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How to get a green card by marriage in the US?

How to get a green card by marriage in the US

How to get a green card by marriage in the US?

In the United States, the marriage of a foreigner with a citizen or with a legal permanent resident does not produce immigration consequences. In other words, no foreign person becomes a US citizen or resident by marriage.

And it is that for the foreign spouse to obtain the residence card in the US, the citizen or permanent resident must submit an application requesting the papers for their spouse to the Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS, for its acronym in English).

Thus begins a long and expensive process and, if all goes well, at the end of the process, the foreign spouse will obtain a residence card, which is also known as a residence permit or green card and gives the right to reside and work in the United States. Once obtained, its holder could apply for US citizenship after three or five years through the naturalization process.

How to get a green card by marriage in the US?

Obtaining a green card through marriage in the United States involves a multi-step process. Here’s a general outline of the steps you may need to take:

  1. Eligibility:
    • The U.S. citizen spouse must be at least 18 years old.
    • Both spouses must be legally married, and the marriage must be recognized as valid in the jurisdiction where it took place.
    • The U.S. citizen spouse must be willing to sponsor the foreign spouse.
  2. File the Petition (Form I-130):
    • The U.S. citizen spouse must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
    • Include all required supporting documents, such as marriage certificate, proof of the U.S. citizenship of the petitioner, and any required fees.
  3. USCIS Processing:
    • USCIS will review the petition. If approved, it will be forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC).
  4. NVC Processing:
    • The NVC will process the case and forward it to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the foreign spouse’s home country.
  5. Visa Application:
    • The foreign spouse must complete the immigrant visa application and attend a medical examination.
    • The U.S. citizen spouse will need to provide an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864), demonstrating the ability to financially support the immigrant spouse.
  6. Interview and Visa Approval:
    • The foreign spouse attends an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
    • If approved, the foreign spouse will receive an immigrant visa on their passport.
  7. Entry into the U.S.:
    • The foreign spouse can travel to the U.S. using the immigrant visa.
    • Upon arrival, the immigration officer will endorse the visa, and the foreign spouse will become a U.S. permanent resident.
  8. Conditional Permanent Residency:
    • If the marriage is less than two years old at the time of obtaining the green card, the foreign spouse will receive conditional permanent residency.
    • Within the 90-day period before the conditional green card expires, the couple must file Form I-751 to remove the conditions and obtain a permanent green card.
  9. Permanent Residency:
    • If the marriage is more than two years old at the time of obtaining the green card, the foreign spouse will receive a permanent green card.

It’s important to note that immigration laws and procedures may change, and it’s advisable to check the USCIS website or consult with an immigration attorney for the most up-to-date information tailored to your specific situation. Additionally, the process can vary based on individual circumstances, so seeking professional advice can be beneficial.

1. Who can request the residence card by marriage?

 It is not always possible to request a green card for the spouse. Photo by Thomas Warwick. GettyImages.

American citizens, including Puerto Ricans and legal permanent residents, can apply for permanent residence for their spouses. In other words, the initiative corresponds to the citizen or the resident, not to the foreign spouse who wishes to obtain the papers.

However, citizens or permanent residents who have confessed to or been convicted of crimes of a sexual nature when the victim is a minor cannot petition their spouses by applying the Adam Walsh law.

Nor can they apply for the green card for the spouses when they have been convicted of cases related to illegal detention or kidnapping of minors, although exceptions are allowed in these last two cases. 

2. Types of marriage admitted to obtaining the residence card.

As a condition for approving the marriage green card application, USCIS requires that the marriage be valid under the laws of the place where it was celebrated, which can be in the United States or any other country.

It can be a civil or religious marriage between people of the same sex or between a woman and a man.

However, USCIS does not recognize bigamy, that is, being married to two people simultaneously, even though it is legal in other countries. If a migrant in the United States wants to get a divorce, he can do so even if her marriage took place in another country and his spouse does not reside in the US. Once he obtains a divorce, he can marry again.

Proxy marriages and common-law marriages should be avoided, in the case of residing in the United States in a state with this type of relationship, since they can be difficult to prove before the immigration authorities.

It is advisable to save photos, plane tickets, or other means of transport, invitations, souvenirs, restaurant bills, email or WhatsApp conversations, etc., that prove a genuine sentimental relationship.

USCIS is concerned that it is a marriage of convenience for the sole purpose of the foreign spouse obtaining the papers. If it detects or suspects it, it will deny the application for the residence card and proceed to punish the spouses.

3. Economic income to sponsor papers and cost of the petition

Money plays a vital role in green card petitions for spouses in two different ways.

