USCIS 1-800 Telephone Number–Good to Know!

When you have questions about a visa situation, you can always call United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Their National Customer Service Center is at (800) 375-5283.

They may ask for your A# (or Alien #). (You can find this on the I-94 record that you receive when entering the United States. If you entered illegally, you will not have this record, since it is officially given at the point of entry.)

Calling is a little intimidating, but they have given me helpful information many times. Before September 11, 2001, it was NOT helpful to call. But after, they became much more helpful and efficient.

Do Foreigners Need a Social Security Number to Get Married?

Please Note: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Do not take this post as legal advice, as each case is unique. This post is a story about my experience with my spouse during the process of getting my husband’s marriage-based greencard in the US.

So, do foreigners need a social security number to get married? When we were married years ago, the answer was NO! We married at the Justice of the Peace near our house. (Then we married in a church later.) It was such a special day:)

BUT for a while, I was afraid we couldn’t get married! My friends had gone to apply for a marriage license and said there was a HUGE sign posted: “Parties must present a social security number to obtain a marriage license.” Well, my fiance (now husband) didn’t have a social security number… I thought, “Great, now we can’t get married because of some dumb number.”

So, I called all of these different Justice of the Peace offices in different states–Pennsylvania, Las Vegas, and so on. They all said you have to show your social security number to get married. Finally one kind lady explained: “If you HAVE a social security number, you must provide it. If you DO NOT HAVE a social security number, then you must sign a document that says you don’t have one.”

I am not sure this law applies to all states, but you can call the Office of the City Clerk where you live to find out (this may also be called the Office of the Town Clerk depending where you live). You can usually find this information on the website of your city government.

When you call, ask: “Does a person need a social security number to get a marriage license in your office?” The person will probably say “Yes.”

Then ask: “What if the person does not have a social security number?” In many places, maybe all, the person will say, “In that case, he or she will sign a document that says he or she has no social security number.”

And then, of course, after you are married, your spouse will be able to get a social security card soon–definitely after receiving the EAD. Read about this here.

So You Wanna Marry a Foreigner…

To find a husband or wife seems like the hard part…until you get married!  Then we learn that marriage, while fabulous in so many ways…has many trials and tribulations. Anticipating marrying someone from a different country can feel “scary” because somewhere inside, you know you’re taking a leap of faith that is bigger than that involved with marrying a person from the same culture. If you want to marry a foreigner, let me take a guess at a few of the thoughts you’re having:

  1. CAN I marry this person? I don’t know the first thing about immigration.
  2. Won’t marriage with a foreigner be complicated?
  3. I really think he/she loves me, but what if deep down, my love is thinking about a greencard?
  4. Will he/she change his/her mind and later want to move back home to a different country?
  5. Will he/she ever learn to speak English well? If not, what will happen?
  6. Will he/she ever find a good job? If not, what will happen?
  7. Will people, especially family and friends, accept our marriage?
  8. Will speaking different languages at home confuse our future children?
  9. Do children feel that the foreign parent is different from other parents?
  10. Is it possible to make a marriage between foreigners last?

I have good news and bad news to share! Good news first. The answer to #10 is YES. The answer to #1 is most often YES–I will post a few immigration links for you soon, plus I will describe our immigration situation (which ended fine and was very easy, just a long process) and a few of our friends’ as well.

The bad news. Marrying a foreigner could teach you many things you never wanted to learn about society, culture, how the nicest people in all cultures can turn horrible when their loved ones marry people from different places, that child-rearing practices are different everywhere and people get darn stubborn about the ones they were raised with…Oh, each of these needs its own post or many of them…

What I’m saying is, marriage is complicated–period. Marriage with a foreigner is even more complicated. Having lived in three countries, worked as an ESL teacher for 10 years (with hundreds of foreigners from many, many countries including all continents except Antarctica), I have known MANY couples comprised of spouses from different countries. I saw a few divorce within two years. I see some who are still holding on but unhappy. BUT I KNOW SOME who figured it out and are living an exciting, love-filled, culturally rich life together.

