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Marriage to a U.S. citizen is sometimes referred to as the “fast lane” to permanent residence. There are no quota restrictions on the number of people who can obtain green cards in the U.S. through marriage to U.S. citizens.
For this reason, the USCIS is always a bit skeptical about the bona fides of the marriage when a foreign-born individual marries a U.S. citizen and immediately applies for a green card, especially if the person just arrived in the U.S. or was recently placed in removal proceedings.
To obtain a green card, your marriage must be bona fide. This is a lot easier to prove if there is a wedding reception where the U.S. citizen spouse’s parents and relatives are present, where the couple has joint property and files joint income tax returns and especially if the couple has a child together.
Please view our video about How to Obtain a Green Card Through Marriage before you even think about applying for a green card through your spouse. We hope that the information contained on this page dispels a lot myths about getting a card through marriage
GETTING YOUR GREEN CARD THROUGH MARRIAGE
Each year, over 400,000 citizens of the United States marry foreign-born persons and petition for them to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered “immediate relatives” under the immigration laws, and are exempt from all numerical quota limitations. In other words, marriage to a U.S. citizen is the fast lane to a green card.
Alternately, marriage to a permanent resident is very problematical and often results in the recently-married spouses living apart for many years. A legislative solution to this problem is required.
Battered spouses and children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are entitled to special benefits under the law.
It is also possible for a U.S. citizen to obtain a temporary visa for a fiancee and get married once he or she arrives in the U.S.
IF THE MARRIAGE OCCURS IN THE U.S.
Procedurally, the process works like this. The U.S. citizen must submit a visa petition (Form I-130) to the National Benefits Center in Chicago to prove that the marriage is bona fide, that is, entered into for love rather than simply for the foreign-born spouse to obtain a green card. Attached to the visa petition are the following items: (1) Biographical forms (Forms G-325) for both the husband and the wife with photos attached; (2) Proof of the citizenship status of the petitioner.
This can take the form of a U.S. Passport, a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship or a certified copy of the citizen’s birth certificate; (3) A certified copy of the marriage certificate; (4) Certified copies of the documents that terminated any previous marriages of the husband or wife including final divorce decrees, and certificates of annulment or death.
Simultaneously, the foreign-born spouse, assuming he or she entered the U.S. lawfully, should submit an application for adjustment of status (Form I-485) which is an application for a green card. Items which generally accompany form I-485 include green card photographs, an affidavit of support from the spouse (Form I-864), an application for employment authorization (Form I-765), an application for a travel permit (Form I-131) known in USCIS jargon as “advance parole” – assuming that the non-citizen spouse has not be present in the U.S. unlawfully for 180 days or more – and numerous other USCIS forms.
And don’t forget about the USCIS filing fees which will be in excess of $1,000.
The USCIS will accept the applications, cash your check, and schedule an interview within a few months. If the wait for the interview exceeds 90 days, chances are that the work card and the travel permit will be issued. We link to the USCIS Processing Times for all 80+ District and Sub-Offices.
IF THE MARRIAGE OCCURS OUTSIDE THE U.S.
The process is similar except that traditionally the foreign-born spouse had to remain in his or her country until he or she obtained a green card. This changed on August 14, 2001 when temporary K-3 and K-4 visas became available and allowed the spouse and children of U.S. citizens to obtain temporary visas to come to the U.S. and process the paperwork in the U.S.
The process begins when the citizen spouse submits a visa petition to either the USCIS office which has jurisdiction over his residence or directly to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where the foreign-born spouse resides. The citizen spouse must attach the same items with the visa petition which are listed above including the filing fee.
Once the visa petition is approved, the foreign-born spouse will receive a packet from the National Visa Center (NVC) located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The packet informs the foreign-born spouse of the various documents which must be presented at the immigrant visa interview abroad (e.g., passport, police clearances, results of medical examinations, etc.). The packet includes certain documents requesting biographic data which must be completed, signed and forwarded to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.
Usually, the foreign-born spouse is interviewed and granted an immigrant visa within three to six months. The State Department charges a fee for an immigrant visa.
Sometimes, in order to avoid a lengthy separation, the spouses return to the U.S. after the marriage and proceed to file the necessary applications once they are both in the U.S.
Usually, USCIS takes a dim view of this practice. It is not uncommon for the CBP to stop the foreign-born spouse at the border and exclude him or her from the U.S. as an intending immigrant. However, if the foreign-born spouse is able to enter the U.S., USCIS will not deny his or her application for a green card solely because he or she entered the U.S. on a temporary visa when their real intent was to remain permanently in the U.S.
REMOVING CONDITIONAL RESIDENCE
If the marriage is less than two years old when the foreign-born spouse becomes a permanent resident, the green card will expire after a two-year period. Both spouses must submit a joint petition (Form I-751) to remove the two-year condition within the 90-day period immediately preceding the end of the two year period.
If the marriage has terminated by reason of divorce, death of the citizen spouse or spousal abuse, the foreign-born spouse may apply for a waiver of the joint petition requirement at any time before the end of the two-year period.
On April 10, 2003, the USCIS issued a policy memorandum which states that a person who has obtained permanent residence based upon a marriage to a U.S. citizen can not submit an application for a waiver of the joint petition requirement based on the “good faith” marriage exception to the joint petition requirement until the person has obtained a final dissolution of the marriage.
On April 3, 2009, the USCIS issued a memorandum entitled “I-751 Filed Prior to Termination of Marriage” which explains how USCIS examiners should treat I-751 joint petitions and request for waivers of the joint petition requirement where the couple has separated and/or is undergoing divorce proceedings.
On October 9, 2009, the USCIS issued a memorandum entitled “Adjudication of Form I-751…Where the CPR has a Final Order of Removal, Is in Removal Proceedings, or has Filed an Unexcused Untimely Petition or Multiple Petitions”.