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How To Apply for a Marriage Green Card in the United States? A Step-by-Step Guide

process for many couples who wish to build their lives together in the United States. A marriage green card allows the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to live and work in the United States permanently. This blog will guide you through the definition, purpose, and eligibility criteria for a marriage green card, along with a detailed look at the application process, requirements, costs, and more.

What is a Marriage Green Card/ Green Card For a Spouse?

A marriage green card is a type of immigrant visa that grants the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident the right to live and work permanently in the United States. Its primary purpose is to unite families and enable couples to live together in the same country without the constant worry of visa renewals and other temporary solutions.

Eligibility Criteria for a Marriage Green Card

  • Legally Valid Marriage: The marriage must be legally valid and recognized in the country or state where it took place.
  • Proof of Relationship: Evidence that the marriage is bona fide (genuine) and not entered into solely for immigration purposes. This includes joint financial accounts, shared leases, photographs, and affidavits from friends and family.
  • Legal Status of the U.S. Citizen or Green Card Holder: The sponsoring spouse must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder).
  • Age Requirement: Both spouses must be at least 18 years old.
  • Marital Status: Neither spouse should be currently married to another person. Previous marriages must be legally terminated through divorce, annulment, or death.
  • Residency Requirements for Green Card Holder Sponsor:If the sponsoring spouse is a Green Card holder, they must be living in the U.S. or intend to resume residence in the U.S. with the sponsored spouse.
  • Financial Requirements: The sponsoring spouse must meet specific income requirements to ensure they can financially support the immigrant spouse. This is usually demonstrated through an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864).
  • Criminal Record: A detailed review of the criminal history of both spouses. Certain criminal convictions may affect eligibility.
  • Immigration Violations: Consideration of any past immigration violations by the immigrant spouse, such as unlawful presence or deportation, which may require additional waivers.
  • Medical Examination: The immigrant spouse must undergo a medical examination by a designated physician to ensure they do not have any conditions that would make them inadmissible to the U.S.
  • Public Charge Rule: The immigrant spouse must demonstrate that they are not likely to become a public charge, meaning they are not likely to rely primarily on government assistance.
  • National Security Concerns: Both spouses must undergo security background checks to ensure they do not pose a threat to U.S. national security.

Steps to Apply for a Marriage Green Card in the USA

Applying for a marriage Green Card involves several steps, each with specific documentation requirements and associated fees. Here’s an in-depth guide to navigate the process:

1. Filing the Petition (Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative)

This step establishes the foundational relationship between the U.S. citizen or Green Card holder and the immigrant spouse. It is the official recognition of your marriage by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Filing this form is crucial as it initiates the immigration process, proving that the marriage is genuine and not solely for immigration benefits.

Documentation Required:

  • Proof of Petitioner’s Status: U.S. citizenship or permanent residency documents (birth certificate, passport, naturalization certificate, or Green Card).
  • Proof of Marriage: Marriage certificate.
  • Proof of Termination of Prior Marriages: Divorce decrees or death certificates if applicable.
  • Photos: Passport-style photos of both spouses.
  • Evidence of a Bona Fide Marriage: Joint financial accounts, shared leases, photographs, affidavits from friends and family, emails, or chat records.

Filing Fee: $535 (USCIS fee as of the latest update).

2. Adjustment of Status (Form I-485) or Consular Processing

Adjustment of Status (for those in the U.S.)

This process is for spouses who are already in the U.S. on a valid visa. Filing Form I-485 allows the immigrant spouse to adjust their status to a lawful permanent resident without having to leave the United States. This step includes providing additional documentation to prove eligibility, undergoing a medical examination, and attending a biometrics appointment.

Documentation Required:

  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
  • Proof of lawful entry into the U.S. (Form I-94).
  • Medical examination report (Form I-693).
  • Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) from the sponsoring spouse.
  • Two passport-style photos.
  • Government-issued ID (passport).
  • Birth certificate and certified translation (if not in English).

Filing Fee: $1,225 (including biometrics fee for applicants aged 14-78).

Consular Processing (for those outside the U.S.)

This process is for spouses who are outside the U.S. They will apply for an immigrant visa through a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. After the visa is granted, they can enter the U.S. as a permanent resident. This step involves submitting various civil documents, undergoing a medical examination, and attending an interview at the consulate.

Documentation Required:

  • DS-260, Immigrant Visa Electronic Application.
  • Civil documents (birth certificate, police certificates, court and prison records, military records, etc.).
  • Medical examination report.
  • Affidavit of Support (Form I-864).
  • Two passport-style photos.
  • Proof of relationship (marriage certificate, photos, joint financial documents).

Filing Fee: $325 (visa application fee) + $120 (Affidavit of Support fee).

3. Biometrics Appointment

The biometrics appointment is required for security background checks. During this appointment, the immigrant spouse will provide fingerprints, photographs, and a signature. These biometrics are used to verify the identity and conduct background checks.

