The Marriage Green Card in the U.S. Guide: Requirements, Documents, Timeline, and More

A spouse married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident could be eligible to get a Green Card, which allows them permanent residency in the U.S. 

While marrying a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (Green Card holder) opens the door to numerous benefits, including living and working legally in the U.S., traveling freely, and pursuing further opportunities like education and citizenship, obtaining a green card through marriage requires careful preparation and adherence to specific procedures. Failure to comply with regulations or submit appropriate documentation can cause delays or your application’s denial.

This guide helps the sponsor and the beneficiary understand the marriage Green Card eligibility criteria and the pathways to U.S. citizenship. We will walk you through the application process, explain the required forms and evidence, and offer valuable tips for a smooth and successful journey towards obtaining your green card.

What Is a Marriage-Based Green Card?

A marriage-based green card, also known as an immigrant visa, allows the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen or resident to get permanent residency in the United States. It offers the option of living, working, and eventually applying for citizenship in the U.S.

IMPORTANT! In the marriage-based Green Card process, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse acts as the petitioner or sponsor. In contrast, the foreign spouse seeking the marriage green card is the beneficiary.

While navigating the process can sometimes feel overwhelming, this guide is here to assist you. We’ll explore the eligibility marriage Green Card requirements for both the petitioner and beneficiary, delve into the different Green Card options available based on your marriage timeline, and clarify the qualifying marriage types.

Types of Marriage-Based Green Cards

There are two types of marriage based Green Cards:

  • IR1 (Immediate Relative): Valid for 10 years and issued to spouses married over two years at the time of application. It does not require renewal.
  • CR1 (Conditional Resident): Valid for 2 years and issued to spouses married less than two years at the time of the application. It requires the removal of conditions after 2 years to obtain a 10-year Green Card, which then needs renewal.

To understand the specific requirements, forms needed (such as I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and I-485 Application to Adjust Status, and valuable tips for a successful application, please continue reading through the following sections.

Are you already married? ImmigrationDirect can simplify the entire spousal visa process, from initial forms and document preparation to expert legal review and ongoing support until you receive your Green Card.

Eligibility Criteria for the Green Card through Marriage

One key aspect to understand is sponsorship and eligibility. You (the spouse) cannot apply for a marriage Green Card directly. Your spouse, who must be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, acts as your sponsor and files a petition on your behalf with USCIS (Form I-130).

Getting a Green Card through Marriage: Legal Aspects Concerning Eligibility

The other critical Green Card through marriage eligibility criteria is the legality of the marriage. Your marriage must be officially recognized in the country or region where the ceremony occurred.

To prove the legality of your marriage, you will typically need to provide a marriage certificate. Additionally, suppose you or your spouse each have been married previously. In that case, it’s essential to furnish evidence that those prior marriages have been legally terminated through official processes such as death, divorce, or annulment.

IMPORTANT! Since 2013, U.S. immigration law recognizes same-sex marriages on equal grounds with opposite-sex marriages. If you are in a legally recognized marriage with a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you are eligible to apply for a Green Card regardless of the gender of the spouses involved. However, it’s important to note that federal law does not recognize domestic partnerships or civil unions as equivalent to marriage, so these arrangements will not qualify you for a marriage-based green card.

IMPORTANT! Federal law prohibits polygamy, which means being married to more than one person simultaneously. As a result, even if your home country recognizes polygamous marriages, it will not qualify you for a marriage-based Green Card in the United States if you or your spouse are currently married to anyone else.

The Bona Fide Marriage and Legal Consequences of Immigration-Purpose Fraudulent Marriages

While seeking a Green Card through marriage is entirely legal, USCIS places significant emphasis on the genuine nature of the union. This means both parties must be in a bona fide marriage, which translates to a good faith marriage entered into to establish a life together, not solely for immigration purposes.

IMPORTANT! USCIS rigorously investigates potential marriage fraud and has sophisticated methods to identify fraudulent spousal Green Card applications. If USCIS determines the marriage is not bona fide, your application will be denied, and you may face legal consequences, potentially including removal from the United States.

Obtaining a marriage-based green card requires meeting specific criteria for the sponsoring spouse (petitioner) and the applicant spouse (beneficiary). This section looks into the individual requirements for each party.

