Recently, my son, Kaiden, became engaged to a young woman from Mozambique. That began an almost nine-month journey with ups and down as we tried to get Liliana to the US using a fiance visa.
Following in his parent’s footsteps
Falling in love internationally isn’t something new in my family. Nearly thirty years ago, I met my husband in Portugal and later we were married in Gibraltar. The next morning, we went to the US embassy in Lisbon to start our visa papers. Three weeks later, with his visa in hand, we flew to the US. While we had some challenges and lots of paperwork, it was a relatively quick process.
However, when my son started looking into getting Liliana here, we quickly found that those days of quick visas are long over.
Kaiden and Liliana meet
Kaiden and Liliana met in Mozambique in December 2016. They became friends, but when he left Mozambique in May 2017, they began corresponding and by December 2017, they were solidly involved in a long-distance relationship.
At first, his dad and I were not very supportive because Kaiden hadn’t dated much, if at all, here in the States. Plus, he and Liliana hadn’t actually dated at all in person. We worried they would face too many difficulties with both distance and the huge difference in their backgrounds.
To address some of these concerns, Kaiden helped Liliana apply for a tourist visa to the United States in January 2018. They felt the visit would be a great way to start dating in person. Unfortunately, the visa was denied.
Applying for the fiance visa
My son was disappointed, of course, but he didn’t let it get him down. He immediately applied for a visa to bring Liliana to the States as his fiancée instead. He filled out all the papers himself, and I checked them over. The papers were received February 14, 2019.
(BTW, if you’re thinking about taking this same journey, I definitely recommend filing the papers yourself. At least I do if you are thorough and can follow the directions completely. Yes, you can hire an attorney, but keep in mind that these applications aren’t big money-makers, and they won’t be able to give your application the careful attention that you can. In this case, you are your best advocate. You should also know that at this time, the fiance visa process will take at the very least eight months. No matter what you do or who you talk to or how to try to expedite it.)
Kaiden goes back to Mozambique
At the time of his application, Kaiden was in college with four semesters left to complete his computer science degree. He also worked twenty hours a week. Time not used studying or working was spent on WhatsApp with Liliana. However, the minute his finals were finished in April of 2018, he flew to Mozambique to court his future bride.
Before he left, I made sure he had $300 worth of malaria pills and the $150 yellow fever vaccine. Though yellow fever doesn’t exist in Mozambique, it did exist in one of the countries he was flying through. When his plane was delayed in Ethiopia, and he was forced to stay overnight, we were grateful we’d gotten the immunization. Otherwise, he would have been held at the border for weeks after being given the shot in Mozambique.
While Kaiden was in Mozambique, I worried constantly, but every day he checked in with me on WhatsApp, which helped. But about halfway through his four-month stay, he and Liliana were mugged and his brand new phone stolen, along with her phone as well. He contacted me through a friend, and I was able to secure his bank account and change other passwords. In the day it took me, there were dozens of attempts to login to his account! This was a discouraging setback, but with his quickly dwindling funds, he managed to buy another phone, which he planned to leave with Liliana if he had to return to the States without her.
(Note: one good thing came out of the phone hassle. Our then service provider AT&T, who is prohibitively expensive overseas, was extremely unhelpful at the time. This resulted in the eight of us on our family plan later researching and switching to T-Mobil which gives us free unlimited texting and data in over 200 countries, including Mozambique, South Africa, and Portugal where we need it most.)
Trying to speed up the visa
During this time, I was trying to work with our senator to speed up the visa. My son was supposed to be back in school in September or risk losing his scholarship, but he was reluctant to leave Liliana to travel to the Johannesburg consulate in South Africa to attend the fiance visa interview all alone. Mozambique does have a US embassy, but they do not deal with fiance visas at all. Since Liliana speaks neither English nor the African dialects in Johannesburg, and the country is not very safe at the moment for travel, Kaiden had every right to worry about her. He’d already had plenty of experience traveling to the closet South African border each month (only an hour away and not through as rough an area) to obtain another visa to stay in Mozambique, and the six-hour bus trip through volatile areas wasn’t exactly something he wanted her to do alone.
