How To Apply For a US Green Card for Your Spouse in South Korea
[IMPORTANT] I am writing this based on the process my husband and I went through at the end of 2018. I am a United States citizen and my husband is a Korean citizen, and we are located outside of the US at the time of filing. If you are not a US Citizen and you are located within the US at the time of filing, the information you need will be different so please only use this as a reference if you are a US Citizen outside of the US, filing for a foreign spouse. Thank you!
Remember to check official sources like the USCIS for the most up to date information!
Petition for Alien Relative (CR-1 Spouse Visa)
The first thing you need is Form I-130 which can be downloaded in PDF form here on the official US Customs and Immigration website. It is pretty straight forward and needs information that you shouldn’t need to think too hard about. SSN, place of birth, previous employers, current address, etc.
You will also need information about your direct family members (birthdays, current residence, etc) and your spouses’ direct family. In case of previous marriages, you will also need to fill out information about previous spouses and divorces.
If you use a translator or you are using someone else to prepare this document, they will also need to fill out basic information at the end of the PDF. You can fill this out with either blue/black ink or typing your answers.
Along with your Form I-130, you will need to prepare the following:
Your current marriage certificate (if in Korean, it must be translated word-by-word, you can do this yourself but you still need to sign the bottom)
Any certificates of divorce, death, or annulment to show that your current marriage is your only legal one.
2 passport style photos of both you and your spouse (separate obviously^^)
A copy of your US birth certificate OR current passport OR certificate of citizenship/naturalization
A scan of your spouse’s ID (such as a passport)
You will pay the filing fee of $535 by check or credit card at the US Embassy when you turn in your paperwork.
Proof of Bona Fide Marriage
The US Immigration office wants to make sure that this marriage is the real thing and not some scam to get someone a US Green Card, so you’re going to need to show proof that you’re the real deal! This can be done in a few different ways:
Proof of joined residency (living together)
Proof of joined banks accounts (or bills with both your names on it like utilities)
2 affidavits by third parties going into detail about how they know your relationship is real (this can be friends, family members, coworkers, etc) Find more info here! We used a coworker/friend and my mom.
Photos together, especially if you have been on trips abroad together, and photos with family and friends is a plus! These should date back to the beginning of your relationship (* shudders at my pics from 5 years ago *)
Letters or correspondence between the couple (if applicable)
Cover letter explaining your case if you have unusual circumstances such as you aren’t living together yet, etc.
By no means do you need all of these. Pick the strongest few for your case and submit them.
Visiting the Embassy
Once all your documents are in order, it’s time to submit your petition! You need to make a reservation to visit the US Embassy online before visiting, and be sure to print out your receipt and bring it with you the day of. Please note: They will take your phone and all electronics so you won’t be able to look anything up on your phone (like phone numbers, ID numbers, etc) while you’re inside. I forgot the address of my apartment from 3 years ago and had to just guess because there was no way to look at a map. Don’t be me! Come prepared :)
I went there without my husband because his work schedule was insane that week, and though the teller gave me a little attitude about it, it’s not necessary at all! I went to the front window, they checked me in and wrote down what window I would go to. I went through security where I dropped off my phone and iPod then headed to the 3rd floor. I had to wait for a bit as there were 2 families ahead of me, but then my name was called and I handed in my packet.
Basically all that happens here is the teller will go through your packet and make sure you filled everything out and provided all the documents necessary. Once they think you’ve got it all there correctly, they’ll give you a paper that you will take to the 2nd floor to pay your fee. It’s $535 and you can pay by credit card. Once your payment is confirmed, they’ll give you a receipt and a green paper. Put your email and your spouse’s email on the green paper, sign it, and then return it and the receipt to the teller you were just talking to on the 3rd floor.
The green paper is just telling you that they will contact you via the emails you provided when your application is done processing. I was given another receipt and I was free to go! The teller told me if they need any more documents (like my husband’s family registry, etc) they would reach out via email.
The Korean embassy averages about 6 weeks of processing time, and I went there on the morning of December 14.
The Immigrant Visa Unit
A week or so after I turned in our application, the US government shut down. It was unclear whether the embassy in Korea was still processing visa work, but luckily it seemed to have gone uninterrupted. The afternoon of January 16th, almost exactly a month since turning in our I-130 Form, we got an email saying that our petition had been approved. We were told that within the next 2 weeks we would hear from the Immigrant Visa Unit with our next packet of instructions including contact information for the Visa Unit (we were now done with any USCIS contact)
On January 22 we got our packet and were told to schedule an appointment for a visa interview.
This is where we hit a rather big bump in the road.
Booking An Interview
On January 25th I called the number provided in our packet to schedule an interview. We had been planning to move at least by April and seeing how fast the process had gone so far, we were pretty confident that we’d be packing up and moving to America in the spring. How naïve we were.
The person on the other end of the line said that April 11 was the first available date and there was only 1 appointment time that day. I know that there are people who wait years for an appointment so I should be grateful, but just being honest, we were really down about it. Things had been moving so quickly until this point and my husband was so excited about job prospects and moving.
