for the wedding, but I'm sure we'll use it one day!).

So there you go: Cross-cultural experiences are fun, and don't have be entirely traditional. Sure, the groom and the men of the family can join in - the groom might even don the brightly coloured 50s apron gift and run around outside with the pet bulldog. Matriarchal housewifey gifts can be shared and enjoyed by future husband too, especially when he loves baking. And isn't division of labour a sensible modern economic concept anyway? Check out this book on the matter!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

International paperwork part two arrives!

Mr got an email three hours ago:

"Your UK visa has been issued."

Another thing off the checklist then: UK entry clearance for groom - check! It's certainly good to know that the groom will be allowed in the country to go to his own party.

I'm incredibly impressed with how quickly UKBA dealt with his application, but know that the bit that comes afterwards won't be so easy.
But for now, invitations are out, and visa is approved. Let's get this party started.

Friday, 4 March 2011

International paperwork part one arrives!

Sometimes I put my facebook status as nothing more than a list of places where I need to be for work and/or pleasure, because I seem to do a very lot of travelling. The past week or so I didn't even bother because I couldn't even keep track. In just one day I went from the Highlands of Scotland down to London and then to the central belt of Scotland. The next day I was back in the Highlands, and then the next day I was in Edinburgh, and so it went on, until I found myself on a bus home from a day and a bit in Glasgow on my eighth day of travelling on the trot, and decided that I'd done quite enough travelling for February, thankyouverymuch. It was the 28th, so it wasn't like I could do much more that month, anyway!

At the same time I received an email from an equally busy-at-work Mr to say that the US Postal Service website was saying that there had been an attempted delivery of the invitations he'd sent me. There hadn't, so something was fishy. I randomly entered the USPS tracking code into Royal Mail and Parcel Force and discovered that they were in a random depot two hours away from me. Long story short, it was all fine: I had to pay the customs charges online and they arrived two days later having travelled far enough themselves via Philly, Chicago and various places in the UK (no travelling required on my part, bonus).

I quite like them and Mr quite likes them. The lusciousness of the paper doesn't come through in this picture, and I'm grateful to Mr for letting me design them in my quirky, spontaneous, non-pro way. All I have to do now is address and send them, and in a stupid way my staring at this box feels like sitting on the edge of a precipice; once I send them out this event is really and truly happening…

…as long as Mr's visa arrives on time. He received a promising email from UKBA to say they received it all and it's usually processed in a couple of weeks.

So I want to get these invitations done tonight, even though it's late on Friday and I'm going to Glasgow early tomorrow, Edinburgh later in the week, followed by Perth (Scotland, not Australia) and then trying to make it for an early flight the next day headed to "My Mr, USA", via France, or Holland, I can't even remember right now.

P.S for info, the fonts I used were downloaded free from and

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Waiting Game #1 (or international paperwork x 2)

Background: Mr and I are a transatlantic long-distance couple. I live in Scotland; he lives in the USA. We made the decision a long time ago that we would get married in the UK, and that I will eventually move to the USA. The wedding destination was ultimately my decision, and it was an incredibly hard decision to make. It means that the number of guests on his side will be smaller because fewer people can travel across to the UK and it also means that after the wedding we will be apart for longer as my spouse visa is being processed. It was not the cheapest and easiest option, but amongst all the choices, none of which were particularly cheap or easy, it was the one that allowed me to have a wedding in the UK with my family and friends (and especially my grandparents who are in their late 70s) and gain some great experience in my current job (which I feel I was lucky to get during this job market). Mr has been incredibly gracious and understanding, considering that this was not his first choice and it involves two visas instead of one.

Special Marriage Visit Visa: Anyone not from the UK but getting married in the UK needs to get a visa called the Special Visit Visa: Marriage in order to be able to get married (unless they are immigrating to the UK, that's a different visa. This is for visits of less than 6 months). So because Mr is from the USA, he needs this visa for us to be able to get married. He won't be allowed in the country without it and we won't be able to get a marriage licence without it.

Marriage license in Scotland: Anyone getting married in Scotland needs to go through the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS). This must be done between 3 months and 15 days of the wedding: No more; no less. It states that anyone not from the UK must get a certificate of no impediment to register their marriage, but in the case of the USA this is not true; they are not available in the USA, and the GROS does not require them from US citizens (I called up and checked, in a mild panic). What they do need instead is a copy of the Special Visit Visa.