Marriage Green Card Requirements for the Petitioner (Sponsor)

Beyond being a U.S. citizen or green card holder, the sponsoring spouse must fulfill several vital obligations:

  1. Valid marriage: The petitioner must be legally married to the beneficiary in a ceremony recognized by the location where it took place, not necessarily the current residence of the couple.
  2. Affidavit of Support: The petitioner demonstrates financial ability to support the beneficiary and any household dependents by filing an Affidavit of Support – Form I-864. This document signifies the sponsor’s financial commitment, requiring them to be 18 years old.
  3. Financial means: The petitioner must prove sufficient income to support their household, including themselves, the beneficiary, and any dependents, at 125% of the federal poverty level. A cosponsor (friend or relative) can contribute financially if the sponsor doesn’t meet this requirement.
  4. Domicile in the United States: The petitioner must physically reside in the U.S. or demonstrate their intention to return and establish domicile with their spouse. This could involve providing evidence like U.S. job offers, lease agreements, or financial investments showing intent to remain in the country.

Reasons for Disqualification of a U.S. Citizen/Green Card Holder as a Marriage Green Card Sponsor

While most U.S. citizens and green card holders can sponsor their spouses for a green card, there are specific situations that can lead to disqualification. Let’s explore these potential roadblocks below:

Disqualification Reason

Recent remarriage

Offenses against children

Risk to beneficiary

Explanation

Green card holders who got their status through marriage cannot sponsor a new spouse within 5 years of receiving their green card.

Convictions of specific offenses against minors automatically disqualify the sponsor. USCIS also has the discretion to deny applications based on accusations or charges, even without a conviction.

USCIS reserves the right to deny applications based on concerns about the sponsor posing a threat to the beneficiary.

It is crucial to understand these criteria and seek immigration professional guidance to navigate the complexities of the process and increase your chances of a successful application.

Marriage Green Card Requirements for the Beneficiary (Applicant)

Generally, the eligibility criteria for a marriage Green Card beneficiary (applicant) are straightforward. If you are legally married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you are likely eligible to apply for a marriage-based green card. This means your marriage must be officially recognized in the country or jurisdiction where it took place.

It’s important to note that while the basic eligibility is simple, the application process can become complex depending on individual circumstances. Your immigration history, criminal background, and health status can affect your application.

Who Cannot Apply for a Green Card through Marriage: Reasons for Disqualification

The table below outlines these exceptions and provides brief explanations.

Exceptions to Eligibility for Marriage Green Card Beneficiary

Health grounds

Criminal history

Immigration history

Explanation

Failure to pass the mandatory medical exam due to specific infectious diseases, mental illnesses, or missing required vaccinations. Waivers might be available in some cases, but drug abuse and addiction typically disqualify applicants.

Conviction of certain serious crimes generally disqualifies individuals, although waivers might be possible in specific situations. Individuals deemed security risks face automatic denial.

Violations of immigration laws, like lying to officials, falsely claiming U.S. citizenship, or skipping a removal hearing, can lead to denial. Additionally, individuals entering the U.S. temporarily and petitioning for a green card within 90 days may be denied due to suspected misrepresenting intentions.

If the government is concerned about the beneficiary's ability to support themselves and avoid financial dependence on public benefits, they may deny the application.

For a clearer understanding of your specific eligibility, it’s advisable to consult an immigration professional.

How Much Does the Marriage Green Card Application Cost?

The cost of a marriage Green Card is another issue to consider before the sponsor and the beneficiary begin their application. The next section of our marriage-based green card guide will clarify the budgetary details necessary to factor into your spousal visa process. 

Obtaining a marriage-based green card comes with associated costs, which can be categorized into mandatory government fees, potential additional costs, and other costs related to your unique situation.

Mandatory Government Marriage Green Card Fees

As of April 1, 2024, the following government fees apply to marriage-based green cards:

Fee Type

Family Sponsorship Form (I-130)

Green Card Application Form (I-485)

Financial Support Form (I-864)

Work Permit Form (I-765) (optional)

Travel Permit Form (I-131) (optional)

Biometrics (Fingerprints & Photos)

State Department Processing

USCIS Immigrant Fee

Cost for the Applicant if Living in the U.S.

