The United States offers its citizens and lawful permanent residents the wonderful opportunity to live permanently together with their foreign spouses by applying for a family-based green card through marriage. A marriage permanent resident card obtained through the sponsorship of a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident (LPR) gives the immigrant the right to work and live in the United States freely and legally, in some cases even after the marriage has ended. It also gives foreign nationals the opportunity to become full US citizens after five years of permanent residence (three, if the US spouse is a citizen).
However, the entire marriage green card application process can be quite complex and notoriously difficult to navigate on one’s own, which is why firms like ours exist. Pandev Law has spent years collecting knowledge and gaining experience in order to help immigrants in a diverse range of situations succeed their first step towards achieving the American Dream.
How to Get a Green Card Through Marriage
The most simplified version of a summary for the green card through marriage process highlights three main steps:
- Demonstrating relationship authenticity by filling out and submitting Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.
- Confirming eligibility and applying for the green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260, depending оn the location of the foreign national).
- Getting interviewed and waiting for updates.
This article will help you gain a better understanding of the steps outlined above as well as the answer to some frequently asked questions that our firm receives from our clients during the development of their green card marriage cases.
Before the Green Card Through Marriage Process Begins
Although it is possible to apply for a green card through marriage and sponsor your loved one all on your own, it is highly inadvisable to do so. Attempting to go through the application process without the guidance of an experienced immigration attorney is risky and could result in a denied petition even if your situation would suggest otherwise.
The process of filling out the forms, gathering and organizing the necessary supporting documents, addendums, and letters can be quite difficult for a person without any knowledge on the topic, and dealing with requests for evidence and notices of intent to deny can be nearly impossible without a lawyer on your side.
Therefore, we strongly encourage all future applicants to seek the counsel of an immigrant attorney who has enough expertise and experience to guide you on your immigration journey.
Eligibility for a Marriage Green Card Application
Before delving into the steps in the marriage green card application process, there are a few crucial requirements that must be fulfilled. The couple must be eligible to apply for a marriage green card and this would require that:
The couple must be legally married
The couple must be legally married and officially recognized as such by the state or country in which the marriage happened. This sort of ceremony typically results in an official document (marriage certificate) that then serves as proof for the US authorities that the marriage is legal.
The marriage can happen inside or outside the United States and it would still be recognized during the green card application process. Domestic partnerships aren’t usually considered official in the eyes of the US government but in countries where common law marriage exists, the couple could potentially use this to their advantage.
The couple must be in a bona fide non-fraudulent relationship
The marriage and the underlying relationship must be bona fide, in other words a real, non-fraudulent relationship. Any relationship that was based solely on an attempt to get a green card is considered fraudulent and would result in the immediate denial of the couple’s green card application.
USCIS requires all couples to submit evidence of their bona fide relationship, including photos of the couple together, joint leases, joint bank accounts, and joint ownership of vehicles and other assets. During the interview, the USCIS officer also asks questions in an attempt to confirm the nature of the relationship.
One of the spouses must be a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident
Arguably the most important and crucial requirement is that of the US citizenship or permanent residence of the sponsoring spouse. All other visa holders are disqualified (for example, H-1B visa holders).
The marriage must be the only marriage they are into
Needless to say, the marriage must be the only marriage either spouse is currently into. If either of them was previously married, then they must provide evidence that their marriage ended legally (usually in divorce but possibly after the death of the previous spouse or an annulment).
Applying for Green Card Through Marriage
Step 1: Demonstrating relationship authenticity by filling out and submitting Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.
The first and most important step in the green card through marriage process is the filling out and submission of the Petition for Alien Relative, also known simply as Form I-130. The US citizen sponsoring the immigrant submits this form to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
As previously mentioned, the purpose of this form is to demonstrate and establish that the relationship, and consequentially the marriage, is authentic and valid. It requires submitting evidence of such bona fide relationship as well as other documentation to prove that the sponsor is indeed a US citizen or lawful permanent resident (or “green card holder”).
The sponsor, also known as the “petitioner”, is the spouse that submits the Form I-130 filing package. The immigrant foreign national spouse is known as the “beneficiary” and is the permanent residence applicant.
The actual filing package for Form I-130 should include a variety of documents and other supporting evidence, in addition to the actual filled out form and the government fee of $535. The petitioner (or their lawyer) should make sure to include:
- Some kind of proof that the sponsor (the petitioner themselves) is a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, which could mean a copy of:
- – a valid US passport page
- – a US birth certificate
- – a naturalization certificate
- – a valid non-expired green card, etc.
