After we decided to return to India and give living and working in Delhi a try, my first question was predictable:
Can I come back to the United States if I hate the Delhi experiment?
Clearly, this was an expectation setting discussion between Meenal and me. But this was also a LEGAL question – will Uncle Sam be happy to have us back or is this really a burn the boats strategy that’ll force us to make India work at every cost? I was only comfortable doing this if we were able to keep our options open. I considered Boston and New England home.
I had thought of becoming a US citizen a year earlier but wasn’t comfortable with the idea and since there was no urgency, I didn’t pursue it. After a year of sleeping over it, I was eager to take the oath. My American immigration story had come a full circle.
4 months after making up my mind, I raised my right hand in the historic Faneuil hall of Boston and became a part of the Ellis Island history.
U.S. Citizenship application timeline
April, 2009 – N400 application
April, 2009 – Confirmation of application
April, 2009 – Fingerprinting appointment notice
May, 2009 – Fingerprinting
June, 2009 – Interview with stupid test
June, 2009 – Oath appointment letter given by hand immediately after the interview.
June, 2009 – Oath and Naturalization certificate
June, 2009 – U.S. Passport application
August, 2009 – Received passport in mail
Social Security Administration update – Applied June, 2009. 1 form to fill and submit. I did it in the SSA office on paper.
The entire process was very straightforward without any glitches.
Indian Permanent Residency – Overseas Citizen of India
India does not allow dual citizenship. The best that people of Indian origin can do is a lifelong visa – the OCI – to live, work and do business in India. My application to the NY consulate took 2 months ending with a sticker on my US passport along with an OCI passport like book. Both need to be carried for Indian immigration.
U.S. Permanent Residency for Meenal
Meenal had been in the queue to become a permanent resident for several years. Now that I was a newly minted U.S. citizen, we were eligible to upgrade her petition so it’d be approved faster. There were quite a few unnecessary complications due USCIS and NVC so it took her about 8 months after upgrading her application to get the green card. If you end up going this route, your mileage will vary depending on how many USCIS errors you need to correct.
Green card maintenance requirements
There are a variety of opinions on what you need to do to keep your green card alive. Essentially I understood it to be this – as long as you maintain the United States as your primary home and Uncle Sam believes you, you’ll be fine. You can do several things to prove your sincerity to Uncle Sam (file taxes, actually spend time in the US, visit at least once every 6 months if you are temporarily living outside of the US, etc.) but there doesn’t seem to be anything in the books that’ll guarantee your reentry.
Since we were planning to be away between 1 and 2 years, the I-131 application made perfect sense. Meenal could petition to be away from the US for up to 2 years without having to come back every 6 months just to prove her sincerity to Uncle Sam. And we weren’t locked into being away for 2 years – if we came back earlier, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Meenal and I had it very easy here. I only had to make the emotional journey to take the next step of my American Experience. Meenal easily got her permanent residency after confusing paperwork and a few months of waiting. Most others don’t have it so easy.