To be completely honest, Luke and I made our decision on 9 November 2016. (I'm practicing writing dates Britishly.) I woke up after a rough night's sleep and a dream that Michelle Obama put her hands on my shoulders and told me everything was going to be okay. I rolled over, picked up my phone, and texted Luke, "Was it a bad dream?" Up until that point, the door was open for either of us, but that's the day that we decided I would move to live with him instead of him moving to live with me.
We started looking into applying for a settlement visa and after reading it could take up to 12 weeks, we decided to wait and apply immediately after I returned from my February trip to visit him. That way we would have plenty of time before our ideal moving date and we would be engaged.
I submitted the online application one night amidst a lot of frustration and some poor communication. Once you hit submit online, you can't edit anything. You have to double--triple--check everything. Go through it line-by-line with someone else. I didn't do this and almost immediately realized that I had left off a partial answer and entered another incorrect answer. Still, I made my appointment for my biometrics (fingerprints and passport-style photo) for the following week.
I had no idea what to expect at this appointment and was surprised to find myself in a government office that reminded me of a DMV, but for immigration. Just take a number and wait. While I was checking in, the woman pointed out that my printer cut off my passport number from my appointment confirmation form, which needs to be stamped and dated by the office. I continued through and the next man I talked to pointed out that my application didn't have my middle name. See, I'm used to US forms asking for "first name", "middle name", and "last name" separately. This form asked for my "family name" and "given name(s)", which is where I should have entered my first and middle names. The man let me through, but advised I might have trouble later in the process. I finished my appointment and hurried to call Luke as soon as I left.
I basically spent the next hour crying in my car in a parking lot with Luke on the phone. I called the help line (which costs over £1/minute) and after some trouble with them, I was told I needed to start a new application because my application wouldn't be accepted as is. Luke assured me it would be okay. It was just money. He would cover the $1,500 application fee to reapply. He would pay for it 400 times if that's what it took for us to be together. I headed home, discouraged and defeated. In England, Luke headed back to his house determined to find an answer. He spent God only knows how much time researching our options online and found a solution: I could make edits to my application with a black pen and write a cover letter explaining the corrections.
The paperwork I got from my biometrics appointment said I had 5 days to get all of my documents in the mail to Sheffield, UK, so that weekend we went to work. Without a doubt, this was the most stressful time in our relationship. We hadn't been under that kind of stress together yet and neither of us had ever prepared to present a relationship in that way. Over the next four days, we complied 124 pages for my application.
Luke found some helpful information online on what to include and we followed the guideline of proving everything listed on the application. We included:
- My original application with corrections made in black ink and initialed
- The stamped appointment confirmation from the biometrics appointment
- A cover letter summarizing our relationship and outlining the corrections I made with the numbers listed
- My passport (with a copy)
- A copy of my birth certificate, a copy of my social security card, a copy of my driver's license (I included these because I left my middle name off my application)
- A copy of my mom's and my dad's passports
- A copy of my work contract and a copy of my 1st and most recent pay stubs
- The appendix
- A letter from Luke, my sponsor, summarizing our relationship and his intent to be financially responsible for me while I cannot work
- A copy of Luke's passport and driver's license
- A copy of Luke's 12 most recent bank statements
- A copy of Luke's housing agreement, a copy of a council tax bill, and a copy of a utility bill
- A copy of a letter from Luke's employer
- A copy of Luke's 12 most recent pay stubs
- A copy of the receipt for my engagement ring
- A copy of Luke's flight itinerary for both trips for visit me in the US
- Screenshots of our conversations on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype (15-20)
- Photos of us together with the date (from Facebook, Instagram, and screenshots from our phones, 15-20)
- A copy of 2 cards we received after our engagement
- A return shipping label
I went through my application line-by-line with my mom and later, Luke and I went through every single page we submitted, page-by-page. We paid for the priority service online and purchased the roundtrip courier service, which came to about $800 total. On 7 March 2017, I took everything to UPS, made a copy of the whole packet, and put it all in an envelope with "SETTLEMENT PRIORITY SERVICE" written in black sharpie on both the front and the back of the envelope. They gave me a tracking number for the package and all we had left to do was wait for an answer and hope it (and my passport) arrived before my previously scheduled visit in April, just 5 weeks later.
Our package arrived in Sheffield, England on 9 March 2017, not even 48 hours after I mailed it. After that, we had occasional freak out moments of "Did I remember to write 'SETTLEMENT PRIORITY SERVICE' on the envelope?" and the like. Luke regularly checked this forum to keep up on current processing times from real people who were doing the same application as us. On 3 April 2017, I woke up to an email from VISA UK. My first thought was "When did I apply for a British credit card?" but I basically sprang out of bed when I realized it was about my visa application. Unfortunately, it was just an email saying my package was on the way. It had no answer. Two days later, it was on my doorstep. They had sent me back my entire packet (in a different order than I had sent it) and my passport. It was open to the page with my new visa! (For the record, we put 7 June 2017 as my travel date on the application and the visa became valid on 31 May 2017.)
Luke was on Skype while I opened it, so it was really great to share that moment with him. It didn't come with any other information, but luckily Luke is really great about digging into everything and getting as much information as possible, so he was already on top of things and preparing me for the move.
So our plan is for me to move in early June!