In the first place, it is an expensive process, and the cheapest form has an approximate cost of $1,000. However, the most common is that the final price is much higher, depending on whether the procedure is for adjustment of status or consular process, whether it is necessary to apply for any forgiveness and of what type, or a permanent or conditional residence card is obtained.

In addition, it is necessary to compute other expenses such as a medical exam, translations, sending documentation, and, if their services are required, a lawyer.

On the other hand, being a US citizen or permanent resident is not enough to successfully apply for a green card for the spouse. In addition, you must have sufficient financial resources to sponsor.

In addition, the citizen or resident requesting the papers for their spouse must sign an affidavit of support, also known as a declaration of financial help. Once he signs it, he becomes financially responsible for an average of ten years, even if the spouse’s divorced.

The possible problem of lack of sufficient economic resources appears, mainly, in the following two situations:

  • Young applicants who are still studying or have a low salary
  • Citizen applicants who have spent many years or their entire lives abroad now return to the US and cannot prove sufficient resources. 

The option to solve this problem is to present co-sponsors.

Finally, in some cases, debts and bad credit can affect immigration petitions.

4. The application process for residency by marriage

Different federal government offices are involved in the application process for the residence card. You have to present several forms to them in a pre-established order and pay the corresponding fees.

The petitions filed by a citizen or by a resident are similar but have essential differences, for which each applicant must follow those of their situation.

Processing of residence for the spouse of a citizen

The procedures for this petition begin with the presentation to the USCIS of the I-130 to the corresponding address, according to the place of residence of the citizen or resident requesting the papers for their spouse. Within a few weeks of submitting the petition package, the sponsor will receive a notice letter known as a NOA1. It appears the number of cases with which it is already possible to follow up.

If the spouse is in the US and can adjust their status, that application can be filed together with the I-130, although it will not be processed before obtaining approval of that form. Once USCIS begins the adjustment of status process, the foreign spouse‘s work permit and permission to travel outside the country will be approved.

It should note that the denial of an adjustment of status is a priority cause to place a migrant in deportation proceedings. On the contrary, if the foreign spouse is outside the US or while in the country, they cannot adjust their status. Once the approval of the I-130 is obtained, the processing passes, first, to the National Visa Center (NVC). , for its acronym in English) and then to the consular office of the place where you reside.

Among the procedures that must carry out, the presentation of the DS-260 form to request the immigrant visa and its payment stand out.

After a series of procedures, the interview will take place at the consulate when a decision is made on the approval of the immigrant visa.

Residence processing for the spouse of a resident

The paperwork process for a spouse of a resident begins with the I-130. However, paperwork to apply to adjust status cannot file.

Once the approval of the I-130 is notified, the petition is paralyzed until there is a visa available for this category –2FA, according to its technical name–which can consult in the Visa Bulletin.

Once a visa is available, if the spouse is in the US, they can apply for adjustment of status if they meet all the requirements to apply, which are more restrictive than those that apply to spouses of citizens. It is an essential condition that they are in a legal migratory situation.

On the other hand, if the spouse is outside the US, the NVC will reactivate the procedures requesting more documents and indicating what must be done to proceed to the interview at the consulate, where the immigrant visa application will be approved or denied. Obtain a green card.

5. How long does the green card by marriage take?

Currently, the request for papers for spouses of American citizens is taking between 12 and 24 months. However, just a year ago, the procedures took between six months and a year, on average.

That means that, in reality, significant changes depend on the workload of USCIS and the consular office that must process the papers. For this reason, it is advisable to verify the average delay that they carry at any given time in the office in charge of processing.

On the contrary, the time it takes to process the residence card for the spouses of residents is approximately between a year and a half and two years.

From the beginning of the last part with the availability of a visa for the priority date of the applicant’s petition, it should be estimated that there are still about six months to go in the process, such as an interview, presentation of economic support papers, medical examination, etc.

6. Residence card request: divorce, travel, work permit, widowhood, etc.

Since the processing of the green card can take more than a year, many things can happen in that period that can affect the green card petition. Among the issues to be highlighted are travel, consequences of heartbreak, work permit, widowhood, or status changes.

Travel and green card application

If the person for whom the papers are requested is outside the US, they have little chance of obtaining an American tourist visa to visit the spouse.

On the contrary, if you are in the US and can adjust your status, you cannot leave without a permit known as advance parole.

If you travel abroad without it, you may be denied entry when you try to return to the US, or your green card petition may be considered abandoned. It is best, if possible, not to travel abroad until the entire petition is resolved.

Work permit and green card pending.

If the spouse for whom the green card is requested is in the US, they can obtain a work permit after the I-130 form is approved and when the adjustment of the status process begins.

