What happens (legally) when an American and a Japanese person marry?
June 23, 2008 3:00 PM   Subscribe

International Marriage filter: When a US Citizen marries a foreigner, what process is involved in bringing the new spouse to the US and getting permanent resident status?

I'd like to know how difficult it is for a US Citizen to marry a foreigner (specifically, a Japanese person), and bring them here to the US to stay. What are the legal procedures? How long does it take? What, if any, is the chance of "failure"?

I know a lot of people are going to tell me to talk to an immigration lawyer. Believe me, I will... if/when the situation comes up. You see, right now I'm not yet dating. I'm just considering a potential relationship, and if I decide to pursue it I'd like to know up front what I'm getting into. So YANAL, or at least YANML, I understand. But what can you tell me about the process? I'd like to get a "birds eye view" at least.

Bonus points: What would be involved in a US Citizen marrying a Japanese person and getting permanent residence in JAPAN? This seems less likely in my case. But hey, it could happen.

Thank you MeFites!
posted by Vorteks to Law & Government (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Some links shared previously:

posted by arnicae at 3:17 PM on June 23, 2008

Best answer: Also Visa Journey.
posted by Quonab at 3:23 PM on June 23, 2008

Best answer: To answer your unasked question:

It should not stand in the way of you pursuing a relationship with this woman. It's fussy and annoying and, though you didn't ask about that, expensive, but it's entirely do-able.

To answer your three subquestions:

(1) There's more than one legal way to skin that particular cat. More in a minute.
(2) The easiest way means that there will be a six to nine month period where she can't (easily) come to the US.
(3) If she doesn't have a criminal record or any of a few illnesses, the odds of failure are very low but not zero.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:31 PM on June 23, 2008

Best answer: What are the legal procedures?

There are three ways to do this. One before marrying, and two after marrying. The before-marrying way is probably the easiest. It goes like this:

(1) You file a bunch of paperwork with USCIS. The big one is the fiancee visa form. There's also a bunch of supporting stuff -- biographical information forms about you and her, photocopy of your proof of US citizenship, letters from you and her showing intent to marry, proof that you've met in the past two years, evidence of a legitimate relationship, etc. There are websites like visajourney that will walk you through this, or you can hire an immigration lawyer.

(2) USCIS says "Okay!" Then, they send a pile of paperwork to the US embassy or a consulate in Japan. The embassy/consulate contacts your schmoopy and gives her a bunch more paperwork to gather. The big one here will be some sort of form saying that she doesn't have a criminal record. Then, you send that in, some more stuff happens, and she ends up having an interview in Japan. Once she passes that, she gets her visa and can come to the US and y'all can get hitched.

(3) After she's in the US, you "adjust her status" and get her a green card. This is more forms and more paperwork and more money and more waiting, but the thing to remember is that whole time, she's eligible to live and work and stuff.

The first after-marriage way is to file an I-130, and wait a long time. Years, maybe. Then there are more rounds of paperwork, she has an interview in Japan, and she moves to the US with a green card.

The other after-marriage way is to start the I-130 process, and then when you get notification that they've received the application you can file the fiancee visa form to move her to the US and then adjust her status.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:41 PM on June 23, 2008

Anecdotal Example:

Me = US citizen. She = Canadian citizen.

We filed our K-1 Fiancee Visa late 2006 (oct-dec. I can't remember the date offhand).
She had her K-1 Visa summer of 2007.
Moved down here late August 2007.
Married Sept. 2007
Applied for Green Card (and work authoriazation and travel documents so she can leave the country legally) Oct-Dec 2007.
Received Work Auth and Travel Docs Feb/March 2008.
Green Card Interview Next month (July 2008)

And I will VERY STRONGLY urge you to spend a LOT of time on VisaJourney, like Quonab said. The place is full of anecdotal evidence from tons of locations. You will likely find exact parallel cases to your own, maybe even down to details on what to expect at your local consulate.

Oh, and we didn't use a lawyer. If your case is simple (no kids, no previous marriage, no history of overstaying a prior visa), it's just a matter of providing the paperwork and plenty of supporting evidence of your relationship. I'm NOT recommending to avoid a lawyer, but just saying that if you feel comfortable, the paperwork is very doable (especially with TONS of examples online to learn from).

