This may turn into kind of like an "Ask an immigrant" thread if there isn't much questions or discussion about the immigration process itself. I'll compare my family's experiences to the one from cracked.com http://www.cracked.com/article_18552_so-you-want-to-be-american-5-circles-immigration-hell.html And compared to some reading I've done on internet forums from others that have gone through the process. Of course there is no way to know how much of what people post on the internet is truthful and who just might be trolling (like the guy who says he is now applying for the fourth time....everytime was with a different immigrant and every relationship didn't work out so each time he applied for a waiver to be allowed to try again). The cracked article had some truth to it, but also some exaggerations to make an interesting read (funny). It sounds like he did a different process than we did so that is why there will be some differences. I brought my wife (and her daughter) from China to the US under a K-1 fiancee visa (K-2 for the daughter). The cracked article sounds like he came to the US as a tourist and then applied for Adjustment of Status (AOS) to change from being allowed in the US temporarily to become a permanent resident (after marrying an American). He doesn't seem to include the fees and hurdles he had to do to get to America in the first place (tourist, and in other people's cases this would be to get a work or school visa), so I'll call this step the 'Step 0'. I had to submit a fee and paperwork about myself as a sponsor for this step. I did not use a lawyer. If money isn't a problem for you then I would use a lawyer to have someone else worry about triple checking the paperwork and contacting immigration if there is a problem. Hiring a lawyer doesn't guarantee the immigrant will pass through the process and not using a lawyer doesn't guarantee a failure. = Step 0: Sponsor information Time: 4 months Cost: $500+ = This step was mostly about myself as the sponsor. As a sponsor I am promising that the immigrant won't be dependant on welfare for a set time period. From my understanding the immigrant can still apply for these if it is needed, but the government may go after me to reimburse the costs if she did get those benefits. These don't include all 'social programs' like one thread in CFC OT which included everything like homeowner tax breaks, but is more meant for the more direct cash payments that are more commonly known as 'welfare' (welfare, food stamps, heating assistance, etc.). Workshops at job centers that teach people how to improve their resume I really doubt would be counted since the workshops are held whether the immigrant attends or not so I don't see how that would 'cost the government money' even though one could hypothetically divide the cost divided by those who attend. As a sponsor you need to have enough income to exceed 125% of the poverty line (for the family size that you will have after the immigrant(s) joins your household). If the sponsor doesn't meet the income requirements the sponsor can try to find a co-sponsor, just like a co-signer for a loan. I did not need a co-sponsor. A background check is run on me. Read what exactly they are asking for and when in doubt include the offense. If you don't include the offense and it turns out that the offense should have been included then they will reject your application for lying (trying to hide your criminal record). I send them phone records and other correspondence to establish that we are in a relationship and pictures showing that we met in person at least once in the last 2 years. The pain is in filling out the application 4 times because they send the same application to 4 different departments. If you filled out the application in pen then you can't just make copies, you'll have to fill it out again and again. Best to type it on a computer so you can just reprint so you'll just need to write your signature (and date) multiple times. I did not need many documents from my wife at this point. I think I just needed her birth certificate and divorce papers. Even if not needed it would be a good idea at this point to have those documents ready to verify the dates on the legal documents are the same as those you put in the application. Her father always told her his birthday was on a certain date which didn't match the legal documents. That's because her father was using the different calendar (lunar?). So thankfully we got this sorted out beforehand so there wouldn't be any complications later on. Though it is a good idea to know what documents you will need later on, don't panic thinking you need to gather everything right away. Statement of no criminal record is not needed for the immigrant at this point, but I wasn't sure so I told her to try and see if she could get that. She went to the police station and the cop told her that he had no idea what she was talking about or that they don't do that.....but said he could get her one if she bribed him. I told her to forget it and just wait because maybe we won't need it. It was needed later but immigration gives her the form she needs so there is no confusion of exactly what she needs (and no need for bribes which would have been illegal). She was going to go to the hospital to get the health check until I told her she had to wait because she had to go to a specific hospital for it (and later on we find there are specific forms she would need to bring with her). There were a couple of times where I needed to write something in Chinese (one line on the application asks for her name to be written in her native language if it isn't english) and her signature was needed in several places so I just mailed the application to her with sticky notes attached pointing to where her signature was needed. At the time my wife did not know where she needed to go in China to get her birth certificate translated into English so she sent me a copy and I found someone over here to translate it. The fee was $455 and then I get a letter a few months later saying I passed