Helping Your Filipina Spouse Adjust to the USA

philippine-usa-flag

Let’s say you’ve finally made it through all that red tape and brought your wife or fiancee to the USA.  How can you make her feel at home and help her adjust?  I’ll share some suggestions I believe you’ll find helpful.

Staying in Touch

Your wife will want to stay in touch with her family.  The internet, of course, is very helpful for this.  There are internet cafes all over the Philippines and it shouldn’t be too hard for family members to get online and chat with your wife.  Internet access for smart phones is becoming common as well, so her family may be able to communicate that way.

Texting can be done through a program called Chikka.  You can set up an account to send free texts.  Just warn the recipients that responding (from their cell phones) will cost money (it cost more than a regular text message if I remember correctly).

Calling is a different story.  For some reason calling to the Philippines costs a lot more than calling from the Philippines.  You can call a cell phone in the Philippines with Skype if you buy credits but it isn’t cheap (the rate is much higher than calling other countries).   You’ll also notice the Philippines isn’t included on most international calling plans.  I think there are a few different phone cards out there but I’ve never heard of a definite way to get a really good rate.  You may want to keep calling to a minimum because the costs can add up.

Sending Money

I won’t repeat everything I’ve said before about money and sharing, but your wife will probably want to occasionally (or regularly) send money back to her family.  I normally use Xoom.com for this and I’ve never had any problems.  It works really well for sending money to a bank account in the Philippines.  Usually when I send money this way the recipient has it in his/her account in under 24 hours.  I think other options are available (picking up the money at a specific location) but I’ve never tried doing it that way.

Filipino Media

Your wife will be able to get all kinds of Filipino media through video websites like Youtube.  Some cable companies carry channels catering to the Filipino community, especially if you live in a large city or place with a significant Filipino population.

Here’s another option that is available to anyone with an internet connection: The Filipino Channel.  You can subscribe to this channel for about 12 bucks a month and watch all kinds of content.  This looks like a perfect choice if your local cable provider doesn’t offer some kind of specialty channel for Filipinos.  It would also work well for those who don’t want to change their cable service just to get that one channel.

Filipino Food

You’ll need to invest in a rice cooker if you haven’t already.  She may want to eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner just like she does back home.  Larger cities will have at least one Filipino store so she can get some ingredients.  Fortunately, some dishes (like adobo) don’t require anything except what can be found at most grocery stores (vinegar, soy sauce, etc).

Filipino Community

Your wife will also find it helpful if she can meet some other Filipina friends in your community.  One way to go about this is search “Filipino American (name of your city/town/state)” and see what you can find.  There are Fil-Am associations all over the place.  You’ll eventually discover that people from the Philippines tend to find each other and gather together for social events like birthday parties.

Hope this helps!

CFO Stamp Philippines

Your spouse or fiancee will not be allowed to leave the Philippines unless her passport has been stamped by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO). I’ve met a few people who weren’t aware of this requirement and and had to make this arrangement the day before their flight. I even know of unfortunate incidents where people had to re-schedule their flight and stay an extra day in Manila to complete this step before they could leave.

CFO Stamp

CFO Stamp on Passport

I’d recommend getting this step done as soon as she has her passport/visa in hand.  Maybe she could stay in Manila an extra day if there is no office in her province.

I won’t do a step-by-step walk through of this process like I have done with some of the other things.  You can just click here to visit the official CFO page for more instructions.

Here’s the abbreviated version: the biggest hassle with getting the CFO stamp is having to go to the nearest office and attend a seminar that lasts over two hours (only the Filipino/Filipina attends–the foreign petitioner will not even be allowed inside). The intent of this seminar is to inform Filipino citizens and protect them from being victims of fraud.  My wife said the speaker was friendly and humorous, but she didn’t really learn anything that helpful.  Once the seminar is done the future immigrants get a certificate which is used to acquire the actual stamp.