- Support statement from the petitioner.
- Two color passport photos of each spouse which must meet the Department of State’s requirements for passport photos.
- Proof that the marriage is bona fide and not a fraudulent attempt to fool the authorities into granting a green card, which could include:
- – joint bank account statements
- – a copy of a joint lease
- – proof of joint ownership of assets
- – photos of the couple together throughout their relationship and
- – during their wedding
- – joint bills for electricity, etc.
- Proof that the marriage itself is legally recognized via a marriage certificate which shows the couple’s names and the exact location and time of the marriage ceremony.
- If one or both of the spouses were previously married, any sort of documentation to prove that those previous marriages ended legally in divorce, annulment, or the death of the previous spouse. Depending on the cause of termination, the proof could include:
- – a divorce decree
- – a decree of annulment signed by a judge (or the equivalent documentation outside the United States)
- – death certificate of the previous spouse
After the filing package for Form I-130 is organized and complete, the petitioner (or the lawyer representing them) must mail it to the USCIS address. For each form, the USCIS location that processes it is different, and you can find that information in the official USCIS website. Once the package is received by the agency, they will send back a receipt notice to notify the petitioner that their application was received and is now being processed by a USCIS officer.
In some situations, USCIS sends back a request for evidence (also known as an RFE) which signals to the petitioner that the package didn’t contain enough information for them to make a final decision. The petitioner (or their lawyer) would then need to send the missing piece of evidence and await the new verdict. The current waiting time for Form I-130 is between 7 and 15 months, although some circumstances might warrant a quicker or slower processing of the case.
Step 2: Confirming eligibility and applying for the green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260, depending on the location of the foreign national)
This next step is entirely dependent on the status of the foreign national spouse and where they are currently residing. If the foreign spouse is living abroad they will need to apply for “consular processing” meanwhile if they are living in the United States and currently hold a nonimmigrant status (could be any nonimmigrant visa such as H-1B, B-1, B-2, etc.) will need to apply for a process called “adjustment of status”.
Green Card Marriage Process: Adjustment of Status
The adjustment of status process involves several crucial steps, the most important of which is the filling out and filing of Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
The actual form is filled out by the immigrant beneficiary (or their lawyer) and it requires providing personal information such as address and employment history, possible criminal activity, allegations of espionage, and affiliations to US companies or institutions.
Similar to Form I-130, the actual Form I-485 package should include not only the filled-out form but also several supporting documents like the filing fees of $1,225 and:
- Proof of nationality of immigrant beneficiary (the foreign national spouse) which should be in the form of a copy of the birth certificate and passport photo page.
- Proof of the beneficiary’s physical and mental health via a medical exam conducted by a doctor approved by USCIS.
- Proof that the foreign national spouse entered the United States lawfully which is usually a copy of their I-94 travel record (available online) and their US visa that confirms their status.
- Proof that the applicant (the US citizen or LPR spouse) has the financial means to support the immigrant spouse so that they don’t become a public change by being dependent on benefits. Usually includes Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, that describes that financial ability as well as other evidence like tax returns, W-2 forms, pay stubs, etc.
If the sponsoring spouse is a US citizen then this step can actually be combined with the filing of I-130 and the processing time is around 9-11 months. The same is not true for spouses of LPRs (green card holders) who need to wait for USCIS’s confirmation that there is a green card available.
After filing the Form I-485 package, the applicant will need to wait for a notice from USCIS informing the spouse about the biometrics services appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC). USCIS will require the immigrant to provide fingerprints, a photograph, and/or signature. They will use said biometrics to verify the foreign national’s identity and conduct a background and security check that is required by law.
At the ASC, the USCIS officer will also ask the applicant to sign an acknowledgement that certifies that all of the information in the application was reviewed and it was complete, true and correct at the time.
Green Card Marriage Process: Consular Processing
If the immigrant applying for green card through marriage is currently living outside the United States, they will need to go through consular processing and file an NVC filing package, which includes a green card application that is supposed to be filed online (known as Form DS-260) and the government fees of $445 as well as further evidence like:
- Proof of the foreign national spouse’s nationality via a copy of a birth certificate and a copy of the passport photo page.
- Proof of either the lack of or existence of any interactions with law enforcement officers in the past, also known as a police clearance document.
