If you are married (or engaged) to a U.S. citizen, or a U.S. citizen married to a foreign national, you have a few options for obtaining a green card through marriage. The key to getting a green card through marriage is understanding the requirements that apply to your personal circumstances. Various factors will determine your best path forward. These include: (i) whether you are currently married or engaged; (ii) your (or your spouse or partner’s) citizenship or immigration status; and, (iii) your (or your spouse or partner’s) current country of residence. This article addresses the requirements for obtaining a green card when both spouses live in the United States and one spouse is a U.S. citizen. If this does not describe your situation, you may want to read one of these articles instead:
- 6 Steps to Applying for a Fiancé Visa
- 6 Steps to Applying for a Spouse Visa (From Abroad)
- Can a Green Card Holder Sponsor His/Her Spouse?
Obtaining a Green Card Through Marriage When Both Spouses Live in the United States and One Is a U.S. Citizen
For simplicity’s sake, we will assume that you are a U.S. citizen and your spouse is currently living in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa (such as an H-1B visa). Both you and your spouse will need to be involved in the green card application process. Throughout this process, you will hear the terms “sponsor” and “beneficiary”. The U.S. citizen spouse is labeled the “sponsor” and the spouse seeking the green card is known as the “beneficiary.”
As a U.S. Citizen, You Are Eligible to Sponsor Your Spouse’s Green Card Application
First, to be abundantly clear, as a U.S. citizen you are eligible to sponsor your spouse’s green card application. There is no waiting period that applies to your situation. Additionally, the fact that your spouse already lives in the United States will make the process more efficient compared to seeking a green card for a spouse who lives overseas. In this scenario, you are able to combine the first two parts of the process (Forms I-130 & I-485) and mail one package to the USCIS (in legal speak, this is called a concurrent filing).
Applying for a Green Card for a Non-Immigrant Spouse
To begin the process of obtaining a green card for your spouse, you and your spouse must complete and file the following:
- Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
- Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary
- Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
- Form I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) – This is a financial support form that proves that the sponsoring spouse has adequate means to financially support the immigrating spouse. Most people use this form, but there are variations of this form for select circumstances (I-864EZ & I-864W). It is best to consult an attorney if you are unclear about which form is the right one for you.
Along with these forms, you and your spouse will also need to submit the following to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):
For the spouse seeking the green card (beneficiary):
- Two passport-style photographs
- A copy of government-issued identification (your passport)
- A copy of your birth certificate
- A copy of the passport page with your non-immigrant visa
- A copy of Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record;
- Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record (see more below)
For the sponsoring U.S. citizen spouse:
- U.S. birth certificate (or other proof of U.S. citizenship such as a naturalization certificate or U.S. passport)
Additionally, you must provide proof of a valid a marriage through the following:
- A copy of your marriage certificate
- Copies of joint leases, joint bank account statements
When filing concurrently (I-130 + I-485 together), you should include the results of a medical exam in your application package. This exam must be conducted by a USCIS approved doctor and while the cost of this medical exam varies, it typically runs ~$200 (paid directly to the doctor, not the USCIS). At the end of the exam, the doctor will give you a sealed envelope with your results (on form I-693 mentioned above). Do not open this envelope! Ask the doctor for a copy of your results if you would like to see them/keep for your records.
The USCIS recently announced some changes to the validity dates of medical exams conducted in the U.S. As of November 1, 2018, your I-693 form cannot be signed by the civil surgeon more than 60 days before you file form I-485. In other words, don’t schedule your medical exam too early. Your exam results will now be valid for two years (it used to be one). As long as your green card interview takes place within 2 years, you will not need to repeat the medical exam.
Government Filing Fees
- $535 for Form I-130
- $1,140 for Form I-485
- $85 for biometrics (fingerprints)
- Total: $1,760
Depending upon your spouse’s personal history and immigration status, it may also be necessary to submit one or more of the following:
- A copy of the passport page with your spouse’s admission or parole stamp
- Certified police and court records for all criminal charges, arrests and convictions, regardless of final disposition
- Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility
- Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal
- Documentation of your spouse’s past or present J-1 or J-2 non-immigrant status
- If your spouse currently holds A, G or E non-immigrant status, Form I-508, Request for Waiver of Rights, Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities
- If your spouse has A, G or NATO non-immigrant status, Form I-566, Interagency Record of Request – A, G or NATO Dependent Employment Authorization or Change/Adjustment to/from A, G or NATO Status
- Form I-485 Supplement A, Adjustment of Status Under Section 245(i)
Once you and your spouse have submitted all necessary documentation, the USCIS will review your application and send you a receipt notice in the mail within 2-3 weeks. Roughly a month after your application package has been received, you should receive a notice for a biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment. This usually takes place at the field office closest to you. The sponsoring spouse does not have to go to this appointment.
If everything appears to be in order, the officer assigned to your application will schedule your spouse’s green card interview. You must both attend this interview. The primary purpose of this interview is so that the officer can assess the authenticity of your marriage – specifically, whether you and your spouse got married in good faith and not solely for immigration-related purposes. Unless the officer finds evidence to suggest that your marriage is inauthentic, following the interview, your spouse should receive his or her green card within two to three weeks of final approval.
The marriage-based green card process is currently taking 10-15 months from start to end. Keep in mind, immigration timelines do fluctuate and an immigration lawyer can provide you with the most up-to-date estimates.
What is Next After Your Spouse Receives His or Her Green Card?
Once your spouse’s green card arrives, what is next? The answer to this question depends on whether your spouse’s green card is “conditional” or “permanent”:
If you have been married for less than two years, then your spouse will receive a conditional green card. Conditional green cards expire after two years. In order to preserve your spouse’s status as a lawful permanent resident, you and your spouse will need to jointly file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence during the 90-day period preceding your spouse’s green card’s expiration. You can learn more about this process here.
If you have been married for longer than two years, your spouse’s permanent green card will be valid for 10 years. Prior to its expiration, your spouse will either need to apply for a renewal or apply for U.S. citizenship using Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
Speak with an Immigration Attorney
Do you have questions about obtaining a green card through marriage? If so, an experienced immigration attorney can help. Browse our vetted lawyers or contact us to speak with a live Ask Ellis representative.
*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.