7 Common Questions about Getting a Green Card through Marriage

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Photo of printed book page the defines green card through marriage

Marriage is one of the most common ways to qualify for a green card. The spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder) is generally eligible for the immigration benefit. For the majority of people, this is a new and unfamiliar process. Therefore, we’ve addressed some of the common queries from people who want to know how to get a green card through marriage.

A green card is the physical identification that represents status as a lawful permanent resident. Permanent residents have the privilege of permanently living and working in the United States. They may also naturalize as U.S. citizens once they meet additional requirements.

Here are 7 of the most commons questions we get regarding how to get a green card through marriage:

When can I apply for a green card?

You can start the process to obtain a green card immediately after you have evidence of a bona fide marriage. Yes, you will definitely need a photocopy of your marriage certificate. But you’ll also need to prove that you have a genuine marriage.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) puts an extra layer of scrutiny on marriage-based applications for a green card. They need to confirm that neither party is using the marriage as a way to circumvent immigration laws. Setting up a fake marriage for the purpose of obtaining a green card is fraud. Therefore, USCIS wants you to prove the bona fides of your marriage. In involves submitting additional supporting documents that prove your marriage is the real deal.

For most couples, they can apply as soon as they have the marriage certificate.

RECOMMENDED: Best Evidence of Bona Fide Marriage to Support a Spousal I-130 Petition

Which forms do I need to apply for a marriage-based green card?

First, it’s important to understand that there are two fundamental ways to immigrate: consular processing and adjustment of status. Most people don’t have a choice. The path you immigrate through determines the forms you’ll need to submit.

Consular Processing

Most people immigrate through consular processing. Basically, this means the application process happens at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States. The process starts with the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident filing Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and Form I-130A (Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary) with USCIS. The petition establishes a qualifying relationship through marriage. The petitioner may file the forms from inside or outside the United States. Once approved and a visa is immediately available, some additional forms must be filed with the National Visa Center:

  • DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application
  • Form I-864, Affidavit of Support

This is an oversimplification of the entire process. For more information, see our section on consular processing.

Of course, there are additional supporting documents to submit with the petition. If you need assistance preparing Form I-130, CitizenPath’s online immigration services can guide you through the process. You’ll even get a set of filing instructions that explain exactly which supporting documents to submit based on your situation.

Adjustment of Status

When the foreign spouse is physically present in the United States, he or she may be eligible to adjust status to green card holder. Adjustment of status is the name of the process for applying while inside the U.S. In most cases, spouses of U.S. citizens are eligible. Spouses of permanent residents may be eligible if the visa bulletin is current. (A visa must be immediately available.)

  • I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
  • I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
  • I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary
  • I-864, Affidavit of Support
  • I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
  • I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (optional)
  • I-131, Application for Travel Document (optional)

Again, CitizenPath provides packages to help you prepare all forms, including adjustment of status. Designed by immigration attorneys, our affordable online service gives you the knowledge that you’re doing everything correctly. Get started >>

Are there options for engaged couples (fiancés)?

There is also a process for fiancés to immigrate to the United States, but it is limited to the fiancés of U.S. citizens. This process is not available to the fiancé of a permanent resident. With a K-1 visa, the fiancé of a U.S. citizen may enter the United States for the purpose of marriage. At that point, the spouse may get a green card through marriage.

U.S. citizens may file Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé, to start the process for a K-1 visa. The visa petition establishes a qualifying relationship. CitizenPath’s online immigration services can help you through the I-129F petition and supporting documents.

The K-1 visa processing time line could take from 6 to 9 months. Once the foreign fiancé enters the United States on a K-1, he or she has 90 days to marry. After marriage, the spouse can adjust status as the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.

RECOMMENDED: K-1 Visa Overview

Can I get a green card if I’m in a same-sex marriage?

LGBTQ+ couples that are already married may also utilize the U.S. immigration system just like any other opposite-sex married couple. A U.S. citizen or permanent resident may petition to have his or her spouse get a green card. The LGBTQ spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident qualifies for a green card in the same way as opposite-sex couples.

Just like opposite-sex marriages, the marriage must be legal. In other words, the marriage must have taken place in a country where same-sex marriage is legal. For this reason, many same-sex couples take advantage of the K-1 visa (as described in the previous question) to come to the United States for the purpose of marriage.

RECOMMENDED: LGBTQ Green Card for Same-Sex Couples

Can I get a green card through marriage when living apart from my spouse?

Green card eligibility may depend on the reason that you live apart from your spouse.

Marital Problems

Not all marriages work out, but this doesn’t necessarily mean your life in the United States is over. To qualify for a green card through marriage, you must have a bona fide marriage. This means you married for genuine love and the intent to remain together for a lifetime. Of course, we all understand that many marriages begin with good intent but end in divorce. Provided you are not divorced or legally separated, it is possible to obtain a green card. However, we always recommend that you seek the counsel of an experienced immigration attorney in situations with marital problems. USCIS officers are smart enough to recognized these issues. It’s likely the officer will scrutinize your relationship and intent at the inception of the marriage. Therefore, contact an attorney if you are living apart at separate addresses at any point in the marriage.

Temporary Relocation

Sometimes a married couple is forced to live apart, even in different countries. This is usually the result of an employment assignment or other temporary situation. Examples include a spouse serving in the U.S. armed forces or other temporary assignment working abroad. These situations generally are not problems, but they do make your situation more complicated. In these cases, it’s always good to consult with an immigration lawyer to make sure you don’t have circumstances that are problematic.

How long does it take to get a green card through marriage?

The time it takes to get a green card through marriage can vary depending on the immigration path (consular process or adjustment), visa availability, case load, and your ability to submit an organized application package.

Currently, the visa bulletin is current for spouses of permanent residents (F2A category). That means an immigrant visa is immediately available. There are always visas available to spouses of U.S. citizens (IR1 or CR1 category). In the future, the visa wait time for F2A could grow.

At the time of writing this article, backlog for many petitions and applications is extremely high due to COVID-19 restrictions and policies during the Trump administration. USCIS processing times should come down over the next few months.

As such, the adjustment of status time line is running approximately 8 to 14 months for applicants of a green card through marriage. The consular processing time line is taking approximately 7 to 12 months.

When can I apply for U.S. citizenship?

As a general rule, a permanent resident is eligible to naturalize as U.S. citizen after five years of continuous residence. U.S. immigration law provides a quicker path for permanent residents who are married to U.S. citizens.

The permanent resident spouse of a U.S. citizen may naturalize after just three years, provided that the U.S. citizen was a citizen for the entire three years.

In fact, applicants are allowed to submit the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, up to 90 days before meeting the 3-year requirement for naturalization.

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