Documentation Required:

  • Appointment notice.
  • Valid photo ID (passport, driver’s license, Green Card).

Fee: Included in the I-485 filing fee.

4. Interview

The interview aims to verify the authenticity of the marriage and the eligibility of the immigrant spouse for a Green Card. Both spouses typically attend this interview. The USCIS officer or consular officer will ask questions about the relationship, living arrangements, and future plans to ensure the marriage is genuine.

Documentation Required:

  • Interview appointment notice.
  • Passports and government-issued IDs for both spouses.
  • Original documents and copies of all previously submitted documents.
  • Additional evidence of a bona fide marriage (updated financial documents, recent photos).

Fee: No additional fee.

5. Approval and Issuance of Green Card

After successful completion of the interview and review of the submitted documents, the immigrant spouse will receive a Green Card. If the marriage is less than two years old, a conditional Green Card is issued, valid for two years. If the marriage is more than two years old, a permanent Green Card is issued, valid for ten years.

Understanding the 2-Year Conditional Period:

A conditional Green Card is valid for two years. Requires filing Form I-751 to remove conditions before expiration.

  • If the couple has been married for less than two years at the time the green card is approved, the foreign spouse will receive a conditional green card, valid for two years.
  • If the couple has been married for more than two years, the foreign spouse will receive an unconditional green card, valid for ten years.

Responsibilities of Conditional Permanent Residents:

A permanent Green Card is valid for ten years and can be renewed.

  • File Form I-751 (Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence) within 90 days before the two-year conditional period ends.
  • Provide updated evidence of a genuine marriage.

6. Removal of Conditions (Form I-751)

For those who receive a conditional Green Card, this step is necessary to obtain a permanent Green Card. It demonstrates that the marriage is ongoing and genuine beyond the initial two-year period.

Documentation Required:

  • Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence.
  • Evidence of a continuing bona fide marriage (joint financial documents, children’s birth certificates, affidavits from friends and family).
  • Two passport-style photos.

Filing Fee: $680 (including biometrics fee).

7. Optional Naturalization to Become a US Citizen

After holding a green card for three years (if married to a U.S. citizen) and meeting all other eligibility requirements, the foreign spouse can apply for naturalization.

Form N-400: Application for Naturalization.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S. for three years.
  • Ability to read, write, and speak basic English.
  • Knowledge of U.S. history and government (civics).
  • Good moral character.

Supporting Documents for Naturalization:

  • Marriage certificate to prove marriage to a U.S. citizen.
  • Tax returns, employment records, and other supporting documents.

Naturalization Interview and Ceremony: Attend an interview, pass the English and civics tests, and participate in an oath ceremony.

Filing Fee: The fee for Form N-400 is $725.

For the most current information on fees and forms, always refer to the USCIS website

Requirements and Documentation.

Obtaining a marriage green card in the United States involves meeting specific requirements and providing a comprehensive set of documents. Below is a detailed guide to the requirements and documentation needed:

Minimum Income Requirement for the US Spouse

Financial Support Obligation:

  • The U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse must demonstrate the ability to financially support the foreign spouse.
  • This is done through the Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support).

Income Requirement:

  • The sponsoring spouse must have an income that is at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for their household size.
  • For military sponsors, the requirement is 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Proof of Income:

  • Recent tax returns, W-2 forms, pay stubs, and an employment verification letter.
  • If the income is insufficient, assets can be used to meet the requirement, typically needing to be five times the difference between the actual income and the required income level.

Applicant Cannot Be Inadmissible for Immigration

Inadmissibility Grounds:

  • Certain health issues, criminal history, security concerns, and prior immigration violations can make an applicant inadmissible.
  • Common grounds include communicable diseases, drug abuse, criminal convictions, and prior deportations.

Waivers:

  • In some cases, inadmissibility can be waived by applying for a waiver of inadmissibility (Form I-601).

Personal Documentation

  • Marriage Certificate: Certified copy proving the marriage is legally valid.
  • Birth Certificates: Both spouses’ birth certificates.
  • Proof of Citizenship or Permanent Residency: U.S. passport, birth certificate, or green card of the sponsoring spouse.
  • Divorce Decrees or Death Certificates: If either spouse was previously married, documentation showing the end of those marriages.

Benefits of Getting a Marriage Green Card

Obtaining a marriage green card offers several significant advantages that enhance your quality of life and provide stability.

