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Marriage Green Card - Immigration Series part II

Part two of our Immigration Series covers the Marriage Green card. A topic surrounded by many myths. Common beliefs - also supported by certain reality TV shows - make it seem very easy to get a Green Card and it looks like getting married is the final step to citizenship and happily ever after. Numerous people think marrying a U.S. citizen automatically gets you a Green Card as well as citizenship. That, however, is not the case. Marriage between a U.S. citizen and their foreign partner is just the first step before a lengthy process to obtain a Green Card begins.


First things first, what is a Marriage Green Card?

A Marriage Green Card can be obtained for the foreign spouse of a U.S. Citizen and will allow them to work and live in the U.S. It is granting them ‘permanent resident’ status until they decide - if they want to - to apply for U.S. Citizenship, which is something they become eligible for after three years from the date the green card was approved, if they remain married to the same U.S. Citizen spouse, and if they are not still married, then they will have to wait for five years to apply for citizenship.

Are you tired of long-distance and ready to start a life with your foreign partner?

Let’s take a step back. What if you’re not married to your partner yet, but you’re planning on it and are trying to figure out how the whole process works. Being in a long distance relationship will get very exhausting and hard after a while and naturally, you will want to live with your partner eventually. When either you or your partner is from a foreign country, it is a little more challenging to do so. Your foreign partner can’t just move to the U.S., marry you, get a Green Card and all is well. We will go over the steps on how to obtain a Green Card for your foreign partner and provide you with all the information you need to be on your way.

First, let’s briefly touch on the Fiancé visa, for those who are not married yet but are planning on it. (For simplicity, we’ll use “fiancé” to mean either a male or female engaged partner).

K-1 Visa - Fiancé Visa

Once you’re engaged and plan to live permanently together, you may start by applying for the K-1 Visa. The K-1 Visa is a fiancé visa issued by USCIS. It is available for foreign fiancés living outside the United States that are planning to get married to their U.S. Citizen partner within 90 days of entering the U.S.

You are not eligible for a Fiancé visa if you are already married, your foreign spouse is already legally residing in the U.S. or if you plan to get married outside of the United States.

In all other cases, you, as the U.S. Citizen, must be the one filing for the K-1 and the following requirements need to be met:

  • You and your fiancé must both be single and eligible to be married under U.S. law.

  • If either of you has been married previously, you’ll need to provide divorce or death certificates for any previous spouse.

  • The sponsoring partner must be a U.S. citizen. (U.S. Green Card holders are not eligible to apply for fiancé visas.)

  • You and your fiancé must prove that your relationship is authentic—through photos, correspondence, and written statements from people who know the two of you as a couple.

  • It’s generally best to have concrete wedding plans in the United States. You can show this through invitations, venue reservations, or other proof that the wedding is not a vague idea but a specific, planned event.

  • You must provide a simple signed statement of your intent to marry within 90 days of arrival.

  • You must have met in person at least once in the past two years and be able to prove this.

  • The U.S. citizen partner must meet certain income requirements, determined by the ‘federal poverty guidelines’

If all the above guidelines are met, you can apply for the K-1 visa, following the steps below:

  • The U.S. citizen partner completes the I-129F – “petition for a K-1 Visa”, and mails it to USCIS, along with the filing fee.

  • When the petition is approved, you will get a case number from the National Visa Center (NVC), and they will forward your paperwork to the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to where your foreign fiancé lives.

  • The foreign fiancé completes a visa application (Form DS-160), an online application and pays the visa fee.

  • The foreign fiancé goes to an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate and presents any requested documents during the interview.

  • The foreign fiancé gets a visa stamp in his or her passport and uses it to enter the United States within six months.

This process usually takes at least six to seven months, and sometimes even longer. USCIS will review the petition, and if it’s approved, they will forward it to the National Visa Center (NVC) which then sends it along to the U.S. Embassy or consulate where your fiancé lives. The foreign fiancé will have to attend the interview at their local consulate or U.S. Embassy and if approved, will be granted the K-1 nonimmigrant visa, which is valid for six months for a single entry to the United States.

Once your foreign fiancé enters the United States, you must get married within 90 days. Once you are married, you can start the application process for the Green Card. One important fact to point out is, you cannot apply for the K-1 Visa for your foreign spouse if you are a Green Card holder, you must be a U.S. Citizen. For the Green Card Process, however, a Green Card Holder can apply for a Green Card for their foreign spouse.

Once married, how do we apply for my foreign spouse’s Green Card?

The process for the Green Card can begin once the two of you are legally married. As there are many things to remember and a lot of different forms to file, it is helpful to get an experienced immigration attorney to help you through the process. This will also help you to get it all right the first time and avoid long waiting periods if you have to file another document that was forgotten the first time around.

Step One: Establishing the marriage relationship (Form I-130)

Submitting the I-130 Form, Petition for Alien Relative, to USCIS is to establish that a valid marriage exists between you and your foreign spouse. While filling out that form, you will encounter the terms “petitioner,” “sponsor” and “beneficiary.” The sponsor or petitioner is you, the U.S. citizen filing this petition. The beneficiary is your spouse, seeking immigration.