I hope to shed some light on my personal experience and offer help or advice whenever possible through this site. Good luck to you, and know that many international couples are thriving and happy!!!!

We got a Marriage License…Now What?

Please Note: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Do not take this post as legal advice, as each case is unique. This post is a story about my experience with my spouse during the process of getting my husband’s marriage-based greencard in the US.

Now the fun begins! First, I am NOT an attorney, only the spouse of a foreigner. I can NOT give legal advice–only share with you my own experience. We did the immigration process several years ago, so you must double check all of the information below with USCIS to be sure it is current. At least these links give you a place to start! Here is the process we followed for legal immigration and work purposes:

  1. Check out the process for filing your paperwork. For some couples, it may be easier to get married outside of the US. For others, leaving the US could create serious problems until the foreign partner’s status changes.  How do you check? Start with immigration discussion boards to get advice from people who had a similar situation to yours. Or ask an online immigration lawyer to be sure you are getting accurate advice.
  2. Check scenarios that could prevent your spouse from getting a greencard. If he or she is under deportation or entered the US illegally, marrying a US citizen will not guarantee that he or she gets a greencard.
  3. If the foreign spouse overstayed a visa but entered the US legally, realize that you may have to avoid travel outside of the US for months or even years. We had this situation and waited until the process was complete and my husband had a greencard before leaving the US.
  4. Assuming marriage in the US is the way to go, then get married!!! For us, this was the case. Couples can have a big wedding in a church or other location. Or you can get married by a Justice of the Peace. (We did both, but Justice of the Peace first to submit our paperwork quickly.) The courthouse or city clerk where you apply for your marriage certificate can tell you where to find the closest Justice of the Peace.
  5. Get copies of your marriage certificate. (TIP: Get 5 certified copies. I did it, and have needed them many times.)
  6. Prepare your paperwork for USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services). There are many different immigration documents for various situations. To get information on your specific visa/greencard/immigration paperwork needs, I recommend this discussion board–see the section called Marriage-Based Greencards. There are three main situations–here are additional links:
    • You are in the US. Your fiance is in another country. You want him/her to come here so you can get married. Read about the forms you will need here.
    • You are in the US. Your spouse is in the US. You want to get married here. Read about forms you will need for USCIS here.
    • You and your spouse have already gotten married (or plan to) in a foreign country. Read more here.  (TIP: This one can cause problems if you need to come back to the US quickly because your spouse will need to wait in that country for paperwork before coming to the US–unless he/she already has a visa.)
  7. Shortly after you submit your paperwork for immigration, USCIS will send your new spouse an EAD card (Employment Authorization Document). With this, he or she can legally work!
  8. Once your spouse has the EAD card, he or she can apply for a social security number. Here is the link to the form, instructions, and addresses of local social security offices. (TIP: Your spouse should apply for a social security card as soon as possible, as a new employer cannot hire a person without one.)
  9. Before filling out any paperwork, call the USCIS to be absolutely sure that you have the right forms and that they have not expired!! Sometimes forms are available on the web, but they have expired–so call and ask before you take the trouble of filling out the forms. (Here is the 1800 number to USCIS.)

Immigration Tips Couples Need To Know

Please Note: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Do not take this post as legal advice, as each case is unique. This post is a story about my experience with my spouse during the process of getting my husband’s marriage-based greencard in the US.

