Guide To Obtaining A Marriage-Based Green Card

The steps to obtaining lawful permanent residency through marriage can appear overwhelming.  In this guide, we will make it more manageable.  If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you can petition for your spouse to become a lawful permanent resident and receive his or her “green card.”

Necessary Forms And Biographic Documents To Start An Application For A Green Card From Within The United States

If your spouse is lawfully in the United States, you may be eligible to file an adjustment of status application.  Here, both parties must prove their identity, citizenship, and relationship to each other.  The petitioner is the party with legal status in the U.S. and his or her spouse is the beneficiary.  The petitioner can either be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) or a U.S. citizen.

The petitioner must submit the following:

  • Proof of status in the U.S. (a copy of both sides of your valid green card, copy of your U.S. birth certificate or copy of your U.S. naturalization certificate);
  • Two identical passport-size photos;
  • Name change documents, if applicable.

The beneficiary must submit the following:

  • A certified copy of his or her birth certificate;
  • A certified copy of the couple’s marriage certificate (regardless of whether you married in the U.S. or overseas);
  • Copy of the biographic pages of your foreign passport;
  • Copy of the current visa stamp showing lawful entry to the United States;
  • I-94 arrival/departure record;
  • Two identical passport-size photos;
  • Criminal history, if applicable;
  • Name change documents, if applicable.

If either party was married before, a certified copy of a divorce decree is required.

The list of forms to start an application for a green card from within the United States is as follows:

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative;
  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status;
  • Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record;
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization;
  • Form I-864, Affidavit of Support;
  • Form I-864A, Contract between Sponsor and Household Member (if applicable).

If the petitioner is a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for concurrent filing.  This means that all of the listed forms can be submitted together and as a result, the process moves relatively quickly.  Concurrent filing is not available where the petitioner is a lawful permanent resident or the beneficiary resides overseas.

 

Necessary Forms And Biographic Documents To Start An Application For A Green Card Based On Marriage From Outside The United States

If the beneficiary doesn’t live in the United States but is married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder, the petitioner can still apply for his or her spouse.  In this instance, the application will be routed through the National Visa Center, which is a part of the State Department.

The list of biographic documents is the same as listed above.  However, the relevant forms in this instance are as follows:

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative;
  • Form I-864, Affidavit of Support;
  • Form DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application;
  • Medical exam;
  • Police clearance certificate(s), if applicable.

It is important to note that almost all forms require a filing fee and your application won’t be accepted without these fees.  This applies to applications from both inside and outside the United States.

 

Additional Required Documents For A Green Card Based On Marriage

Guide To Obtaining A Marriage-Based Green Card - Castro Law Offices - Best Immigration Lawyers in CA

In both instances, the petitioner must submit evidence of his or her finances via Form I-864, the Affidavit of Support.  The supporting documents include the following:

  • Three years of the most recent federal tax returns with W-2s;
  • Recent pay stubs to evidence a stable work history;
  • Dated and signed letter from the petitioner’s employer confirming employment, title/role, and the actual earnings per week/month/year.

If the petitioner cannot show annual earnings above the federal poverty guidelines for the quantity of people in his or her household, the couple will need a co-sponsor.  The co-sponsor must have earnings that meet the federal threshold.

This co-sponsor can be a family member, friend or colleague.  A co-sponsor must submit the following:

  • Proof of lawful status in the U.S. (a copy of both sides of your valid green card, copy of your U.S. birth certificate or copy of your naturalization certificate);
  • Three years of the most recent federal tax returns with W-2s;
  • Recent pay stubs to evidence a stable work history;
  • Dated and signed letter from the co-sponsors employer confirming employment, title/role, and the actual earnings per week/month/year.

 

Documents For The Green Card Interview

Whether you are filing from within the U.S. or outside, there will be an interview.  The interview is intended to determine whether your marriage is bona fide and that you did not marry for lawful status in the United States. If overseas, the beneficiary will attend this interview alone.  If in the United States, it is expected that both parties will attend.

 Specific documentation is required at the interview.  The beneficiary must submit the following:

  • Medical exam results in its original sealed envelope;
  • Updated financial evidence from the petitioner due to the wait between the initial filing of financial evidence and the actual interview (subsequent year’s tax return, updated letter from the employer, additional paystubs, or evidence of an additional or new job);
  • Evidence to support the bona fides of the marriage.

Finally, you should bring your original biographic documents to the interview.  The officer will compare these with the copies you submitted to start the application process.

 

The Government’s Response/Timing

You will receive receipt notices for all fees sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the National Visa Center.  This receipt acknowledges the fees paid and issues a number pertaining to your pending case.  You can track the progress of your case online with this number.

The duration for these applications can vary, depending on whether the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.  The other factor affecting processing time is whether the beneficiary is inside the United States or overseas.  It can take anywhere between ten months to about three years for the government to approve a marital-based case.

 

Conclusion

The list of biographic documents required to apply for a green card based on marriage is quite similar, regardless of the petitioner’s lawful status or where the beneficiary is located.  Proof of identity, citizenship, and relationship are the first items submitted, with the relevant forms and filing fees.  These documents are necessary regardless of whether the petitioner is a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen.  In both instances, the petitioner can show his or her financial position with federal tax returns, W-2s, and paystubs.  The order, forms, and timing are the main distinguishing features between the two methods to get a green card through marriage.

Please note this guide does not include details on the filing fees for a marital-based application.  As stated, most forms have a filing fee.  Documents discussed herein must be submitted with the relevant forms for each step.  As seen in the lists above, forms and fees will differ depending on the method used.

It is always wise to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to assess your circumstances and determine the best path towards acquiring status through marriage.  We can also discuss timing and any unique factors that pertain to you.  We would be happy to assist you with any questions you may have.

Resources

https://www.uscis.gov/i-130

https://www.uscis.gov/i-485

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/step-1-submit-a-petition/step-2-begin-nvc-processing.html

www.uscis.gov

https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do

 

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