Along with the I-130 form, you need to also provide documents as supporting evidence to send to USCIS. Supporting evidence is unique to each and every case, but some necessary and common items generally include:

  • Marriage certificate - to prove your marriage is valid and legal

  • Birth certificate - of both you and your spouse

  • Proof of your U.S. Citizenship or permanent residence

  • Financial Documentation

  • Evidence of lawful U.S. entry (if you are already in the US or were in the US in the past)

  • Previous marriage termination papers (if applicable)

  • Police clearance record (if applicable)

  • Court, police and prison records (if applicable)

  • Immigration violation record (if applicable)

There are a couple of the above points we want to elaborate a little more on. 1. Financial Documentation

Financial Documents are needed to prove that the U.S. sponsor meets certain income requirements, as they’ll have to be able to support their foreign spouse upon U.S. entry since the spouse will not legally be allowed to work right away without work authorization. If the U.S. sponsor does not have make enough money or have sufficient assets to meet the requirements by law to sponsor his/her spouse, then the spouse will need to also have a Joint Sponsor in the case.

2. Proof of Lawful U.S. Entry

If in the US already, the beneficiary has to prove that they entered the U.S. legally and have maintained lawful status while waiting for the case to be processed. If the beneficiary is abroad at the time of application, but has been in the US in the past, they will also need to be able to prove that they were lawfully in the US before.

3. Immigration Violation Records

If the foreign spouse seeking a Green Card has ever been deported from the U.S., deportation records must be submitted alongside the other documents. In this case, additional applications may be necessary depending on when and why the foreign spouse was deported. Such a case is extremely complicated and you will certainly need the help of a good immigration lawyer to navigate the process is you fall into this situation.

Once all of the above have been submitted, the petition will be processed depending on it's 'priority date' which is merely the date the USCIS received the application. They usually process the paperwork in the order they are received.

Once USCIS has received your petition, you will receive a Receipt Notice - usually within two to four weeks. In some instances, USCIS will request more information from you (in case you forgot to send a document or if they need more clarification on something). A decision on the petition is often reached between 7-15 months. The timeframe is always dependent on the couple's situation and may take longer if there are past immigrant violations included, criminal history, or any number of unique facts.

The foreign spouse will typically receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), so they can start to work within the U.S. while waiting for their Green Card to be approved - this does not come for at least 90-120 days and sometimes even longer. In some cases, the foreign spouse will also be permitted to travel overseas by receiving ‘Advance Parole’ (permission to travel) - however, even if your permission to travel is granted, you should consult with a lawyer to make sure if it is truly safe for you to travel. Just because you meet the basic criteria for advance parole does not guarantee you will get back into the US if you leave in some instances.

Step Two: Applying to Adjust Status to that of Lawful Permanent Resident

Upon approval of the I-130 Petition, the next step will be to determine whether the foreign spouse is eligible for a Green Card. The way that is handled is by filing another form. The form that needs to be filed is the I-485, Adjustment of Status Application in order for your spouse to stay within the U.S. and obtain his/her green card. Actually, this form can often be submitted together with the I-130 all at once, initially and this process is called “concurrent filing”. Check with an experienced immigration lawyer to determine if you are eligible to concurrently file your application. Doing so may save you months of processing time - however, doing so if you are not eligible could place you at risk of being placed into deportation proceedings, so it’s very important to be sure before filing your applications.

If your foreign spouse is overseas, then only the I-130 can be filed initially. A foreign spouse will not ever file an I-485 (that form is only used to adjust status to that of lawful permanent resident in the United States). If abroad, once the I-130 Petition is approved, then USCIS will transfer your I-130 Approval Notice to the National Visa Center (NVC) and the foreign spouse will then begin a stage that is known as ‘Consular Processing’, including filing an online application for an immigrant visa, providing all required documentation to the NVC and US Embassy in the spouse’s home country, obtaining a medical and police clearance abroad, and then attending a scheduled Interview at the US Embassy in the home country. If the US Embassy approves the immigrant visa, at or after Interview, then you may travel to the United States and will be a lawful permanent resident upon entry.

Step Three: Attending the Green Card Interview

Once your I-130 Petition is approved, the final step to getting a Green Card for your foreign spouse, who is in the US, is the Green Card Interview. So here is where most people get a little nervous. You will have to prove to an Immigration Officer that your marriage is legit and your relationship is built on love, as that is the primary purpose of the interview; for the interviewing officer to assess the authenticity of your marriage. While it probably is authentic and legit, when you are being put in front of a uniformed officer, answering detailed questions about your marriage and your life together, it is natural to get a little nervous. It is also perfectly natural that you may want to try and prove yourself and the authenticity of your relationship. You may be worried that what you say and the proof you provide is not good enough, you may be trying to read the interviewers facial expression and try and try to make your relationship sound ‘better’ by adding a few details. Or maybe you do your best to be overly affectionate. Don’t do that. If the two of you are building a life together and have solid proof that your relationship is built on love it does not need to be some fantastic story, it just needs to be the truth. That’s the most important thing. Don’t get tangled up in untrue details, they will know.

