The green card marriage process is best known for the first 90 days. In fact, a realty-TV series called 90 Day Fiance is expected to enter a third season on TLC. But this is just the beginning of the green card marriage journey.
A U.S. citizen that wants to marry a foreign national may bring the fiancé to the United States on a K-1 visa. For the foreign national to remain in the United States, the couple must get married within a 90-day period. After that, the couple has 640 days to prove to the U.S. immigration system that they have a genuine, bona fide marriage.
Getting a Green Card through Marriage
Once the couple is married, the fiancé (now a spouse) must file to adjust status to permanent resident (Form I-485). This provides the foreign national with a conditional permanent resident status with a “conditional green card.” The status is only valid for two years. Within another 90-day window before the two-year period concludes, the couple must revisit the immigration process to “remove the conditions on residence.” In short, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) wants confirmation that the marriage is bona fide and that the marriage was not entered for the purposes of evading immigration law, otherwise known as green card marriage fraud. That one year and nine months equates to 640 days.
So after overcoming the language barriers, cultural differences and skeptical friends and family, these couples must confront one more menacing obstacle – convincing the U.S. immigration authorities that the marriage is genuine. The stake are high. A failure to prove a bona fide marriage can result in deportation. 640 days pass quickly. Here’s how to productively use the time to prepare for filing Form I-751.
Green Card Marriage Checklist
It is vitally important that these couples recognize the obligation to prove the merits of their marriage within the next two years. Thus, they should start preparing immediately.
This is a big “honey do” list. So get started early.
- Day 1 – The wedding
Getting married by itself isn’t proof that the partnership is born out of love. Through the process, set aside pieces of evidence that help demonstrate the care and effort you put into the wedding. In particular, evidence that shows how the couple shared in the effort and enjoyed the ceremony together can be beneficial. Examples of acceptable documents include: newspaper announcement of the wedding, photographs, receipts, and even copies of the sign-in book special messages. Receipts may be from wedding vendors and should specify the event and the participants by name (e.g. “Cake for the wedding of Richard Johnson and Victoria Hadley”). These documents help demonstrate the investment and importance of the marriage.
Starting with the honeymoon, save documents that prove the couple traveled together. Travel to visit with the spouse’s family can be even more compelling. Examples of acceptable documents include: transportation tickets (air, train, rental car, or bus), hotel reservations and bills, and passports with corresponding date stamps.
- Federal income tax returns
Federal tax returns that show a filing status as married (filing jointly or separately) demonstrate shared financial responsibility.
- Home ownership or lease
If you own a home together (or any real estate), a deed that includes both spouses’ names shows shared financial responsibility. Other examples of acceptable documents include: the purchase contract, closing papers, mortgage agreement, mortgage account statements, property tax bills, home repair documents, and utility bills. If you lease a home, a lease agreement that includes both names can be used as evidence.
- Financial accounts
Other financial accounts that show joint ownership of assets or shared liabilities can be very beneficial evidence. Some examples of financial accounts include: savings, checking, credit card, debit card, car loan, bank loan, certificates of deposit, mutual funds, savings bonds, retirement (pension, 401(k), retirement, etc.), other investment accounts. Examples of acceptable documents include: statements (from the initial to the most current) and even the initial application. These records can be numerous. Provide a representative sample of about 10 records.
A couple that is legitimately living a life together will most likely have joint insurance records. Types of insurance can include: health, dental, disability, auto, life, home, and renter’s insurance. Examples of acceptable documents include: policy, bills and/or account statements. These records can be numerous. Provide a representative sample of about 10 records.
- Affidavit letters of support
An affidavit “letter of support” is a letter written by someone that know the couple and has first-hand knowledge of the relationship. The affidavit letter of support is not primary evidence, but it is supplemental evidence that helps support other evidence that the couple has a bona fide marriage.
For more insight and information, read about the obligation to prove a good faith marriage.
Green Card Marriage Interview
The focus of any green card marriage interview is whether your marriage is bona fide. The immigration officer may ask how you met, where you met, when you met, your living conditions, whether you have met each other’s parents, employment schedules of each, and many other topics. They will ask questions about your everyday life to get a sense if the couple has a genuine, legitimate marriage.
However, in many cases, a green card marriage interview can be avoided completely. Each year many applicants that have very well prepared I-751 petitions have the interview waived. That means that the evidence is so strong that USCIS determines that an interview is not necessary. Read more about avoiding the green card marriage interview.
Green Card Marriage Timeline
The entire process, from arriving in the United States with a K-1 visa to becoming a lawful permanent resident, can take approximately three years.
What happens after filing I-751
Citizenship Through a Green Card Marriage
For those that intend to naturalize as U.S. citizens, there’s some good news. The time spent as a conditional permanent resident counts toward your eligibility. Therefore, the foreign spouse can apply for citizenship using Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, just three years after becoming a conditional resident. In fact, some naturalization applicants actually file Form N-400 while the I-751 petition is still pending.
CitizenPath is the online service that makes immigration forms simple. The website provides simple, step-by-step guidance through USCIS applications and petitions. Our low-cost service helps to simplify the process by explaining each question and providing alerts if your answer to a question could be a problem. Most people do not need a lawyer to prepare USCIS forms, but many need a little assistance. That’s where CitizenPath can help. CitizenPath provides support for the Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (Form I-751), Green Card Renewal (Form I-90), the Citizenship Application (Form N-400), and several other popular forms.