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US Immigration (Spousal Visas)

 Immigration to the US is a long, lengthy, and expensive process. It helps to start early in order to prepare for future delays and problems. For wives and husbands, there are generally two methods of immigration: through fiancee (get married in the US) or spousal (get married in Japan) visas. Neither option is simple nor cheap; the spousal visa is a little cheaper, but may not enter the US until the visa is approved, which can take from five months to a year.

This guide is focused on the CR1/IR1 spousal visa, the basis for my knowledge. The other types of visas are talked about here.

Some general considerations are:
  1. Find out about the process, forms, filing fees, and time periods.
  2. Ensure you have enough US income to support your spouse, as this also affects the visa application.
  3. Be sure you and your spouse are ready to live in the US.


General Process

The visa application process can take as quick as half a year, but will more generally take up to a year. If you make mistakes in any application, the appropriate office will generally tell you what to fix and what documents to send, but it will delay your visa approval.

  1. Get original proofs of marriage and divorce.
  2. Prepare and send I-130/G-325/G-1145 initial application (make a copy of all documents and payments) , to be sent to the USCIS. Include copies of proofs of marriage, divorce, and relationship. Also include a copy of the passport and two photos. Include a check for the appropriate application fee. Processing takes about 3-6 months.
  3. As soon as possible after sending the I-130, obtain police, court, and military records. Also get a birth certificate.
  4. Once the USCIS has approved your I-130, you will get a notice to pay some fees. Pay the fees at the NVC website (make a copy of all payments) .
  5. After the fees have been paid, you will receive a cover letter to send with all documents. Include this letter in all communications with the NVC.
  6. Send the DS-230/I-864 package (make a copy of all documents and payments) with original documents or copies of unsendable originals (such as a passport). Send a passport copy and marriage, divorce, relationship, police, court, military, and birth records for the DS-230. Send financial proofs for the I-864. Processing takes about 1-3 months.
  7. Once the NVC approves the application, you will have a visa interview scheduled at the appropriate embassy or consulate. Reschedule the appointment to coincide with your US entry date (initial visa entry permissions last from 6 months to 1 year).
  8. Get a medical examination certificate before the visa interview (make a copy of all documents and payments) . Medical processes may take some time, so be sure to get all of this done before the interview. Medical certificates in Japan last only 6 months for healthy individuals and may last for less than 3 months if there are issues. Be sure to enter the US before the certificate expires. If the certificate will expire, you can extend the valid visa entry period by obtaining a new medical certificate and paying processing fees again.
  9. Go to the visa interview. Bring a set of all copies, original documents, and two photos. Pay the applicable fees, speak decent English, and get your biometric data taken. If you are approved, you will get the visa on that day. See more here, including the correct order of documents for processing.
  10. Enter the US. Talk to the customs officer, who will approve your entry to the US.


The Parties Involved

  • The petitioner - the American citizen
  • The beneficiary - the foreign spouse
  • The US Customs and Immigration Center (USCIS) - the application processing center, which will issue a preliminary approval
  • The National Visa Center (NVC) - the actual visa processing center, which will handle document checking and approval
  • The US Embassy - the place where your spouse will be interviewed for approval 
  • The Customs Officer - the person who approves entry for your spouse at the airport

Contact Information

USCIS:

NVC:

US Embassy in Tokyo, Japan:

The Necessary Documents

1. Legal Documents

Proof of Marriage (and Translation)
  • If the document was issued in a foreign country and is not in English, a translation is necessary.
  • Translations should be certified with a statement saying the translator is competent, then notarized.
  • Get two originals if possible, since original documents can be difficult and time-consuming to obtain. Please keep in mind that yet another original should be kept for personal records.
  • Prepare two additional photocopies. One copy goes to the USCIS and one original goes to the NVC. Bring one original to the interview at the US embassy, which they may or may not take.
  • Keep an extra copy of all documents.
Proof of Divorce (for previous marriages) and Translation
  • Follow the directions above for Proof of Marriage.
Copies of Passports
  • Make three copies of each passport. One is for the USCIS and one is for the NVC. The spouse should bring a copy and his or her original passport to the interview at the US embassy.
Four Photos for each person
  • Photos should follow general passport guidelines
  • Two photos each go to the USCIS and the NVC.