Please note: The information below applies only to my own experience that took place before 9/11/2001, so many things may have changed. Any little detail can completely change a case, so check with an attorney or the USCIS to verify how your case should be handled. You will need to check the new processes, forms, and guidelines as they pertain to your and your spouse’s status and visa–each situation is different. There are several sticky situations in the immigration process, plus a few details that KEPT confusing me during the early stages of the process. Here are a few tips that may be helpful:

1) The spouse of a US citizen can apply for permanent residency in the US based on marriage to a US citizen. (The USCIS phrases this as applying for permanent residency through a “family member.”) When we were married, this was the rule: once the foreign spouse applies for residency, his/her status becomes “between statuses”–meaning not legal or illegal. In most situations, the alien spouse will be given permanent residency. If your spouse committed a crime in the US or entered the US illegally, there may be difficulties getting permanent residency–consult an immigration attorney. (If he/she entered legally but overstayed a visa, that is not generally a problem for changing status but can be an issue if he or she leaves the country before the status change is complete–but all situations differ slightly so ask a lawyer or USCIS if you are worried. Also see #3 about travel.)

2) In the permanent residency application process, some relatives such as brothers and sisters are placed on a waiting list and may wait a long time before their application is considered. This is not true for spouses. However, spouses will wait between the time they submit paperwork and the approval of the paperwork to get an interview–this is just processing time. (Relatives like brothers and sisters have the waiting list time + processing time).

3) After getting married and submitting paperwork, YOUR SPOUSE MUST BE VERY CAREFUL IF HE/SHE WANTS TO TRAVEL OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES–until receiving the greencard. When we processed our documents, after submitting the I-485 and I-130 paperwork, my spouse had NO STATUS until the process was complete–at that time, he was granted permanent resident status. To go outside the US and re-enter, he needed Advanced Parole (a piece of paper that gives official permission to travel from USCIS). Read about it on the USCIS website, but note the section called Caution. For a person who overstayed his or her visa, and applied for permanent residency, many people say it is best not to travel even WITH Advanced Parole. People who overstay visas and leave the US without official permission (given through Advanced Parole) are barred from re-entering the country for 3 or more years. If your spouse overstayed a visa, has Advanced Parole, and must travel, talk to an immigration attorney and USCIS first to be sure it’s okay.

4) You will hear repeatedly that a fiance “can NOT come to the US on any visa except a fiance visa to get married.” A fiance cannot travel on a student visa, travel visa, and so on IN ORDER to get married. However, in our case, my husband came on a B1 or B2 visa and DECIDED to get married while here; this was different from coming IN ORDER to get married. (My husband didn’t come here to get married to me, as we didn’t know each other prior to his arrival here.) It is possible that this rule could change over the years, so double check with USCIS or immigration boards.

5) Important documents to SAVE:

  • The I-94 Arrival/Departure record–a record that is received when a person enters the US. (My husband has needed this thing many times over the last 10 years.) This also has the Alien #–the foreign spouse will use it many times.
  • The receipt INS gives you that they received your documentation–ours was yellow, I’m not sure how you can recognize it. But KEEP it. It will give you a sense of peace while you are waiting for the interview.
  • Copies of everything you submit to the INS, plus copies of anything they give you just in case they are lost (receipt for I-485/I-130 paperwork, EAD card, passport stamp after your interview, and so on.

6) If you and your spouse are already in the US, the immigration process is sometimes faster and easier if you marry in the US, rather than going to a different country. But once you start the process here, as mentioned, leaving can be an issue until the process is complete, so check your options carefully. In the past, this was the only option if your spouse has overstayed a visa (see #3).  Of course, if there are deportation proceedings against your fiance or spouse, consult an immigration attorney before taking any steps. Also, if your spouse entered the US illegally, you could have issues–so speak with an attorney before getting married. (Finally note that for some couples, getting married in the US doesn’t make sense–especially for couples who plan to travel or stay in a foreign country soon after marriage. Once you are married in the US, it can be tricky to travel until the greencard is in hand.)

7) Many people often give completely INCORRECT immigration advice–so don’t listen to just anyone. Look for information on legal websites the USCIS site, and verify any critical information about your case with an attorney. The worst advice we got was that my husband and I should leave the US and go to his country to get married–due to his visa situation, this was completely INCORRECT. My husband’s visa had expired. Had he left the US on an expired visa, it would have taken months or years to straighten out the problems it caused! Plus we would have been separated (me in the US, he in his country) while USCIS sorted it all out.

