Obtain Green Card through Marriage

Updated on 11/03/2023

One of the most common paths to permanent residency, commonly referred to as a Permanent Resident Card or Green Card, is through marriage. If you are a U.S. citizen, there is a good chance that you have never known much about, or given much thought to the U.S. immigration process, especially if your family has lived in the U.S. for generations.  That will quickly change if the person you want to marry happens to be a foreigner who either lives in another country or an immigrant to the U.S.  Many U.S. citizens are surprised to find out the process is much longer and more complex than they had ever imagined.

A Green Card allows foreigners to permanently live and work in the United States.  It is also the first step toward the path to U.S. citizenship.

Green Card through Marriage

1. Paths to a Green Card through Marriage

There are three ways to obtain a Green Card through marriage:

1) Marriage to a U.S. citizen

If you are marrying an immigrant, you can petition to sponsor your spouse for a Green Card at any point after you marry, though it is something many people want to do as soon as possible.  There is no waiting period to apply for marriage-based permanent residency and you can sponsor your foreign spouse immediately after you marry if you have the paperwork complete and ready to submit. Unlike most other classes of Green Cards, there is not any limit on the number of marriage-based visas that can be issued in a given year and your spouse can receive their green card immediately after the application is approved.  However, their Permanent Resident Card is considered conditional and valid for two years only if you have been married less than two years when the green card is issued.

In some cases, your beloved might already be living in the U.S. in another type of visa status for work or study purposes.  In most circumstances it is OK to get married while in that status; but take care not to violate the 90-day rule.  If you get married and then apply for permanent residency within 90 days of their initial arrival to the U.S. under another non-immigrant visa status (except for H-1B or L-1 work visa), it can be considered a violation of their visa terms.  This can greatly complicate their path to receiving a Green Card.

2) Marriage to a Permanent Resident

You can sponsor your spouse for permanent residency if you have a Green Card, but there is a cap on how many such visas can be issued each year.  As a result, your spouse might have to wait months or even years to obtain a Green Card eventually. 

3) Fiancé(e) Visas

If you are a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor your foreign fiancé(e) for a K-1 visa, which will allow them to come to the U.S.  Once they arrive, you will have 90 days to marry, after which you can sponsor them for permanent residency. 

Some people try to circumvent this process by having their foreign fiancé(e) arrive on a tourist visa, get married and then apply for permanent residency.  Do not do this unless your spouse plans to first leave the U.S. and wait for their Green Card abroad.  This is a violation of their visa terms because tourist visas are only supposed to be for temporary visits.  Traveling to the U.S. to marry on a tourist visa especially marry within 90 days of their arrival to the U.S. indicates that they planned to stay permanently, therefore violating the terms and complicating their Green Card process. Nevertheless, if you marry a foreigner after 90 days of his or her arrival to the United States, USCIS cannot assume your spouse violates the tourist visa terms unless USCIS has evidence to prove it.

As you may see, no matter marriage to a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder, the first step is to get married. Click here to learn more about how to get married in the United States or foreign countries in detail.

2. Application Steps and Requirements for Marriage Green Card

1) File Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

Form I-130 is used to petition for permanent residency for a family member. The I-130A supplement must be filed with form I-130 and is only used for marriage-based Green Card petitions, not other family relationships.  These forms ask questions about you and your spouse such as name, biographical details, contact information, your parents, work history and address history.  Form I-129F will be filed instead if you are applying for a fiancé(e) visa.

Filing Cost: The filing fee for form I-130 is $535 and the I-130A supplement does not have an additional charge. 

Other Documentation Requirements: You must submit supporting evidence with forms I-130 and I-130A.  The exact list can depend on your individual circumstances, but typical documents include: 

  • Proof of your U.S. citizen or permanent residency status such as your birth certificate issued by any state, valid U.S. passport or permanent resident card
  • Two U.S. passport sized photos of both you and your spouse
  • Marriage certificate
  • Proof of termination documents of prior marriage(s) of both you and your spouse if applicable
  • Proof of a bona fide marriage such as documentation of join property, a lease showing both of you living together, proof of combined financial resources and birth certificates of any children you had together

How to Submit: Form I-130 can be submitted either electronically by setting a myUSCIS account at USCIS’s website, or by mail to a USCIS service center.  The specific service center depends on where you live and if your spouse is filing form I-485 at the same time.

Processing Time: The I-130 processing times can vary based on which service center is processing the case or if you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.  For most people, the process normally takes anywhere from less than six months to almost two years, with processing times for spouses of Green Card holders usually on the longer end of that scale. 

Not sure if you are eligible to file a Form I-130? You can free check eligibility through DYgreencard.com without providing any personal information. Free check eligibility if you are a U.S. citizen. Free check eligibility if you are a Green Card holder.

