If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you are eligible to apply for a marriage-based green card.
This green card is unique because your spouse will be your sponsor, as opposed to an employer or another family member.
Spouses of U.S. citizens may also subsequently apply for naturalization (U.S. Citizenship) after three years of permanent residency.[i]
USCIS allows for children and parents of U.S. citizens to reach permanent residency through a similar process, but this article focuses solely on marriage-based green cards for spouses of U.S. citizens.
If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you are eligible for a marriage-based green card if:
- You are living abroad or legally residing in the United States
- Your marriage is authentic, and not feigned for immigration purposes
- Your U.S. citizen spouse can financially provide for you [ii]
Marriage-based Green Card Process
As with all immigration issues, obtaining a marriage-based green card can be a lengthy process.
Depending on whether or not you already have legal status in the United States, the process may require additional paperwork.
Since marrying a U.S. citizen is considered a quicker path to citizenship than others, it is often an abused process.
USCIS has implemented measures to ensure each marriage-based green card recipient is not in a fraudulent marriage.
These measures will require you to provide documentation and other evidence of your relationship to prove you are not in a contract marriage.
Throughout the process to a marriage-based green card, you will have to prove to USCIS that your marriage is not fraudulent.
If you live outside of the United States
If you reside outside of the United States, the process for you to get a marriage-based green card will be different from those who are already in the United States.
Regardless of where you reside, you must file a series of forms with USCIS and participate in an interview with your spouse.
From outside the United States this process is called “consular processing” because after your spouse petitions for you, you will work with your local consulate to get the necessary immigration documents.
You will ultimately attend an interview in the U.S. consulate in your home country.
If you live in the United States
If you are already in the United States on a valid visa (and in many situations, even when you overstayed a visa) your U.S. citizen spouse petitions for you and then you may apply to adjust status to permanent residency from inside the United States.
If you are in the United States as a permanent resident where your employer is your sponsor, you may change your sponsor to your spouse so that your residency will not rely on your employment.
First Step: Filing the I-130 Petition
The first step should be for your spouse to file the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with USCIS.[iii]
If the petition is approved, it does not confer any immigration status but it does signal the beginning of your path to a marriage-based green card.
If you are already present in the United States, and you entered lawfully, you will most likely file the I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status at the same time your spouse files the I-130 Petition.[iv]
If you are outside of the United States, or if you are inside the United States but entered unlawfully, you must go through consular processing.
Your U.S. citizen spouse files the I-130 Petition and then USCIS coordinates the remainder of your green card process through the National Visa Center (NVC) and your local consulate.
If you are present in the United States after an unlawful entry and without lawful status, you most likely will need some form of waiver.
Discuss your options with an immigration attorney.
Marriage-Based Green Card Interview
After the initial paper work is complete and submitted to USCIS, you will be contacted to interview with consulate or USCIS officials.
The interview is typically the final part of the process.
The U.S. government will make a decision on your case after your interview — but you will not always get the decision immediately.
Preparing for the interview
USCIS requires interviews for marriage-based green card applicants to ensure they are not committing marriage fraud.
For this reason, you will need to demonstrate the authenticity of your relationship with your spouse.
There are a variety of ways to prove your relationship to USCIS.
It is suggested that you bring copies of emails or letters you wrote to each other, photos of the two of you together, evidence of your marriage ceremony, and other tangible documentation of your marriage.
Additionally, significant family and financial commitments signal a legitimate marriage.
If you have been married for some time you may have children, joint bank accounts, joint rental or mortgage agreements, bills listing both of your names, car titles, and other legal or financial paperwork that demonstrates your relationship is real.
The Fraud Interview
If USCIS is not fully convinced of the authenticity of your relationship, you may be required to participate in a fraud interview.
The name is scary but it is not a death sentence for your green card.
Many couples have to do the fraud interview and still become green card holders.
During a fraud interview, you and your spouse will be separated and interviewed by different officials to make sure that your answers about your relationship match.
If you do not have a fraudulent marriage, you will not need to worry about the fraud interview.
Marriage-Based Green Card Fees
The cost of becoming a permanent resident can vary, depending on whether you are going through consular processing or not.
For all applicants, regardless of where you are applying from, the I-130 form has a filing fee of $420, as of September 2015.
The most important form for those filing within the U.S., the I-485, currently costs $1,070 (including the biometrics fee).
For those going through consular processing, the current immigrant processing fee for marriage-based applicants is $325.
The affidavit of support generally carries a fee of $120.
You may also need to pay for a medical exam and vaccinations to be able to enter the United States.[v]
In addition to filing fees, you should consider attorneys fees and the cost of postage.
The marriage-based green card process has multiple steps, and the factors of your personal situation can influence how you obtain a green card.
The important thing to remember is that as a spouse of a U.S. citizen you will most likely be able to get a green card–it’s just a matter of figuring out which process fits best to your situation and your life.
If you have questions about how to proceed, and especially if you have questions about whether or not you need a waiver, contact an attorney to discuss your case.
[i] See 8 U.S.C. §1255(e)
[ii] See 8 U.S.C. §1153(a)
[iii] See USCIS, Petition for Alien Relative, available at: uscis.gov/i-130
[iv] See USCIS, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, available at: uscis.gov/i-485
[v] See 8 U.S.C. §1182(a)