First!There's the time line, good to know:
- Fill out all the application forms and get the needed documents
- Reserve a date and time (2:00PM or 2:30PM) at the American embassy in Tokyo.
- File those papers on that date. (Only you need to go, but both of you is better.)
- Receive a package from the American government.
- Schedule an interview at the American embassy in Tokyo.
- Get your background and health check done.
- Go to the interview. (Only your spouse needs to go, but both of you is ok.)
- 2 weeks or so after the interview you'll receive your visa. You have to go to the USA with in 6 months of getting that visa or it will become void.
Second!What if you're not sure when you want to move to the USA? In my case I'm planning on going back to the USA for grad school sometime in the next 5 years. I haven't even picked a school or applied. So why did I start Yuko's green card process now? Because between step 4 and 5 you can wait for as long as you want. So we can hang on to this packet and sit on it till I figure out when I'll be starting school and when we want to move to the states. We'll schedule the interview sometime 3-4 months before our arrival in the USA.
Third!Some of those PDF's don't let you save your work half way through so block out an afternoon to sit down with your spouse and fill them in. Make sure to print out 2-3 copies just in case. Also, don't fill them out by hand. You can do it all on the computer, it looks much better.
Fourth!You might need a someone else to help prove you can provide for your spouse in the USA. Here's the deal. You need to prove that the person you're bringing into the USA won't be a burden to the public welfare and health care systems, so you need to prove that you can make a steady income. I make my living in Japan as a bartender and teacher. I cannot prove that I can make the same amount of money working the same jobs in the USA, so I will need to get a co-sponsor. I think together the sponsors need to prove that they have $18,000 in the bank or as income.
Fitfh!You'll need to prove you're relationship with pictures and notes. Don't bring in your whole family photo album and actual letters. Copies work. I printed off another copy of our wedding announcement letter, two posts from this blog about Yuko, and I skimmed my photo library for any photos of Yuko and me and printed them out contact sheet style.
Sixth!The application requires passport style photo of you and your spouse. The form says "most Japanese photo booths take acceptable photos" but they don't say which setting to use. Most Japanese photo booths have 4 photo sizes. Choose the one where you'll get two 50mmX70mm photos. It's commonly the last option. When you get to the embassy there are photo cutters you can use to make the photos 50mm square as per the instructions. Don't forget they have to be in color. There is a photo booth inside the embassy, but it costs ¥1,000 and what happens if it's broken?
Seventh!Getting into the embassy is like getting on an airplane. There is a full security check. Don't bring your laptop or a bunch of electronics since you can't take them in with you. For the electronics you just normally carry (I had my camera, ipod, cell phone with me) they will keep that for you in the guards booth. You can't bring drinks into the embassy, but there are vending machines on the inside.
Eighth!A copy of your spouses' family register will work for her birth and marriage records. When you got married s/he got their own. You'll need to translate it however. I made a template you can freely use. There's a so-so version on google docs, but if you email me I'll send you the nicer looking Pages or Word document.
Ninth!Be organized! It makes this process easier on you and them. I didn't think I did anything special, but the clerk told me my application was the most organized he'd ever seen. That was the greatest complement ever! My Filing Technique is Unstoppable! (P.S. David Rees is great and check out how Jamba Juice totally ripped him off.)
Get started on the I-130 Petition Checklist page! Good luck!
I hope this helps. Yuko and I are only on step four and I'll try to keep you updated about the rest of the stuff.