Monday, December 17, 2012

Gettin' a Green Card and all that Jazz

So as mentioned in my last entry, our Green Card interview and process has successfully been completed. As promised, here is a detailed account for anyone scourging the web looking for information. This post is written by my husband, who dealt with most of the paperwork when applying. Hope it's useful to someone!

1) How long does it take? 

This is our timeline:
Jul 27 - turned in petition I-130 Jul 31 - petition approved, received packet 3* Nov 22 - medical exam Nov 23 - scheduled interview appointment online Dec 10 - interview Dec 12 - received visa

*Since the petition was filed so quickly, we waited about two months before starting the rest of the process because we didn't want to get the Green Card too early. Also, Link to packet 3 instructions and interview preparation instructions here:

2) What about the criminal record check?

You need a criminal record check for any country you've lived in for over 6 months since the age of 16. For my application I needed a German and a Korean CR. Note that you will need certified English translations for all criminal records.

2.1) Korean Criminal Record

For the Korean CR, make sure to get the "whole criminal and investigation history including expunged records". To get it, I recommend going to the Jongno police station, which is a 10 minute walk from the US Embassy in Ganghwamun Station.
Direction: Subway line 3, Anguk station, exit 6, it will be right next to the exit.

You don't need an appointment, just walk inside and go to the counter near the entrance (after the first door, just turn to your left). Tell them you need a CR for the US embassy and they will provide you with the correct version. It's free and only takes about 5-10 minutes. Just be aware, the Korean CR will expire after a month, so make sure it's up to date when you go for your interview.

2.2) German Criminal Record

To get the German CR, I had to print out a request form from the Bundesamt fuer Justiz and send it to Bonn. (For further instructions, forms and more details (specifically for Germans living abroad), click here.)

The filled out form needs to be certified before sending it to Bonn. You can do that at the German embassy. Don't forget to bring your passport along. The embassy charges around 21,000 won, depending on the current exchange rate.

Directions: Subway line 6, Itaewon, exit 3 or 4. For more details on how to get there and opening hours, click here. 
Time: It took around 2 weeks for it to get to Bonn from Seoul and another 2 weeks until I got it back. The Bundesamt fuer Justiz charges 13 for this service. I am not sure how long the German CR is valid, but I assume it's ok for several months. I submitted a CR which was 5 months old at the interview, and there were no problems.

3) How and where to get the medical exam?

The validity of the medical exam will determine the validity of your visa. The results of the medical exam are usually valid for 6 months once you get it, so don't wait too long with scheduling the interview after you've had the medical check. See interview preparation instructions for more details (link above).

There are three hospitals in Seoul who do this. They are listed in the visa preparation instructions (link above). I went to the hospital in Yeouido, as it was the closest one to me. Click here for their website. (In the section "internationl health service" you will find a link to the visa section where more details are given.)

You can make an appointment over phone. I got mine the next day. Appointments usually are in the mornings but it can take until the afternoon to actually get the results, as there are long waiting hours in between the actual physical exam and them finishing the documents/results. Plan for it taking the whole day.

Directions: Subway line 9, Saetgang Station, exit 3. Check with Google maps on how to get there from the subway station. There is an entrance to the hospital specifically for visa cases. The entrance is labeled in English but is kind of hidden. It is right next to the roofed parking lot of the hospital on the opposite side of the main entrance to the hospital, so on the back side of the building. At the main entrance you will be able to get a map of the building in case you get lost.

4) Where can I get translations in Seoul?

You will need translations for all documents that are not in English. In addition, I needed certification/notarization for the translations. All my translations were done by NYtrans, which I can highly recommendThey were able to give me valuable advice on the green-card process and generally were very helpful. I was able to get English translations for Korean and German documents, but they translate other languages as well. They are situated near the US embassy.

Directions: Subway line 5, Ganghwamun, exit 2, turn right around first corner, US embassy should be on your left, walk straight along the main road until you see a block with many translation offices. NYtrans has a yellow-black logo and the office is situated on the second floor.

5) All about the I-864 (and I-864A)...

As there are many details to this form, make sure to read through all the official government websites that offer information on this topic. As always, it will appear confusing at first and bits of information will have to be assembled from different websites to create the whole picture. Take time reading and understanding the whole material.

We actually made one (rather big) mistake by using the wrong form for an additional sponsor. We wanted to include my wife's mother as a household member (using form I-864A) as we wanted to move back in with her once we were in the US. So we thought we could all be counted as household members of the same domicile. But only at the embassy did we find out that that was incorrect and we should have filed her as a joint-sponsor, using another form I-864. The problem was that her mother was not a member of our household here in Seoul. Fortunately my wife's current income was enough to get us above the poverty line, hence a joint sponsor was not needed in the first place and the officer that lead the interview let it slide (SO LUCKY!!!). He was kind enough to correct the mistake and it caused no further problems.

Here are some more links you might find useful for this form: - general info - scheduling appointment - visa fees - visa application forms

6) So how much did it cost?

As listed on the above link, the visa interview fee for category CR-1 (on the basis of an approved I-130) comes to $230. This is in addition to the petition fee ($420), translations and certifications, medial exam ($180) and various other forms/expenses we needed to gather along the way. My guess is that it cost us around $1000 total for the whole Green Card process.

7) The Interview

We were pretty lucky concerning the efficiency of the US embassy here in Seoul. As can be seen on our timeline, our petition I-130 was approved within 2 working days, same for the delivery of the visa after it got approved through the interview. The interview itself only took a couple of minutes with only a short waiting time as more applicants were scheduled on the same day, so in total our interview appointment came to about one and a half hours only. We had worked out a lot of questions we thought might be asked of us, but really hardly any were. Both reviews looked over our forms and just asked some general questions about what we will do in the US next year.

**DISCLAIMER: The experiences stated above of applying for a green-card in Seoul only reflect our unique situation which is that of a German married for less than two years to a US citizen (Visa Category CR1). Your experience may vary depending on the country or even time of the year you are applying. We hope our experiences can help someone somewhere along the line. We felt the whole process was pretty painless. It did take time to organize everything from three countries, but overall wasn't too bad. Good Luck to you!

For Part I: The Petition, see here.

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