Driver’s License for Foreign Spouse

My husband had so many problems in getting a driver’s license. First, he tried to apply for a driver’s license while on a B2 visa here, which was legal. However, when he went to DMV to do this, the workers there yelled at him for trying to apply. He waited to try again after he received his 2 year greencard (the initial one). Here are a few notes and links on driver’s licenses for foreigners in the US:

1) If your spouse is legally employed, or a legal resident and not employed, he or she should be able to get a driver’s license without any issues. Documents your spouse will need generally include the following, but check specific requirements at your local DMV office here:

  • Some states require proof of legal status; this is often shown with the I-94 document (Arrival-Departure Record; this is a document visitors receive upon arrival to the US that shows the date of arrival and expected departure)
  • Documentation of any extensions to the date of departure shown in the I-94, or other documentation that shows official permission by USCIS to be in this country
  • Social security number (it is sometimes possible to get a license without one, but more complicated); see this post on when your spouse can apply for a social security number.
  • Proof of residency such as a telephone or electric bill
  • Proof of date of birth such as a birth certificate
  • Proof of identity that includes a photograph, such as a passport or international driver’s permit
  • Some states require proof of liability auto insurance.

2) If he or she is in the US illegally, no state currently offers driver’s licenses, but many states are debating this possibility.

3) If the person does not have a social security number, it will be difficult or impossible to get a driver’s license. (Technically many or all states have a document applicants can sign that says they do not have a social security number. But DMV didn’t let my husband do this.)

4) Each state has different policies about the ID you need to present. The testing policies are similar in my experience between 3 states. You take a written test, then a driving test.

5) Many DMV offices allow applicants to take the written test in a foreign language or with a translator–even a friend or spouse! Check here to see if yours does. In Virginia, the DMV did not have a test in my husband’s language, so he chose a translator (ME!) to read aloud and translate the questions from English into his language.

6) Check the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) for the state where you live here to find out specifics on your situation with the documentation and identification materials you have (whether social security, passport, and so on) .

7) International driver’s permits allow foreigners to drive legally in the US for a period of time. Read here for more details. Here are important points:

  • These allow a person to drive in the United States for a period of time–check with your state’s DMV office to learn exactly how long. In New York, for example, you can use the international driving permit until you are a resident of that state–basically until you work there in an apartment or home for 90 days. After this point, if you do not get US driver’s license, you could be issued a traffic ticket.
  • International driver’s permits are not issued to foreigners in the United States. (They must be issued by the home country.)
  • For US citizens, DMV does not issue international driver’s permits. For this, contact the AAA (American Automobile Association).

8) Note that even if you have an international driver’s permit , many (or all) states require you to get car insurance OR pay a fee (about $200-300) for not having it. If you don’t do this, and you are in a car accident, there will be serious consequences (court, fees, and possibly jail depending on the circumstances of the accident).

American and Foreign Driving Styles

My Foreign Husband’s Driving Used to Terrify Me
My husband is now a very good and safe driver. But MY GOSH it used to scare me to get into the car with him. I remember actually thinking that we might get divorced over his driving. He drove how people drive in his country. Here, that got him numerous speeding tickets, a wreckless driving ticket, and at least one minor car accident! This cost us thousands of dollars…not only the tickets and accidents, but of course, he made our car insurance SKY high–twice as much as any of my friends pay:( But now it’s much lower because about 3 years ago he changed his style. I think a judge told him he was about to go to jail. Finally, that made him understand that it wasn’t just ME being picky. THANK GOODNESS.

Driving Is Different In Other Countries
Having lived abroad and visited many countries, I already knew that Americans are pretty careful drivers. We may speed, big-time, but for the most, we pay attention to stop lights, avoid jaywalking on major streets, and stay in our own lanes. People in MANY other countries don’t do this. And if a driver there did, it would cause issues on the road. My husband is from one of those places.

