When you get married to a foreign citizen, one of the top questions on your mind is likely to be how you will live together in the United States. A marriage-based green card allows you and your spouse to live together in the United States legally and permanently.
Obtaining a green card for your spouse requires some knowledge about immigration law. You will also need to know how to file the paperwork properly and when to submit it.
What is a marriage-based green card?
A marriage-based green card enables certain spouses to live in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident (LPR). You can apply for a marriage-based green card if one of the spouses in the marriage is a United States citizen, and, under certain circumstances, an LPR.
How can you get a marriage-based green card?
Obtaining a green card through your marriage is generally a three-step process. You will have to:
- Establish and prove the marriage relationship (Form I-130)
- Prove eligibility for a green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)
- Attend the green card interview and wait for approval (at a USCIS field office or U.S. embassy abroad)
It is very important to speak with a lawyer when you decide to apply for a marriage-based green card to ensure you follow the law and meet all the requirements.
Step 1: Proving your marital relationship
The first step in your journey to a green card is to establish and prove your marital relationship.
You will do this through Form I-130, formally known as a Petition for Alien Relative. This form and other supporting documents will help you establish that a valid marriage exists between you and your spouse.
Elements of a completed I-130 form
For this form to be complete, you will have to provide evidence of:
- One spouse’s status as a U.S. citizen or LPR. You will have to provide evidence that one spouse is a United States citizen or LPR by attaching copies of the birth certificate, naturalization certificate, U.S. passport, or lawful permanent resident card.
- Marriage. You will have to provide a copy of the marriage certificate you received when you got married.
- A valid marriage. Most importantly, you will have to establish that your marriage was entered into in good faith by providing evidence that you married with the intention of establishing a life together. This might include a birth certificate for a child born during the marriage, photographs together, and evidence of financial ties.
- Proof of terminated marriages. If one of you has been married before, you will have to show that your previous relationship has been terminated, usually by a divorce decree.
As of March 2021, the fee for this form is $535. Filing fees may change. Once complete, you will send the form and your supporting evidence to the proper USCIS address. An attorney can help you determine which forms and supporting documents you need and assist with the filing process.
After you send in the petition and supporting documents, the petitioning spouse will receive an official notice that USCIS has received the form.
If USCIS needs more information from you, they may send a letter referred to as a “Request for Evidence.” This can occur at any time during the process.
Once USCIS has received all the required information, they will make a decision on your I-130 petition. If the sponsoring spouse is an LPR rather than a citizen, the wait could be longer.
Step 2: Establishing the spouse’s eligibility for a green card
After completing Step 1, you will face two different options for Step 2. The route you take depends on whether the spouse seeking a green card currently lives in the United States or if he or she lives abroad.
For green card-seeking spouses living in the United States
If the spouse seeking the green card is currently living in the United States, the next step to obtaining a green card is to file Form I-485. This is formally known as the “Adjustment of Status” application. In some cases, this application can also be filed at the same time as the Form I-130.
Elements of a completed I-485 form
For this form, you will need:
- Proof of nationality. You will have to provide the birth certificate or passport of the spouse seeking the green card.
- Proof of financial stability. It is important to demonstrate that the petitioning spouse can financially support the green card-seeking spouse.
- Proof of lawful entry into the United States. This can include an I-94 departure record or an immigration stamp in your passport.
- Medical examination documentation. A USCIS-approved doctor will perform the examination and provide the required documents.
As of March 2021, the fee for this form is $1,225.
For spouses of United States citizens, the I-485 package may be combined with the I-130 petition described above, a process known as “concurrent filing.” USCIS usually processes both concurrent forms within approximately 12 months, but processing times vary.
For spouses married to a United States green card holder, the I-485 package likely cannot be submitted unless several additional requirements have been met, including immigrant visa availability (this information is updated monthly on the U.S. Department of State visa bulletin). Once the I-485 form is submitted, USCIS usually processes the application within approximately 12 months.
For green card-seeking spouses living abroad
If the green card-seeking spouse currently lives abroad, he or she will have to follow a different process after filing the I-130 petition described above. The next step is to file additional documents with the National Visa Center (NVC).
Elements of a completed NVC application
For the NVC application package, you will usually need:
- An immigrant visa (green card) application. This is known as Form DS-260 and can be filed online.
- Proof of nationality. You will need the birth certificate and passport of the spouse seeking the green card.
- Police clearance. You need to provide a police clearance letter for all countries where you have lived.
- Proof of financial stability. You will need to demonstrate that the petitioning spouse can support the green card-seeking spouse financially.
The fee for the application package is $445 as of March 2021.
Once your application is filed, the NVC usually processes the application package within 3 to 5 months. It will then be forwarded to a U.S. embassy or consulate in the home country of the green card-seeking spouse.
Step 3: Attending the green card interview
Once you have completed steps 1 and 2, it is time for the final step: the green card interview.
This interview can occur at one of two places:
- For green card-seeking spouses living in the United States, the interview will take place with their petitioning spouse at their local USCIS office. If approved, the spouse could receive the green card by mail in as little as 2 to 3 weeks.
- For green card-seeking spouses living abroad, the interview will take place at a U.S. embassy or consulate in his or her home country, without the petitioning spouse. This is referred to as consular processing. The green card-seeking spouse will receive an immigrant visa stamp in the passport to allow for travel to the United States. Upon arrival in the United States, the foreign spouse is admitted as a permanent resident. USCIS will send the green card to the spouse’s address in the United States shortly thereafter.
During the interview, the interviewing officer will ask questions to determine if your marriage is valid and authentic. Questions might include asking about your daily activities together, your past, and your future plans.
Once the officer determines that your marriage is valid and authentic, they will approve your green card.
What happens after the green card is approved?
Once you receive your green card, you should stay up-to-date on the specific policies that accompany it. You will likely face one of two situations, depending on the following characteristics:
If you have been married for less than two years
If you and your spouse have been married for less than two years at the time you get approved for a green card, the foreign spouse will receive a “conditional” green card, also known as a CR1.
CR1 green cards are valid for two years. To remove the conditions on the green card and obtain a permanent green card, the couple must jointly file an I-751 form, formally known as the “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence.” The couple must file this form during the 90-day period immediately before the expiration of the conditional green card.
Also note that when processing the I-751 form, USCIS will again evaluate whether the couple’s marriage is valid and authentic. It is important, at this time, for the couple to provide new evidence that they have continued to share their lives together during the two years of conditional residence.
If you have been married for more than two years
If you and your spouse have been married for more than two years at the time you get approved for a green card, the spouse of a citizen will receive a “permanent” green card.
Permanent green cards are valid for 10 years. In most situations, you will be able to renew this card without having to prove the authenticity of your marriage again.
An Immigration Lawyer Can Help
While we have outlined some of the steps to obtaining your marriage-based green card here, it is very important to speak with a lawyer about this matter. An immigration attorney can help you make sure that you demonstrate your eligibility, meet all the important deadlines, and avoid delays due to processing errors.
If you are looking for a competent immigration attorney to help you obtain your marriage-based green card, call on the legal team at Robert M. Bell, P.A. today. We are happy to help you and your spouse obtain a green card in the United States. Call us at (954) 241-4209 to get started.