F-1 Visa to Green Card through Marriage
Updated on 10/07/2020
Many international students come to study in the United States each year. While some students plan to return to their home countries after they complete their course of study, others wish to remain in the U.S. and get a Green Card. Most students who have an F-1 visa and wish to remain in the U.S. try to change their status by finding an employer to sponsor them, usually first for a temporary visa, and then eventually for permanent residency. There are also numerous F-1 students who meet and fall in love with an American while studying in the U.S. and decide to marry. This opens a new possible path – a Green Card through marriage.
There are two ways to receive a Green Card through marriage:
1. Marriage to a U.S. citizen: Your U.S. citizen spouse can sponsor you for a Green Card as soon as you are married and able to complete and submit the filing. There is no waiting period to apply and there is no limit on the number of immigrant visas issued per year. That means that the immigrant visa can be issued as soon as the paperwork can be processed. While there is no waiting period to apply, the Green Card will be granted on a conditional basis if your marriage is less than two years old.
2. Marriage to a Permanent Resident: If your spouse has a Green Card, they can also sponsor you for permanent residency. But unlike marriages to U.S. citizens, there is a cap on the number of immigrant visas that can be granted per year, which frequently results in a waiting period.
The Process for Green Card through Marriage
1. Establishing the Marriage:
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, is used to demonstrate that that a legitimate marriage exists between you and your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse. While form I-130 is used to establish any eligible family relationship, the form I-130A supplement is also required if your spouse is sponsoring you.
In addition to the form, you must provide evidence that your spouse is either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and proof of a legitimate marriage. Typical evidence includes a copy of U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport or Certificate of Naturalization, a copy of your marriage certificate and copies of marriage termination documents if either of you has any previous marriage. You must also provide evidence to prove the marriage is entered in good-faith. Such evidence may include joint birth certificates of any children you have together, and documents showing joint ownership of property or joint financial liability. Learn more about how to prove a marriage is real in our article Evidence of Bona Fide Marriage.
2. Establishing Eligibility with Form I-485 Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing:
If you are already in the U.S., you might be eligible for I-485 adjustment of status, which allows you to receive your Green Card without leaving the U.S. In order to be eligible for adjustment of status, you cannot be considered inadmissible to the U.S. for reasons such as a criminal history or a disqualifying health condition. If you married to a permanent resident, you must be in legal status when filing the adjustment of status with USCIS.
Not sure you are eligible for adjustment of status? You can free check eligibility through DYgreencard without providing any personal information. When you are ready for applying for green card through marriage, our professionals can help you handle the application from the beginning to the end with a much lower price.
Good news is that Form I-485 can be concurrently filed with Form I-130 if you married a U.S. citizen. As with form I-130 you must also submit supporting evidence with form I-485. Required evidence includes copies of your passport, birth certificate, passport photos, proof of your legal entry to the U.S., and proof of keeping legal status in the U.S if you married a permanent resident. You must also submit forms I-864 and I-944 to show that you and your spouse have the financial means to support yourselves.
You might also want to submit forms I-765 for work permit and I-131 for advance parole so you are able to work and travel outside the U.S. while your I-485 adjustment of status application is pending with USCIS. But be careful to have any international travel while the case is pending because in some situations that might impede your application. Learn more about it in our article Advance Parole Travel While I-485 is Pending with USCIS. A form I-693 medical exam report is also required, though some people choose to wait until their interview to submit this.
You may have a clear picture about what documents needed to apply for marriage green card in our article Document Checklist for Marriage Green Card Application.
If you are outside the U.S. or are not eligible for adjustment of status, you will receive your Green Card through consular processing, meaning you will interview for your Green Card at a U.S. consulate in your home country or the country you have permanent residence. If you are not eligible to adjust your status, there are some circumstances where you can receive a waiver.
At DYgreecard, we may prepare a complete marriage-based green card application package with a flat fee of $700 or less. The entire application package is thoroughly reviewed by an immigration lawyer with extensive experience in marriage green card. Learn more if married a U.S. citizen, or learn more if married a permanent resident.
3. Green Card Interview and Approval Process:
You will receive an I-485 interview notice about 5-7 weeks before your interview. If you apply for adjustment of status, both you and your spouse will need to appear. The interview notice will list documents that you will need to bring with you. You can expect to be questioned by the USCIS officer to determine that your marriage is legitimate and that you are living together. Your application will be approved if the officer decides that you have a bona fide marriage, you can support yourselves and that you are otherwise eligible to receive a Green Card. Learn more about how to prepare an I-485 interview in our article I-485 Adjustment of Status Interview FAQ.
If you are outside of the U.S., your interview will instead take place at a U.S. consulate in your home country or the country you have permanent residence.
Timing is also another important consideration. You will want to carefully plan to minimize the time you have to spend apart and to ensure that you are not doing anything that could potentially jeopardize your immigration process.
For example, how soon should you get married? You might want to marry soon after you graduate because your status as an international student is expiring. If you have OPT (Optional Practical Training) status, you receive employment authorization for anywhere from one to three years post-graduation. This can allow you to plan a wedding with fewer time constraints.
Another timing consideration is the 90-day rule. If you enter the U.S. on an F-1 visa and marry within 90 days, this can be considered a violation of the terms of your visa. An F-1 visa is a temporary visa and when you receive it you are agreeing that you do not plan to remain in the U.S. permanently. If you marry within 90 days of arrival USCIS will believe that you entered the U.S. with the intention of remaining permanently. Optimally, the best time to get married would be after you have been in the U.S. for 90 days on your F-1 visa, but before it expires.
For various reasons, it does not always work out that way. You might end up planning to marry after your F-1 visa status ends. What should you do then? If you married a U.S. citizen, you may file I-485 adjustment of status even if your F-1 visa status has ended. If you married a permanent resident, you must file I-485 before your F-1 visa status ends. If you fail to keep your F-1 status and your spouse is a permanent resident, your option really depends on your personal circumstances. Specifically, if you have been out of status for more than 180 days, the best option is that have your spouse become a U.S. citizen then you apply for adjustment of status. If you have been out of status for less than 180 days, you can leave the United States and apply for green card through consular processing.
USCIS Processing Times for Green Card through Marriage
1. Marriage Green Card through Adjustment of Status: Honestly, marriage-based green card process is lengthy. If you apply for marriage green card through adjustment of status, the processing times much depends on your local USCIS office’s caseload. Some local office’s processing times for this type of application is only 3 months on average while some local offices will take about 24 months. Which local office has jurisdiction over your application is determined by your physical address. So you don’t have much control on it unless you actually move and duly report change of address to USCIS. If you married to a permanent resident, the processing times for your marriage green card application will be longer because there is a waiting period for the availability of immigrant visa number. If you’d like to have step-by-step guides about marriage-based adjustment of status, you may check our article How to Apply for Marriage Green Card through Adjustment of Status? Or just start the application today.
2. Marriage Green Card through Consular Processing: If you married a U.S. citizen, the whole processing times for you to obtain a green card is 12 months on average. If you married a permanent resident, it will take about 18-24 months. If you’d like to have step-by-step guides about marriage-based consular processing, you may check our article How to Apply for Green Card for Spouse through Consular Processing? Or just start the application today.