Green Card through Marriage to U.S. Citizen Guide
Updated on 02/12/2021
If you are in the United States, you have decided to reside permanently in the country and have married an American citizen, applying for a green card is the next step to establish your life legally in the United States.
1. What is the process to apply for green card through marriage to U.S. Citizen?
If you entered the United States legally, and don’t have any grounds of inadmissibility to become a lawful permanent resident (green card), you can apply for green card through marriage to U.S. citizen. This process is commonly known as the “one step” adjustment of status. It is a process that may be divided in two steps for a better understanding:
Step 1: Establish the marriage relationship. The U.S. citizen must file an I-130 Family Petition on behalf of the alien spouse.
During this process applicants must establish that the marital relationship exists, and it was not initiated for the purposes of obtaining a green card. The U.S. citizen spouse filing the – I-130 or Petition for Alien Relative – is called the “petitioner” or “sponsor.” The spouse seeking a green card is called the “beneficiary” or “green card applicant.”
Step 2: Apply for the green card through I-485 adjustment of status application and meet all the requirements to become a lawful permanent resident
During this process, the beneficiary must demonstrate that she or he entered the United States legally and is admissible to the United States to become a legal permanent resident. Generally, if the beneficiary has criminal record, visa fraud, membership in terrorist or communism group, infectious disease such as syphilis, etc., they are probably inadmissible to the United States.
Steps 1 and 2 can be done at the same time by concurrently filing both applications with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
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2. What documents needed to apply for green card through marriage?
- USCIS Filing Fees (currently $535 for the I-130 and $1,225 for the I-485 application)
- Form I-130 Family Petition signed by petitioner with 2 U.S. Passport Photos of petitioner
- Form I-130A signed by beneficiary
- Form I-485 Adjustment of Status signed by beneficiary with 2 U.S. Passport Photos of beneficiary
- Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency signed by beneficiary and supporting documents (needed to demonstrate that beneficiary will not become a public charge to the U.S, learn more here)
- Form I-693 Medical Exam Report of beneficiary (can be submitted at the green card interview later)
- Copy of beneficiary’s Birth Certificate
- Copy of petitioner’s U.S. Birth Certificate, U.S. valid Passport or U.S. Naturalization Certificate
- Copy of beneficiary’s passport ID page or travel document ID page which was used for last entry to the U.S.
- Copy of beneficiary’s I-94 record to prove the legal entry to the U.S.
- Copy of Marriage Certificate
- Copy of evidence to prove petitioner’s/beneficiary’s prior marriages (if any) have been legally terminated
- Evidence of Good Faith Marriage(see next part, can be submitted at the green card interview later)
- Certified copy of arrest/criminal records of beneficiary (if applicable, can be submitted at the green card interview later)
- Form I-864 Affidavit of Support signed by petitioner
- Copy of petitioner’s last year Income Tax Return
- Copy of petitioner’s last year W2s or 1099s if any
- Copy of petitioner’s Employment Verification Letter and/or Paystubs if any
- Form I-864 Affidavit of Support signed by Co-Sponsor (if petitioner does not receive enough income/asset according to the poverty guidelines)
- Evidence to prove Co-Sponsor is a U.S. citizen or green card holder
- Copy of Co-Sponsor’s last year Income Tax Return
- Copy of Co-Sponsor’s last year W2s/1099s if any
- Copy of Co-Sponsor’s Employment Verification Letter and/or Paystubs if any
- (Optional) Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization signed by beneficiary with 2 U.S. Passport Photos for beneficiary
- (Optional) Form I-131 Application for Travel Document (Advance Parole) signed by beneficiary with 2 U.S. Passport Photos for beneficiary (Alert: Be careful to travel abroad with Advance Parole for certain beneficiaries, learn more here)
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3. What documents can I send as evidence that marriage is real?
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of fraud involved in marriages for immigration benefits. Documentation is a way that the immigration service assesses a bona fide marriage. They review this documentation to prove up cohabitation and commingling of financial responsibilities.
- Birth Certificates of any children born of the marriage
- Federal income tax returns filed together since date of marriage
- Bank statements for joint checking and/or savings accounts
- Evidence of any joint purchases or ownership, such as TV, furniture, car, house, etc.
- Evidence of joint liability since marriage, such as joint credit cards, mortgages, loans, etc.
