By Mummy B.
Here it is! I got it … and in record time! For those following us on Instagram, you already know from last week: I now have my US social security number!
But before we get there, it took us a lot of time and paperwork. A journey that began last April when Daddy B. was told about a position in California at the end of his International Corporate Volunteering in Singapore.
A visa… why?
Actually for tourism, when you are French (or any citizen of this list of countries), you can travel thanks to the ESTA visa waiver program. You have a dedicated website where you can fill an online form and pay $ 14 fee to apply for electronic travel authorization. When you get the authorization (it is very quick), it gives the right to stay a maximum of 90 consecutive days in the US and is valid for two years. Some older French (or other nationalities) passports are not consistent with the ESTA process, it is advisable to check if you match the criteria or not.
But if you want to study or work in the United States, it is really different! And that’s why it is so difficult to achieve living here when you are from another country.
With few exceptions (win the lottery green card, green card through marriage or for family reasons, green card through work …), it is essential to obtain a visa if you want to live in the United States as a student or a worker, or if you want to stay longer than 3 months as a tourist.
What kind of visa you should apply for?
We can often read questions about expatriation in USA on forums or Facebook groups dedicated to foreigners living there. Indeed a lot of people are wishing to settle in the US. Among the most frequent questions, there is “What kind of visa should I apply for?”.
Regularly there are also questions, like message in a bottle, sent on the same exchange platforms: “I have no job, no experience, no qualifications, no money and I don’t speak English … what can I do to achieve my dream of living in the United States?” . The question seems desperate and yet they are a lot who still see the United States as an El Dorado full of promise and hope to fulfill one day their American dream.
But the first question to ask yourself is only if you are in a situation that will allow you to study or work in the United States because the selection is tough and the immigration law in the US is very complicated.
For us, it is thanks to Daddy B.’s firm that we can live here. A job opportunity at the end of his International Corporate Volunteering, a work experience and educational background which made him a perfect candidate to get his work visa. We didn’t choose what kind of visa, but the lawyers specialized in American immigration law (employed by Daddy B’s company) guided us step by step to get it.
Indeed you don’t get a work visa because you request it by yourself: an employment contract is a prerequisite. The question is not to know what visa to apply for, but to find an employer in the United States willing to sponsor you for a work visa and who will do the steps to enable you to apply for the related visa. Depending on the company situation in the United States, your qualifications, your field, your experience and a whole bunch of criteria that are studied by their lawyers, the company will tell you which visa you will apply for.
For students, for sure you will be guided in visa process by your school. The visa will be different if you join an school of general education, technical or professionnal, or a particular program (sponsorship). In all cases, you must first be registered at an educational institution in the United States. Only then, you can deal with the visa application and all other administrative duties related to your status which are explained on the website of the US Department of State.
“Au pair” visa
Once again, you can’t just arrive in USA and declare that you come to be an “au pair”. To get a visa, you must ask to specialized agencies which are approved by the Department of State. In this case, you should also be guided during the administrative process.
Other more specific cases, such as investors, journalists, athletes and artists, will require other approaches and possibly delve into further research and seek advice from lawyers depending on their situation . But in each case, there are prerequisites (like amount to invest, famous name in your field, …) before you can begin the steps for the visa. You can find lots of useful information on the US Embassy website to better know what you have to do.
In conclusion, it is not worth starting to look at what means H1B, E2, L1, J1, G, P3, B2 and all other …
First, take the time to know in which case you are (or will be), contact the entity that will accompany you in choosing and obtaining your visa (firm, school, lawyer .. .) and it will be time to learn the characteristics of your visa (duration, possibility for the spouse to work or not etc …).
If your visa allows it, the rest of the family (spouse and children under the age of 21) can follow you with a dependent visa but this advantage is only for the married couples.
A visa for USA in 4 steps
1) A picture ID
Before trying to fill the DS-160 online form which constitutes your non-immigrant visa application to the United States, it is better to first provide yourself with a picture ID that matches the required specifications.
We talked you about the flawless humor of Singapore’s administration, particularly in regard to imports of animals. We go to the next level with the American approach. Indeed, they are big jokers in the US: it’s not enough to have a biometric ID picture in your passport, a picture almost impossible to obtain with a young child. No, this picture is totally useless for the DS-160, because it requires … a square picture! A way to sponsor Instagram perhaps? Well… you need it anyway because your biometric rectangular passport picture is not enough for US administration!
Hopefully, you can easily find on the US Department of State website, all the criteria for the perfect shot.
2) DS-160 form
A form must be completed and submitted online for each family member (including children). As it is quite long and stressful (you don’t want to make mistakes and to send a file which can be denied), it is better to find a quiet moment when we have time ahead to fill the DS-160.
For the little humorous note, there is some pretty hilarious administrative steps where you need to answer, for example, if “yes” or “no” you move to the United States to live in prostitution or join a drug cartel. American subtlety! Of course, your answers can be used as a statement at your trial, if you are ever caught, and it will make the charges against you (and your sentence) even heavier because of perjury.
Even more fun if you are inactive on your session more than 20 minutes (because you have forgotten how exact date you started your contract three years ago and you can not immediately find your previous contract), it will expire without saving the information already filled. Therefore you will have to start from the beginning (unless you registered your barcode or application number in a file on your computer). As we already told you: calm, patience and also … organization are needed! People who know us are still wondering how we managed to move in the United States!