Here’s some extra information about the CFO for those going the spousal visa route: Filipinas who want to change their name on their passport (to their married name) will also have to attend the CFO seminar (regardless of whether or not they have expressed an intention to leave the country). 

Ridiculous as this is, I’d still recommend she change her passport to her married name.  It is one extra way to document the legitimacy of your marriage.

The downside to this is she’ll still have to go back to CFO once she has the visa to get the actual stamp.  The good news is once she goes back she can get the stamp without attending the seminar again or paying any more fees.  She can probably avoid the crowd by going mid morning or mid afternoon to get the stamp while others are attending the seminar.

You can download the registration form before going to get the stamp if you want.  They are available at the CFO office, but it’s a little more convenient to print it and fill it out ahead of time.

One final tip:  there are places around the CFO office where you can make the needed copies for your stamp (copies of your passport, etc.).

US Embassy Manila: Spousal/Fiancee Visa Interview Walk Through

USEmbassyManila

I’ve written a walk through of the St. Luke’s Medical exam, so now it’s time to explain what happens at the Manila US Embassy interview for immigrant visas.  We did a spousal visa, but I’ve included information relevant to the fiancee visa as well (the process is the same but some of the documentation issues are a little different).

Preparing for the Interview:

Before I proceed with the walk through I’ll share something we were told at the medical exam. Most visa denials happen for the following two reasons:

1. Issues with the identity of or relationship to the petitioner. In other words, there is not enough evidence to prove the petitioner (American spouse/fiancé) is a real person or has a genuine relationship with the applicant.

This is why it is a big advantage for the petitioner to attend the interview with the applicant if possible. It isn’t completely necessary, and most applicants do not have their spouses/fiancés with them at the interview. But it is ideal, since it pretty much eliminates any doubt.

There are other ways to document the relationship: pictures, printouts of emails or online chats, receipts, etc.  This is a little more challenging with fiancee visas because you won’t have any legal documentation of your relationship (a spouse would have a marriage certificate).

NOTE: It is a good idea to print out a few pictures of the two of you together (dates, the wedding, etc.), regardless of whether or not the petitioner comes to the interview.

2. Issues with the affidavit of support. The couple has failed to prove that the petitioner has sufficient income to support his wife/fiancé.

Hopefully you’ve already submitted everything that is needed with the affidavit of support. But if you want to bring some recent pay stubs or something else you haven’t already submitted it won’t hurt. IRS receipts are also good and can be ordered free of charge from IRS.gov. Be sure to bring a copy of the affidavit of support and documentation from the most recent tax year. If you are using a cosponsor you’ll need to bring tax information for both you and the cosponsor.

Note: what I’ve shared about the affidavit of support applies to the spousal visa.  But the requirements for the fiancee visa are more strict.  Fiancee visa applicants should bring the original affidavit of support with an original signature, a copy of the petitioner’s last years income tax statement (or IRS transcript), and a letter from their employer.  It’s also a good idea to bring their last 4 most recent payslips (I actually remember the Filipina interviewer asking for pay stubs from another couple).

The Manila embassy also does not normally allow cosponsors for the fiancee visa.  The embassy usually only makes exceptions for full-time students or certain medical conditions.

We went into the interview with the philosophy of being over-prepared—we had certified copies of almost everything we had already sent to the National Visa Center. We also printed a few pictures from our wedding and first dates.

Preparing to stay in Manila:

I’d highly recommend checking into a hotel the night before the interview if you do not live in Manila. Bayview Park Hotel is probably the closest and we had a pretty good experience there. The wireless internet was a bit slow, but otherwise it was a good place to stay. I chose it because it is walking distance from the embassy. I didn’t want Manila traffic to cause us to run late.  Note: the hotel may require to see a copy of your I.D. and credit card if you pay online.  You may need to call them and work that out if she will be going without you.

Another advantage to the hotel room is having a place to leave your belongings while you are at the interview. Remember this: you cannot bring any form of electronics inside the embassy—cell phones, iPods, and other gadgets are prohibited. Americans can leave such items at the security check-in, but Filipinos (those who are not US citizens) cannot.

