Please note: This entry is for information purposes only. I am not an immigration attorney or any kind of expert on the matter. This is our story, but your circumstances will likely be different.
Min Gi and I are planning the big move back to the U.S. at the end of this contract (in August). This is not a permanent move for us (I love life as an expat), but a choice we're making because at this time, I want to be near my family for a few years and I want Min Gi to get to know my culture the way I've gotten to know his. Additionally, the next time I (now we) go abroad, I plan to do so by teaching in International Schools, not EFL. If I had been smarter, that's the way I would have done it the first time around--a better job for better pay in more countries... but I do not regret the past two and half years in Korea in the least.
Since we planned to live in the U.S. for two years, we did some reading and realized that there is really no such thing as a nonimmigrant visa for spouses (ok, there IS, but they assume you'll apply for a Permanent Resident Card or "green card" as soon as possible). Yes, the U.S. government is arrogant enough to assume that anyone who wants to live there for a period of time automatically wants to live there forever and become a citizen. Fortunately, we recently realized that Korea might change its mind about allowing dual citizenship, so it might actually be worth it for us to go through this process now anyhow, but that's just an added bonus.
Thanks to some very helpful conversations with Amanda, who went through this process recently in the U.S., and J.R., who went through the U.S. embassy in Korea as we are now doing, we've managed to proceed pretty far in the whole complicated mess of U.S. immigration, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to update you all and share some invaluable resources to help you through it, if you're drowning in the tidal wave of bureaucracy.
If you are trying to get your Korean spouse a Permanent Resident Card, you have two options, based on where you live. If you are currently in the U.S., you go through a Change of Status (COS). If you live in Korea, then you might be eligible for the much speedier, more convenient, and cheaper direct consular filing (DCF) process (note in countries not as friendly with the U.S. or with more sham/mail-order marriages, the DCF process may not be any easier or less complicated than COS). Fortunately, Min Gi and I qualify to apply from Korea.
I started by purchasing and reading the book Fiance & Marriage Visas: A Couple's Guide to U.S. Immigration by Ilona Bray, J.D. The book is thorough, up-to-date and gives advice like an immigration lawyer would. Since our immigration is rather uncomplicated (neither of us have kids or were married before, he's never lived in the U.S. before or entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa, and neither of us have any exclusionary conditions, like being a criminal or having AIDS) we decided to go it alone, without legal representation.
My next stop was to read everything available on the U.S. Embassy in Korea's website about getting married in Korea and obtaining family visas. I also read the success story of another couple who went through Korea's DCF on the supportive website for people dealing with this process, visajourney.com. We started gathering all the forms and talking openly with my parents about what we need from them since before we visited them this last July/August. Information and advance planning are power!
Turns out the kind of visa we will apply for is CR-1 or a conditional resident visa. Conditional because we've been married less than two years. That means we'll need to submit more paperwork two years after moving to the U.S. What we've done so far:
January 6, 2010: We got married through the U.S. embassy and the Korean district office in Seoul. This was rather easy to do, even though we made a mistake on the forms and had to make a couple extra trips back and forth. One piece of advice: Make sure your Korean fiance has the names and government ID numbers of two family members willing to vouch for you (like witnesses). Technically, they are supposed to be there to sign it, but I think if they're family, just the information will do. Min Gi called the district office twice to ask about this and both times they said you don't need it, but of course when we got there, they said we did. Cost: US $90 payable to the embassy: cash (dollars or won) or US credit card.
February 1, 2010: We had made an online appointment to file form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and the required biographical forms G-325A for each of us.
--Form G-325A for each of us
--Passport-style photos of each of us
--My passport and a photocopy
--His passport and a photocopy
--My Korean Alien Resident Card (ARC) and a photocopy (I forgot the photocopy and it was ok)
--My birth certificate and a photocopy
--Our marriage certificate (from the US Embassy-ha!) and a photocopy
--Three documents from the Korean Family Census Register: Certificate of Kinship, Certificate of Marriage, and Certificate of Personal Records and photocopies
--Translations for the above (Min Gi found a blog that had good translations here.)
--A signed statement verifying the translations (We had our friend Leah do this. Min Gi thought we should get it notarized, but the fee was a lot, and I was certain it was unnecessary. Since our copies were not notarized, the embassy kept the original Family Census Registers, so we had to get new copies from the government office, but they're only $1 each; the notarization fees were around $40 per paper)
--Fee for filing: $355 (426,000won) payable in Korean or US cash only.
Although the website said that I could file the papers at the embassy alone, it was good Min Gi came with me because he had to fill out a paper about his contact information. Lo and behold, three days later he was e-mailed packet 3.5 and told to apply for a visa appointment.
We applied for the visa appointment and requested a date in May when I wouldn't have classes. They granted us one of those days! Our appointment is scheduled for May 27, 2010 at 8 a.m. We could almost certainly have gotten an earlier appointment if we weren't picky about dates or if we were in a rush. We also completed and mailed the first part of form DS-230, conveniently available in a dual language form, so that they could start his background check prior to the interview.
We have more documents to gather before the interview (most notably some "bona fides" that prove our marriage is real and the Affidavit of Support showing we won't be on the government's dime when we move to the U.S.). Min Gi also has to get a medical exam ($150 and requiring a trip to Busan for him) and his police record. We will also have to pay another $400 for the interview fee (yes, this process is a tad pricey). However, overall the U.S. embassy has been efficient, kind, and helpful in the whole process and our advance planning has allowed us to squeeze all of this work into just a couple hours a week so it's been quite manageable.
I'll update you about the interview itself after it is completed. I hope, for those of you undergoing or considering this process, that this post was somewhat helpful. And for those of you who like to complain about the E-2 visa process for Korea, maybe you'll realize just how lucky you have it. Because the work visa process for the U.S. is not all that different or less expensive than the process I've described here.