Well I promised to tell the tale same-day so here it is. NO PEEKING down at the bottom to see how we fared - travel the story the way we did! Only try not to get lost, spill coffee on yourselves or forget your shopping. That would be taking entering into the spirit of things a little too far!
Our appointment was for 7.15 but we were organised, we were ready. I cooked hot biscuits for breakfast to fill the girls up as we'd been told we could have a very long wait and no food or drink is allowed in the BCIS building. I had all my files in order. We don't have a car so we had ordered a taxi the night before. It came early and we gave him the exact address.
A naturalised citizen just the year before, the taxi driver was appalled we hadn't been queuing since 4am and expressed doubts on our behalf. But I was able to confidently tell him we didn't have to queue because of our letter. Oh yes! We knew what we were doing!
We waved him off $30 dollars lighter in pocket (ouch!) and walked sympathetically past the crowd who had been waiting to be seen since the wee small hours. I flourished our letters, smiling, at the security guard... who flourished a map right back at us. We were in the wrong place! There are (at least) two BCIS buildings on Stemmons Freeway. And they are only near each other if you have wheels. We had given the driver the right address but he had assumed he knew where we were going and hadn't read it carefully. Nor had we. The place looked right. It was on Stemmons Freeway and it was the place where I'd got my EAD two months earlier. Unfortunately it was NOT the place they were conducting AOS interviews that day.
We called the cab company and fortunately our driver was not too far away, and got us to the right address on time - without having the cheek to ask for more money. The office at 3010 N. Stemmons Freeway opens at 7am and we were there with 5 minutes to spare. Only one person was ahead of us. The taxi driver joked - this must be where the British people come!
In through the doors, showing passports and letters of invitation. Bags and files through an X-Ray machine. We were first to the door where we were told to post our letters through a small mail box. A little later another family arrived and posted their letter. They got called first and we reasoned it was because their letter was on top of ours in the mailbox. Never mind, we would be next. Then another family arrived and dropped their letters in the box. We got that sinking feeling... All day people would be trickling in and dropping their letters just on top of ours. We were in for a long wait...
I had brought notebooks and fancy pens and post-it notes to keep the girls occupied. Lizzy made fluorescent yellow labels for everyone - 'mommy', daddy', and two 'sister' labels. I'm sure that helped
As it turned out we didn't have long to wait. I had only made three trips to the bathroom (what nerves do to your stomach contents - yeach!) when we were called through a door. It was 7.30am.
Halfway down the corridor we were stopped and myself and the girls had to sign cards and do index fingerprints. Then it was into the interview room where we stayed for the next hour and a half.
Before we sat we all - including the girls - had to swear that everything we told the interviewer would be the truth. (Do they go to special classes for that eye-lock they fix you with?) We swore. We told the truth.
Among the things I didn't get asked for were: the notice of approval, birth certificates, marriage or divorce certificates, name-change evidence. It seemed it was enough that we had sent all that with the original I-485. He didn't ask to see the originals but I had them with me. Don't take this account as a reason not to take stuff - interviews vary. Take everything.
We were asked for ID. The passports were enough for the girls. I showed my EAD and Garth his ID card. Then he started to go through my file. At various times he asked questions. All four of us at different times were asked our date of birth - not each others which we had been expecting. He asked the date of the marriage and was amused when we explained we'd been married twice - once legally and once a ceremony. He asked how many attended and we showed him a photo of us at the front of the full church, which seemed to satisfy him. He asked me where I was born and my mum's name. He asked Garth where he was born. He was serious but friendly and made an effort to make the girls at ease.
He asked me had I ever claimed benefits in the US, been arrested for anything or ever committed any crime. Ever entered the country fraudulently or been turned back at the Port of Entry or deported. No, no, no and no.
When he got to the finances I explained I'd prepared new Affidavits of Support. I had done three lots, one for each of us but the girls' files were just photocopies of mine. He left the girls till later. As a family of four, Garth has to make $23,000 a year to put us 125% over the poverty line. Our tax return for 2002 showed just over $21,000 but I had added a note on the affidavit to say that additional evidence proved Garth was now earning above $23,000. The additional evidence consisted of an employer letter confirming his salary, a tax shelter statement that showed Garth made one dollar and 56 cents over the 23,000 barrier (phew!) in the calendar year 2002 and a computer printout from human resources that confirmed that figure. We had also included 1040s and W2s for 2002, 2001 and 2000. I had made up the bundle by double hole punching the tops of the documents and clipping them together. It exactly matched the way his file was made out and he lifted the whole thing straight into his own file, seemed to give some thought to our additional evidence, which I explained again to him saying we really hoped it would be enough, then he said he was going to go ahead and approve it. Wahaaaaay!!! First hurdle over and thanks to the newsgroup who told us it was possible. We had prepared co-sponsor affidavits (from Garth's lovely dad) but I had decided not to even mention them unless he decided not to approve Garth's affidavit. Garth's dad was completely happy to help us but we didn't want to put something as heavy as that affidavit on anyone but ourselves unless we had no choice.
Next he asked about the medical. He told us because we came in on a fiancee visa we didn't need the full medical again but we would have to get evidence of vaccinations. He seemed really surprised when I produced the sealed vaccination supplement I had got from the civil surgeon - told us he was sure he was going to have to ask us to come back with it. Seems like the message hasn't got out to everyone yet that that's needed. The medical form was the only piece of evidence we brought that he had to hole-punch himself. I hadn't been able to prepare that because you're not allowed to open the envelope.
....go to part 2