The short answer is yes. You may apply for a green card for your fiancé, but only after you are married. U.S. citizens also have the option of bringing their fiancé to the United States on a fiancé visa prior to marriage, but as a permanent resident your fiancé will only receive immigration benefits from your relationship after you have married.
The process is not short, but it is very rewarding to be able to help those you love live with you in the United States. As a lawful resident, you begin the process by filing an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
What do I Send with Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative?
When filing your application with USCIS, it’s important to send the right evidence. You not only have to send the application indicating that you have permanent residency status and that you are married to the beneficiary of your petition, but you must send evidence to prove your relationship.
Your application must be sent with the following documents:
- a copy of your green card
- a copy of your marriage certificate
- a passport style photo of yourself and of your spouse
- form G-325A Biographic Information (available at uscis.gov), for both you and your spouse.
In addition to the required documents listed above, you have to send in additional proof that your marriage is legitimate.
Even though when it comes to criminal matters in the United States you are innocent until proven guilty, before USCIS every marriage is a potential sham marriage and you have to prove to USCIS that your marriage is legitimate.
Documents that you can include with your application to prove the bona fides of your marriage include:
- birth certificates of children born to both you and your spouse
- documents showing joint ownership of property, such as car titles or home ownership
- evidence that your financial affairs are intertwined; this could include bills, rental or mortgage agreements, or bank statements with both of your names indicating you have a joint checking account
- religious documents that may verify your commitment beyond just your marriage certificate
- affidavits from friends that can confirm the legitimacy of your relationship
Essentially, any document that can prove that you are in your marriage together implies that the marriage was not solely for immigration benefits and could be submitted with your application.
As a practical matter, it’s often best to send more evidence rather than less. Extensive documentation will go further to demonstrate the marriage is real and will help you avoid a Request for Evidence and any additional time delays that could result.
When you submit your I-30 petition you also have the option to send a request for electronic notification. Form G-1145 can be appended to the first page of your application and notifies USCIS that you would like to be notified via test message or email when your application has been accepted.
Where Do I Send My I-130 Application?
USCIS processes your application, and they have offices around the country. Depending on where you live, you can mail the application and the $420 filing fee to:
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
PO Box 21700
Phoenix, AZ 85034
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
PO Box 804625
Chicago, IL 60680
Keep in mind that filing fees and filing addresses are subject to change. You can always check with USCIS at www.uscis.gov/i-130 for the most updated filing information. All checks or money orders should be made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
I Mailed In My Application, Now What?
If you chose to receive an electronic notification, the USCIS will send you an email or text message within 24 hours after they accept the application. USCIS will also send a receipt notice in the mail within 10 days after acceptance.
After your receive the receipt notice you can check the status of your application on the USCIS website. Visit uscis.gov and click on the link titled “Check Case Status.” Don’t expect a lot of information though, most messages available simply list the last communication USCIS received or sent.
If your application is incomplete or missing any information, USCIS will contact you with a Request for Evidence, commonly known as an RFE. An RFE is not cause for panic. RFEs are generally written in plain English and spell out what additional evidence is required to complete your application.
If you receive an RFE and are unsure of how to proceed, contact an experienced immigration attorney—we would love to help you respond to any RFE you receive. Generally, you’ll have about 3 months to respond to an RFE, but it’s best to take care of it immediately.
It is also possible that USCIS will ask you and your spouse to come into the office for an interview. If this occurs during the I-130 stage, it’s probably a good idea to meet with an immigration attorney to help you prepare.
In our experience, I-130 petitions are approved in a matter of three to six months. However, keep in mind that petitions are often delayed and that processing times vary widely.
What Do I Do After My Petition is Approved?
As you probably already know, the green card application process can be long and there is no definite waiting period. The key is to have patience. Once your I-130 petition is approved, the next step is to wait for your spouse to reach the front of the waitlist for an immigrant visa. The U.S. Department of State publishes this waitlist information each month in its Visa Bulletin.
Your I-130 approval notice will have a “priority date” listed near the upper left-hand corner of the page. When your priority date is current, i.e., when your priority date matches, or is earlier than, the date listed in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for your family-sponsored preference category, you can then file for permanent residency.
By way of example, all marriage-based petitions of permanent residents fall under category F2A of the Visa Bulletin, Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents. For the month of February, the U.S. has issued enough immigrant visas for all I-130 petitions based on a permanent resident spouse up through May 8, 2013 for all similar immigrant petitions except for those from China, Mexico, India, and the Philippines.
What this means is that if you are from Russia and your priority date is January 1, 2015, you must wait until the F2A category on the Visa Bulletin reads 01JAN15 or later before you can take further action towards becoming a permanent resident.
When your priority date is current your spouse may file Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence if he or she is already in the country with lawful status, otherwise, you may need to go through a process that is known as consular processing.
The mechanics of which process to undergo and when can be complicated, so if it’s unclear to you which steps to take at this point you may want to contact an immigration attorney.
Why is my Spouse’s Green Card Conditional?
After your spouse has applied for permanent residency, either through adjustment of status or via consular processing, USCIS may approve your spouse’s green card application with conditions. This happens if your marriage is less than two years old. Under these circumstances, your spouse’s status as a permanent resident will be conditional.
In order to remove the conditional status from your spouse’s green card, both of you must file a Form I-751 Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence. Form I-751 should be filed within 90 days of the expiration date listed on your spouse’s conditional green card.
This deadline is very important because if you don’t file within this period, your spouse may have to leave the United States.
For more information regarding removing the conditions of your spouse’s permanent residency, see “What is a Conditional Green Card?”
My Petition was Denied, Now What?
USCIS may choose to deny your I-130 petition. While it’s difficult to plan for something like this, you should know that it does occasionally happen.
Your denial notice will explain why your application was denied and describe your avenues for appeal and review.
If you filed your I-130 application by yourself and have received a denial notice, it is recommended that you first contact an immigration attorney before you appeal.
They may be able to explain to you why the application was denied and explain whether or not it is worth it to make an appeal.