and that they were sending the application to the consulate in Guangzhou, China. For us: Time: 3-6 months* Cost: $1010 (for her, plus another $600+ for her daughter) *=3-6 months is how long it should have taken, but it took longer and I attributed some of this time to the next step. This is kind of out of order, but I don't know where to include this cost otherwise. The big fee I didn't pay until within 90 days after she arrived in the US and we applied for AOS (2 year green card), which was after her interview and medical check that the cracked article has as steps #3 and #4, and he mentions it in step #5. She had some fees in China, but I don't believe it was $1000 worth of fees. After the sponsor application is submitted to the other country, the consulate in that country will submit forms and paperwork to the future immigrant asking them for their personal information such as what is stated in the cracked article (though I don't think she needed 'a dozen' passport photos, it was more like 2-4). She had some fees and had to get the documents translated (by now we found that she merely needed to go to the notary office). Notarizing was cheap or free, but the translations cost money. Though she said it was 'expensive', she paid for it all from part of her savings and job as an office worker. In China the notarized stamps are only good for a few months so later she had to go back to the notary office in fear that during the interview they wouldn't accept the documents because the notary stamp was expired. They don't specifically ask if you are a terrorist, but they do ask something like if you have been a member of an anti-government group or guerilla movements or other groups that are in anyway similar to that. They also ask if you are a member of the communist party. This is mostly left over from the cold war and doesn't mean you will be rejected. All you have to do is sign a paper essentially saying that you give up your membership to the communist party. She wasn't a member so we didn't need to worry about this. As for a criminal record, the question is crimes of 'moral turpitude' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_turpitude, so speeding and parking tickets are nothing to worry about and not mentioned, but shoplifting does matter and should be included. I have heard reports of people getting rejected because they didn't include a crime that was supposedly expunged from their record due to being a minor but since immigration still had access to that case and it wasn't reported on the application. So be careful if this applies to you. My wife had sole custody of the child and China is not a signatory to the treaty about having the father's permission to allow the child to move to another country so we didn't need to deal with getting him to give permission. If we did require his permission he probably would have asked for a bribe which seems to be common in that part of the world ("He's an American, he must have lots of money"). During this process we got a delay which is included in the next step: For us: Time: 5-8 months* Cost: ? *=Not sure how much of the delay was because of the screw-up. Step 1 should have taken 3-6 months but because of the screwup it took 11 months. When she submitted her documents to the consulate she forgot one form for her daughter. After a week or two they sent it back to her and she mailed it back within a couple of days. This probably sent her application to the back of the line and this is where it seemed like it got lost in a black hole known as the mailroom. There is a hotline the sponsor can call in America to get updates on the application process. Some people call this number every day starting the day after they mail their original sponsor application. That kind of craziness is part of the reason why all the hotlines are so automated now. So I called the number when the process was seeming to take way too long. The immigration center in the US couldn't tell me much because all they could see is what the consulate in China updates on their computer. The hotline in the US told me that their files said she never returned the application after the consulate mailed it back to her. The hotline my wife called in China (which costs money) said they did receive her application and were busy conducting background checks and other information. And that is where we sat for months and months. Finally one day when I called the US hotline again the lady I spoke to was shocked when she noticed the dates of when we had applied and realized how long the application was 'stuck/lost in the mailroom' (or perhaps buried and forgotton in someone's desk). So she gave me an email address to speak to the consulate, I wrote them a letter (trying to stay as polite as I could) and then within 24 hours I got a response and within a week or two my wife got a letter telling her of an interview appointment. For us: Cost: $990 (total for my wife and her daughter) They both had to do a medical check at a pre-approved hospital in China before the interview, and within a couple of months of being in the US had to go to a pre-approved doctor in the US for another medical check. There were only 2 doctors to choose from in my area, both working at the same hospital. He looked at their immunization records, gave my wife a skin test for something, and one of them got one shot, otherwise did nothing but check their pulse and look at their x-rays that had been taken in China. Cost was $990, Monopoly bullcrap indeed. About the only good thing I could say is he filled out the forms properly so we didn't get a rejection letter because he made a mistake. And insurance doesn't cover this because they aren't covered yet, which is discussed later. For us: Time: 1 month Cost: varies The immigrant receives a letter informing them of the interview coming up in 3-6 weeks. The cost will vary if the immigrant needs to travel to their home country (like the cracked article) or if they are already in their home country (like my wife). If the sponsor attends the interview then that is more