Belatedly, I realized that it would have been much better for them to wait for the visa in Portugal with my mother-in-law. There it was completely safe, and my mother-in-law could have taken care of them, Kaiden wouldn’t have needed to renew his visa each month, and Lisbon has a consulate that does visas. They agreed they should have gone there, but it was too late at this point.
Then at the beginning of August, Kaiden contacted me to say they were planning to get married in Mozambique instead of waiting for the fiance visa. The next day, Liliana’s uncle contacted us, concerned about that course of action. He wanted to be sure that Liliana would have the opportunity to come to the States. I don’t know if he thought my son would abandon her, which wouldn’t be the case, but after doing research into spousal visas we were also opposed to them getting married there.
They were almost sixth months into the fiance visa process. Almost at the end. If they got married, they would have to cancel that visa application and start a spousal visa. Unlike the fiance visas, there is a waiting list for the married visa, and at the time I checked, the embassies were only beginning to process the visas that had been filed A YEAR earlier. Which meant if they married they would be waiting a lot longer to be together in the United States.
We had a serious talk with our son and so did Liliana’s uncle, and the kids agreed to wait. Instead, they held an engagement party in Mozambique (see the picture with the cake). I assured my son that we’d either find a way to fly him back for the visa interview, or Liliana’s mother, who had volunteered to go with her, would make sure she got there okay.
We did more research about what documents Liliana would need for the visa interview, and Kaiden made sure to get them ready. This included a police letter, birth certificate, identity card, and translations of all those documents from Portuguese (spoken in Mozambique) to English. Thankfully, Liliana already had a passport thanks to her first visa attempt.
Kaiden comes home without Liliana
Shortly after the six-month mark, we received notice that Kaiden’s petition had been approved and had been sent to the National Visa Center for handling. That meant they would be given a number that would allow her to apply for her part of the visa and schedule the interview after the documents were forwarded to the consulate in Johannesburg. We were hoping that would mean Kaiden could take her for the interview in the last week of August, and they could fly home together, but despite repeated calls, it was only after he’d flown home for school and been here for a week that he was given the number.
He was also told that the consulate would send documents to Liliana’s house and that they were to follow those instructions. Problem was, she doesn’t get mail. That’s right. No mail. Ever. So we were scrambling to make sure there wouldn’t be any surprises. After a few weeks, Kaiden was able to contact someone at the Johannesburg consulate for a list of what we needed for their particular consulate. Thankfully, it was exactly what we’d already discovered online, so we wouldn’t need any more papers. You can see at the end of this post what those included for us.
I was shocked, though, at my son’s appearance when he arrived home. He’d lost so much weight that he looked skeletal. He’s six feet tall and weighed 132 pounds when he left at the end of April, but when he came home, he was 117. After a week of not gaining, I took him to the doctor for tests, which thankfully turned out negative. We just needed to get more food down him!
I get to work
I admit that I was so relieved to have Kaiden home safely that it was all I cared about for a while. But the plan at this point was for them to make the visa interview appointment and for him to fly back to attend it with her and then hopefully they could fly home together. If the visa was delayed, Liliana’s mother would travel to South Africa and wait with her daughter until the visa came. We had no idea how Liliana would be able to travel to the US alone, with no command of English, but the option of sending her via Portugal and my mother-in-law, who has travel here various times, was a definite option.
Of course, I began to worried about Kaiden going to South America. Liliana has family there, but they said where they lived wasn’t safe for white people, and he couldn’t stay with them. The more I learned about South Africa and the unrest there, the more worried I became.
So I told my son to get ahead in his school work and talk to his professors about being gone a week or two and to leave the rest to me. Then I started planning. I tracked plane tickets, found a hotel in a safe area of Johannesburg, found a trusted driver to pick them up at the airport. If my son was going to South Africa, I would make sure he came back alive!
