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RAF LAKENHEATH — Master Sgt. Mike Griffiths is one of the lucky ones. Or, to be fair, he’s smart enough to plan ahead.

Griffiths, a 16-year Air Force veteran, is planning to move back to the United States this summer. After more than a decade in Europe, the 37-year-old West Virginia native will return home with his wife, Renee, and two sons, 5-year-old Kane and 3-year-old Callum.

“I’ve enjoyed being overseas,” said Griffiths, who serves in the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron. “I have plenty of time to see my home of record. I wanted to hop all over Europe and I’ve done a lot of it.”

But because his wife is a British national, traveling home won’t be as simple as packing the house and boarding a jet. Instead, she has to secure a visa in order to enter the United States and stay for more than 90 days.

With that in mind, Griffiths and his wife were one of the roughly 40 couples who met with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials at Lakenheath last month.

Victor Gates and Mike Yebernetsky, who are overseas immigration specialists at the U.S. Embassy in London, made their second trip to Lakenheath to help servicemembers and their spouses complete the visa paperwork.

“These people are the smart ones,” Gates said. “Too often, we hear from people who PCS in two months. We have to tell them that the process can take up to six months and they have to go back to the States without their spouses, which nobody wants to hear.”

Griffiths was on hand to simplify his family’s big move.

“For us, it was smart to get this thing done early so we would have one less thing to think about.”

Children of servicemembers who marry local nationals hold dual citizenship and do not have to apply for visas.

Spouses, however, have to secure an immigrant visa, which can be a laborious process. Once they arrive in the United States, immigrant visa holders need to obtain a permanent resident card, commonly known as a green card.

The petition and prerequisites are unique for each immigrant situation. Interested parties should visit the U.S. Embassy in London Web site and click on the sections for immigration and visas to get all the details.

The process can be costly, so plan ahead and save some pounds to cover the application fees as well as the other items needed to file the application.

Gates, who was once a servicemember, said his office plans to visit RAF Lakenheath several times a year to help airmen file their petitions. They plan to notify the base community of exact dates and times through advertisements in local base publications.

“We appreciate what they do for us,” he said. “This is our way to help make their life easier.”

Because he met with Gates, Griffiths saved himself a couple of trips to London to file paperwork. He also can rest easy knowing his petition is filed correctly.

“He blessed it and it’s good to go,” Griffiths said. “It took a lot of stress out of the process.”

By the numbers

Number of Americans living in the United Kingdom: 250,000

Number of visa applications for spouses per year: 1,400

Number of visa applications handled every year by the Lakenheath passport office: 150-200

For more information, go to: london.usembassy.gov or contact relocation technician Claire Hartigan at RAF Lakenheath at 226-2303.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Lakenheath Passport Office

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