2) File Form I-485 or Consular Processing

If your foreign spouse is already in the U.S., they can file form I-485 under most circumstances.  Known as Adjustment of Status, this allows them to get their Green Card without leaving the U.S.  If you get married abroad and they do not yet have a visa, are not physically present in the U.S. or not eligible for adjustment of status, they will instead go through a consular processing after approval of their I-130 petition and then receive their immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate. Factors such as having a disqualifying health condition or criminal record could make them ineligible to either adjust their status or obtain an immigrant visa. They could be granted a waiver even if they are not eligible in some situations.

Not sure if your spouse is qualified to adjust status through Form I-485? With DYgreencard.com, people can free check eligibility without providing any personal information.  When you are ready, we can help you prepare an I-485 application package ready to file with USCIS. All you need to do is just answer a few questions and upload basic documents online. Then we take care of the rest. Get started today!

Obtain Green Card through I-485 Application

Filing Cost: $1225 in most circumstances

Other Documentation Requirements:  Your spouse is required to submit documentation, which can vary somewhat depending on personal circumstances.

  • Two U.S. passport sized photos
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Proof of legal entry into the U.S. such as their I-94 record, passport stamp or visa
  • Proof of current and past immigration status such as USCIS approval notices, I-94 record, form I-20 or passport stamp
  • Form I-864, Affidavit of Support (this is submitted by you)
  • Form I-765, Application of Employment Authorization (not required if your spouse does not intend to work while their Green Card application is pending)
  • Form I-131, Application for Travel Document (not required if your spouse does not intend to travel outside the U.S. while their Green Card application is pending)
  • Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record

How to Submit: If you are a U.S. citizen, your spouse can submit form I-485 together with I-130.  If you are a permanent resident, your spouse might have to wait for an immigrant visa to become available before submitting. 

Processing Time:  I-485 application is first processed at a USCIS service center and then sent to a local USCIS field office, which will most likely be located in a major city relatively close to you.  I-485 processing times can depend on individual field offices and if you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, with processing times as short as six months or as long as three years.  Most applications are processed in a 12 to 24 month time-frame.

Obtain Green Card through Consular Processing

Government Cost: $665 ($325+$120+$220) in most circumstances

Other Documentation Requirements:  After your I-130 gets approved by USCIS, the case will be transferred to National Visa Center (NVC) for consular processing. NVC will require you to submit DS-260 Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application, civil documents and Form I-864 Affidavit of Support. Generally, civil documents include:

  • Passport ID page
  • U.S. passport sized photo
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Proof of termination documents of prior marriage(s) of both you and your spouse if applicable
  • Police Certificate
  • Military Record if applicable

How to Submit: You should submit DS-260, civil documents and I-864 electrically through NVC’s online CEAC portal.

Processing Time: Usually, NVC will finish the document review within three months.

3) Green Card Interview and Approval Process

If you file I-485 application, in some situations, your spouse will receive a USCIS interview notice informing them of their interview date and time about four weeks beforehand.  Both you and your spouse must attend.  You should bring the original copies of any documents you or your spouse submitted as well as photocopies.  Typical evidence includes:

  • Personal identification
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Birth Certificates for any children you had together if any
  • Birth Certificate of your spouse
  • Proof of income and employment if any
  • Proof of your marriage was entered in good-faith
  • Immigration records of your spouse

You will both be interviewed by the USCIS officer and occasionally you may be interviewed separately.  The officer will determine if you have a bona fide marriage, if you can financially support yourselves and if your spouse meets Green Card prerequisites. Learn more about how to prepare for an I-485 interview in our article I-485 Adjustment of Status Interview FAQ. If the USCIS officer is satisfied with everything, a Green Card will be granted in the mail.

If you go through consular processing, your spouse will receive an immigrant visa interview notice about four weeks in advance. The interview will be held at a U.S. consulate in your spouse’s home country or the country where your spouse has permanent residency. You are not mandatory to attend the interview. However, it is recommended to have you reachable over the phone on the interview date. Your spouse should bring the original copies of any documents you or your spouse submitted as well as photocopies, and a medical exam report that is issued by a physician approved by the U.S. embassy in that country.

If the visa officer is satisfied with your martial relationship, financial support and other Green Card prerequisites, an immigrant visa will be issued. Then your spouse can come to the United States with the immigrant visa and a Green Card will be mailed to your spouse within 120 days of arrival to the U.S. Do not forget to pay the $220 immigrant fee after obtaining an immigrant visa. Otherwise, the physical Green Card will not be produced.

Taking care to complete forms carefully and completely and submitting all necessary evidence improves your spouse’s chances of success.  Be patient and be prepared for a long and sometimes trying process. Fortunately, with the help of a skilled immigration lawyer, DYgreencard.com can save you much time and cost in the green card process. Ready to start?

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