We make the interview and medical appointments in South Africa
We made the medical appointment for Monday October 22 and the fiance interview for Thursday October 25. This was the week after Kaiden’s mid-terms and the only time he’d be able to leave. But we needed the interview before the end of the month, when Liliana’s police certificate would expire. Kaiden would, of course, serve as the required translator for the interview. By this time, he’d regained about five pounds. Not enough but better than before!
I bought a ticket for Kaiden from the US to Johannesburg and another for Liliana to fly there from Mozambique. I bought refundable bus tickets going to Mozambique, and a flight back to the US for my son, because the airline could refuse to let him go if he couldn’t prove he had plans to return. This airline ticket I canceled for no charge within 24 hours of purchase after Kaiden was on the last plane to South Africa. I ended up forgetting to cancel the bus tickets because at the time I was flying to Arizona for a wedding, but it was a small expense for proof of ongoing travel for both of them if it were needed in South Africa. I couldn’t purchase “real” return airline tickets because we had no idea how long it would take to get the fiance visa or what day they’d come home.
Kaiden and Liliana found each other easily at the airport, but unfortunately, the old phone I’d given him wouldn’t work there until they transferred his T-Mobile sim card to her phone (the one he’d bought after the mugging in Mozambique). Then we were able to connect him with the driver, who took them to the hotel. This trusted driver charged almost triple what an Uber driver would charge, but at the time, we were just happy they got to Sandton safely. After we learned that Uber was safe, my son began using Uber instead.
Credit card stops working
Unfortunately, the bank canceled Kaiden’s credit card when he tried to use it to pay for the medical exam. I immediately wired money and was horrified to realize that it wouldn’t arrive until Friday, the morning after their interview at the consulate. I began to prepare for the possibility of another week there. Fortunately, Kaiden had taken his laptop, and as long as it wasn’t stolen from the hotel, he could send in homework, if needed.
Meanwhile, I called the bank and got the credit card working again. But because of the cancellation, Kaiden and Liliana were forced to take a taxi instead of Uber to get to the X-ray place, and taxis are often not safe in South Africa. Fortunately, the ride went without incident.
They receive the Visa
After all this preparation and gathering the supporting documents, the interview on Thursday October 25th, took about fifteen minutes. The consulate officer went through only about a fifth of what they had brought, and they didn’t even glance at the bank statements we’d included with our affidavit of support. They did look at affidavits and the picture sign-in book I created for the wedding.
Kaiden and Liliana were told immediately that the visa was granted and would be processed as soon as the blood tests came in. That’s right. The doctor’s office, not having received payment hadn’t sent in the blood results!
The next morning the money wire went through, however, and miraculously at one Friday the afternoon (South African time), the consulate sent my son an email saying he could pick up the visa at DHL. Unfortunately, the place was closed by the time Kaiden checked his email, and would be closed all weekend.
We had the hotel reserved through Tuesday, so we decided not to stress this delay. I still needed to figure out flights home anyway, and later that day I purchased two flights for Monday evening, which were a lot cheaper than if they’d been going home on Saturday. Like $500 each cheaper! These tickets were supposed to be changeable, so I told my son to let me know the second they got the visa.
They almost miss the flight
All the next few days, I worried the visa wouldn’t be at DHL, but my son texted me at one in the morning my time on Monday to let me know they had the visa in hand! Yay! But less than two hours later, he texted again to say that his bank card was once again blocked, and he needed to pay something ASAP. Liliana’s braids had begun to fall out, so they’d gone to buy something to remedy that and had no way to pay. Plus, they needed money for the Uber they planned to take to the airport.
I was upset at our bank, of course. We didn’t have three more days for a wire transfer. But Kaiden suggested we try Western Union and less than fifteen minutes later, he was picking up the money at the Western Union at the Sandton mall where they were at the time. (Never again will I use a bank wire! Western Union is even 5 bucks cheaper.)
I told Kaiden they should leave for the airport by four for their eight-thirty flight, but when I checked with them at five, they were still at the hotel. They were expecting a twenty-minute ride to the airport. I urged them to go quickly because it would be rush hour traffic. In the meantime, eight hours behind them (so it was morning for me in my time zone), I was on the way to the airport myself. At the airport, I called my bank and demanded to know why they’d blocked the card again. They had no reason. So annoying!