$535

$1,440 – payable by the foreign spouse, physically present in the United States, after entering the country with a valid visa

$120

$410

$540

$85

Not required

Not required

Cost for the Applicant If Living Abroad

$535

Not required

$0

Not required

Not required

$85

$325

$220

Notes

Check out this I-30 guide for more information

Check out this I-485 guide for more information

Check this I-864 guide for more information

Check this I-765 guide for more information

Check this I-131 guide for more information

Check this biometrics article for more information

The government filing fees differ depending on whether you live inside or outside the United States. Applicants in the U.S. will pay roughly $1760, while those living abroad will pay around $1200. Remember, these are just the base expenses, which can increase significantly depending on certain circumstances.

It’s important to note that these fees only cover the applications and don’t include the cost of the mandatory medical examination. Medical exams can vary in price between providers, so factor this expense into your budget.

Moreover, before starting the marriage-based green card application, it is best to use the USCIS fee calculator to help determine your specific fees. 

Finally, seeking professional guidance from an immigration attorney or immigration experts who can help you with your entire marriage green card application packet is wise. They can offer personalized cost estimates and advice on who can apply, from where, using what petition, etc.

Additional Potential Green Card through Marriage Costs

Aside from the government fees, various other expenses might arise during the marriage Green Card application process:

  • Medical examination: The costs generally range from $200 to $500, depending on the healthcare provider.
  • Vaccination fees: You may need vaccinations depending on your medical exam findings. Vaccination costs vary by provider.
  • Translation services: If the required documents are not in English, certified translations are necessary, typically costing $20-40 per page.
  • Document fees: Government agencies may charge for issuing certified copies of documents like birth certificates or marriage certificates.
  • Professional photography fees: Passport-sized photographs are required, typically costing a small fee at photo service providers.
  • Travel expenses: You may incur travel costs for appointments, interviews, and document retrieval.
  • Shipping costs: Mailing application materials may involve minimal shipping fees.

How Do You Pay the Marriage Green Card Fees?

Submitting the required forms and fees is crucial in the marriage green card application process. Understanding the different payment methods and which fees go where ensures a smooth and efficient experience.

  • USCIS fees: Most fees associated with the marriage green card application process, such as those for forms I-130, I-485, I-765, I-131, and biometrics, are usually payable online through the USCIS website using credit cards, debit cards, money orders, checks, or prepaid debit cards (with sufficient funds).
  • Other Fees: Typically paid online or in person using credit/debit cards, prepaid debit cards, A.C.H. payments from a U.S. bank account, or money orders.

What Documents Are Needed to Apply for a Green Card Through Marriage

The paperwork you need to apply for marriage green cards is intricately intertwined with the application process. Separating them would be challenging and offer limited clarity. To ensure a comprehensive understanding, we will first explore the documents within the context of the various stages of applying for a marriage green card.

We’ll then delve deeper into each stage in a dedicated section titled ” How to Get a Green Card Through Marriage: The Step-by-Step Application Process,” providing a detailed breakdown of the specific actions required at each point.

The Sponsor Spouse Files Form I-130 and Supporting Documents

Obtaining a marriage-based green card kicks off with a critical step: the U.S. citizen or green card holder spouse (sponsor/petitioner) submits Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, to USCIS. 

The primary purpose of Form I-130, alongside its accompanying documents, is to demonstrate the legitimacy of your marriage. This is known as establishing the bona fide marriage status.

Completing the I-130 Petition Package

Completing the I-130 form itself is only part of the first step. The complete I-130 package requires several critical elements (you can analyze in detail in our I-130 Application Guide):

  1. Government filing fee: $535 (subject to change)
  2. Proof of sponsor’s U.S. citizenship/permanent residency: Birth certificate, naturalization certificate, valid U.S. passport photo page, green card, or similar documentation.
  3. Proof of a lawful marriage: A marriage certificate demonstrating both spouses’ names, date, and location of the marriage is necessary.
  4. Evidence of a bona fide marriage: This goes beyond the marriage certificate and aims to demonstrate a genuine relationship. Examples include joint financial statements (e.g., bank accounts, leases), shared living arrangements, or photographs depicting your life together.
  5. Proof of previous marriages’ ending (if applicable): Divorce decrees/death certificates are required if either spouse has been married.

Once you’ve assembled a complete I-130 package, it’s crucial to mail it to the designated USCIS address. You’ll typically receive an acknowledgment (“receipt notice”) within two weeks confirming your submission.

