If you are married to an American citizen or permanent resident of the United States, you may be eligible for a green card, which allows a non-citizen to live and work permanently in the United States.
If you’re a foreign citizen married to a citizen or permanent legal resident of the United States, your husband or wife can sponsor you to apply for a green card. If you’re the U.S. citizen or permanent resident married to a non-American citizen, your husband or wife is eligible for a green card but he or she will need you to initiate the process.
The process can be frustrating and navigating the red tape is always a hassle. But if your relationship qualifies for a green card, by following these steps with an immigration lawyer’s assistance you and your loved one will be able to live happily in the United States.
Petition for Alien Relative
The first step in applying for a marriage green card is for the U.S. citizen in the relationship to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.
You (the America citizen) must fill out and sign the form, attach evidence of your citizenship and your relationship, and include the filing fee ($420 as of July 2015) with a check made out to Department of Homeland Security. This form and applicable evidence should then be mailed to the USCIS lockbox according to where the citizen or permanent resident lives.
Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing
If you (the green card applicant) are legally in the United States, as soon as the priority date in your visa category is current you can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
If the petitioner is a U.S. citizen then the immigrant spouse is an “immediate relative” under immigration law. This means the alien spouse does not need to wait for a priority date.
If however, you are married to a permanent resident, then your spouse will need to file the I-130 and you must wait for your priority date before filing for permanent residency or attempting consular processing.
Form I-485 includes a $985 filing fee and an $85 Biometric Services Fee for a total of $1,070. Checks should be made payable to Department of Homeland Security.
If you are living outside the United States, you will need to go through Consular Processing. If this is your situation, even if you are married to a U.S. citizen, you won’t be able to file for a green card at the same time you file Form I-130.
Instead, you will need to wait for the U.S. Department of State to notify you of approval.
Once a visa is available, the consular office will contact you to set up an appointment for an interview. If your visa is granted, you will be given a “Visa Packet” which you should not open.
With your visa you will be allowed to travel to the United States and you should give your Visa Packet to the Customs and Border Patrol officer at the port of entry. If found admissible, you will be admitted to the United States as a permanent resident.
Evidence of U.S. Citizenship
The husband or wife who files Form 1-130 will need to provide proof of his or her status as an American citizen.
Providing evidence that you (the spouse filing Form I-130) are a citizen of the United States is one of the many technical aspects of the application process which an attorney could help you with.
Documentation you can send as evidence of citizenship includes a copy of any one of the following:
- Birth certificate
- U.S. passport
- Naturalization certificate
- Certificate of citizenship
- An original statement from a U.S. consular officer verifying that you are a U.S. citizen with a valid passport
- Form FS-240, Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States
If none of these are available, you can submit a statement from the appropriate authority certifying that documents are not available. If this applies to you, you must submit supporting evidence which may include:
- Official church records showing the baptism, dedication, or comparable rite occurred within two months of birth
- School records showing the date of admission to the school and including your place of birth
- State or Federal census records
- Affidavits sworn to or affirmed by two people who were living at the time you became a citizen and have personal knowledge of the event you are trying to prove
Evidence of Your Marriage
In filing Form I-130 for a spouse’s green card application you will also need to provide proof that you are married to each other. You should send all of the following documentation available:
- A copy of your marriage certificate
- Documents showing that previous marriages were legally terminated (if you or your spouse were previously married)
- Passport-style color photos of you and your spouse individually, taken within 30 days of the date of the petition. The photos should have a white background and the facial image should be about one inch from the chin to the top of the hair. Print the legal name of the person in each picture on the back of the photo.
- Form G-325A, Biographic Information for you and your spouse
- Documentation showing joint ownership of property
- A lease showing joint tenancy of a common residence
- Documentation showing co-mingling of financial resources
- Birth certificates of children born to you as a couple
- Affidavits sworn to or affirmed by third parties having personal knowledge of your marital relationship
- Any other documentation relevant to establishing that you have a bona fide ongoing marital relationship
The U.S. government must be certain that your marriage is legitimate and not simply a deceptive strategy for obtaining a green card. The government needs evidence that you are in a real relationship before they can issue a green card. For this reason (and many others) you may need to contact an immigration attorney to help you with this process.
Where to File the Forms
Which address your forms and other documents should be mailed to depends on where you reside.
Instructions for which state’s residents should file Form I-130 in Chicago and which ones should file in Phoenix can be found on pages 4 and 5 of the Form I-130 instructions.
Where to file Form I-485 may be different from Form I-130 and instructions can be found here on the USCIS website.
If you live outside the United States you can file your documents at the nearest U.S. Department of State consulate.
Consult an Immigration Lawyer
This article is only a simple snapshot of the application process for a marriage green card.
If you’re a U.S. citizen married to a non-citizen or a foreign citizen married to a U.S. citizen, getting your or your spouse’s green card will be much simpler, easier, and safer if you consult with an attorney.