cost (travel). In some countries the sponsor may attend the interview, but in China they may not (they can enter the building but not actually sit down with the immigrant during the actual interview). It is said that the sponsor attending the interview can help, but it is not an absolute. I was not there and she passed. Some sponsors have attended and the immigrant is denied. Someone that doesn't make much money may not want to buy a plane ticket....and then find out the immigrant failed. There could be delays too even if they do pass so scheduling a plane ticket for the immigrant before the interview is risky. How this interview process goes depends on several factors. Immigrants from first world countries seem to have a much easier interview than those from third world countries (but I've heard one interview in a South American country that just consisted of asking their name and whether or not they were cousins with the person they married and be given a pass). And it depends on the actual circumstances and supporting evidence that is provided to prove a 'bonafide' relationship. It almost seems like in China they schedule the suspect interviews on one day and all the ones that are likely to pass on another day. I say this because some people that have gone say they see about 90% of the other people fail, whereas my wife saw about 90% of the other people pass. China seems to have about a 50% approval rate (of those applicants that actually get to the interview stage), whereas a country like the UK or Australia has 90%+ approval rate. It may seem unnecessary to conduct the interview in the home country, but I can understand why it is done. The interview is all about a judgement call from the immigration official as to the legitimacy of the relationship and if they detect the immigrant is being truthful. For an immigrant from the UK, Australia or Canada I agree it probably isn't necessary to conduct the interview in those countries rather than just doing it in the US if they are already in the US. If someone is going to 'judge' a Chinese person I'd rather it be from someone who is has had regular contact with Chinese people to know the differences between someone that might be lying and what might be just a difference in mannerisms and has a better knowledge of the exact day to day circumstances and situations of the average Chinese person than someone in the states who might not have ever met a Chinese person. An American living in China and had regular contact with Chinese people would have a better idea if the Chinese person misspoke when attempting to speak English or if it was not a mistake and what they said really did reveal a lie. The interviewer discovering a lie during the interview could very easily (almost always) result in a failure and be considered to be revealing fraud (or at least 'possible fraud'). While an interviewer making a judgement call on the immigrant and the relationship isn't ideal, I don't really see an alternative other than to accept every application (which would then open the process to all kinds of fraud) or deny every application (which would make illegal processes the only option). Someone from China marrying an American is probably looking to improve their situation, but the question becomes is it 90% of the reason they are marrying the American or 10% of the reason. The interview tries to determine this. In China they schedule everyone at 7:30 AM, but if you were the last in line, like my wife (despite getting in line at 6:30), then they may not have the interview until 11 AM or Noon. Stood in line for 5-6 hours, in the rain, carrying a stack of documents as big as the NYC phone book while trying to keep a 5 year old entertained. Her interview was 20 minutes long, and she saw others that lasted 3 minutes (with a pass). There are many stories of people failing because the interviewer seemingly was having a bad day. How much truth there is to this or how often this happens I don't know. They can ask just about any kind of question from asking how the immigrant met the fiance/fiancee to the sponsor's annual income, where the sponsor works or lives to the rather mundane such as what is the fiance's favorite flavor of ice cream or favorite color. An important tip is if you don't know the answer, then don't guess and just say that you don't know. If you guess wrong then that looks like lying. Sure, some answers such as favorite color might not be able to be proven.....unless it was talked about in the sample letters you provided as proof of the ongoing relationship, but why risk getting caught in a lie when you don't need to? My wife didn't know the answer to or didn't understand all of the questions and she passed. While waiting in line for several hours (there may be no wait at all in some countries), there were several people on the street trying to offer my wife 'immigration help' services, promising an approval. These are almost always a scam and it's advised you ignore these people, and it may very well jeopardize the immigrant's application if they use these services. More proof of bonafide relationship is helpful in case it is asked for (phone records, letters, pictures of you two togther, etc.). Things like a joint bank account will depend on circumstances. It would be kind of unusual for a fiancee relationship (unless she is pregnant with your child or something like that), more often expected if you are applying for a spouse visa (are already married). Number of times you visited them in their country will (or at least should) depend on financial situation. Someone earning less than 50k shouldn't be expected to travel around the world as often as a multi-millionaire. For us: Time: Almost 2 years since she arrived in the US. Cost: We seem to be more optimistic than the cracked article. From when I submitted the sponsor information to when she passed her interview the process took 15 months. Average is supposedly 9 months and I had read of others that were flying through the process in 5 months......... Within a couple weeks we started to discover