It isn’t as if a person grows up in one country, then his or her driving style magically changes when he moves to a different country–I am sure some people do, but I know many who haven’t!!! And this can cause a lot of conflict in relationships for many reasons:

1) Speeding and wreckless driving tickets that cost a LOT of money!

2) Insurance that gets more expensive with each ticket!

3) Fear on the part of the spouse used to a more relaxed, rule-following type driving style. When a person is afraid, this doesn’t bring out his or her kindest moments.

4) Wrecks happen when a person doesn’t adjust his or her driving to the place they are in–even between big and small cities in the same country. Wrecks are extremely stressful for couples for obvious reasons.

5) Parents have double the issues because of fear about children riding in the car with the spouse who drives wrecklessly–also family members comment about it, of course, and try to avoid being in the car with the “dangerous driver.”

6) It’s very hard to continue being patient when one person (ME) constantly has to suffer the financial and emotional consequences (meaning stress) of the one who refuses to change. It’s also embarrassing in public and around family or friends who happen to see any little driving incidents, like bad parking or speeding.

Gotta Give Some Things Up
I understand that the foreign spouse has to give up many, many things. When i lived in Moscow, I changed so many things just to avoid seeming freakish to people around me. No more sweatpants outside, for example. No more smiling at people while walking down the street. It gets hard. But ya know, driving is just one of those things that can cost TOO much.

I am very happy my husband changed (and that we didn’t get divorced over his driving.)

Parent Reactions

My Parents Reacted…Reasonably
I learned a lot about my parents when my husband and I decided to get married.

I am sure they were nervous about his English–because they knew he would have difficulty finding a job (and he sure did). So, I am sure they felt a little panicked wondering how he and I would support ourselves.

Short-Term Reactions
Both the short-term and long-term reactions surprised me. Short-term were the opposite of what I expected. My mother totally supported our marriage and was REALLY nice to my husband (then my fiance) and thought he was the nicest man ever, which he is–almost always:) My father (whose mother is also an immigrant who came in the 1940’s) was nervous that my husband might just want a greencard. I understand that concern, as there are foreigners who scam for greencards–but I knew this wasn’t the case with my husband.

So, my parents were happy for me mostly, but both of them were very nervous about my husband’s English–I was not, but I should have been. I assumed he was going to study hard and learn quickly. NO. Instead he totally refused to study or take English classes, and to this day 9 years later, still doesn’t speak all that well. But I don’t really care because he has a good job anyway, and we don’t speak English together. He finally learned English from speaking at work (he managed to find work, very hard and low-paying). Then from there moved onto better jobs. Then really good jobs, better than mine! But it was a long, hard road.

Long-term Reactions
Anyway, the long-term reactions of my parents were the ones that really got me. Everything changed. My mother ended up HATING my husband because of the hardships I went through (financial and child-rearing mainly–that topic needs a whole different post, many of them actually). It is too bad. But we rarely see her, so it’s her problem not mine. She doesn’t treat my husband respectfully, so I refuse to go. My husband and children should always be treated with kindness, even if that means avoiding my own mother. And I have to be treated kindly even if this means avoiding his mother. Now that we avoid both of them, we are very happy. We talk to them and email, but we visit very rarely.

My father, on the other hand, became very supportive of my husband and our marriage. He learned that I chose my hardships and that I was willing to bear them because I really believed the future would be better, and that my husband was still the right man for me. Thank goodness I turned out to be right!

When my husband got really good jobs, everyone calmed down completely. I think that was a big weight lifted from their shoulders. Also, they know I am happy, which is all they wanted.


Unemployment is a Reality for Many Foreign Spouses
Unemployment or low-paying, difficult employment is a reality for lots of foreigners in this country and all countries. BUT many people manage to do what it takes to earn a good living. For us, it was a long road. For some of our foreign friends, it was much, much shorter!

