So what's it like?
7:50: We arrive outside the US Embassy. The Embassy is a hideous 1960s building. And it's put a blight on Grosvenor Square: one entire side of the square is blocked to traffic by concrete-slab barriers. The Embassy itself is surrounded by two separate security fences and rows of concrete bollards. It's like a prison camp in the heart of London.
There's already a queue. We've been told that as immigrant visa applicants we can skip the queue by presenting ourselves to the guard at the door; but for now, there's no guard and not really a door, just a gate in the outer fence leading to a security checkpoint. We join the queue; I squint at other people's paperwork and notice that the woman in front of us also has an immigrant-visa letter.
There are signs of life behind the gate. The queue starts to press forward in anticipation.
I clutch my bagful of documents. It strikes me that I'm walking around with the perfect identity-theft kit: passport, birth and marriage certificates, biographic information, and documentation on all our finances.
8:00: The gates open. An Embassy staffer walks the line calling out for any green card applicants. Me and the woman in front wave back; and yes, we do get to jump the queue leaving all the non-immigrant applicants behind.
We are checked and screened; and we're now through the outer fence. The entrance to the Visa Unit is on the other side of the building. We walk there between the inner and outer fences; it's a little like walking in no-mans-land. It's not US soil yet, but it doesn't feel completely British either.
Into the Visa Unit, which feels like an airport terminal; information boards direct applicants to interview windows. You take a number when you arrive; I am immigrant visa applicant 004. The non-immigrant applicants get numbers from 100 upwards. I buy a courier envelope for £10 cash; the Embassy uses the envelope to return the passport and visa the day after the interview.
Applicants start getting called to windows immediately. It turns out there are only 3 windows dealing with immigrant visas, so I have to wait. Non-immigrant visa applicants get called in a steady stream; they're soon up to number 130. I try reading my book, but the frequent announcements make it hard to concentrate: my ears prick on each new announcement in case it's for me.
8:20: 004 is called. We hustle up to the window. I'm asked for my appointment letter, number, and passport; the interviewer fetches my file. He asks for original and copy of each required document in turn. Embarrassingly, the noise of the room makes it hard to hear him clearly and I have to keep asking him to repeat himself.
We have at least half-an-inch's thickness of documents accompanying the affidavit of support — Melinda's statement of income and assets which demonstrates that I won't be a burden on the state. As it turns out, though, he's only really interested in Melinda's tax returns and in the documents relating to the flat: our largest asset.
He's filling out a checklist as he goes. After collecting all our documents, he hands me a chit to take to the cashier's window and tells me to pay there and wait to be called again. We do so; another $335.
9:05: 004 is called again. A different window, this time around the side away from the hubbub of the main room. And a different interviewer. She's nice, but brisk. I am fingerscanned: an inkless fingerprint of both index fingers. I get the originals of my documents back. I'm asked to confirm that everything on my forms is true. I'm asked a couple of almost conversational questions. I sign my form. Melinda signs the affidavit of support. And that — surprisingly — is that.
The interviewer hands me a sheet of paper. It is headed "I'm approved — what happens now?", describes what happens now and when I travel, and ends "Congratulations, and welcome to the U.S.!"
9:15: We leave the Embassy. I still have the medical to go to — and that's another story — but if that's OK I am in.
I have been wary of the Embassy and terrified of the interview for months. The process has been slow-moving and bureaucratic. We've had to organise, photocopy, and bring reams of documents most of which have been ignored. But on the day itself, the process has been quick, painless, and has moved like clockwork.