My friends always seem surprised when I tell them I’m not yet an American citizen. “But you’ve been in this country forever,” they say. “Wait, so you’ve never voted?”
The United States immigration policy is a complicated one, to say the least. There are numerous types of visas to get to US soil depending on the purpose of your move, and it’s even more difficult to determine which form to use when English is your second language.
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To help make the process simpler, VisaEase, an Austin-based immigration assistance company, launched an online tool to help make filling out all the right forms less overwhelming. Which, to be honest, is one of the several reasons I waited so I long to file my application.
VisaEase currently offers assistance in obtaining your green card or US citizenship. To get started, you’ll have to take a questionnaire to see if your case is eligible for VisaEase’s help. Most people should be able to make it past this section, unless you have a special circumstance, like having traveled out of the US for six months or more out of the year.
You can select your answer via a drop-down menu. If you are deemed eligible, you can then make your payment to move on to the application section. Fees start at $149 for a green card or US citizenship application.
Filing your life away
Here’s where things get tedious. Let’s be real: Forms suck. The N-400 application for naturalization contains a whopping 21 pages of questions about your life in America, moral character, family members and criminal history.
VisaEase helps to split these pages up into 10 digestible sections, allowing you to type in answers in a clean and simple interface. It’s like using an online form to sign up for virtually anything on the Web (just longer… a lot longer).
You might notice that this isn’t particularly different than, say, filling out the form on your own with Adobe Acrobat. The difference between the two is if you get stuck at a question, VisaEase offers live-chat assistance in case you run into a question you don’t understand. This is particularly helpful for applicants who speak English as a second language, or aren’t familiar with technical terms.
Although I didn’t have questions about the application itself, I did find the live-chat useful for when I had a technical problem with being unable to open my completed application.
It turns out I was using an outdated version of Acrobat
One feature I found particularly helpful was the Time Abroad tab. The N-400 form asks you to fill in all your travels outside of the United States within the past five years.
In that time, I’d completed a semester abroad for college (it was under six months, thankfully, so no complications there), traveled abroad for work and went on vacations with friends and family. Having to manually count the exact days I was out of the country is quite dragging, but the calculator tool VisaEase offers makes it easier to break down my travels.
When your form is completed, VisaEase will review your answers to make sure all the necessary info is there. Then, it will compile your answers onto the form and let you download it for print.
In the .zip file you get at the end, you also receive instructions on where to mail your application depending on the state in which you reside, and details on what to do next. It also whips up a neat cover letter to round out your application, although this isn’t particularly necessary. I imagine it might reduce any confusion at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices considering all the pages involved, however.
Is it worth it?
Since mailing in my forms last month, I’ve now received confirmation of my application and have been scheduled for my biometrics exam, during which the USCIS takes my fingerprints and runs any necessary background checks.
According to VisaEase (and basic internet research), the filing process can take up to six months depending on your local office. In smaller towns, for example, you might be able to complete everything from start-to-finish within a few months. In New York City, where there is a larger population of immigrants, this process could take longer than six months.
Is $149 worth it for what’s essentially a form generator? For someone like myself – who speaks fluent English and is applying for citizenship on the basis of having been a permanent resident for more than five years – maybe not. The interface was helpful in breaking down a tedious form, but an extra $150 on top of the $680 USCIS filing fee isn’t exactly wallet-friendly (Note: VisaEase offered me a 99 percent off coupon code to test the service).
However, for those filing for permanent residence based off family eligibility, marriage or for their children, VisaEase is a more cost-efficient route than hiring an immigration lawyer to help you through the process. Although its website is nothing fancy, it gets the job done and is simple to use.
VisaEase is also aiming to expand to help people obtain business visas, which should make it more ideal to a larger population of international founders looking to make the US their home base.
Immigrating to the United States is an expensive process, so ultimately it will depend on how comfortable you feel spending an extra amount of money for an in-person help vs. Web-based help. From my experience, I found that the process was quite easy and the instructions at the end reassured that I had all the necessary paperwork to get approved. The live-chat system also provided assistance right when I needed it – something you might not be able to say about all law offices.
If anything, you can always use VisaEase as a source for questions you may have about the process. Then, if you decide you need more help, you can utilize the site’s service, or opt for lawyers for more complicated cases.
Either way, it’s gonna make quite a dent in your wallet. Welcome to America!