What we did during our visa delay.
I don't have a ton to add about the visa process that can't already be found online, but I wanted to give it some attention since our visas were delayed, and I think that most guides exist for people who do not have issues with the visa process. So this is more of a "handy info if things go wrong" kind of post. I haven't run across many of those.
We came into the UK on a Tier 2 General visa, which is sponsored by Jarod's employer and is good for three years. We opted for the Priority Service, which used to be available to anyone who would pay an additional fee, but which now requires that you get special permission. We also opted to make things go a bit quicker by showing up early for our biometrics appointment and requesting service early. Not all biometrics locations (which are usually your nearest USCIS location) will do this, but I knew from past experience with adoption documents that it was not only possible, but probable at our location. A good way to figure out if this is possible for you is to check the Yelp reviews for the USCIS support center.
One necessary thing to know about the Priority Service is that if something goes wrong in your process, you no longer will be receiving expedited service, even if you have paid for it. We found this out the hard way, when they wanted additional documentation to prove that our children are our children and thus should be allowed to immigrate with us*. If your application is fairly straightforward, I'd say to try for Priority Service, but if there's any doubt, it might not be worth paying the extra fees.
The other thing that I think is important to know is that when something goes wrong in the visa process, there is no one you can call to try to work things out. There is a number listed on the website that is supposedly a helpline, which you can call to receive very limited information, such as if your visa application has been received and if a determination has been made, but they cannot give you any specifics. They cannot recommend a course of action. They are working out of a call center, and the information that is available to them is very basic.
When additional information was required of us, Jarod received an email stating what they wanted, and we were given instructions to send hard copies of more documents to the consulate in New York. We had no way of finding out which documents would be appropriate to the situation, so we ended up sending every piece of precious paperwork that we had for our girls. If you wonder if this is nerve-wracking, the answer is yes. Luckily for us, the documents were sufficient, and our visas were approved and issued. We were delayed by a week, which doesn't seem like that long now that I'm typing it, but seemed like an eternity when things were uncertain, when we needed to be out of your apartment by a certain date and most of our things were packed into duffel bags. At that point, it seemed like a very long time indeed.
But now we are here. Jarod's new place of employment took care of arranging flights for us, so once we had the visas, the flights were rescheduled, and we took a direct flight from San Francisco to London, landing on the last day of July. We had a few days to settle in before Jarod started work, and it all worked out brilliantly.
I know this post has been light on hard facts and instructions, so if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments. I've got a wealth of information I can share with you, and it's not worth typing out in its entirety if it might not be used. But please, ask away if you've got something specific that you want to know which I (or the official UK visa website) haven't covered.
*To sum up the issue, our children's names had been changed at the state level and on their social security cards, but at the time we applied for their passports, the passport services insisted that the names on their passports must match the names on their certificates of citizenship -which had been automatically issued upon arrival in the US, before we had a chance to do the name change. Thus the names on their passports differed from the names on their US birth certificates. If I had thought this through before enclosing only what was requested for proof that we are the girls parents, I would have enclosed additional documentation and and explanation to begin with. Live and learn. Now I've got to figure out how to get the name change done for the UK visa and the NHS once I've done it on the girls' passports and certificates of citizenship. Oh boy! More paperwork!