Processing times can vary, and USCIS might request additional information or documents through a Request for Evidence (R.F.E.) procedure if necessary. After a thorough evaluation, USCIS will ultimately approve or deny Form I-130.

Following I-130 approval, the focus shifts to determining the green card applicant’s (spouse seeking a green card) eligibility for a green card itself.

The Beneficiary Spouse Files for the Green Card

Depending on your spouse’s current location, the process for filing their marriage green card application will differ. Here’s a breakdown of the critical documents required for each scenario:

Form I-485 Application for Spouses Living Inside the U.S. (Adjustment of Status)

This application package is crucial for establishing your spouse’s eligibility for a green card within the U.S. You and your spouse can get all the details you need from our I-485 Green Card Application Guide. However, here is a summary of the essential documents needed:

  • Government filing fees: $1225 (includes $1140 for the application and $85 for biometrics)
  • Proof of nationality: Birth certificate and passport photo page
  • Proof of lawful entry: Copies of their I-94 travel record and any prior U.S. visas
  • Medical examination: Completed medical exam report from a USCIS-approved doctor
  • Financial sponsorship: Evidence proving you can financially support your spouse, including form I-864, tax returns, and pay stubs.

Adjustment of status is how you petition for a Green Card within the United States and is available for the following marriage visas:

  • IR6/CR6 spouse and IR7/CR7 child(ren): Available when the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen.
  • F2A category (F26 spouse; F27 child): Available when the petitioning spouse is a green card holder (legal permanent resident).
  • CF1 spouse; CF2 child: Available when the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen, and the applicant (beneficiary) spouse is adjusting status from a fiancé visa.

Form DS-260 Application for Spouses Living Outside the U.S. (Consular Processing)

This online application marks your spouse’s next step towards obtaining a green card through consular processing at a U.S. embassy/consulate abroad. Ensure they have the following documents readily available:

  • Government filing fees: $445 (includes $120 for the support affidavit and $325 for the State Department processing fee)
  • Form DS-260: Completed online green card application
  • Proof of nationality: Your birth certificate and passport photo page
  • Police clearance certificate: A document showing your criminal history (if any) from the countries you’ve lived in as an adult (age 16 and older)
  • Financial sponsorship: Evidence of your spouse’s financial ability to support you, including the Affidavit of Support and tax returns and pay stubs.

Consular processing is the process for applying for a green card outside the United States and is used for the following marriage visas:

  • CR1/IR1 spouse and CR2/IR2 child(ren): Available when the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen.
  • F2A category (F21 spouse; F22 child): Available when the petitioner spouse is a legal permanent resident.

IMPORTANT! Adjustment of Status (for those within the U.S.) and Consular Processing (for those living abroad) are not limited to marriage-based green cards. Both processes can also be used to apply for green cards based on employment or humanitarian grounds or even through the diversity visa lottery.

The documents described above are just the essential components of each filing package. Depending on your circumstances, you may need additional paperwork, so consult immigration service providers for personalized guidance to ensure an error-free, successful marriage green card application process.

Document Signature Requirements in the Marriage Green Card Application Process

The marriage green card application process involves various documents, forms, petitions, evidence, etc.; each spouse has specific forms they are responsible for signing. This table summarizes the essential documents and their signatories:

Marriage Green Card Document/Form

I-130

I-864

I-130A

I-485 (if applicable)

DS-260 (if applicable)

I-765 (optional)

I-131 (optional)

Description

Petition for Alien Relative

Affidavit of Support

Supplemental information for spouse beneficiary

Application to adjust status (within U.S.)

Application for an immigrant visa (outside the U.S.)

Application for Employment Authorization

Application for Travel Document

Signed By

Petitioner (Sponsoring spouse)

Petitioner (Sponsoring spouse)

Beneficiary (foreign spouse)

Beneficiary (foreign spouse)

Beneficiary (foreign spouse)

Beneficiary (foreign spouse)

Beneficiary (foreign spouse)

I-765 and I-131 are optional forms and can be submitted alongside the principal application or later. This document table focuses on the most common marriage green card application scenarios. Depending on your specific circumstances, additional forms and signatures might be required.