Getting in line outside:

Lines outside of the Embassy are grouped according to appointment time and type of visa. We were guided to the correct place by some of the street peddlers offering various services to those in line. Speaking of which, there are people who make a living by holding electronics (like cell phones) for you while you are inside the embassy. I believe most of these people were legitimate, but I’m glad we didn’t have to take that chance.

We decided to arrive about an hour and a half before our interview time. We were ahead of most of the others who came for our same time slot, but I’m not sure it made any difference once we got inside (I’ll explain that later). Anyway, I’d recommend arriving about 1 to 1.5 hours before your appointment time.

Once you get near the embassy entrance you’ll go through the first “checkpoint.” The applicant (your wife/finance) will show her appointment letter to an embassy employee. The employee will check to verify the appointment letter and will put her passport in a plastic bag.

Security and Ticketing:

Next you’ll go through a security checkpoint upon entering the embassy. It’s kind of like what you’d go through for airport security. After the security checkpoint the applicant will proceed to to a window on the other side of the security room. She’ll present her appointment letter again and receive a ticket with a number on it. This number should be kept the rest of the day because it is what they will use to call you for the next steps.

Going In:

The next step is to go inside the main embassy building. This is where all the real business of visa approval (or denial) happens. There are five steps to the process:

1. Finger printing
2. Initial screening (done by a Filipino staff member)
3. American consul officer interview
4. Final clearance
5. Arranging delivery of the passport

These five steps are the culmination of several months of waiting so it can be a little nerve-racking. Just try to relax because hopefully you’ve already done everything needed to ensure your paperwork is in order.

Upon entering the building the applicants are instructed to sit down and watch for their number to appear on a screen.  Everyone waiting must sit down.  Standing is prohibited and there are plenty of seats, all within view of the screen.  The numbers are not in any kind of order, so you just have to watch and wait for yours to appear.  You’ll be directed to go to different windows according to the step you are on. Now for more information on the five steps:

1. Finger printing: self-explanatory.

2. Initial screening: this  first interview and is done by a Filipino employee. I’ve heard that the Filipino interviewer sometimes plays the role of “bad cop,” but ours was pretty friendly. She asked us to identify ourselves, verified a few things in our paperwork (like our address), asked how we met, how many times we had been married, and also asked to see pictures . She also asked my wife if she had lived in any other countries and if she had ever been to the States before.  This is  the stage where the applicant surrenders her passport to the embassy. It was over in less than five minutes for us, but maybe it takes longer if there are issues with the documentation.

3. Interview with the American consular officer:  you start by raising your right hand and swearing to tell the truth, then proceed with the interview. We were asked some of the same questions that were presented at the initial screening (how we met, when we married, etc.). Our officer was very friendly and the interview seemed to go even more quickly than the previous screening. This is where you will usually be told if the visa has been approved, denied, or if there is a need for further review. He ended by telling us everything was in order and the visa was approved. He also gave my wife a little pamphlet on domestic violence (something given to all applicants).

4. Final clearance: A Filipino staff member will call you to a window for any final instructions. I guess those who are denied get their passports returned to them at this stage. Those who need further review would also get some kind of instructions I presume. But the clearance is a quick formality for those with approved visas.

5. Arranging the delivery of your passport: You will turn in a delivery form so they can send the stamped passport to you. The teller will verify the address and case number on the form.

That’s it. Once you have completed these five steps you are done.  The staff will not give you a direct answer on when to expect the passport, but it is usually delivered within 5-7 days (my wife’s came three days after the interview).

Remember that after the passport comes you need to do two things ASAP (one for the US government, one for the Philippine government).  Both need to be done before you leave:

*Pay the 165$ immigrant fee (just go to the USCIS website and search “pay immigrant fee”).

*Arrange to get the CFO stamp on her passport (she’ll have to attend a seminar for this if she hasn’t already).