There are few things in life as exciting as tying the knot with the person you love most, so let us be among the first to offer our congratulations! Getting married begins a new and thrilling chapter in your life, but that doesn’t mean everything is going to be perfect.
Challenges arise in every marriage. That’s why marriage experts recommend regular communication with your spouse. Communication can keep minor problems from growing into irreconcilable differences. Communication also enables you to face life’s challenges as a team. This is especially important as you go through the process of getting a green card through marriage.
Getting a green card through marriage can be difficult and stressful for even the best couples, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. If you’re considering getting your green card through marriage, take a moment to read our comprehensive guide on how it is done. We thoroughly explain every step in the process, the requirements, and the time frame.
What is a Green Card?
A green card is a way through which those that are not citizens of the United States can earn permanent citizenship and residence. Many who come to the United States seek their green cards because they want to work and live here legally. A green card gives them the opportunity to do so anywhere within the country and qualifies them for citizenship. This process takes between three and five years.
The green card is often referred to as the “Permanent Resident Card.” You may also hear it called Form I-551. Each year, the United States government approves over one million green cards to people throughout the country. There are millions of applicants. With so many applications, the approval process is rather long and involved. Thus, it is important to get started as soon as you can. Be proactive and get the ball rolling now.
Green cards are most commonly given to family members of those who are already citizens of the United States. However, there are also many workers from other countries who receive green cards.
Keep in mind that there are several different categories when it comes to green cards. We want to help you identify and understand one of the more common ones: getting a green card through marriage. Read on to learn more about how this process works.
How do I Apply for Green Card Once Married?
So now you’re married and ready to apply for your green card. But what do you need and how does it work? Here’s a primer on how to apply for your green card.
Step 1, Form I-130, Sponsor for the marriage
When you’re ready to start the process of getting your green card through marriage, the first step is submitting Form I-130. This is officially referred to as the “Petition for Alien Relative” document. You’ll send this to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an organization that reports to the Department of Homeland Security.
The primary purpose of this form, along with additional documentation, is to verify that your marriage is valid and everything is legitimate.
Your spouse will fill in the I-130 form as your “sponsor” or “petitioner.” This is specifically for the spouse who already holds a green card or is a United States citizen. In this document, you (as the spouse who is going through the process of getting a green card) are referred to as the “applicant” or “beneficiary.”
The form needs to be filled in completely and accurately. Do not hurry through this step. Errors on this form could cost you plenty of time to fix later. Also, it is a good idea to make an extra copy of the form once it is completed.
Documents for completing Form I-130
You’ll need several documents as you go about filling in your Form I-130. Here are a few you’ll definitely want to have handy:
- Proof that the person sponsoring you is a citizen of the United States. This could be a copy of their birth certificate, passport, naturalization certificate, or a copy of their green card.
- Proof that your marriage is legal and valid. Usually, applicants use their marriage certificate. It will need to show full legal names of both spouses, the place, and the date on which the marriage took place.
- Show that the marriage is not a scam. This can be through a joint bank account, shared ownership of a lease, or a history of pictures together.
- Verification that all previous marriages (if applicable) have been terminated. This is usually shown with proof of divorce documentation.
When you’ve completed filling out the I-130 package, you need to mail it off to the corresponding USCIS address. You’ll usually get a response of acknowledgment (titled as “receipt notice”) a few weeks later in the mail.
If for some reason the USCIS needs additional information or documentation, you’ll get a package addressed to the sponsoring spouse. This is a “Request for Evidence” and will generally arrive 2-3 months after you ship off your I-130 package.
When the USCIS has all the documentation they need, they’ll usually take 7-15 months to make their decision. A lot of their decision is based on the current situation of the couple.
When your I-130 form receives approval, you’ll receive a notice letting you know. Now you need to determine whether or not the spouse hoping to get a green card is eligible to receive one.
Step 2, Determining Your Spouse’s Eligibility for a Green Card
You’ll discover that there are two methods through which the US government determines the eligibility of your spouse for a green card through marriage. The method that is chosen primarily depends on where your spouse resides at the time of application.
If Your Spouse Lives in the United States
When the spouse looking to get their green card resides in the United States, then they’ll need to fill out an “Adjustment of Status” form, which is also referred to as Form I-485. This form is filed with the USCIS. It is used to determine whether or not the spouse is eligible to get their green card in the US.
Documents for completing Form I-485
You’ll likely need the following forms when filling out your Form I-485:
- Provide proof of nationality for the spouse seeking their green card. This can be a passport photo page or a copy of their birth certificate.)
- Confirmation of a medical exam performed by a doctor approved by the USCIS.