We took the last available slot on April 11 (bright and early at 8am) and started working on the other things we needed to complete.
I called the next day to see if there were any earlier slots and they said they would send a request to the “higher office” but since we didn’t have an emergency reason for going to America early, there wasn’t much they could do. We'd hear back in 2-3 days if we have an earlier slot.
We didn’t get an earlier slot via the request BUT I signed on the website to check and there was an opening for March 14!!! We grabbed it and were happy to have moved up almost an entire month. You can check and reschedule your appointment as many times as you want so if you don’t get the date you want, make that website your friend! (Website link will be included in your confirmation email)
Medical Check Up and More
Our packet outlined what we needed to bring to the interview (a LOT of passport photos haha!) and some of them took a bit more work than others. The only difficult document to get was my husband’s immunization records. He got all his shots when he served in the army, but it wasn’t recorded somehow so he was lucky enough to get 3 shots during his hospital visit :) He also got an x-ray and a blood test and will get the results in a week or two. That certificate along with our other two documents are to be brought to our interview date!
There are two other forms you need to fill out. One is very easy, but the other one is proving that you can financially support your spouse. You’ll need your previous tax returns (at minimum, the return for the previous year).
On March 14 we headed to the embassy once again. Our appointment was at 8:30am and though there were only about 3 families in the room with us, we weren’t spoken to until 9:40am. We handed over our paper work, they took my husband’s fingerprints, and asked a few questions about our papers to make sure everything was correct. This took about 2 minutes.
Then, we waited another 30 minutes for the “interview.” Now, I was expecting to be brought into two different rooms and quizzed on each other’s favorite colors but it was much less exciting. I was told to sit down and then they asked my husband how we met and how he proposed…and that’s it.
It turned out that we needed some extra documents but we were told that we didn’t need to come back to the embassy (thank god!) The one tricky thing we needed was Proof of Domicile. That is, proof that you will be living in America. That usually comes in the form of a lease document for the house you’ll be living in or a job offer (only for the American spouse, it doesn’t matter if your Korean partner has a job lined up). We were planning to move in with my parents for a month while my husband finishes his interviews and we decide what city to settle in based on his work. From there, I’d find a job in that city. So we have no lease and I have no job offers. The person handling our case at the embassy said that I could show proof that I was actively looking for work in America or I could take out a lease in my name for my parents house (nope! lol) Luckily, I had applied for a few jobs in NYC just to put some feelers out there and they accepted those emails and applications as proof.
They gave us a paper with a list of all we needed and the contact information for the third party shipping company they use that will pick up our documents and bring them to the embassy. We weren’t given any clue as for how long it will take between this step and the final approval so all we can do is sit and wait once more.
The Final Step?
We turned in all of our papers to the document delivery company the US Embassy uses (you need to physically go to the delivery office to turn in the papers) on Tuesday morning. On Saturday, I woke up to a text telling me that the package had left the delivery center. I was honestly a little annoyed that it took them nearly 4 days to get it sent out when I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize.
I answered and it was a delivery man with a package for me? I opened it up and there it was: the sealed envelope that was the final step of the green card process. Kurt’s passport was included with a freshly printed US visa glued in and a print out of instructions for how to proceed. Basically, we needed to go to America, go through immigration at the airport where he’ll hand in the UNOPENED envelope, and they’ll (hopefully) let him into the country. A few weeks later, the official green card will be mailed to our physical address in America.
His visa (the glued paper in his passport) expires in August so we had about 5 months to get ourselves together and move to the US to get his passport checked and his official green card picked up. Now that the green card headache is more or less finished, its time for the moving headache. Hooray!
We arrived at JFK airport on May 26 and headed to the immigration area. We asked a guard which line to get in, and they pointed us to the “visa” line, not the US Citizen line because we were still in the process of getting a visa. After getting the green card, we can go through the US Citizen/Permanent Resident line.
I could have gone separately but I felt more comfortable going with him, since I know how JFK guards can be. As expected, we had one guard try to make me get out of line even though the other 3 guards we talked to said it was fine. If someone is hassling you - you are allowed to be in that line as a US Citizen. You have every right to accompany your partner in line, don’t get out of line if you don’t want to. Her argument was that I would wait a long time in line because the US line is so much faster. But then I’d just be waiting all alone at baggage claim for my husband when instead I could wait the same amount of time being able to talk with him? It was very annoying but I stood my ground and eventually she left to go loudly talk about how dumb I was to the other guards :) Welcome to America~
When we finally got to the booth (this took a little over an hour) the man took our packet, opened it, flipped through a few pages, and then called someone else over because he didn’t know what to do. Another win for the US haha.
We didn’t get taken into a room because the system didn’t ding us (they used some specific word for the system name but I didn’t catch it) and we were given a stamp, a quick ‘congratulations’ and we were off. We were at the booth for maybe 5 minutes!
Now we’re home in California waiting for the physical card! The hard part seems to be over :)
On June 15th the card arrived! It was just in the regular mail, we didn’t have to sign (which we would have preferred…)
We will have to renew it in 2 years because we are newly married and that’s that!
We hope this was helpful and we wish you luck on your green card journey :)