Birth Certificates

  • Obtain a birth certificate or notarized copy from the home country of your spouse (beneficiary).
  • This original goes to the NVC.
  • Make a copy of all original documents.

Police Records

  • Obtain police records for the spouse (beneficiary).
  • These records should be for any country the spouse has lived (not short-term stay) since turning 16.
  • Most people will have clean records, but include any information about criminal offenses (not traffic violations) and resolutions.
  • These originals go to the NVC.
  • Make a copy of all original documents.
  • See this page for more information.

Other Applicable Documents

  • Proof of Relationship
  • Military Records and Proof of Discharge
  • Court and Prison Records
  • See more here.

2. Financial Documents

Tax Forms

  • The US citizen (petitioner) must include copies of income tax returns (1040) for the last three years, as proof for income.
  • Income for the petitioner must be more than 125% of the national poverty line based on the intended family size. This is normally more than $20,000 for a family of two. See more here (USCIS) and here (NVC).
  • Make two copies of all documents, one for yourself and one for the NVC.

Financial Account Statements

  • The US citizen (petitioner) can support low incomes with financial assets.
  • Include all reasonable proofs of adequate assets, such as bank account statements, mutual fund statements, and so on.
  • If using purely financial assets, assets must be more than 5 times the national poverty line. For a family of two, this is more than $95,000. See more here.
  • All assets must be in US dollars, but some assets can be in foreign accounts.
  • Make two copies of all documentation, one for the NVC and one for you.

Other Financial Documents

  • You will need a US checking account to pay fees at the NVC. Prepare a blank check or have someone send the bank's routing numbers and personal account numbers to you.
  • Any documents that show that the petitioner and beneficiary have stable, adequate incomes (in the US) and enough assets to to support a non-working immigrant are probably beneficial and acceptable.

3. Medical Examination Certificate

  • You will need to get a medical examination at an approved facility.
  • Be aware that the certificate only lasts from 3 months to a year. You cannot enter the US if the certificate is expired.
  • Bring a copy of your vaccination records.
  • If you do not have a vaccination record, the doctor will work with you to see which vaccines are necessary or medically inapplicable.
  • Specific diseases vaccinated against are:
    • Mumps
    • Measles
    • Rubella
    • Polio (IPV/OPV)
    • Tetanus and Diphtheria Toxoids
    • Rotavirus
    • Pertussis
    • Influenzae type b (HIB)
    • Hepatitis A
    • Hepatitis B
    • Meningococcal (MCV/MPSV)
    • Varicella
    • Pneumococcal
    • Influenza
  • See more here.

4. Immigration Forms

  1. I-130/I-129F - Initial application for spousal/fiancee visa (to be sent to the USCIS).

  2. G-325A - Background data, to be done in the initial application for both parties (to be sent to the USCIS).
  3. G-1145 - Registration of email for notice of acceptance (to be sent to the USCIS).
  4. DS-230 - Background information on the petitioner and beneficiary (to be sent to the NVC). To eventually be replaced by DS-260.
  5. I-864 - Affidavit of Support. Information on finances (to be sent to the NVC).

5. Fees

Generally, the CR1/IR1 spousal visa costs about $1000. K visas, for processing and/or marriage in the US cost almost twice that amount. Fees will vary according to when and where documents are filed and services take place.

  • USCIS Processing Fees - Application (I-130): $420
  • NVC Processing Fees - (I-864/DS-230): $88/$230
  • Medical Examination Fees - $200-500 (estimated)
  • Japanese document fees
    • Proofs of Marriage/Divorce: ¥300-500
    • Police Records: ¥0-6000