  1. Live and Work Anywhere in the US: A marriage green card allows you to choose your residence and work location freely within the United States, with the ability to work for any employer without needing a work visa.
  2. Adjust Status Even if You Overstayed a Visa: If you entered the U.S. legally but overstayed your visa, you can still adjust your status to a permanent resident through marriage to a U.S. citizen, eliminating the need to leave the country.
  3. No Need for a Job Offer from a US Company: Unlike employment-based green cards, a marriage green card does not require a job offer from a U.S. employer, simplifying the application process.
  4. Freely Travel In and Out of the US: As a green card holder, you can travel abroad and return to the U.S. without a special visa, provided you do not stay outside the U.S. for extended periods without a re-entry permit.
  5. Eligibility for Unmarried Children Under 21 to Receive Green Cards: Unmarried children under 21 of the foreign spouse can also apply for green cards, ensuring families can stay together.
  6. Ability to Sponsor Relatives After Becoming a US Permanent Resident: As a U.S. permanent resident, you can sponsor certain family members, such as parents, siblings, and unmarried children over 21, for green cards.

Estimated Processing Times for a Marriage Green Card

  1. Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative):
  • U.S. Citizen Filing for Spouse: Typically 7 to 15 months.
  • Permanent Resident Filing for Spouse: Usually 15 to 20 months.
  1. Adjustment of Status (Form I-485):
  • If the foreign spouse is in the U.S., the processing time for Form I-485 typically ranges from 8 to 14 months.
  1. Consular Processing:
  • If the foreign spouse is outside the U.S., consular processing usually takes 11 to 17 months after Form I-130 is approved.

When to Consider Hiring a Lawyer for a Marriage Green Card

Complex Cases:

  • Inadmissibility Issues: If there are potential inadmissibility issues such as past immigration violations, criminal history, or health problems.
  • Prior Deportations: If the foreign spouse has previously been deported or has a pending deportation case.
  • Complicated Relationship History: If there are complexities in your relationship history, such as previous marriages, large age differences, or cultural differences that may raise red flags.

Documentation Challenges:

  • Insufficient Evidence: If you lack strong evidence to prove the authenticity of your marriage.
  • Document Translation: If you need help translating and certifying documents from another language.

Legal Guidance:

  • Legal Interpretation: If you need assistance understanding the legal requirements and nuances of the immigration process.
  • Form Preparation: If you are unsure about how to correctly fill out the necessary forms and avoid common mistakes that could delay the process.

Appeals and Denials:

  • Appeals: If your petition has been denied you need to file an appeal.
  • Requests for Evidence (RFE): If you receive an RFE or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) and need help responding effectively.

With expert guidance and thorough preparation, the chances of a successful application increase.

FAQ

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

The processing time for a marriage-based green card varies. For U.S. citizens filing for their spouse, it typically takes 7 to 15 months. For permanent residents filing for their spouse, the process usually takes 15 to 20 months. These times can vary based on the specific circumstances of the case and the service center handling the application.

Can my spouse apply for citizenship after getting their marriage green card?

Yes, your spouse can apply for U.S. citizenship after holding a green card for three years, provided they have been married to and living with a U.S. citizen during that time. They must also meet other eligibility requirements, such as continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S., and demonstrate good moral character.

Can you work while waiting for a marriage-based green card?

Yes, you can apply for a work permit (Employment Authorization Document or EAD) while your green card application is pending. This allows you to work legally in the U.S. during the processing period. The EAD application is typically submitted along with Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status).

How does USCIS investigate marriages?

USCIS investigates marriages to ensure they are bona fide and not entered into solely for immigration purposes. This investigation includes interviews with both spouses, reviewing submitted documentation such as joint financial records, photos, and affidavits from friends and family. USCIS may also conduct home visits and background checks to verify the authenticity of the relationship.

Can I travel outside of the United States with a marriage green card?

Yes, as a green card holder, you can travel outside the U.S. freely. However, it’s important not to stay outside the U.S. for extended periods, as this can raise concerns about abandoning your permanent resident status. If you plan to be abroad for more than a year, you should apply for a re-entry permit before leaving the U.S.

Will my spouse’s criminal record affect my marriage green card application?

Yes, your spouse’s criminal record can impact your marriage green card application. Serious offenses, such as crimes involving moral turpitude, drug offenses, or multiple criminal convictions, can be grounds for inadmissibility. It’s crucial to consult with an immigration attorney to assess the situation and determine if any waivers or legal remedies are available.

Conclusion

The marriage green card process is a detailed and often complex journey, but with the right information and preparation, it can lead to a successful outcome. Whether you choose to navigate the process on your own or seek professional help, understanding the steps and requirements will help ensure a smoother experience. If you have any doubts or face complications, consulting with an experienced immigration attorney can provide valuable assistance and peace of mind.

 

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Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sweta is also a chartered accountant — the equivalent of a CPA. This makes her uniquely positioned to understand the immigration needs of her business clients in the broader context of their corporate objectives.

Sweta is actively involved with immigration issues and immigrant communities in various capacities. She has assumed key roles at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), both at the local and national level. She has been a past chair at the Santa Clara Valley Chapter at AILA and has also been involved in various practice area committees at AILA National. Sweta has addressed multiple conferences/forums in the United States and worldwide on immigration and business issues.

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