You are married and ready to start your life together. However, as a foreign national, you have to take steps to apply for a green card first.

In the past, couples benefited from applying for a K-3 visa that allowed the foreign national to enter the country to join her U.S. citizen spouse while her application for a green card was pending. Unfortunately, the processing times have grown much longer, and you are likely to wait about as long for a K-3 as for a green card, and you may incur additional costs.

The processes are the same for applying for a conditional resident or an immediate relative. The only difference is that a conditional resident (CR) will have to take a step down the road to remove conditions. You are eligible for conditional residency if you have been married for less than two years. You receive a green card without conditions as an immediate relative (IR) if you have been married for more than two years.

1. Determine Whether You Are Eligible

Only a U.S. citizen can apply for a CR or IR visa for a foreign national spouse. Permanent residents may apply for a foreign national spouse under a different, much longer process. Your unmarried children under the age of 21 can be included on separate green card applications.

2. U.S. Citizen Files a Petition

Your U.S. citizen spouse files a form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. The application package should include filing fees, the G-325A biometrics forms, passport photos and supporting documents, such as marriage certificate, divorce decrees from former marriages and proof of any legal name changes. Your spouse must also prove she or he is a citizen, usually through a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization certificate.

3. Receive USCIS Notice of Approval

The USCIS will send your spouse the decision and forward the approved petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC). Because you are an immediate relative, your visa number is immediately available.

4. Apply for an Immigrant Visa

Send the DS-260 application for an immigrant visa and include the immigrant visa application, processing fees and supporting documents. Your spouse will also send a form I-864 Affidavit of Support, which is a promise to support you if you don’t have the means to support yourself.

5. Attend the Consulate Interview

The consulate will schedule you for an appointment. Upon conclusion of the appointment, the consular office will complete processing of your application and render a decision. You will be given a visa packet if your green card is granted.

6. Enter the United States

Hand the visa packet to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry. The CBP officer will ask you questions and review the documents contained in the visa packet. You will then be admitted to the United States as a permanent resident or conditional permanent resident.

Consulate processing is complex. An attorney can help you through the process and troubleshoot potential challenges you may face. Speak with an immigration attorney as soon as possible.

Related articles: Choosing Between a Fiance Visa or Spouse Visa

*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

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