the terrible bureacracy, but not from immigration but from everywhere else. She arrived the first week of December, we set the wedding for the end of December. (Although you have a full 90 days after they arrive in the US to get married, it isn't advised to wait until day 89 to get married because the application for the green card must be submitted before day 90 and you need time to gather documents). Everything was fine until we applied for the marriage license. She needed proof of residence. Wasn't here long enough to have any kind of bill in her name. The only thing we eventually found was that she had an envelope from when the consulate in China mailed her something. Although it was written in Chinese, the city hall people accepted it since it was from a US government agency. Other cities may have time limits so make sure you check these out before setting up the wedding. Getting a social security number was a real pain, but we got it. It took several trips to the SS office and really exposed some faulty logic and uncooperation between government agencies. We discovered that through the normal, legal process it has a time period where you will pretty much be required to have an expired visa! The K-1 visa is only good for 90 days so before that 90 days expires you must get married and then apply for the green card. Until you get the green card (which can take 6 months or so) you get just a slip of paper that says you applied for the green card and this is 'proof' of your legal status. Of course the slip of paper doesn't have a picture so can't be used as an ID and the visa is expired so can't be accepted as proof of ID. So the work authorization card (thankfully sent rather quickly after you apply for the green card and if you remembered to apply for it) is the only proof of ID and if they ask for a second ID you have nothing. Chinese passport won't work since it's in another language and/or isn't a US document. Birth certificate won't work since it's in another language and even though the Department of Homeland Security accepted the english translation, you need a special 'Social Security approved translator' to translate it to be accepted. When I asked where to find a SS translator I was simply told "You don't" until finally after a long pause she told me that they mail it in somewhere. Driver's license would work as an ID, but you can't get one until you get your green card. Hard enough to get a second ID for my wife, then they want a second ID for her (now) 6 year old?!?! Social Security wants to know why you need the number. You say you need it for filing taxes. They say IRS requirements are not Social Security's concern. Having your spouse covered by your insurance helps in applying for green card, but to have insurance you need a social security number. To get a social security number it is very difficult to get until you have a green card. We finally get a 'temporary SS card' until we get the green card when we can get her a normal card. The temporary card has to have her maiden name still on it since her name hasn't changed with immigration until we get the green card and the green card would show her last name as the same as mine. When we applied for the green card we were then told to go to an immigration office. This required driving 3.5 hours to Milwaukee during the middle of the week (at a time of their choosing) for them to take my wife's fingerprints and a picture of my wife and her daughter (apparantly the picture that would be used for the green card). This 'service' was $80 (already paid for when we submitted the $1,010). Once she did get her green card everything went much smoother...except for at the social security office when we applied for a regular card instead of the temporary one. My wife when asked from others where she is from she got used to always saying Guangzhou since that's the big city nearby so more people would know where that is rather than the small village that nobody's heard of. When social security asked her birth place she instinctively said Guangzhou until I corrected her to say her village instead. Because of that Social Security had to run a security check to make sure the green card was valid. Got her driver's license (took the written test in English even though Chinese was an option and passed on the first try), though the actual driving part took several attempts. Joint bank account and got a car loan in both of our names. The child now speaks english at the same level as a native speaker (reading and writing still needs some work). And we added a new baby girl to the family. Hardest part is job hunting in this economy. Doesn't help with all the places doing online applications and they ask 'can we contact your previous employers' we have to say no since there is no realistic way for companies to contact them so perhaps many times her application is automatically being discarded because of this. (and sometimes there was a spot on the application where it is required to put the phone number of the previous employer on the application to move to the next step.....China's phone numbers have more digits than the US does so couldn't fit them in properly). Or they require you to choose which state they were employed in....which only includes US states and doesn't have any options for other countries or 'outside the US'. In the summer/fall of 2012 the green card will expire and so we'll re-apply, but this time the card will be valid for 10 years rather than just 2. At this point we will have an interview, which I've been told is easier than her interview in China (but still a good idea to be as prepared as you can be). During the process immigration does ask you to make copies of your passport which is supposed to be illegal. As long as you make black and white copies and not color then it shouldn't look like you are trying to copy it for illegal purposes. Don't copy marriage certificates because those you are supposed to get certified copies from city hall. The legal process needs some work, but still preferable to doing it illegally.