How to Get a Green Card Through Marriage: The Step-by-Step Application Process

While you may encounter different requirements and procedures depending on your situation, the general process for obtaining a green card through marriage typically follows these three key steps:

1. Submit Form I-130 and Supporting Documents

This initial step involves filing Form I-130 to establish the legitimacy of your marriage. Once the I-130 package is complete, the sponsoring spouse submits it online through their USCIS account or mails it to the designated USCIS address.

2. Marriage Green Card Application

The next step depends on the beneficiary spouse’s current location:

  • Living in the U.S.: File for adjustment of status using Form I-485.
  • Living abroad: File through consular processing using Form DS-260.

3. Attend the Green Card Interview and Receive the Marriage Green Card

The green card interview is a pivotal stage in your marriage immigration application. It’s your opportunity to showcase the genuine nature of your relationship. The U.S. government official/immigration officer will typically schedule this interview in the latter stages of your application. 

The location and attendance requirements for the interview vary based on your spouse’s current residence:

  • Spouses living in the U.S.: Both spouses attend the interview at your local USCIS office.
  • Spouses living abroad: Only the green card applicant attends the interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

What to Expect During the Interview for the Marriage Green Card

The immigration marriage interview typically lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the complexity of your case and the officer’s questioning style. Expect questions about your relationship history, daily life together, and plans. Be prepared for additional inquiries if your case raises potential immigration fraud concerns.

Marriage Green Card Interview Questions: Examples with Explanations

Here are some illustrative examples of interview questions categorized by topic, along with explanations:

A. Spouse's Background and Basic Knowledge About Spouse (Understanding of Each Other)

  • Which city was your spouse born in? (Tests your knowledge of basic details about your spouse.)
  • What is your spouse’s birthday? (Similar to the previous question, it gauges your familiarity.)
  • Name your spouse’s residences over the last ten years. (It assesses whether you genuinely understand their life history.)
  • How many siblings does your spouse have? What are their names? (Similar to the previous question, it evaluates your knowledge about your spouse’s family.)

B. Basic Information Relating to Your Relationship with Your Spouse (Relationship History)

  • How did you meet your spouse? (A common question to understand the origin of your relationship.)
  • Where and how did your spouse propose to you? (Tests your memory of a significant event in your relationship journey.)
  • Where did you get married? (Verifies details about your wedding ceremony.)
  • Where was your honeymoon? (Similar to the previous question, it seeks details about shared experiences.)

C. Household Information (Shared Life & Cohabitation)

  • What are the colors of the walls in your home? (Assesses whether you share a living space and have knowledge about its details.)
  • Do you have a television in your bedroom? (Similar to the previous question, it probes into specifics of your shared living environment.)
  • How does your home look? What appliances do you have? (Similar to the previous questions, it verifies cohabitation and knowledge of shared living arrangements.)

D. Spouse's Personal Information (Intimacy & Familiarity)

  • What is your nickname for your spouse? (Gauges the level of intimacy and familiarity in your relationship.)
  • Does your spouse have birthmarks, wounds, or scars? (Tests your close observation and knowledge of your spouse’s physical characteristics.)
  • What cologne/perfume does your spouse wear? (Similar to the previous question, it measures your attentiveness to details about your spouse.)

Remember, these are just examples, and the specific questions you encounter may vary. However, understanding the general categories and types of questions can help you prepare effectively.

Tips for a Successful Marriage Green Card Interview

Acing the marriage-based green card interview is crucial in securing your green card. Here are some valuable tips to help you prepare and present yourself effectively.

  • Prepare thoroughly: Review your application details, gather supporting documents, and practice potential interview questions.
  • Be truthful and consistent: Ensure the information you provide aligns with your application and what your spouse will likely say in their interview (if applicable).
  • Stay calm and collected: Maintain a calm and confident demeanor throughout the interview, even if questions become challenging.
  • Speak clearly and concisely: Answer questions directly and avoid providing unnecessary details unless asked.
  • Bring supporting documentation: Carry relevant documents like photos, travel records, or joint financial statements to substantiate your claims if necessary.
  • Dress professionally: Present yourself through appropriate attire while maintaining your comfort level.
  • Seek legal counsel: Consult with an immigration attorney before the interview for personalized guidance and support throughout the application process.