- Copy of an I-94 travel documentation record showing that the spouse seeking their green card entered the US lawfully
- Show proof that the spouse seeking their green card has the necessary financial support from their sponsoring spouse. This includes providing Form I-684, which is an “Affidavit of Support.” Additionally, the sponsoring spouse may need to provide pay stubs and tax returns as evidence for financial support.
If you’re a spouse of a US citizen, then you can usually combine your I-485 package with the I-130 form. Of course, you’ll want to be sure you include all the necessary supporting documents we’ve touched on. This process is known in the USCIS as “concurrent filing.” The concurrent filing process with the USCIS can take between 9 and 11 months to complete.
If your spouse is a green card holder in the US, you cannot submit your I-485 documentation and package until the US Department of State validates that green cards are available. This is done through the visa bulletin, which provides a variety of annual caps.
Currently, the wait time is around 18 months. However, this can vary up to a few months based on the country of origin for the spouse hoping to obtain a green card. Once you have submitted your I-485 documentation, you can expect to wait 9-11 months while the USCIS processes it.
If Your Spouse is Living Abroad
If the spouse applying for a green card is living abroad, then you’ll have to go through an entirely different process. To begin, you’ll need to reach out to the National Visa Center (NVC) and file an application package.
The National Visa Center gathers the necessary documentation and forms, then decides whether or not to interview the spouse seeking a green card. Interviews are performed at the US consulate or embassy located in the country. This type of interview procedure is referred to as “consular processing.”
Documents for Completing National Visa Center Application
You’ll need several forms when filling out your information for the National Visa Center. Here are just a few to have available:
- Provide proof of nationality of the spouse applying for a green card. This can include a passport photo page or a copy of the spouse’s birth certificate.
- Complete the online green card application form, Form DS-260.
- Show a copy of the police clearance certificate. This applies to the spouse going through the green card process and shows previous incidents involving law enforcement if any exist.
- Proof that the sponsoring spouse has the financial ability to support the spouse applying for a green card. This is part of Form I-864, also known as the “Affidavit of Support.” Part of this process may include providing financial evidence such as pay stubs or tax returns.
An application package submitted to the NVC usually takes roughly 3-5 months to process. At that point, it is sent on to the United States consulate or embassy in the country of residence for the spouse applying for a green card.
Step 3, The Green Card Interview
The last step in the process of getting a green card through marriage is the interview. Keep in mind that the main goal of the interviewing officer is to determine how authentic the marriage actually is.
Questions asked by the interviewer can range from information about relationship history to what the couple plans on doing in the future. Couples might also be asked about day-to-day activities. If the interviewer comes to the conclusion that the marriage is legitimate, they will give their stamp of approval for the spouse to receive their green card.
The interview location, along with whether or not the sponsoring spouse is required to attend, will depend primarily on the location of the spouse applying for the green card.
If Your Spouse Live in the United States
For a spouse who lives in the United States and is applying for a green card, they’ll need to attend the interview along with their sponsoring spouse at the closest USCIS branch. If the green card is approved, the spouse applying can expect to receive it in the mail roughly 2-3 weeks after receiving confirmation.
If Your Spouse Lives Abroad
If the Spouse applying for their green card does not live in the United States, then they will need to attend the interview at the closest consulate or United Sates embassy within their country of residence. In this instance, the sponsoring spouse is not required to be present during the interview.
The spouse going through the green card process will receive a stamp for a visa on their passport. This gives them approval to travel into the United States. However, prior to the green card being issued, the USCIS Immigrant Fee has to be paid. This can be done online.
The USCIS highly recommends that the Immigrant Fee be paid prior to the spouse setting out for the United States. Typically, the green card is mailed to the spouse going through the process within 2-3 weeks.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Green Card From Marriage?
It can potentially take between 8 and 14 months to get your green card through marriage. However, a lot of that may depend on your situation or your country of origin.
Marrying a citizen of the United States puts you on the first priority list for your country of residence. This applies to “spouses and minor children of United States citizens.” Additionally, the typical per country quota applied to other applicants does not apply in your situation. However, you are still processed based on the Visa Bulletin priority dates and timeline published by the USCIS.
Unless there is a specific reason preventing you from doing so, you should apply as soon as you can. This is because the month in which you apply can determine how long it will take you to process your green card through marriage.
Since things are always changing in the United States, keep a close eye on the Visa Bulletin from the USCIS. It is published on a monthly basis and could wind up reducing or extending your estimated processing time.
Additionally, if you have other items in your history, such as run-ins with law enforcement, you could have your processing time delayed. Things like this could wind up completely derailing your green card application if it was a serious problem. Just remember that it’s imperative that you don’t lie during the process. It is much worse to lie about your information than it is to admit any wrongdoings forthrightly.
