Getting a Green Card Through Marriage

A Powerful Tool in Family-Based Immigration

Though there are multiple options for immigrants seeking to legally live and work in the United States, many are fraught with draconian requirements or rely on factors outside of your immediate control. No method is foolproof, of course, but obtaining a green card through marriage is one route in family-based immigration with several significant advantages.

A marriage-based green card allows you to work and live in the United States as a “permanent resident.” After three years of holding one, you will also become eligible to apply for permanent U.S. citizenship.

Unlike some other forms of immigration, this marriage-based option does not require an employer sponsor and, if the petitioning spouse is a U.S. citizen, is not subject to visa bulletin quotas. This makes it an attractive choice to many immigrants contemplating how to legally stay in the United States. Below, we break down the three main steps and other requirements for obtaining a green card through marriage-based immigration.

Getting Married and Establishing the Marriage Relationship

Naturally, the first step to obtaining a marriage-based green card is to get legally, formally married. To eventually obtain a green card, your spouse will either need to be a U.S. citizen or a green card holder themselves.

Next, you will have to establish the marriage as “valid,” which involves submitting the “Petition for Alien Relative” (Form I-130) to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Your spouse, referred to in this process as the “sponsor” or “petitioner,” must file this form, along with supporting documentation, on your behalf.

Documentation for this phase of the process typically includes the following:

  • Proof the sponsor is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • Proof that a legally valid marriage exists between the sponsor and green card applicant
  • Additional proof demonstrating the marriage is not fraudulent (this can encompass many things, including joint bank account statements or photos and videos together)
  • If relevant, proof that the sponsor’s previous marriage has been legally terminated
  • A $535 government filing fee

After the Form I-130 package has been submitted, the USCIS will usually acknowledge their receipt to the sponsor via mail within several weeks. The USCIS might decide they need more documentation and send the sponsor a formal “Request for Evidence” supporting one or more elements of the application. Barring that, the USCIS will generally make a decision within 7-15 months.

Establishing Eligibility for a Marriage-Based Green Card

Once the USCIS has officially deemed your marriage valid, the next step is to establish the green card applicant’s eligibility. This procedure varies depending on whether the beneficiary is currently present in the United States.

If the green card applicant is presently residing in the United States, you will need to submit an “Adjustment of Status” application (Form I-485) to the USCIS. This form and its supporting documentation are meant to prove that the beneficiary entered the country legally and is eligible for a green card.

Some of the documentation you will need includes:

  • Proof of nationality of the green card applicant
  • Proof of lawful entry into the United States
  • Results of medical examination performed by USCIS-approved doctor
  • Proof of sponsor’s ability to support the green card applicant, including the “Affidavit of Support” (Form I-864)
  • A $1,225 application fee

If the petitioning spouse is a U.S. citizen, these documents can be concurrently filed with the Form I-130 package in the preceding step, potentially speeding up the application process by several months. If the sponsor is only a green card holder, however, the packages will need to be filed separately, and you will need to wait to apply until a green card is available in the visa bulletin, a process with a wait time of over a year in most situations. Regardless of the scenario, the USCIS generally turns around Form I-485 packages in 9-11 months.

If the green card applicant is currently living abroad, a different procedure must be followed. In lieu of Form I-485, the beneficiary must instead apply for a green card with the National Visa Center (NVC).

Some of the documents you will need to apply with the NVC includes:

  • Green card application (Form DS-260)
  • Proof of nationality of the green card applicant
  • Copy of police clearance certificate of green card applicant
  • Proof of sponsor’s ability to support the green card applicant, including the “Affidavit of Support” (Form I-864)
  • A $445 application fee

The NVC typically processes applications in 3-5 months. If approved, they will forward the materials to the U.S. embassy of the applicant’s home country.

Keep in mind that sponsors must meet an income requirement to support the beneficiary, or their application will be denied. Minimum income thresholds vary by the number of people in the sponsor’s household, their state of residence (Alaska and Hawaii carry different requirements), and whether or not the sponsor is an active member of the military. Evidence verifying income will be submitted in the Affidavit of Support.

The Green Card Interview

Once the sponsor’s eligibility for a green card has been verified, a green card interview will be scheduled. If the applicant lives within the country, both they and the sponsor will attend the interview at the local USCIS office. If the applicant lives abroad, the sponsor will not participate, and the interview will be conducted at the relevant U.S. embassy.

The purpose of the interview is for the officer to evaluate the legitimacy of the marriage. You can expect questions pertaining to the history of your relationship, future plans, and day-to-day life. If the officer is convinced the marriage is not fraudulent, they will approve the beneficiary for their green card.

If the applicant lives in the United States, the green card usually arrives by mail within 2-3 weeks. If the applicant is abroad, they will receive a visa stamp permitting them entry into the country. After paying the USCIS Immigrant Fee of $225, the green card will be mailed to the couple’s U.S. address in 2-3 weeks.

Types of Marriage Green Cards

If you have been married for fewer than 2 years, you will receive a CR1 green card, often referred to as “conditional.” A conditional green card lasts 2 years. To obtain a “permanent” green card, the married couple will need to jointly file the “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence” (Form I-751) within ninety days of the conditional green card’s expiration. The USCIS will use this document to reconfirm the marriage is legitimate.

If you have been married for more than 2 years, you will receive an IR1 green card, meaning “immediate relative” or, more colloquially, “permanent.” This green card is valid for a 10-year period and can be more easily renewed.

Confused or Overwhelmed? Let Us Help.

The marriage green card process can be a complex, challenging process to navigate, even in the simplest of scenarios. Rules also continue to change: For example, the USCIS recently required applicants to submit the I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency form in February of this year, a move that introduced a number of modifications to other forms. The consequences of misunderstanding new changes or making mistakes in documentation can be monumental, up to and including the initiation of removal proceedings.

We at The Law Office of Yifei He, PLLC can help. Our attorney, an immigrant himself, understands the stakes and importance of your immigration matter and is trusted by our New York City clients to advocate for their legal goals. We are ready to see if we can help guide you through the green card process.

Do not wait to get help from our family-based immigration attorney. Dial (917) 451-5173 or contact us online for a complimentary consultation. We offer our services in both English and Mandarin.

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