Our Backstory and USCIS Immigration Tips for Chinese Citizens


Some of you may be curious about some of the details of how JiaYou and I met, our life in Shanghai, and how we navigated the USCIS immigration process. So here are some highlights and some tips!

Chinese immigrant love story
My search for a water dispenser bottle led to true love

How We First Met

JiaYou and I met quite randomly. I had just finished at a private Mandarin language school near People’s Square and was looking for a new apartment in the Xujiahui area of Shanghai before starting my job as a project manager at a China markets research firm.

I chose to move into a high rise building that catered to foreigners, particularly Japanese businessmen, and I was trying to figure out how order a large tank of water for the water dispenser (tap water is not fit for consumption).

So I went downstairs and talked to the cute girl at reception and told her in my awful Mandarin, “Wo yao yi ge da ping shui.” (我要一个大瓶水。), which I thought would get my meaning across.

The girl was a bit confused… which made me confused. I mean, every family in Shanghai (and every office or place of business) has these water dispensers with these huge tanks of water on top. How could she not know what they are?

So I decided to start playing charades – motioning the drinking motion for water, mimicking the lugging around of a large tank of water, and kept on sating “Da ping shui… da ping shui…”

Finally, she understood what I was talking about. I confused her because the word for bottle “ping” (瓶)is really just for small drinking bottles you would buy at a convenience store. The bottles for dispensers are called “tong” (桶)and so that was why she was so confused.

So that’s how I met my wife… (and if our future children are reading this, this is my version of How I Met Your Mother, which incidentally is a great TV show about what it’s like to be single and dating in NYC in the early 2000’s.

Life in Shanghai

Definitely too much to say, so much to reminisce about, so many places we’ve been to. I’ll do much more in-depth posts under the China Flashback and Musings categories, but some bullet point highlights:

  • First time JiaYou flew on a plane; we went to Chengdu to eat numbing spice “ma la”(麻辣) snacks and get some great shots of cute pandas
  • First time we went to a sandy, resort beach together and first time we both got severe food poisoning together (sea food is one thing you don’t want to eat on sale in Xiamen or probably anywhere, really)
  • First time we saw 4 seasons in a single day; driving through the high mountains and low valleys from Xining to Guide, Qinghai Province, following the Yellow River. Playing in the blizzard on top of the mountain pass was a great memory.
  • First time I ate dog at Jiayou’s home town. Didn’t really taste that special.
  • First time I got hit by an empty fireworks shell, during Chinese New Year.
  • First (and hopefully only) time I accidentally went to North Korea.

But more musings for another time (and other posts)

USCIS Immigration Process Tips

Keeping in mind that this was in 2015 and we’re in a new political environment, we can only say that our experience was actually pretty straightforward and we are thankful for that.

Because of personal reasons – related to my parents’ failing health, wanting to raise children in the U.S – we had always planned to move back to NYC within a few years.

We used a process called Direct Consular Filing (DCF) which is a method that is only available to U.S. citizens who are official residents in certain foreign countries. China, fortunately, is one of those countries, and I had an official residence permit due to my employment there. The main benefit of DCF is that the processing is expedited since much of the validation of documents occurs at the consulate/embassy of the country the U.S citizen is residing in, as opposed to taking place in the U.S. which is the standard immigration procedure.

The official process took about 7 months from I-130 application submission to successful interview, which includes about a 1 month delay in trying to schedule the interview. So in theory, the entire process took only 6 months, compared to anywhere from 12-24 months for a “standard” immigration process.

NB: That’s not including about 2 months of gathering the needed paperwork on JiaYou’s end. This was made much more difficult because JiaYou’s hometown is quite small and officials had little experience with the documentation requirements. I think there’s some Chinese saying about kicking the ball back and forth, akin to the American saying of passing around a hot potato. So we had to leverage some guanxi (关系)or relationships…

2 Basic Tips for anyone going through the USCIS immigration process, at least in China (caveat that this advice is circa 2015)

1) Keep records and be organized – If you have a valid, strong case, the most important thing you have the most control over is keeping records and being organized. From the beginning of our relationship, we recorded our travels together to meet her family, international travel (even more critical for passport stamps), ensured both of us were on apartment leases, added her to my company health insurance as a dependent, etc. The photos and paper documents we submitted with the I-130 consisted of a couple of binders of material, each at least 1 inch thick. The only thing that would’ve given our case more strength was having children, and we wanted to return to the U.S. for that

2) Get started on the notarized, translated Chinese specific documents as soon as possible – The most nerve wracking part really was the fact that JiaYou was born before normal hospital birth certificates were standard. So she had to get a special statement from her hometown’s police department. But since her hometown was so small, none of the officials knew (or wanted to find out) what the process was. As mentioned above, tt took some guanxi on the part of her parents to get the right people to do the right thing. And get the special second copy of the Chinese marriage certificate (for those getting married in China) that’s needed by USCIS along with the original when you actually register. It’ll save a lot of trouble later on.

On a side note, we did actually “lawyer up” since it was a high stakes process that had a lot of downside if things went wrong.  If anyone would like to have the name of the lawyer we used, let me know.

For more information from others who have gone or are going through the immigration process for Chinese citizens, there’s much more detail on the CandleForLove website and I made a post here.




AddingOil和我相识在我工作的大楼,他当时住在那栋楼里,我在物业上班,由于他需要买桶装水,到我们服务台用英文问我要买“a big bottle of water ”, 看我迟疑了一下,他说“大瓶水”。(我们大楼主要是一些日本客人居多,房间里简洁且电器配备齐全。)我问他是不是要买桶装水,他听不懂,用他那让人费神的中文跟我沟通了几遍 双方都没弄懂。最后只能比手画脚的告诉我要大瓶水,(为什么我会迟疑,我们楼里住了很多出差或旅游的客人,且便利店就有卖小瓶、中瓶、大瓶的水都适合出行时购买。公司和常住居民都买桶装水-桶装水比便利店卖的要大很多倍。)我把他领到保安室,可保安就更不懂外语了,我用自学的几句英语费劲地跟他沟通,最后终于搞定了。这就是我们相识的整过过程。







第一次去西宁 一天里经历四种天气,越过山头又是另一番景色。















2 Replies to “Our Backstory and USCIS Immigration Tips for Chinese Citizens”

    1. Hi Jeremy – lol We took a tour boat in Dandong that was supposed to stay on the “China side” of the Yalong river. But when the tour guide started talking about North Korea on the left side of the boat and something about North Korea on the right side of the boat… I started thinking, “Doesn’t that mean I’m in North Korean?!?”

      Fortunately, nothing untoward happened, and having an Asian face definitely helped, especially with all the military watchtowers guards looking at us!

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