- Proof that the applicant (the US citizen or LPR spouse) has the financial means to support the immigrant spouse so that they don’t become a public change dependent on benefits. Usually includes Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, that describes that financial ability as well as other evidence like tax returns, W-2 forms, pay stubs, etc.
The usual waiting time is around 3 to 5 months before the National Visa Center (NVC), responsible for collecting visa application fees and all supporting documentation, sends the application package to a consulate or US embassy nearest to the foreign spouse’s place of residence.
Once the couple has received a notice from the NVC that their Form I-130 application was approved, the foreign national spouse will need to wait for a notice informing them that a visa number is about to become available. Once the visa number is issued, the completion of the green card process takes around 4 to 6 months.
Step 3: Getting interviewed and waiting for updates.
The exact specifics of this step of applying for a green card through marriage once again depend on the beneficiary’s location.
If the beneficiary is residing lawfully in the United States, then they will need to wait for USCIS to determine whether an interview is actually necessary for that specific case. If they determine it is, then an interview will be scheduled and the immigrant will be required to appear at the USCIS office mentioned in the interview notice. The questions asked during the interview will be answered under oath and they often require further affirmation that the information in Form I-485 is correct, along with questions that focus on the authenticity of the relationship and its history. The US citizen or LPR spouse will need to be present at the interview as well. Furthermore, originals of all documentation that was included in the Form I-485 application will also need to be brought in for review during the interview.
If the beneficiary is residing outside the United States, they will be interviewed in their own country, without their US citizen or LPR spouse. As soon as the visa is available and/or the beneficiary’s priority date is current, the consular office at the nearest US consulate will schedule an interview and process the case, deciding whether the person is eligible for an immigrant US visa or not. If the spouse’s green card is approved, the next step is receiving a visa stamp in their passport in order to travel to the US. The immigrant will also need to pay an immigrant fee of $220 online before the physical green card can be issued.
Green Card Marriage Process: Concurrent Filing
There is a possibility to file the Form I-485 package and the Form I-130 package concurrently. To be allowed to file both petitions, the US spouse must be a US citizen. Concurrent filing is not allowed for lawful permanent residents at this time. Concurrent filing cannot occur if the foreign national is undergoing consular processing either, because the immigrant petition I-130 is filed with USCIS while the application for an immigrant visa DS-260 is filed with the Department of State.
After the Marriage Green Card is Received
After the immigrant spouse becomes a lawful permanent resident and the couple is finally allowed to live in the United States together as a family, most clients wonder what happens next. Depending on the length of marriage, the spouse will receive one of two types of green cards – a permanent green card or a conditional one.
If the couple has been married for less than two years, the immigrant will receive what is known as CR1 or a conditional green card. Such green cards are valid for two years only. After the two-year period has ended the couple will need to file together Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. This filing must occur 90 days before the expiration of the conditional green card. It is necessary in order to remove the conditional part of the green card and receive a permanent green card instead. When USCIS receives Form I-751, the officers in charge of processing the application will look over the couple’s marriage and evaluate its authenticity once again to ensure that the purpose of the marriage wasn’t to obtain a green card.
If the couple has been married for over two years, the spouse immediately receives a permanent green card also known as an IR1 (“immediate relative” green card). It is valid for 10 years and can be renewed rather easily in most situations, without requiring the couple to go through a reevaluation of their marriage’s authenticity, unlike the process of removal of conditions.
Our Marriage Green Card Services
Are you a US citizen or LPR who is looking up ways to sponsor your foreign spouse? Does a customized approach to your immigration case sound interesting to you? Would you like to learn more about our marriage-based immigration USA services? Are you searching for an immigration lawyer near you? Pandev Law, LLC has years of experience in immigration law. We have the knowledge and expertise to guide you through your marriage-based immigration case and help you begin your new life as a family in the United States!
If you would like to schedule a consultation with our immigration attorney, follow the link and click on “Schedule a Consultation.” You can also reach us via email at [email protected], or call us at (212) 220-6652.
During your consultation, our immigration lawyer will provide an honest assessment of your case, as well as a recommendation regarding your next steps.
Disclaimer: This blog article is provided by Pandev Law, LLC for general educational and informational purposes only. Although this article discusses general legal issues, it does not constitute legal advice nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented in this article, or elsewhere on this website, without seeking the advice of appropriate legal counsel, or other professional counsel, licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. Pandev Law, LLC expressly disclaims any and all liability with respect to any actions taken, or not taken, based on any content of this article or website. This blog article may constitute attorney advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.