The Marriage Visa
Life in Honduras
Sue thought she would savor her time abroad, but it didn't turn out that way. She found it difficult to be separated from her family in the United States in the wake of her brother's death. Adjusting to life in Honduras was also difficult. "As soon as we stepped into that country we lost control over our lives," she remembers. "It stopped being a choice. I could leave but he couldn't. It was hard to enjoy the parts you thought you would enjoy."
At first they stayed with Juan's family in Curaren, a rural town a few hours from the capital. But they needed to be close to the U.S. consulate where they would be filing their paperwork and so within a few months, they moved to the capital, Tegucigalpa, where they shared an apartment with Juan's sister.
They hated living in the city. "It's hot, dirty, dangerous," says Sue. Juan worried about Sue's safety. Sue was accustomed to being independent and yet she couldn't safely go out by herself at night.
"In Honduras there are a lot of robberies," says Juan. "She went there with me so I felt like I'm responsible for her."
Juan spent the first six months of his stay in Honduras collecting paperwork and waiting in line. He says a typical day involved going to an office, asking for a paper document he needed, and then being told to come back tomorrow or the next day.
At one point, Juan was asked to provide the date of his baptism. His mother, who has 11 children, laughed when he asked her. How could she remember? And so one weekday he boarded a bus and traveled for several hours back to his village to secure his baptism records from the local church. But getting the information wasn't enough. Each Spanish record needed to be translated into English and notarized before it could be submitted to U.S. consular officials.
The piles of paper started to mount.
When Sue and Juan first attempted to launch Juan's visa application process they were derailed by a bureaucratic snag. At the bottom of a long list of paperwork they needed to submit was an original copy of a Honduran Resident Card for Sue.
But Sue wasn't a Honduran resident.
To get residency, Sue would need to find a job and a Honduran employer who would sponsor her. Within a few months, Sue found a position teaching English at a private school. If she and Juan had been married for three years or longer, her Honduran residency would have been granted immediately.
Once her Honduran residency was established, Sue could file the I-130 "Petition for Alien Relative Form" on Juan's behalf. This set the wheels in motion for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to conduct a thorough background check on Juan. This step took five months. Sue says this one step can take up to eight years in the United States. The couple never met their DHS investigator. They only ever spoke to the Honduran receptionist at the U.S. consulate.
Juan and Sue had passed their first hurdle. Their I-130 was approved. Next their application was forwarded to the Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. They needed to convince officials that their marriage was legitimate and that Sue could support Juan financially in the U.S. She was lucky her U.S. employer had granted her a leave of absence. She had the paperwork to prove they would have sufficient income upon their return to Minnesota.
Sue and Juan arrived at their State Department interview with photo albums and letters of support. They made sure to bring photos that included family members. "It makes you look like you're a real couple, hanging out with family and friends," Sue explains.
The interview took less than an hour and they left feeling encouraged. The interviewer said their decision to live in Honduras together demonstrated their commitment as a couple. It also helped that Juan had never been deported.
By this point, Sue and Juan had been living in Honduras for nine months. "At the embassy, people started to get to know us," Sue says.
Continue to part 3