If you are living in the United States as a lawful permanent resident, you can sponsor your spouse’s application for a green card. However, special conditions apply compared to sponsoring a spouse as a U.S. citizen, and the wait to secure a visa – the first step toward obtaining a green card – can be several years. As a result, if you are a green card holder seeking to sponsor your wife or husband, you will likely want to start the process with the help of an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible.

Sponsoring Your Spouse and Other Family Members as a Green Card Holder

Under U.S. federal law, green card holders can sponsor certain family members, but not others. For example, as a green card holder, you are not eligible to sponsor:

  • Your parents
  • Your grandparents
  • Your fiancé
  • Married children over the age of 21
  • Your siblings

However, as a green card holder, you are eligible to sponsor:

  • Your spouse
  • Your unmarried children of any age

So, as a green card holder, you can sponsor your spouse. Now that you know this, what else do you need to know?

5 Key Facts about Sponsoring Your Spouse’s Green Card Application

1. Sponsoring Your Spouse as a Green Card Holder Is Different From Sponsoring Your Spouse as a U.S. Citizen.

First, as a green card holder, there are additional steps involved in sponsoring your spouse that are not required for U.S. citizens. Most notably, while U.S. citizens can file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status simultaneously, green card holders must follow a two-step process instead. As a green card holder, you must file Form I-130 first, and then you must wait until your spouse’s priority date before you can file Form I-485.

Unlike spouses of U.S. citizens, spouses of green card holders are placed on a waiting list for a visa number. As a green card holder, your spouse’s sponsored visa application is placed in the “Family Second Preference” category, which means that your spouse will be given a “priority date” based on the date you file Form I-130. Until this priority date arrives, your spouse will remain ineligible to file Form I-485 and obtain an adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident.

2. It May Take Several Years for Your Spouse’s Priority Date to Arrive.

This difference between filing Form I-130 as a U.S. citizen and filing Form I-130 as a lawful permanent resident is significant because it can take several years for your spouse’s priority date to arrive. While estimates vary, some sources put the average wait time in the neighborhood of 2.5 to 4 years from the date a Form I-130 application is filed. Additionally, USCIS imposes country-specific limits on the number of visas it issues each year, and the demand for visas for citizens of certain countries (including China, India and Mexico) is exceptionally high.

Update: As of August 2019, priority dates for all countries in this category (called F2A) have become current. This is very good news for green card holders. This means the backlog has temporarily cleared and you can file Form I-130 and I-485 simultaneously, which cuts down wait time significantly. Dates can regress just as quickly as they become current so if you are thinking about sponsoring a spouse, now is the time to do it. To see if the category is backlogged or current, check the latest Visa Bulletin – scroll to the chart titled “Final Action Dates for Family Sponsored Preference Cases.” Look for F2A in the chart under the country that applies to you. If you see a “C”, that is good news, it means the category is current. If you see a date, that indicates a backlog and your wait will depend on when your I-130 was filed.

3. Your Spouse Must Continuously Maintain Lawful Status in the U.S. in Order to Preserve His or Her Priority Date.

If your spouse is lawfully residing in the U.S. with you at the time you file Form I-130, then he or she, “must . . . continuously maintain[] lawful status in the United States in order to adjust status,” until his or her priority date arrives. If your spouse loses lawful status as a result of residing in another country (with you or independently) or for any other reason, then he or she will become ineligible to file Form I-485 based on your Form I-130 visa application. The only exception to this rule is if your spouse, “had an immigrant visa petition or labor certification pending prior to April 30, 2001.”

4. You Will Need Various Forms of Documentation in Order to Successfully File Form I-130 as a Green Card Holder.

Due to the need to obtain a priority date and the likelihood of a years-long wait, it is imperative that you meet all of the requirements for successfully filing Form I-130. To avoid mistakes, it is best to work with an experienced immigration attorney. For example, along with completely and accurately filling out Form I-130, you will also need to submit the following forms of documentation:

  • A copy of your marriage certificate;
  • Evidence of your (or your spouse’s) legal name change, if applicable;
  • A copy of, “all divorce decrees, death certificates, or annulment decrees that demonstrate that all previous marriages entered into by you and/or your spouse were terminated;”
  • Compliant passport-style photos of you and your spouse; and,
  • Front and back copies of your green card or a copy of your non-U.S. passport with a stamp evidencing your permanent resident status.

5. Becoming a U.S. Citizen Can Help Your Spouse Obtain a Green Card More Quickly.

Note: This is usually true, but as I mentioned above, priority dates have been current since July 2019 (and still are in April 2020 when this article was updated). So, the below makes sense only when the priority dates for spouses of green card holders are backlogged.

If F2A category is not current:

If you are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, or if you are close to being eligible for naturalization as a U.S. citizen, then applying for citizenship before sponsoring your spouse’s green card application may allow him or her to become a lawful permanent resident more quickly. On average, the naturalization process takes approximately a year and a half from the time you file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. While this may still sound like a long time, remember that it could take three years or longer for your spouse’s priority date to arrive if you file Form I-130 as a lawful permanent resident.

Provided that you meet the other basic requirements, you will become eligible to file Form N-400 after holding your green card for five years. So, even if you are yet eligible to file Form N-400 now, there is still a chance that applying for citizenship could be the fastest route to securing a green card for your spouse. For more information about applying for naturalization, you can read: 5 Steps to Naturalization: Becoming a U.S. Citizen.

Speak with an Immigration Attorney

If you would like personalized legal advice or help completing Form I-130, Form I-485 or Form N-400, you can connect with an experienced immigration attorney through Ask Ellis. Browse our lawyers or talk to the Ask Ellis Concierge today!

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

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