While the interview is crucial, it’s important to remember that it’s just one aspect of the overall marriage green card application process. The outcome can be influenced by various factors, including the completeness of your application, supporting documentation, and the specific circumstances of your case.

The Marriage-Based Green Card Timeline

One of the most critical questions asked by both petitioners and beneficiaries is: how long does it take for the beneficiary spouse to obtain the marriage green card?

The marriage green card application period can vary depending on several factors, including:

  • Your location: Whether you are applying from inside or outside the U.S.
  • Your spouse’s immigration status: Whether your spouse is a U.S. citizen or green card beneficiary.

To give you a clearer picture, here’s a breakdown of the estimated processing timelines for various scenarios, presented in both a table and explanatory paragraphs:

Marriage Green Card Processing Timelines

The immigration marriage/spousal visa processing times below are estimates and can vary based on individual circumstances and USCIS workload, staffing, resources, etc. Always stay updated on the latest processing times through official sources.

Scenario

1.

2.

3.

4.

Marriage Immigration Timeline Based on Location

Living in the U.S. with a U.S. citizen spouse
This scenario generally has the fastest processing time because both forms (I-130 and I-485) can be filed concurrently if specific requirements are met. This combined application takes an estimated 15 months to process, followed by a 1-2 month wait for the green card interview.

Living with a U.S. citizen spouse abroad
In this scenario, form I-130 typically takes around 12-15 months for approval. Following this, the National Visa Center (NVC) processes Form DS-260, which can take another 2-3 months. Finally, the green card interview usually happens within 1-2 months.

Living in the U.S. with a Green Card holder spouse
This scenario often takes longer due to the limited availability of green cards for this category. After the initial I-130 approval (1-15 months), you must wait for a visa number available based on the visa bulletin, which can take 8-10 months. Then, you can file Form I-485 (13-21 months), followed by the green card interview (1-2 months).

Living with a Green Card holder spouse abroad
Similar to Case 3, this scenario involves waiting for a visa number after I-130 approval (15 months), which can take 8-10 months based on the visa bulletin. You then file Form DS-260 with the NVC (2-3 months) before the green card interview (1-2 months).

Estimated Processing Time

Around 17 months

Around 20 months

Up to 48 months

Around 30-32 months

Marriage Green Card Timeline After Approval: Conditional vs. Permanent Status

Understanding what happens after the green card application receives approval depends on how long you’ve been married at the time of that approval. Here’s a breakdown of the two main scenarios:

Scenario 1: Married Less Than Two Years at Approval

If you’ve been married for less than two years, when your spouse’s green card gets the green light, they will receive a conditional green card (CR1). As the name suggests, this card is valid for only two years.

You and your spouse must proactively file the Petition to Remove Conditions within 90 days before the conditional green card expires. This I-751 form removes the “conditions” attached to their initial green card and allows them to obtain a permanent one.

Upon receiving Form I-751, USCIS will re-evaluate your marriage to ensure its genuineness and verify that it wasn’t solely entered into for immigration purposes. This process involves reviewing your application, supporting documents and potentially scheduling an interview.

Scenario 2: Married More Than Two Years at Approval

If you’ve been married for more than two years at the time of your spouse’s green card approval, you will receive an immediate relative green card (IR1). This card is considered permanent and has a validity period of 10 years.

In most cases, renewing a 10-year green card after this initial period is significantly more straightforward than removing conditions on a conditional green card. It generally doesn’t require you and your spouse to re-demonstrate the authenticity of your marriage.

IMPORTANT! The length of your marriage at the time of approval dictates the type of green card the beneficiary receives and the subsequent steps required to maintain their permanent resident status. Stay informed about your case’s requirements and deadlines, especially if the beneficiary received a conditional green card.

Fiancé Visa vs. Spouse Visa: Choosing the Right Path to U.S. Residency

The information in this marriage Green Card guide applies to married couples seeking a green card for their spouse. The process differs if you’re engaged and planning a wedding in the U.S.

The U.S. citizens file Form I-129F to obtain a K-1 visa for their fiancé(e). After the fiancé(e) the U.S., the couple must marry within 90 days. The fiancé(e) then adjusts their status to a permanent resident by filing the adjustment of status application.