In the end, a confirmation page with barcode will be generated. You must print it as it will be needed during your interview at the consulate.
3) Interview at the Embassy
This interview is not automatic, some people can apply for a new visa or a renewal by mail.
For us, the appointment for the interview was made by the lawyers of Daddy B’s company and as our file had been delayed (they asked three times the scanned copy of Daddy B.’s passport!), the appointment arrived much later than expected and forced Mimi B. and myself to stay in France three more weeks while Daddy B. began working in the US without a visa with a french temporary work contract …
If you need to plan the appointment by yourself, you will find the way forward on the dedicated website.
Before going to the Embassy, you should gather all the requested documents. It may vary depending on the type of visa, but serve to prove both that you can really apply for your visa and show that you do not intend to stay in the US after your visa will have expired. You can find further information about it on the website of the US Department of State website.
The day of your interview, be sure to bring your confirmation page of DS-160 form and your passport (valid, of course! So make sure that it expires more than 6 months after).
The Embassy website states that no food or beverage from outside is allowed inside the Embassy . Regarding security measures, visitors and their baggage will pass control procedures. A lot of items are prohibited inside the Embassy (including cell phone and camera). From one consulate to another, you are not always assured that you can leave those items in a secure area or find vending machines for food and beverages.
For us, the interview at the Embassy of the United States in Paris was a mere formality, but it took us three hours on site because it was crowded. Fortunately Mimi B. was very quiet even if we had not bring much occupation for her thinking that it would be much faster.
Our appointment was organized in two interviews at the counter overlooking the waiting room. Consular officers checked our finger prints and asked a few questions about Daddy B.’s work contract, his expertise in his field activity and our desire to go back to France at the end of our visa, and verified all the documents of our visa application.
4) Getting your passeport and visa
The procedure changed just before our interview. We were asked to prepare a Colissimo envelope for receiving our passports with visas, but the consular officer told us that it was not worth it and that they would be sent to the address indicated on our DS-160 form. As we needed a French address, we indicated the one on our passports, our previous adress in Vincennes (an apartment left more than a year ago before moving to Singapore). So we didn’t have any access to the mailbox anymore! Panic moment… especially when the consular officer said he couldn’t do anything for us … But eventually our poor faces convinced him to accept our Colissimo envelope (already paid 24€) with an address where we could well receive the mail.
The time to receive your passports and visas are between two and four days, but the Embassy warns that longer delays can be observed for some files and that you can not be sure that your visa is accepted as long as you haven’t receive it.
Fortunately for us, as our plane tickets were already booked and the flight was just a few days later, we received everything on time and were finally able to fly to the USA!
Why should you apply for a SSN?
Here it is. You got your visa. You took the plane. You landed. And now you see the Star-Spangled Banner everywhere (well… almost!). In short, you are an expat in the US!
A feeling of fullness fills you and you say there, everything is allright! You’re done with administrative procedures!
Nay, dear friend! Far from it. Driver license, health insurance plan and many other surprises are awaiting you.
Among them, there is the SSN application. The Social Security Number. A “social security number” if you are French, you already have one : it starts with 1 if you are a man, 2 if you are a woman and … it is totally useless here! Indeed, if it has the same name on both sides of the ocean, their usefulness is very different. Contrary to our French social security number, SSN provides no social rights.
In the US, the SSN is essential for:
– Filing your tax return
And it also make easier some administrative procedures, since it is often the number used to identify you for:
– Applying for a driving license
– Opening a bank account
– Getting a checkbook and / or a payment card
– Getting credit
– Subscribing to an health insurance plan
So then, suddenly, it seems quite urgent to have one! Especially since it’s free, so why hesitate?
Anyway, Daddy B., who is not particularly good at administrative procedures, did it quickly, as he was warned by his company that they couldn’t pay him without this precious number!
Generally, the SSN is only for people authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to work in the United States (as it is mandatory in this case). Only people with work visas and those with dependent visas and a work authorization are assured of having a SSN. For others, they will be identified differently for the rest of the paperwork. After reading various testimonies, some people with dependent visas had to get their work authorization by Department of Homeland Security first and then apply for SSN. In California, I was able (as some of my friends with a dependent visa which allows to work with a DHS authorization) to apply for SSN without having yet a work authorization. So the best way is to ask your social security office to know which step doing first.
How can you get your SSN?
You just have to go to a Social Security office. On site you will find a social security card application (SS-5-EN). In general, even during the weekdays, you can expect to wait, so you should have time to fill the form on-site.
Like for the visa application, be sure that you have all the required documents:
– Your passport
– Your US visa giving you the right to work or needing a work permit application to do
– The I-94 form (you received it upon arrival in the United States at the immigration)
For spouses dependent visa, you will also need an ORIGINAL marriage certificate (photocopies are not accepted).
Then? You should receive your Social Security card during the following month. This may be faster (for me, 6 days) or much longer (it took almost two months for Daddy B. before obtaining his SSN, as the first application get lost…).
I hope this article will be useful for people who plan or are in the process of an expatriation and all those who are curious to know the path of expatriates in the United States. Feel free to share your own experience (good or bad) in the comments!