After frantic texts from my son at near seven, a half hour after they were supposed to be at the airport, I learned they were caught in traffic! The tickets said if they did not check in at least hour before, they would not be allowed on the plane. So I got on my own plane not knowing whether or not they would make it to the airport in time. But by the time I landed an hour later, I had a text from him saying they were at the boarding gate and had made it!
They come home
Two days later, Kaiden and Liliana finally made it to our local airport. My husband and I picked them up, so grateful to have our son and our beautiful future daughter-in-law here safe and sound. Yes, it cost my son all of his savings, and he had to borrow $5,000 from us just for flights, hotel, and fees, but he’s happy. They both are. (And we’ll let him start paying after he graduates in December 2019 and starts working as a computer programmer.)
We were immediately impressed with Liliana and as we’ve gotten to know her, we are more and more excited to have her in our family. It takes a lot of courage to go to a new country with only two suitcases and the promise of love. Thankfully, my husband and I and a couple of our children speak and understand Portuguese, so she has a lot of support.
End of a long journey?
I’ve spent the past five weeks madly preparing for their December 14, 2018 wedding. Kaiden is finishing up this semester (with great grades!) and Liliana doesn’t speak English, so most of the planning has necessarily fallen to me. A surprise bought of appendicitis and emergency surgery the day after Thanksgiving set me back a little, but with a lot of neglect of my current book, I’ve been able to get back on track. One of my married daughters and one of my sisters have also been a huge help. The wedding must be within 90 days of Liliana entering the US, and the school break is definitely the best time for them. With only a week until the wedding now, we are all more than ready for this last step.
It seems like the end of a long journey, but really it is just the beginning. The beginning of Kaiden and Liliana’s lives together. I bet in a few years, they won’t remember how much of a headache the fiance visa process was. But they will remember the relief of finally being together. The success of a battle well worth fighting.
Whatever happens, you can be sure their family will be here ready to support and help, if needed.
For the medical appointment in Johannesburg, we needed:
- Two pictures for the medical appointment.
- Passport for identification. These are a different size than the passport pictures needed for the fiance visa interview. Please see the PDF link below these lists and follow the medical link there to verify the correct size.
- Medical records, if any.
- Fee (I think it was about $350 or $400). They will give you your chest X-ray to carry to your fiance visa appointment and will email them the other results.
For the fiance visa interview at the Sandton Consulate in Johannesburg, we needed these documents:
- Fill out the DS-160 form and pay the fee. This is the visa application and is submitted by the intended immigrant fiance. It’s costs around $160. The form is filled out and submitted online, so you can do it for your fiance. You will need an electronic picture of your finance. Make sure all the dates match what was in your original I-129 petition.
- Bring a copy of the above document and proof of payment.
- A copy of your NVC letter of approval.
- Valid passport with at least six months left before expiration.
- A copy of your passport. Does not need to be translated to English.
- Fill out form I-134 in English, which is an affidavit of support. If you don’t have enough income to sponsor your fiance, you’ll have to get a friend or relative to fill one out too. Make sure you have the tax records, W-2s, and any other proof that you think is necessary for the I-134. We had all our bank statements like in the instructions to back up our son’s I-134, but they only wanted the tax records at the Sandton consulate. (Note, later after you go to get the green card, you will fill out form I-184 instead, but they basically have the same information).
- Police certificate that basically says you are not a threat.
- A certified English translation of the police certificate.
- Original birth certificate.
- A certified English translation of the birth certificate.
- Proof of relationship. We used a photo book that we created for the wedding, but we had far more ready, just in case. They didn’t look at any of it.
- Two passport pictures for the embassy.
- My future daughter-in-law had her Mozambican ID as well and the English translation, but they only wanted the passport once they got to the consulate.
- You will need more documents if your intended fiance has children who are also immigrating.
Lastly, visit this PDF/site. It will give you the contact information and instructions on how to make your medical appointment and your fiance visa interview appointment in Johannesburg (Sandton).