We will walk you through the interview process to prepare you as well as possible and hopefully ease your nerves a little bit. The interview will take place at the USCIS office closest to where you and your spouse reside. Both of you will be required to attend the interview, and if you wish, your attorney may be present as well.

What to bring:

USCIS will send you a checklist with all the items you need to bring to the interview. They include all original documents that you filed with your I-130 and I-485, both you and your spouse’s passports, the original Interview Appointment Notice, travel documents, the obtained work authorization, advanced parole (travel authorization), medical exam (if you did not already file it), and supporting documents proving your relationship and a life together.

This part is essential and very overwhelming. What the Immigration Officer will want to see is proof that you are residing as a married couple - things that can help illustrate this to the Officer are proof of joint bank accounts, joint credit card statements, your current lease or mortgage paperwork for your marital residence, utility bills in joint names for your marital residence, insurance covering both parties, etc. Joining your finances should occur naturally over time as in any marriage - don’t wait until two weeks before the interview and then realize you only have one gas bill with both of your names on it! Further supporting documents may include pictures, letters or other kinds of correspondence. So when you get together, make sure you take photos of the activities you do together. Family meetings and reunions are a great time to take lots of pictures too. This will show that your spouse and your family have met and (hopefully) get along. Photos that show the two of you as a couple with friends are great as well, as that indicates that the spouse is part of your social life and accepted by friends. Bring wedding pictures, pictures of when you first met, when you visited your spouse’s home country. Anything showing your relationship will be significant. If you sent letters back and forth or sent emails, texts, facebook messages… bring it. Rather have too much than not enough. A good lawyer can help you to determine the best proofs for your particular case.

The Officer will take a moment and look through these personal documents, and they may also ask you questions about family members or friends in the pictures. They may want to know more details about what was happening in the picture and when it took place. Most questions will be about the history of your relationship and future plans together. In case you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so instead of making up an answer. Again, honesty is essential!

Your foreign spouse will have to answer questions as well. In addition to everything you may have to answer, your spouse may also be questioned about his/her intentions in the U.S. and if they have ever committed any kind of crime or are planning to do so, among other such things.

While most couples get interviewed together, there are a few cases where you might get separated and be questioned one at a time. The reason why the interview may be conducted that way is mainly if USCIS has identified general “red flags” that point to the possibility of a fraudulent marriage, but even if not they may just randomly interview separately if they desire to do so.

Example questions Here are a few specific questions that are frequently asked during a Green Card Immigration Interview - these are just a few examples. The Officers can and often do ask many, many other questions as well. Do not read too much online about questioning or you will just get overwhelmed. Focus on your own case, be prepared to tell the truth, and work closely with your lawyer to prepare for your Interview.

  • How, when and where did you meet your spouse?

  • What was your spouse’s living situation when you first met?

  • What is your spouse’s date of birth?

  • Where did your spouse work when you met him/her?

  • What type of work does your spouse do?

  • How much does your spouse earn?

  • When did you and your spouse decide to get married? Was there a proposal? Who proposed? When and where did it take place?

  • When did you and your spouse move in together?

  • When did you get married?

  • Did you go on a honeymoon? If yes, where?

  • Who pays the rent/mortgage?

  • What size bed do you and your spouse have?

  • Can you describe the pieces of furniture in your bedroom?

  • Who takes care of what chores around the home? (who does the cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping?

What happens next?

There are a few different outcomes that can occur after a Green Card interview:

Approval: The Officer may approve your case. If so, you will receive an Approval Notice and your Green Card in a few weeks by mail.

Request for Evidence: The Officer may issue a request for proof if they need more information. Most of the time this is for more proof that your relationship is legit, such as additional bills or statements from friends and family, confirming the authenticity of your relationship.

Additional Review: The Officer will state that your case needs further review and that you must wait for either a final decision or additional next steps to arrive in the mail.

Second Interview: The officer will invite you for a second interview to further discuss certain areas of your relationship or background. You will receive another Interview Appoinment Notice from USCIS.

Denial: If clear ineligibility is established, the Officer can deny a case. Some common factors that may negatively affect the Green Card applicant’s eligibility include insufficient documents, issues uncovered in the background check, or immigration history violations.. More often than not, however, the officer will give you an opportunity to attempt to clear up such issues before reaching a final decision. If you do not already have a lawyer and you are given an opportunity to clear up the issues at hand, you will definitely want to hire a lawyer to help you!

Once you have obtained your green card, that’s still not it in all cases. In case the two of you have been married for less than two years, your foreign spouse will have to file a special application to renew the Green Card after two years and prove the authenticity of your marriage one more time. This Application is known as Form I-751 - “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence”. This must happen during the 90 days before the Green Card expires.

If you have been married longer than two years, then USCIS will typically give you a Green Card valid for ten years from the get-go, and you will not have to go through the process of proving the authenticity of your marriage again. You will only need to file an application to renew your Green Card at the end of 10 years (although, if eligible, you should apply for citizenship long before the 10 years pass by!).

The process is long and surely not easy, but once you get through it will undoubtedly have strengthened your relationship.

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