Oh, and I agree with the above, don't let the immigration stuff influence you too much right now. Although still a lot of work, when you have the right motivation it just becomes a stack of 'necessary evil' paperwork.

Good Luck.
posted by johnstein at 3:55 PM on June 23, 2008

Best answer: First think I will say is that, yes, the process is a bear. You are dealing with a government bureaucracy. It is completely manageable, though, and should not stop you from getting serious with someone from another country. We (well, I) did it all ourselves (myself), no lawyer. The process went smoothly. The initial paperwork went in min-February of 2007, and we got the green card in August. She (Kenyan) was in country already (as I’ve mentioned) and I am a natural born citizen.

Forms, forms, forms! File the following (you can submit them all at once, all form links are to PDFs), check all linked forms for required supporting documentation:
  1. I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, which establishes your relationship, as far as the USCIS is concerned.
  2. G-325A, Biographic Information, one for each of you.
  3. I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, to actually apply for the green card. I believe that, if your spouse is in the US, they do not have to leave once you have received confirmation of filing this form, even if their visa expires.
  4. I-864, Affidavit of Support, a contract with the government which shows that you can financially support your spouse on your own if need be, and obligates you to do so. If your spouse draws any public assistance benefits, the agency involved can cite this contract in requiring you to repay the costs.
  5. A check. Total fees were around $600, if I remember correctly.
A few weeks to a month after submitting the forms, you will receive a letter confirming that they were received and that the process will go forward.

A month or so after that, you will receive a letter giving your spouse an appointment to have her biometric information taken (photo, fingerprints). I don’t remember what happens if you can’t make the appointment they give you... contact them immediately if that is the case: missing the appointment may forfeit your application and fees. If your spouse is not already in the country, I believe this is done at the US embassy or consulate where she resides.

Another month or two goes by.

You get an appointment for an interview with a USCIS officer. Again, you need to be there when they tell you to be.

Your interview appointment (finally) arrives a few months later. As with the biometric business, your spouse is not already in the country, I believe this is done at the US embassy or consulate where she resides. If she is in the US already, plan to lose your day. The office will be in an inconvenient location. Take documents and photos that corroborate your shared life: wedding and vacation photos (showing the both of you with each other’s family is best); your lease, bank statement, phone bill, etc with both your names on it. You arrive and check in. You will wait in the first lobby until called (probably after your appointment time), when your papers will be checked again and you will proceed to a second waiting area. From here, you will be called by your USCIS officer. The officer will ask you questions about how you met, why you got together, where each other has worked, etc, etc. The officer will then ask for any documents you would like to enter into your file. This is where you volunteer everything you brought with you. There are no requirements, but there is no such thing as too much.

Assuming all goes well (which it did for me), the officer will tell you that they are approving your application. Papers will be stamped and signed, and your spouse’s passport taken.

You will go back to the first lobby to wait. When called, you will go to a window where another officer will give your papers a final once over. The officer will stamp your spouse’s passport with a temporary Permanent Residency stamp. This stamp can be shown in lieu of a physical green card, which will arrive in the mail in a few weeks to a month.
If your spouse is outside the country, she can come on in (again, I think... mine was in-country).

If you’ve been married for two years before you apply, congratulations! Your spouse is a Permanent Resident. If not, your spouse is a Conditional Permanent Resident. During the 90 days before their second anniversary of her getting the Conditional Permanent Residency (note: not your second wedding anniversary!), the both of you have to file Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence. We haven’t done that part yet, so I don't know how it goes! There is another interview involved.

If you’ve gotten this far, good luck!
posted by SirNovember at 4:04 PM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry if that was (way) too long. The things we go through for love, amirite?
posted by SirNovember at 4:04 PM on June 23, 2008

If your future girlfriend is in the US on a student visa when you meet, expect the process to be much more time consuming. My brother in law was required to leave the US for two years before they could come back, as I recall.
posted by nomisxid at 4:44 PM on June 23, 2008

From the other point of view, I am a Brit that married an American in London. I've been here for close to 23 years now, so most of the process in London is a bit of a blur, but I do remember it was a long drawn out affair (the immigration thing, not our personal affair). We did it without the assistance of any lawyers and I had previously lived and worked in a Gulf state for about 8 years which really made life difficult as I had to get proof from there that I wasn't a wanted felon. Long story short is that we got through the maze of paperwork and I managed to get back here with my wife and live pretty much happily ever after.