After you submit your initial application, you’ll receive a number that begins with an “A.” Use that number anytime you want to determine the status of your case when visiting the USCIS website. If you want to, you can sign up to receive notifications via text, so you’re always notified when something changes with your application.
Timeline for Receiving Green Card for Marriage
If you’re looking for an idea of what to expect in regards to receiving your green card for marriage, here’s a timeline you can follow. Of course, please keep in mind that these times may be shorter or longer based on your personal situation.
After Two to Three Weeks
A few weeks after you submit your application, you should receive the receipt of application notification via the USCIS. So long as you fill out your application form correctly, you’ll usually get a response within a few weeks from the USCIS. This receipt letter is referred to as Form I-797C, called Notice of Action.
Make sure you keep track of this notice. The number on the receipt will allow you to check the status of your application.
After Three to Five Weeks
At this point, you should get your notice to set up your appointment for biometrics. The information contained in the notice will provide you with the appointment time, date, and location. Typically, the location of the appointment takes place at the nearest USCIS office.
Be sure you keep your appointment! Do whatever is necessary to ensure you arrive on time.
After Five to Eight Weeks
Now it’s time to go to your biometrics appointment. At your appointment, the USCIS will request your signature, capture your fingerprints, and take your picture. The nice thing about this appointment is that it only takes about half an hour.
However, there are a few items you should bring to your appointment:
- Your driver’s license
- The passport issued to you by your country
- A state-issued identification card with your photograph
- Military photo ID (if applicable)
After 12 to 16 Weeks
Next, you should receive an EAD card if you submitted the I-765 form as part of your application. The Employment Authorization Document is also commonly referred to as a work permit. The Advance Parole Travel document and EAD are part of the same card, so be on the lookout for it during this time frame.
If you happen to get this card in the mail, then it means that the USCIS views you as an adjustment of status applicant. That means you can work in the US and travel to countries outside the US based on the criteria provided.
After 4-10 Months
At this time, you’ll get a notice that you need to prepare for your interview with the USCIS. There’s no need for concern. Going through the interview is a normal step in the green card process. Indeed, you are right on track. Usually, the interview takes place at the closest USCIS location.
Your sponsor may or may not be asked to attend the interview with you, depending on what the USCIS prefers. You’ll get a notice for your interview in the mail, which will come as Form I-797.
Make sure you keep your interview appointment! Put it on your calendar and clear your schedule to allow plenty of time to make it to your appointment early.
After 6-12 Months
It’s time for your interview with USCIS! For the most part, these interviews take around half an hour at the closest USCIS location. To be fully prepared, be sure to have the following with you:
- Bring a copy of your application in its entirety
- Originals of documentation that you sent to USCIS
- Employment authorization or advance parole documentation if applicable
After 8-14 Months
You get your green card! Once your application is approved, you’ll get your green card. It will come in the mail roughly 8-14 months after your initial filing date. If for some reason, your application is not approved, you’ll receive a notice detailing why your application was denied.
When your green card arrives, you won’t have a need for your EAD card anymore. With your green card, you can travel within the borders of the US and beyond just as a citizen would. Plus, having a green card means you have all the proof you need to work in the country.
Tips for Marriage-Based Green Card Interview
The interview portion of getting a green card can be stressful. That’s why we have taken the time to provide some tips that will help you put your best foot forward.
- Arrive at your appointment at least half an hour early. This shows the interviewer you are serious about receiving your green card and that you are a punctual, responsible person.
- Dress professionally. First impressions can have a lasting effect, and you want the interviewer to know you came prepared and ready.
- Come ready to answer various questions. More often than not, you’ll be asked basic marriage-based questions. It is perfectly fine to answer these questions immediately in a natural conversational tone. However, there might be a few questions that require you to think carefully before you answer.
- Be organized and calm when you arrive. Officials are looking for indicators that your marriage might be a fraud. If you look nervous or anxious, this will raise suspicions. Be confident in the knowledge you have about your spouse and your marriage.
- Don’t memorize facts. This can make your answers sound rehearsed, which interviewers will view as a reason for suspicion. You don’t want to come across as fake. Officials know you don’t remember all the nuances and details about your marriage. If you don’t know, then tell them. It’s better to admit not knowing than to lie about it.
- Behave normally. Immigration interviewers are trained to notice when a person is acting strangely. Be authentic so you don’t arouse suspicion. It’s always best for you to be yourself and act normal.
- If you are separated, don’t panic. There are instances when you might be separated from your spouse. Stay calm and answer the questions as honestly as possible.
- Bring all your necessary documents: proof of marriage, passport, bank statements, utility bills, or vacation photos. All these will help to prove your marriage is legitimate.