- Medical, dental, auto and home insurance during your marriage
- Will/trust/life insurance/retirement plan to list the alien spouse as beneficiary
- Wedding photos and other photos of you and your spouse taken during your entire relationship
- Identification cards of both spouses with current joint address
- Evidence of actual common residence such as leases agreements, property deeds, etc.
- Utility bills for a shared residence, such as telephone, electric, gas, etc., for the duration of your marriage
- Any correspondence addressed to you, your spouse from you or family members
- Any other convincing documentation that shows that you and your spouse have a joint residence and have formed an economic and marital union.
- Sworn Affidavit from people who know your martial relationship well is also useful if you don’t have much documentary evidence listed above
4. What happens after the application package is filed with USCIS?
In the next 2-6 weeks once the package has been sent with all the required documentation and has been received by the USCIS office, they must send you a receipt for each application filed. These receipts contain important information that you should keep for your personal record. The receipts are proof that there is a pending case with USCIS, they contain the case number and the information of the petitioner and beneficiary as well as the government fee paid.
Within the next 30 days USCIS will send a notice for fingerprinting and biographical information. The beneficiary is required to appear at the location and date indicated on the notice. This serves to collect fingerprints and photos of the beneficiary in order to check background against the beneficiary to see any criminal record existed.
Next, if no Request for Initial Evidence issued by USCIS, the work permit (I-765 application) and/or Advance Parole (I-131 application) will be approved (normally within 6 months after filing) and sent via postal mail to the beneficiary.
Several months after (processing times vary) a notice for green card interview is sent to both petitioner and beneficiary.
5. What happens during the green card interview?
Green card interview, also called I-485 interview. Generally, this is the final step before obtaining the green card through marriage. USCIS will send an interview notice to both petitioner and beneficiary. The interview is conducted at the local field office near the petitioner and beneficiary lives.
The interviewing officer’s primary goal is to assess the authenticity of the marriage. Normally, the couple will be interviewed together. Questions can focus on the couple’s relationship history, as well as their daily activities and future together. During the interview the officer will also review in detail the information provided at the time of submitting the application and confirm the answers to the questions related to the beneficiary’s inadmissibility contained in the I-485 form. It is also a good time to submit additional documents to USCIS. As such, if you forgot to submit I-693 medical exam report at the beginning, or you have more evidence to prove your marriage is real, it is advisable to bring them in and submit to the interview officer in person.
If the interviewing officer is sufficiently convinced that the marriage is not fraudulent and no grounds of inadmissibility, they will approve the spouse for a green card. Sometimes they will let you know at the interview if it was approved. However, most of the times they will instruct you to wait for a decision in the mail. If approved, approval notice will typically arrive by mail within 2-3 weeks and the green card is mailed in a separated envelope.
If the officer doubted the marriage, a Stokes interview (secondary interview) will be scheduled after a long time following the I-485 interview. The couple will be separated at the Stokes interview. Hundreds of daily/personal questions will be asked and the officer will compare every question to see whether the couple has the same answers to them.
At DYgreencard.com, you can find an immigration lawyer with extensive experience in green card interview to give you interview training. By doing so, you will get well prepared for the interview.
6. Green card’s validity
The green card will be valid for 2 or 10 years depending on how long the petitioner and beneficiary have been married on the day when USCIS approved the I-485 application. If they have been married for less than 2 years, the beneficiary will receive a green card valid for 2 years only and it is considered a “conditional lawful permanent residency”. The beneficiary must file Form I-751 (or “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence”) 90 days before the expiration of the conditional green card to “remove the conditions” and obtain a 10 years green card. Basically, in I-751 processing, USCIS will re-evaluate the couple’s marriage to make sure it is authentic and that the couple did not marry only for immigration purposes.
If they were married for more than 2 years when I-485 application was approved, the beneficiary will receive a 10 years green card. In most cases, renewing this 10-year green card is a simple process and does not require the couple to prove the authenticity of their marriage again.
7. When can I apply for citizenship after a green card through marriage?
The general rule is that after 5 years of obtaining the status of permanent legal resident, the person can qualify for the citizenship or naturalization process. However, if you have been married a U.S. citizen for more than 3 years and have lived with the same person for more than 3 years, you can apply for citizenship 3 years after having received a green card. You can learn more in our article Apply for Citizenship through Marriage.
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