About 6 months ago, I proposed to my Korean girlfriend; we legally married shortly thereafter. We had been together for nearly two years and had been to the Philippines, Japan, and even to the USA for my sister’s wedding. I wanted nothing more than to be with her, but I also wanted to go home. I had been in Korea for nearly 5 years and felt my time coming to an end. In my naivety, I thought that my fiancé and I could fly home, make a casual trip to the local town hall and immigration would be simple. It was one of the dumbest things that I have ever come up with. This article is for people in the same boat. Immigration to the US is determined on a case-by-case basis: my story might not be your story. Think of this as a small pocket guide for the tricky bits.
First, we applied for a CR-1 visa. This visa applies to the foreign spouse of a couple that has been married for less than 2 years. In ordinary circumstances, this visa can take north of a year to get; however, this is where we get lucky. The US Embassy in Korea has a USCIS field office and does not need to rely on a processing center in the USA. This cuts the whole process down to a few months and we only needed to go to the US Embassy twice.
Part One: The Meeting
This part of the process is straightforward. It involves proving who the couple is and that the relationship is genuine. To get your case moving, you need to fill out a handful of simple forms. Chief among them is the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. This two-page form asks simple questions about you and your spouse.
Next, you and your spouse need to fill out individual G-325A Biographic Information forms. This form is easy but inconvenient. You need to list where you have lived and worked for the past 5 years. I had to spend a Saturday walking to buildings that used to be occupied by now defunct hagwons with my GPS to get addresses. In a perfect world, Korean addresses are short and fit onto the form but this is reality: you will probably need to make another form to finish your addresses. You will also need a copy of your US passport ID page (proof of US citizenship) as well as a copy of your ARC.
The last step is to prove that you have a real marriage. To do this, start with your wedding certificate (if you were married in Korea you will need to get the Marriage Relation Certificate, Basic Certificate, and Family Relation Certificate and then translate them). Next, amass all of your proof. A lease with your names on it is important. Joint bank accounts are useful. We relied heavily on photographs and I found myself thankful for social media like Facebook and Instagram.
When you show up to your appointment at the US Embassy, you will stand in front of a window as a very curt clerk goes through your paperwork, asks a few questions, destroys your layout, and discards anything that they do not need on file. You will then part with $420 and be on your way after being told you will hear about the next step in a month or so as long as everything checks out.
Part Two: The Interview
Three weeks later, while walking my newly unemployed self to McDonalds, I heard the ping of an email informing me that our application had been accepted and it was time to prepare for our interview. This is where things can get tricky.
Included in the email will be your case number. Your spouse will use this case number to arrange a medical check-up at an embassy-approved hospital. This should cost around KRW 200,000 but will be more if you need any vaccines.
The email will also direct you to fill out the online DS-260. For some, this is painless but for us it was a nightmare. The log-in information didn’t work and it took several weeks for this to be fixed. The information required by the US citizen is minimal. The immigrating spouse will get to spend a night reminiscing because they have to list every address they have lived at since they were 16 years old.
Perhaps the most stressful part of this whole process is the I-864 Affidavit of Support. The purpose of this form is to show that you and your spouse will not end up on welfare immediately after arriving in the USA. To do this you need to prove that you (or a joint sponsor) make 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for your state. If you are thinking about starting this process, you should know that one of the questions asked is if you have filed US taxes for the past three years. Answering “No” would require an explanation and thus possibly delay your case. This would be a good time to get your taxes in order if, like me, you might have forgotten to file for the past several years.
You will need the IRS tax transcript from the most recent year to fill out the I-864. If you made all of your money in Korea for that year, your income will be listed as zero. All of those hours yelling at kids and desk-warming count for nothing in the eyes of the USA. This is where anything you can show of value will help. We provided copies of bank statements and records of key-money deposits. If you do not have a job lined up, it would be a good idea to write a letter stating your employment plans.
Most sources online and on the US Embassy helpline will tell you that foreign income will not count towards anything. It will be recommended that you secure a joint sponsor, likely a parent. In this case they also need to fill out an I-864 and their spouse (if any) will need to fill out a simpler I-864A. My parents spent days collecting paperwork and filling out forms. At one point, my mother made a nearly seven-hour drive to her hometown in order to get her birth certificate. However, despite being recently unemployed and even being told by immigration to have a co-sponsor, my income was accepted as enough. The woman behind the glass then dumped all of my parents’ hard work in the trash.
The final thing you need to prove is that your home is in the USA and you have a place to live upon return. I showed them my credit card bill and a notarized letter from my parents saying we could live there.
By the time you are done with all of this, you have likely gotten into a fight with all of your family members and become a frequent poster on immigration forums. You are essentially done. When it came time for our interview, we were asked two questions and that was it. We paid our $325 and were out the door.
Contact info: http://seoul.usembassy.gov/
Forums like visajourney.com offer a wealth of information and guides that are often more helpful than the official literature.
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