IMPORTANT! Permanent residents cannot petition for fiancés. Under these circumstances, there are two options available in immigration marriage processing. You become a U.S. citizen and then petition for your fiancé(e) using Form I-129F, or you marry outside the U.S. and then petition for your spouse as a permanent resident.

What You Need to Know about the Benefits of the Cuban Adjustment Act (C.A.A.) for Marriage Green Cards

The C.A.A. offers a unique path to obtaining a green card for family members of Cuban nationals who have adjusted their status. This applies to spouses and children, regardless of their nationality. Moreover, even if the Cuban national marries or has children after arriving in the United States, these family members can still qualify for green cards under the C.A.A.

The “rollback” provision of the C.A.A. offers other significant advantages. Cubans who marry a U.S. citizen or green card holder after entering the U.S. can have their permanent residency approval backdated by 30 months. This means that their eligibility for a green card is treated as if it began 30 months before their application date. This can shorten the waiting period and provide additional benefits.

Unlike other green card applications based on marriage, the C.A.A. doesn’t require a specific length of marriage. Regardless of how long you’ve been married, you can still apply if your Cuban spouse meets the C.A.A.’s requirements.

Moreover, you can file for your green card simultaneously (concurrently) with your spouse’s adjustment of status application (Form I-485) or after their approval, as long as they remain a lawful permanent resident.

What You Need to Know about Marriage-Based Green Cards for Undocumented Spouses

While marrying a U.S. citizen simplifies the green card process for many, undocumented spouses face additional complexities. Understanding these nuances is crucial for navigating a successful application.

The Spouse's Entry Status and Its Impact

  • Lawful entry (e.g., visa): Even if the visa has expired (overstayed), obtaining a green card is still possible, but legal consultation is essential. Proof of legal entry, like a visa stamp or arrival/departure record, will be required. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) receivers may also fall under this category.
  • No legal entry: This triggers a re-entry ban for the undocumented spouse, requiring a complex waiver process (Form I-601A) before applying from their home country. This process involves significant risks and necessitates seeking guidance from an experienced immigration attorney.

Everyone applying to enter the U.S. undergoes an inadmissibility check. Certain factors can render your spouse inadmissible, including:

  • Criminal history (e.g., involving moral turpitude)
  • Drug abuse or addiction
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Violation of immigration laws
  • Failure to meet vaccination requirements

Waivers may be available on some grounds, but seeking legal advice is crucial to assess eligibility and navigate the complex process.

Preconceived Intent and Visa Misuse

If your spouse entered on a temporary visa (e.g., tourist) with the sole intention of adjusting status through marriage, it can be considered visa fraud, leading to denial. Genuine intentions are crucial. Your spouse may enter with the genuine intent of temporary travel. However, if the circumstances change, the adjustment of status might be considered legitimate.

The Path to U.S. Citizenship through Marriage

After three years, a green card obtained through marriage can pave the way for U.S. citizenship, provided other requirements are met.

What You Need to Know about Marriage Green Card Denial

While marriage is a common path to obtaining permanent residence, applications can sometimes be denied. Understanding the reasons for immigration marriage denial and your available options allows you to manage the situation better.

IMPORTANT! While the approval rate is generally higher than the marriage green card denial rate, it’s crucial to remember that applications are still thoroughly scrutinized by USCIS. In Fiscal Year 2022, they received over 873,000 applications for the initial step (Form I-130) and denied over 133,000 (around 15%). Carefully prepare your application and consult with an attorney to increase your chances of success, as even seemingly straightforward cases can face challenges.

Reasons for Marriage-Based Green Cards Denial

The USCIS may deny your application for several reasons, including:

  • Lack of eligibility: The beneficiary may not meet the basic requirements for a green card, such as having entered the U.S. legally.
  • Incomplete or inaccurate application: Missing information, errors, or inconsistencies can raise red flags.
  • Insufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage: You must convince USCIS that your marriage is genuine and not entered solely for immigration purposes.
  • Financial ineligibility: The sponsoring spouse may not demonstrate sufficient income to support the applicant.
  • Medical inadmissibility: Failing the required medical checkup can lead to denial.

What to Do If USCIS Denies Your Green Card Marriage Application

If your application is denied, you have options:

  • Appeal the decision: You can appeal the USCIS decision within 30 days of the notification. With low success rates, seeking legal guidance is essential for navigating this process.
  • Motion to reopen or reconsider: This option allows you to present new evidence or challenge legal interpretations used in the original decision.
  • Reapply: You can reapply if you address the reasons for the denial, but this may involve a lengthy wait and additional fees.