Waiting Game #1: Mr has sent off his visa application, so now we start waiting game number one, waiting for this to be processed and returned in enough time to then register the marriage. I've heard from my local MP and from our registrar (and from long extended grapevines) that couples can and do leave this too late, leaving them with a big expensive party and no wedding. We hope that we've time it correctly and that it'll all turn out fine, and the processing times on the UKBA website seem reasonable, but I can't help feeling nervous and very, very twitchy.

International paperwork part two: So the visa is one aspect of paperwork. Mr got the invites I designed (using a 30 day free trial of Adobe Illustrator) printed and I have heard that they are super. He was going to send them out, but instead sent them to me in a big box as most of the guests are in the UK. I want to get these invites sent out as soon as possible, but I'm waiting at the mercy of both our postal services for them, and it's likely they are delayed in customs while they stick a huge tax charge on for me to pay before I can get my mitts on them.

So we've checked a couple more things off the wedding checklist:
1. Visit visa application sent off.
2. Invites printed, guestlist drawn up (with most of our guest's addresses entered in a spreadsheet ready to be filled with RSVP and menu requests).
3. Accommodation and flights booked for Mr and his parents.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The LOLsome adventures of Bobby Billybog

Coming up with a registry is just one of the many troublesome things about arranging a wedding across an ocean, what with the currencies, the multiple addresses and the where to send things, and the very far away prospect of one day getting things shipped to the USA. That's a whole lot of price and hassle I'm not thinking about right now.

I was convinced that we couldn't have a 'normal' registry of actual physical gifts because of these factors, but Mark, and OBB showed me otherwise. Mark has had his heart set on good wedding china, and we'd already spent an afternoon walking around the King of Prussia mall eyeing up crockery and testing the weight of spoons in our hands, pretending to be the normal kind of couple who'd do this on a regular Sunday afternoon and not the kind of couple that only gets to spend Sunday afternoon together three times a year.

A couple of weekends ago I lounged on the sofa with the cat, my mum was cutting fabric for my dress (squee!) and listening to the football, while Mark and I surfed shopping websites together on Skype and picked our favourite china. It felt almost like a normal lazy afternoon, a long-distance tableau of domestic bliss!

So this month I had to do a lot of travelling to the Highlands for work - the kinds of places without phone reception or even ATMs. During a spell of signal on my phone I saw an email from Macy's in my gmail and guessed Mark had registered for the china. In the past week I got 4 or 5 more emails from Macy's, all vaguely spammy "Woohoo! Wedding Registry! Get Spendy! Look at this DEAL!" kinds of emails, which I tend to ignore but not delete for a while.

After I'd come back from business travel, and Mark had returned from his own business trip to Atlanta, we actually got a chance to chat on Skype and Mark told me that I had to 'activate' our registry (he got to have fun with the barcode bleeper all by his lonesome, not fair!). I found one of the emails from Macy's and loaded up the 'make a registry page' and after it tried to sell me Gold Reward Stars or something, AND a Macy's card, I finally set up a registry but it had nothing in it.

  Mark realised then that I'd started a new registry, not activated HIS one, so I tried to delete it, and when it wouldn't let me, I changed all the details to fake details, including the wedding date, made it private, and changed the account to an old email address. Yeah, I'd opened the "selling you the Gold Reward Stars" email and not the "activate your account" email by accident. Boob. But then the real 'activation' wouldn't work; first Mark couldn't find our special code and had to rummage round his paperwork, and then the computer was all confused because now I had two registries, kind of.

Mark gave in and called Macy's to explain and asked them to delete the one I made by accident, but because I'd changed some of the details, they couldn't find it in the system. The Macy's lady asked what the name of the couple was. It was still in my name, but the 'husband' was different. While still on the phone to Macy's, Mark asked me over webcam what I changed it to, exactly.

Me: Umm, Bobby Billybog.

Mark: You're kidding me? Um, ma'am, it's uh, Bobby Billybog.

I burst into fits of giggles and Mark was staring at me over Skype as he was trying to be serious to the Macy's lady. She asked to clarify all the details of mine and Bobby Billybog's wedding, for security purposes I imagine.

Mark: What address did you put, Gill?

Me: I can't remember. The zip code was the same. I don't know. It was something silly, like Silly Nanny Street (Family Guy reference).
Mark: Oh god...

The Macy's lady actually asked if that's where he lived. I'm not sure she quite understood what was going on. Mark even tried to explain to the poor lady that I was cracking up over webcam at him having to say silly things over the phone to a stranger.

So that's how I broke our registry and laughed myself daft at my future husband (a serious upstanding bloke who graduated from Military School) saying his 'name' was Bobby Billybog to Macy's while he was not laughing at all.

It's also how I have earned myself a new nickname from my serious upstanding future husband... Gilly Billybog. I know I totally deserve it