Personal Experiences

  1. My husband had excellent credentials when he came to this country–job experience at well-known companies abroad, master’s degree, and so on.
  2. STILL, it took 5 YEARS for him to get a full-time job with benefits (but he had contracts and part-time jobs during that delay).
  3. The good news is that he’s doubled his salary in 2 years–so in this way, he has certainly made up for lost time. He’s earning more than any of my friends or relatives our age.
  4. A big part of the problem was his English. It STILL isn’t anything to write home about (but it’s okay).
  5. Another huge part of the problem was his resistance to change. He didn’t want to accept that he’d have to do things the American way–like wear a suit to an interview, answer dumb interview questions a certain way, and son on.

Rejection after rejection, and it didn’t sink in! He kept thinking if he bettered his skills, he’d get a job–this was partially true. He did better his skills, and it was eventually noticed. But by that time, he had also learned to dress for interviews and learned a lot of English.

Some Spouses Go With the Flow
Hopefully your spouse will be a little more open to change than mine was. Most Americans know the basics to finding a job–speak English well, wear a suit to an interview, ask questions, be prepared with answers, and so on. My husband REFUSED to do any of it. He insisted on wearing casual clothes, felt certain that his English made no difference (though he knew almost NONE), and almost said nothing during his interviews–well, how could he? He didn’t know English:)

We have a lot of foreign friends who found good jobs MUCH more quickly than my husband and who learned English a lot more quickly. They got jobs and never really had a terrible time of unemployment or anything like that. I am still not sure why my husband refused to change and listen to everyone around him for so long. It wasn’t like people were telling him to forget his native language–goodness, just wear a freaking tie! But eventually he figured it all out. Thank goodness. I hope your spouse does too. But remember it is a very scary process for some of them. Even for some Americans.

Light at the End of the Tunnel
After four years, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. How we made it that long without my husband having a job and still managed to pay our bills on my measly dinky little salary, I will never know. But I’m glad I did because for the past four years, life has been really grand!! We are so happy now, and staying with my husband through that time of resistance and unemployment–totally worth it.

Intercultural Marriages, Doctors, and Medicine

Different Countries View Medicine and Doctors Differently–FINE

Ugh. People in different countries have different theories about medicines. In my husband’s country, many people have this WIERD idea that a person should avoid medicine because it weakens the body’s ability to heal itself.

That’s all fine though–my husband can be in pain and refuse to take Tylenol to “give his body a chance to handle it on its own.” Sure, he can claim that Airborne caused his kidneys to hurt. I’ve never heard of that happening to anyone else, but whatever…

Medicine for Children
The part that I can’t handle is when my husband refuses (i.e. tries to refuse) to let me give my children medicine. I give my children medicine in three situations: when they are in PAIN (like teething, which pain is worse than childbirth according to pediatricians), when they are COUGHING non-stop (too uncomfortable), and when the doctor prescribes something. That’s it. I probably give them medicine four or five times a year.

In the past, we got into HUGE fights about this. I finally stopped fighting and started doing things his way–sneaky. In my husband’s country, people think it’s really beneficial and intelligent when people are sneaky. So, I now just don’t listen to him about the medicine, and when he is in a different room busy with something, I give my kids the medicine they need to feel better. Hey, after 9 years of marriage to a foreigner, you learn that not every single detail needs to be discussed–same with marriage within your own culture, I’m sure.

And everyone’s happy. Oh, and if he asks me, of course, I tell him. I have no reason to lie–after all, I’m doing the right thing.

PS. Quick TIP: If you are in this situation, ask your doctor questions while your spouse is there. For example, I asked ours, “If I give my children Tylenol when they are teething, will it make them less able to handle pain?” (my husband’s exact words) It was wonderful to watch the doctor’s face contort into confusion and mild irritation as she answered “Ummmm, NO.” After this, medicine during teething was not as big an issue.