I joked before the recent election that well, we’d better hurry up and get Mr. Kim’s green card in case Donald Trump gets elected and changes the rules. Well… who knows what will happen rules-wise now that nightmare has come true, but fortunately, we received the green card in the mail the week before the election. Whew!
If you’re reading this post, you probably know that means Mr. Kim is now a permanent resident of the United States, free to seek employment anywhere he wishes and access many other privileges available only to citizens and green card holders.
(If you are here to read about evil immigrants taking up American tax payer dollars, sorry to disappoint you: One type of benefit he is not eligible for is welfare or other income-based assistance. If he goes on food stamps, even if he divorces me first, my parents and I have to pay the government back. So nahhh.)
Obtaining a green card is a fairly long and complicated process, so I thought I’d celebrate by leaving behind some knowledge gained from our experience. Some of these are general things that surprised me; others are things that are specific to (South) Koreans or Korean men. Let me go ahead and state that I’m not a lawyer, and these tips are not meant as legal advice, they are just a reflection of our own experience in 2016. That said, I hope these tips are useful!
1. You can probably do it yourself.
If your case is straightforward—no previous deportations, criminal history, loss of immigration status, etc.—and one of you is a detail-oriented person, you probably don’t need a lawyer to apply for a marriage-based permanent residence card. I have a freakish enjoyment of objectively dull tasks that involve noticing small details and taking care of them (see my current employment, in editing), so I quite enjoyed putting the packet together. I followed the relevant guides on VisaJourney.com and searched the Internet and VisaJourney forums when I had a question.
Maybe this sounds like a nightmare for you, and you’d rather pony up the money, but aside from a papercut or two, it was pretty painless for me. The whole process took about 4.5 months from when we sent off our packet to when Mr. Kim received his green card.
2. You don’t need a professional to translate your documents.
Mr. Kim was born in Korea, so his birth records were in Korean. These included the Certificate of Kinship (가족관계증명서) and the Certificate of Personal Records (기본증명서). The Korean government doesn’t issue birth certificates the way American state governments do, so these are the documents you submit with your green card application instead.
The green card instructions require a “certified translation” of these documents, and I’ve seen people online asking where to find a cheap certified translator. The thing is, if you or your spouse speak both languages, you can do it yourself, or if you have any friends who do, that would work too. The certified part is just a statement that you’re able to translate it and that you did it accurately.
Mr. Kim translated his birth records himself, then attached this statement and filled out the bottom with his signature, etc.:
Certification by Translator
I (name), certify that I am fluent (conversant) in the English and (soandso foreign) languages, and that the above/attached document is an accurate translation of the document attached entitled (title of document).
Date ______________ Name__________________
Actually, I just got that template off the VisaJourney.com forums, an extremely helpful resource in both preparing our documents and fretting about the outcome. But now I can vouch that it works!
3. Explaining Korean military service on your green card application
Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, asks a lot of questions. For most, the answer is a clear “No.” (“Do you plan to practice polygamy in the United States?”) However, it also asks about service in a military unit (question 15a as of 2016) and military training (question 18).
Pretty much all Korean men must complete mandatory military service, so don’t worry: This won’t raise any red flags. However, a post-service Korean male filling out this form does need to answer “Yes” to the relevant questions and attach an explanation.
For the explanation, for 15a, Mr. Kim wrote something like, “As a male Korean citizen, I was required to serve in the Korean military. I served in the Army from DATE to DATE and reached the rank of RANK.” For 18, he wrote something like, “During my mandatory military service as a male Korean citizen, I spent six weeks in basic military training, where I received weapons training. I also participated in training periodically during the rest of my time in the military.”
4. Proving your relationship is real for your green card application
Our relationship is real, and we live fairly conventional married lives, so we had no trouble proving this. I provided the following evidence:
- Copy of current lease with both our names
- Copy of next year’s lease with both our names
- Print-off of insurance document showing we’re covered by the same policy
- Print-off of bank account statement showing both our names
I was worried this might not be enough, so I brought photos, itineraries, and other documentation to the interview to give our officer. She said she didn’t need any of it. Of course, this will vary from couple to couple and probably from case worker to case worker. However, I think a big strength was that we had official documents with a shared address, going back more than a year.
If your relationship is not real, you obviously should not be applying for a marriage-based green card, because that is fraud.
5. Don’t worry too much about the green card interview.
One thing people worry about a lot is the interview, but our experience was actually really pleasant, if occasionally awkward. Here’s what happened:
Mr. Kim is a graduate student in the States (F-1 visa before the green card), so we were applying from within the States for an Adjustment of Status. This means our interview was at the nearest USCIS office, in Detroit. Unfortunately, it was at 7:45 a.m., so we rented a car the night before and left our house at 6 a.m. Boo.
We had to go through metal detectors to get beyond the entryway of the building. There was a bit of a line, so it’s good that we arrived a little early. The rules say you can’t bring in your phone, but at this office, people were allowed to bring them in. Then we had to stand in line again to check in. At this point, we had to present ID (our passports).
The great thing about a 7:45 a.m. appointment was that we got called right away. The woman in charge of our case took us to her office and started by making us stand and swear an oath to tell the truth. This was kind of exciting, as neither of us had ever testified before.
She then asked us basic biographical facts like our own and each other’s birthdays, our parents’ birthplaces, etc. As we answered, she checked off the information in her file for us. Mr. Kim couldn’t remember what he had written down for his parents’ birthdays, as they go by the lunar calendar, but he explained this and she was fine with it. I had also transposed two digits of his Social Security number in one place, which caused some confusion, but she let that go too.
She also re-asked all the questions from Part 3-C of Form I-485—the ones about military service and polygamy. I suppose they have to hear you affirm that no, you do not intend to commit espionage and have never participated in killing anyone. We giggled a bit at some, like the polygamy question.
Then she asked about how we met. We have a great meeting story, so this was easy. We also chatted about my time in Korea and Mr. Kim’s studies and talked about our wedding, but I don’t remember many more free-form questions. I guess we seemed pretty legit and had done a good job putting our file together.
And that was it! I thought she might need more evidence, but what we had provided was enough. After that, she told us she planned to approve our case after reviewing the file, explained some rules, and walked us out. Ta-da!
Of course, everyone’s interview varies, but this was our experience, and it was totally painless. (Aside from the 5:30 a.m. wake-up.) We received the green card in the mail less than two weeks later. Since we’ve only been married a short time, this green card lasts for two years, and we have to apply for a “permanent” (10-year) one before it expires. And… I’m kinda looking forward to it!