Now dealing with the INS (as it was then) on the whole Green Card/Naturalization thing after I'd been here a few years was positively the most horrible experience of my life.

Anyway it is do-able on your own as others have said, just hope for a friendly consulate officer that handles your case at the Embassy as that helped us immensely.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 5:25 PM on June 23, 2008

For the other direction that you asked about, here's Arudou Debito's (David Ardwinkle's) account of leaving his US citizenship behind and becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen.
posted by zippy at 12:40 AM on June 24, 2008

... and here's Arudou's guide to becoming a Japanese citizen: Ever wondered how hard it is to become a Japanese citizen? What are the requirements? I compare both America and Japan in this essay that may or may not inspire you to change your citizenship.
posted by zippy at 12:43 AM on June 24, 2008

Some of the previous answers were not based on experience in Japan, so here's my $.02. I'm in the middle of the process now.

We got married and then I started compiling the paperwork for the I-130 petition. That's the petition that you submit in order to be able to file the actual I-130 application for an immigrant visa. It's a big big pile, see details here http://japan.usembassy.gov/e/visa/tvisa-ivi130check.html.

When you have the paperwork ready, file online for an interview in Tokyo or Naha. Tokyo offers them on Monday and Wednesday; Naha on Tuesday and Thursday. Show up with all the papers and the $355 application fee (yen is OK), and turn them in. They send your information to Seoul, where they do a background check on you (required since 9/11); when that check is finished, and if everything else is OK, they will send you a letter w/in a week or two saying that your petition is approved and that your spouse may submit an application. Your spouse does not have to accompany you on the first visit, but it's better if she/he does.

After you get your go-ahead, you will compile the actual I-130 application. http://japan.usembassy.gov/e/visa/tvisa-ivinterviewcheck2.html This is for your spouse, not you. You don't need to re-submit any documents that you have already submitted (IANYL!!). You'll make another appointment online, and your spouse (and you, if you want), will go to Tokyo, along with a $400 application fee, for the interview. It's in English, but they have Japanese translation available.

If it all goes well you will get your I-130 visa in a few weeks/months. Your spouse has to go to America w/in 6 months of getting the visa.

Once you're in America I don't know now if you have to apply for a change of status or if they just send you the green card, but I'm pretty sure you have to apply. Once you apply, the card will arrive in a week or three years. I have friends who got theirs in a week, and I've also heard stories of waits of three years.

For you, to get permanent residency is easy--just stay in Japan for 10 years. Once you're married the wait is much shorter, as low as three years, but that depends on your regional immigration office and your luck. Debito apparently got his while applying for a spousal visa, by smiling a lot. It could take longer than three years too. So dress nice, fill out the paperwork like a Japanese person would, and smile. <:D
posted by biwa-shu at 5:00 AM on June 24, 2008

biwa-shu, that process (direct consular filing or DCF) is only for US citizens who are residents of Japan. Vorteks says he lives in Michigan.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:29 AM on June 24, 2008

nomisxid, leaving the country for two years before being able to apply for the change of status is only a requirement for J-1 and J-2 exchange student visas. Other types of student visa can be adjusted immediately. My wife was in the US on an F-1 student visa and did not have to leave.
posted by SirNovember at 7:32 AM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for their very thorough and very helpful answers! I feel I have a pretty good handle on the process now.

I wonder if anybody has more information about becoming a permanent resident of Japan. Zippy shared some interesting links about Japanese Naturalization, but I'm nearly 100% certain that becoming a citizen of Japan isn't something I'd want to do. I'm just curious what it takes to live there indefinitely, assuming you're married to a Japanese citizen (and possibly working for an American company via the Internet).
posted by Vorteks at 8:49 AM on June 24, 2008

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