Divorce, complaints, and resignation

The citizen or permanent resident applying for a green card for their spouse can end the petition by notifying USCIS.

If you think they were married on paper, you can report that you think it was a marriage of convenience.

On the other hand, the divorce initiated by any of the spouses supposes, in principle, that the foreign member of the couple cannot obtain the green card by marriage. However, it will be possible to go ahead with the proceedings in some cases if it is a case of abuse. It is a sensitive issue, and it is recommended that you consult an attorney before taking any action.


At this point, there is a big difference between citizens and residents since, in general, only the widowers of citizens can follow or start the process to obtain a green card

However, widows of lawful permanent residents may only continue or initiate proceedings if their husband or wife was an active duty member of the United States Army and was killed in combat action.

Change of status from resident to the citizen by applicant

Suppose the permanent resident applying for a green card for their spouse becomes a US citizen by naturalization. It may be in their best interest to notify the USCIS of the change if that means progress in processing their petition, which is not always the case.

7. Request information on the status of the petition

It is common not to hear about the case for months. Nothing will know if the time has not yet come for them to process the request.

If USCIS needs more information, it will send a letter known as an RFE to the attorney if their services are used or to the card applicant for their spouse. To not miss any communication with Immigration, it is convenient to make sure to notify changes of address online or by dialing 1-800-375-5283. It is also timely that the full name is in the mailbox.

In addition, you can check the status of the case online or by phone or make an appointment with the InfoPass service. On the contrary, it is impossible to communicate with the National Visa Center, except to answer or send the required documentation.

8. Causes for which the request for the green card for marriage is denied

In all filing papers for the green card by petition of a spouse, this point should be the beginning and not the end, when there is no solution. And is that the request for residence due to marriage can deny for multiple reasons, and most of the problems could solve by planning the proposal correctly, at the right time, and with all the additional documents that fit the characteristics of the spouses.

For example, if it is necessary to apply for a pardon, it must be done before the petition is denied. If it is a petition through an adjustment of status, it can be requested with the I-130 petition that initiates all the processing. On the contrary, if a consular process is followed, the waiver must order at the consular interview.

For these reasons, if one of the spouses has a criminal record, has been in the United States illegally, or had an immigration or visa application rejected for fraud. They entered the United States as a tourist and married immediately after arriving. In many unique circumstances, the citizen or resident petitioning for their spouse must know where the problem may arise during the process and if additional forms and documents have to be submitted.

public charge

The Trump administration has put in place new rules whereby anyone deemed a public charge can deny an immigrant visa and adjustment of status.

The new rule considers several factors, such as the applicant’s age, family situation, education, work history, income, credit score, wealth, knowledge of English, illness, health insurance, public benefits, and even bankruptcy.

By decision of the Supreme Court on January 27, 2020, USCIS can apply this public charge rule in all applications except in Illinois, where a judicial decision is pending.

The Department of State had already applied the rule since October 15, 2019. In other words, consulates and embassies of the United States have already considered the new regulations on the public charge to approve or deny an immigrant visa.

Additionally, beginning November 3, 2019, immigrant visa applicants for residency will need to prove that they can obtain health insurance within 30 days of entering the U.S. This latest new rule does not affect residence for status adjustment.

9. CR-1: Why are some green cards temporary?

When the husband or wife of a US citizen obtains permanent residence within two years from the marriage date, they receive a temporary resident card, also known as CR-1.

In these cases, two years after obtaining the green card, the conditions must remove from USCIS through form I-751 and the payment of a fee of $595 plus $85 for fingerprints and biometric data. Once this process is completed, that residence card becomes final.

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10. Options to avoid long gaps

When the lovers are in the United States and the other is in a different country, the wait can be very long. These are possible options for the petition for a spouse:

  • A citizen who has not yet married, fiancé visa, and get married in the US. There are NO such visas for the fiancés of residents.
  • The K-3 visa for spouses of citizens
  • Although this option can have serious consequences, getting married in the US on a tourist visa.

Key Points: Marriage Green Card

Who initiates the process?: citizen or permanent resident

Start procedures: I-130, documents, and first payment

2nd part: after I-130 approval, adjustment of status, if requested spouse meets requirements and is in the US, or consular processing, if outside the US, more documents, economic support declaration, medical exam, the second payment of rates, interview.

How long does it take?: currently between 1 year and 24 months. Status can verify.

What to watch out for?: travel, work permit, divorce, widowhood, change of status, notify change of address.

Denial of the residence card: more than 40 causes of inadmissibility

Approval: CR-1? Term care to remove conditions. At 3 or 5 years, all new residents can apply to become US citizens.

How to get a green card by marriage in the US?

It is an informative article. It is not legal advice.

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