Last fall I sponsored my wife's spousal visa application to the United States. In our case, the resolution was surprising efficient and she was given approval for U.S. residency in less than six months. However, there are a few things I wish I had known going into the process and that is the reason for this blog post.
I will not seek to offer a comprehensive outline of the application process- I'm afraid I would leave something out by accident. But here is a much shorter list: things you will want to know but will have probably have difficulty gleaming from the official instructions provided by the U.S. State Department.
1) Aside from the general spousal visa application instruction sheet on the State Department website, there is also a China-specific notice that can be obtained from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Be sure to get this bulletin.
2) We live in Shanghai and there is a consulate here but it does not accept immigration petitions or applications. I was required to send my I-130 application to the Beijing embassy and my wife had her interview take place at the consulate in Guangzhou- be aware of these logistics.
[Note also that some application procedures mentioned my blog post here may differ for American citizens who are petitioning on behalf of their spouses from the United States, rather than from a Chinese address.]
3) The instructions (or lack therof) from the State Department on where to pay relevant fees are not clear at all. Here is what we ended up doing: I paid the I-130 fee with a U.S. bank card in Shanghai and my wife paid the interview and security screening fee with cash RMB in Guangzhou.
The latter was particularly confusing- the Shanghai consulate would not accept payment for the interview fee and when my wife went to her interview she discovered that the Guangzhou consulate would not accept a Chinese bank card- and she had to frantically go running out to withdraw a few thousand RMB in cash. The amount applicants have to pay for the interview fee is also sent out as some kind of inscrutable code- since the various amounts are similar (roughly the $330-$400 range if I recall correctly) and payment is made on-site, my recommendation is simply be prepared to pay whatever amount you are asked to pay at the time.
If paying the I-130 fee at another consulate, be sure to save the receipt and send a copy of it in with the petition.
4) [This item is very important:] Chinese legal documents submitted with the I-130 petition- marriage licenses, birth certificates, etc.- must be signed and translated notary copies from the Chinese government. I did not see this essential piece of information anywhere in the official instructions but my wife was an avid forum reader and knew of this requirement. The State Department website had only said that the documents should be translated by a qualified translator, not a particular government office.
Like many Chinese, my wife lives and works outside her hukou (legal registration district, typically a birthplace)- which meant she could not get documents notarized in Shanghai, where we live, but instead she had to send her documents a thousand miles away and have her parents take them to a local government office for translation/certification, paying a number of fees along the way.