By Virginia Claire Nist, Ansbach Legal Assistance Office
Many of service members marry non-U.S. citizens during their tour in Germany. When preparing to permanent change of station (PCS) back to the U.S., service members must ensure their spouses have proper documentation when entering the States. This should not be on an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) or tourist visa. Service members and their families should apply for an Immigrant Visa through the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt. This is a special service for service members who are stationed in Germany (not on rotation or temporary duty) and it’s not open to all citizens except in exceptional circumstances.
Service members should file the I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and the I-130A directly with the Frankfurt Consulate rather than online through U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Frankfurt Consulate website (https://de.usembassy.gov/military-families/) has a great checklist which lays out exactly what forms need to be filled out and signed and what additional evidence is needed for supporting documentation. If documents need to be translated, service members can get this done for free through Military OneSource. Service members will need to submit all of the documents, including orders, by mail to the Consulate in Frankfurt. The petition will be reviewed and processed within 120 days but it is normally much faster. If a service member applies online for USCIS, it normally takes about nine months for the petition to be approved. It is much faster to apply through the Consulate and Soldiers should keep this in mind especially when coming up on a PCS.
Once the petition is approved, the Immigrant Visa Unit in Frankfurt will contact the service member with instructions and the necessary forms to need to complete. Once all the forms have been completed and all the required documents gathered and submitted, the spouse or family member can schedule an appointment for a personal interview at the Consular Section in Frankfurt. After the interview, if everything is complete and in order, the visa should be received within 10 days and it will be valid for 180 days. This means that the spouse or family member will need to enter the U.S. within 180 days of receiving the visa. Timing is important with these petitions. Service members should not apply too early before they are supposed to PCS, but they should also not wait too long either.
Once a family member enters the U.S. on an immigrant visa, he or she will become a “legal permanent resident” and USCIS should send their “green card” within two months.
If service members or their family members have any questions about applying for an immigrant visa (I-130 and I-130A) to the United States, contact the Ansbach Legal Assistance Office at 09802-83-2103 email@example.com .