- Ask your attorney any questions you might have about your case. Be sure to ask them if they perceive any “red flags” in your situation that might be a cause of concern. They will know the ins and outs of your case and can help you thoroughly prepare for your interview while addressing concerns from you or your spouse.
At the end of the day, your best bet is having a legitimate marriage so your answers are true and honest to the best of your knowledge. That (along with following the tips above) is a good start in getting your green card through marriage.
Green Card Marriage Interview Process & Questions
The interview begins the second you walk into the USCIS location, so be sure you are confident and ready the moment you set foot in the building. Officers will take note of your demeanor and appearance (of both you and your spouse) the entire time you are in the office.
You and your spouse will be asked questions, individually and as a couple. Do your best to answer them thoroughly and honestly. A typical interview will last between 15-20 minutes. Questions are usually simple and straightforward. Do not treat any question like it is a trick question.
We’ve provided a few basic categories and green card questions that focus on marriage. These are questions that you and your spouse should know the answer to. Remember, these are samples, so the questions you are asked will vary from situation to situation.
How You and Your Spouse Met
These are questions that focus on how your relationship began and eventually progressed to marriage. Be sure to show that you and your spouse established a relationship and were in love before getting married.
- Where did you and your spouse meet?
- What did you have in common with one another?
- Where did you go on your first date?
- At what point did your relationship move beyond friendship?
- When did you decide to marry one another?
- Who proposed?
- Did you have a short or long engagement? Why?
Questions about your wedding day are very common. This is a special day for most couples, so make sure you can account for the details of your wedding day.
- Who attended your wedding?
- Were the parents there?
- Where was the event held?
- Did you have a honeymoon? Where did you go?
- Who were your bridesmaids/groomsmen?
These questions will focus on the details and specifics of your marriage. Most of the questions asked are something couples typically address within the first year of marriage
- When was your spouse born?
- Who manages the finances?
- Do you go to church? Where?
- Will you have children?
- Are there children from previous marriages?
- What date did you get married?
- Do you go on vacation together?
- Do you spend a lot of time with one another?
Your Family and Friends
You’ll need to answer questions pertaining to one another’s friends and family to show the interviewer that you know about them and have possibly met them. Some questions will also pertain to details surrounding holidays and events.
- Have you met one another’s families?
- How often do you see them?
- When did you see them last?
- How do you usually spend the holidays?
- Which family do you spend Thanksgiving with? Christmas?
- Does your spouse have siblings?
- What is the name of your spouse’s best friend?
- Do you have friends in common?
- Where does your spouse currently work?
- How long have they worked there?
- Who did your spouse work for before employment at their current job?
- What is the title of your spouse’s position?
- Did your spouse attend college? Where did they go?
- What was your spouse’s major?
- Did your spouse get an advanced degree?
It’s normal to be a little stressed about interviewing for your green card. However, if you know the answers to these basic questions about your marriage and your spouse, then you have no need to worry. Review these questions with your spouse before your interview, then go in confident that you are ready to take on anything thrown your way!
Do I Need a Lawyer to Get a Green Card Through Marriage?
A commonly asked question is whether or not you should get a lawyer when going through the process of getting a green card through marriage. The simple answer is that this is an important process and one for which you probably want to seek professional help.
The problem is that many places make the application process look simple and easy. All you do is fill out some paperwork and send it to the immigration office, right? While it might look that way, it’s simply not the case.
Going on your own without representation can cause bigger problems further down the road. Applying for a green card is not the walk in the park many sites make it out to be. It can be complicated and involves sensitive documentation. The results can significantly impact your ability to work and live in the United States.
For example, Immigration Services in the United States estimates that it can take nearly seven hours to fill out a new Form I-485 application for permanent residence in the country. If you have to include additional information, it can easily add a few more hours.
Even if you start out thinking the process will be easy, it may not be long before you realize how challenging it actually is. It is long, tedious, and many people find it tiring. If that’s the case, don’t hesitate to reach out to a lawyer who can help you.
Plus, if you happen to fill out your form incorrectly, you could wind up costing yourself a lot of time and money with refiling and resubmitting everything. You may also wind up needing your spouse to help you, which can result in them missing more time from work.
Even though you can do it all on your own, you can save a lot of trouble by enlisting the help of a professional. Additionally, it’ll help prevent errors that could significantly diminish your chances of having your application approved. Keep in mind that marrying a citizen of the United States in no way guarantees that you’ll get your green card.
At the end of the day, the decision is yours. However, sometimes reaching out and getting help is much easier than trying to navigate the legal and immigration systems yourself. Having the assistance of a professional will make the process much smoother.
The smallest mistake can result in a long-lasting delay in your green card process. If you want to ensure success the first time through, it makes sense to reach out to an expert.