As a sponsored spouse, green card applications are not automatically guaranteed even when marrying a U.S. citizen. Always seek guidance from an immigration lawyer or consultant for the best chances of success in navigating this complex process.

Marriage Immigration Frequently Asked Questions

If you still need clarifications regarding getting green cards through marriage, check out the questions and answers below. We hope other people’s experience will help you navigate this process easier.

How do I get a green card in the U.S.A. without marriage?

While marriage is a common path to a green card, there are other ways to get a green card and obtain permanent residency in the U.S. Here are the main options:

  • Employment-based Green Cards: U.S. employers often sponsor these for individuals with specialized skills or those filling labor shortages. Depending on your qualifications, you might fall under different preference categories.
  • Investment-based Green Cards: If you are an entrepreneur or investor with significant capital, you may qualify for a green card through programs like the EB-5 visa, which requires creating jobs in the U.S.
  • Extraordinary ability Green Cards: Reserved for individuals with exceptional talent in science, arts, business, or athletics. You’ll need to demonstrate sustained acclaim and recognition in your field.
  • Family-based Green Cards (beyond marriage): You might be eligible if you have close family relationships with U.S. citizens or permanent residents, such as being a parent, unmarried child under 21, or sibling of a U.S. citizen.
  • Special immigrant visas: These cover a variety of categories, including asylum seekers, refugees, religious workers, and others with specific circumstances.

In many cases, you can get a spousal green card when marrying a green card holder, but you must be eligible, and your spouse must first file Form I-130 with USCIS to prove your marriage. Since marriage is a common path to residency, USCIS initially grants a conditional green card valid for two years. After that, you must file Form I-751 jointly with your spouse to remove the conditions and obtain a permanent green card.

While you’re not obligated to hire a lawyer for your U.S. green card marriage visa application, an immigration lawyer can significantly simplify the process. They have in-depth knowledge of the ever-changing immigration laws and procedures, ensuring your applications (forms I-130 and I-) are complete and filed correctly. Navigating immigration processes alone can be complex and stressful, so working with an attorney or an immigration service provider can streamline the experience and increase your chances of a successful outcome.

If you got your green card through marriage following all the required steps, you initially receive a 2-year conditional green card. Then, the couple should file a joint petition for conditions removal before the temporary green card expires.

Getting divorced does not automatically affect your green card status as long as you obtain a permanent green card (not a conditional one). Both met the marriage bona fides requirement during the initial application process (meaning your marriage was genuine and not entered solely for immigration purposes).

However, if you’re still under the two-year conditional green card period and are getting a divorce, consult an immigration attorney immediately to understand your options.

If your marriage ends before you receive your green card, your application could be denied by USCIS. Since marriage-based green cards require a genuine and good-faith marriage intending to build a life together, a pre-green card divorce raises suspicion about the marriage’s legitimacy. Discussing your specific situation with immigration specialists is crucial at this stage, as you must understand the full implications of this situation and your legal options.

Obtaining a green card through marriage and then getting a divorce does not directly affect your U.S. citizenship or path to naturalization. However, the divorce will reset the three-year clock if you were married for less than three years when filing for naturalization based on your spouse’s citizenship. You would then need to wait five years of permanent residency to become eligible for naturalization. The three-year requirement is an exemption based on a continuing marital relationship.

Yes! You can work legally in the U.S. while waiting for your green card. To do so, you must apply for a work permit by submitting Form I-765 and Form I-485 to adjust your status. You can submit both forms together to avoid additional fees. Expect to receive your work permit within 4-6 months after submission.

Yes! You can travel abroad while waiting for your green card. However, you must obtain advance parole by submitting Form I-131 with your Form I-485. Submitting both forms together eliminates additional fees.

Start Your Marriage Green Card Application Now!

Navigating the complexities of a marriage green card application can feel overwhelming. Our experienced immigration experts and lawyers at ImmigrationDirect are here to guide you through every green card step, offering personalized advice and ensuring accurate and efficient processing. We understand each couple’s unique challenges and can tailor our approach to your situation. Don’t hesitate to contact us today!

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