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How to Get Green Cards Through Marriage

Every year, over 200,000 foreign-born individuals become lawful permanent residents of the United States, or green card holders, by being sponsored by their spouse who is a U.S citizen.

Luckily for the thousands of foreign-born people looking for a green card, the procedure is relatively easy. Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered “immediate relatives” under immigration laws and are thus not subject to any numerical quotas.

While the process individuals go through to receive green cards through marriage is straightforward, immigration law makes it so the processing times are relatively long. Processing times in USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) offices across the country average between 12 and 18 months until an individual can receive their green card.

Additionally, the process by which the immigration law is navigated can differ depending on a variety of circumstances:

Marriages that Take Place in the U.S.

If the foreign-born spouse legally enters the country and gets married to a U.S. citizen in the U.S., they may be eligible to “adjust their status” in the country rather than having to return to their country of citizenship to get a green card.

However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

First, if you enter the U.S. as a tourist or student and marry your significant other with U.S. citizenship within 90 days, the government may determine that you have committed fraud. The U.S. government may conclude that someone who comes to the U.S. as a tourist or student must have no intention of remaining permanently in the U.S.

Second, your marriage must be bona fide, fulfilled for love, not simply to get a green card.

The immigration forms which must be submitted to the USCIS include:

  • Form I-130 Visa Petition
  • Form I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status
  • Form I-765 Application for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • Form I-131 Application for an Advance Parole Travel Document
  • Form I-864 Affidavit of Support

The current government filing fee for applying for a green card through marriage in the U.S. is $1,960.

Attached to the visa petition should be your marriage certificate, your spouse’s U.S. birth or naturalization certificate, and proof of termination of any previous marriages.  

It is a good idea to include photos of your marriage ceremony accompanied by friends and relatives, as well as evidence that you and your spouse are living together. Include a joint lease, bank and credit card accounts, insurance policies, etc.

The application for adjustment of status should show that you are “admissible” to the U.S. That is, that you have not been convicted of a serious crime, claimed to be a U.S. citizen, voted in an election in the U.S., or committed immigration fraud.

The affidavit of support must be signed by your spouse with U.S citizenship and be accompanied by his/her latest tax returns.  If he/she does not make enough money to satisfy the requirement, a co-sponsor may be required.

After filing the above forms and the required paperwork, you will be scheduled for a biometrics appointment. The USCIS will submit your fingerprints to law enforcement agencies to verify you have not had any negative encounters with police or immigration service.

Approximately 6 months after submitting your paperwork, you will receive an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) work permit and possibly an advance parole travel permit.  


Luckily for the thousands of foreign-born people looking for a green card, the procedure is relatively easy

After 12 to 18 months, you and your spouse will be interviewed by the USCIS.  If your interview goes well, you will receive a 2-year green card. 90 days prior to the expiration of your green card, you and your spouse must submit a joint I-751 petition to demonstrate that you are still married and living together.  If you and your spouse are divorced, you will need to submit an I-751 waiver petition.

Once your I-751 petition is approved, you will be given a 10-year green card.

Getting a Green Card Abroad

While it is likely that most people will aim to receive their green card in the U.S., there are instances when it is necessary for a foreign-born individual to apply for a green card while out of the country.

There are several reasons why someone may have to apply for a green card through marriage at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad:

  • If your marriage takes place outside the U.S.;
  • If you did not enter the U.S. lawfully; or
  • If you are ineligible to adjust your status in the U.S.

In any of these circumstances, your spouse with U.S. citizenship needs to start the process by filing an I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) with the USCIS. It will take over 6 months for the government to rule on the petition. Keep in mind that the current government filing fee for applying for a green card through marriage outside the U.S. is $1,400.  

Once the petition is approved, USCIS will send it to the National Visa Center (NVC) in New England. The NVC will send you a long list of documents which must be submitted. Be sure to send photocopies, not the originals, of these documents to the NVC.

Once the NVC has received the required documentation, you will be scheduled for an immigrant visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country.

If your interview goes well and you are approved, you will be given 180 days to come to the U.S.  At the airport or port of entry, the immigration officer will examine your paperwork and, if all goes well, admit you into the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident by stamping your passport.

Your green card will be mailed to you by the USCIS several weeks later.

It is Easy to Get a Green Card Through Marriage

If you are a foreign-born individual whose significant other has U.S. citizenship, the process to get a green card, while long, is simple.

As long as you make sure to carefully fill out every form, attach additional proof about the validity of your marriage, and judiciously follow the country’s immigration laws, you will have no problem receiving your green card.

Keyword: green card, foreign-born, immigration law

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