Building a life with your spouse brings excitement and joy.
If you immigrated to the United States to be with your spouse, you might feel the exhilaration of adventure, but you might also feel anxiety about where you will live and how you will work.
You can apply for a green card if you married a United States citizen or legal permanent resident.
A green card gives you the right to live and work permanently in the United States. With a green card, you also have more legal protections than a visa holder.
How Do I Get a Green Card After I Marry?
Of all the factors that can make you eligible for a green card, marriage can place your application high on the priority list. To receive a green card, you must provide the U.S. government with information about your history, financial resources/needs, marriage, and health.
How to Prepare for the Green Card Application Process
When you begin the process to obtain a green card, you should have the following documents ready for submission with your application forms:
- A copy of your birth certificate;
- A copy of your marriage certificate;
- Proof that you continuously maintained lawful status since you arrived in the U.S.;
- A copy of your government-issued ID (containing a photograph);
- Two passport-style photographs;
- Certified police and court records of your entire criminal charge, arrest, and conviction history (regardless of the final disposition); and
- Documents of inspection and admission, or inspection and parole.
If you can no longer locate or access your birth certificate, you can provide other proof of your birth or proof that your certificate is unavailable or nonexistent. Acceptable alternative evidence of your birth includes church records, school records, and medical records. Depending on your current immigration status, you may need to gather additional documentation to submit with your green card application.
How Do I Apply for a Green Card?
Your request for a green card not only requires identification information and many documents about your history, it also requires many government application forms. One of the first applications the government wants when you seek a green card through marriage is Form I-130. An I-130 form is also called a Petition for Alien Relative, and it is for your spouse to fill out. The petition gives information about you and your spouse, and it establishes your relationship with your spouse.
During the application process, you may need a medical examination to prove you are admissible to the United States. The U.S. government requires examinations for public health purposes. A designated “civil surgeon” must perform your examination and fill out government-issued paperwork regarding the exam. Your exam form must be dated within 60 days of your green card application. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends that you undergo this exam as close as possible to the time you file your application, so your results remain valid during adjudication.
Generally, your main application to become a green card holder (also called a lawful permanent resident) is Form I-485. Form I-485 is also called an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This application has many in-depth questions about your background, personal history, employment history, criminal history, immigration history, and financial needs. You must submit multiple personal documents and additional government forms with this application, and you must pay filing fees.
What If I Am Not in the United States?
If you and your United States citizen spouse are not in the U.S., your spouse must send their Form I-130 petition to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you are. Your spouse’s petition goes through consular processing. You must also file forms from the U.S. Department of State for an Immigrant Visa. If the USCIS approves your spouse’s petition, they send it to the Department of State’s National Visa Center. The National Visa Center lets you know when you need to submit supporting documents and when you need to pay immigrant visa processing fees.
Once a visa is available for your priority date, the consular office schedules you for an interview and decides your eligibility for a visa. If the consular office grants you a visa, you receive a visa packet and you must pay an immigrant fee. You cannot open your visa packet. Upon arrival in the United States, Customs and Border Protection takes your packet. Customs and Border Protection also inspects you to determine if they can admit you as a lawful permanent resident. If Customs and Border Protection admits you as a lawful permanent resident, you should receive your green card within 45 days. While you wait for your green card to arrive, you have the right to live and work in the United States.
How Long Do I Have to Wait for a Decision About My Green Card?
The vast majority of immigration applications take up to eight months to process. Your application may take longer, depending on the nature of your marriage.
Your ability to obtain a green card depends partly on whether a green card is immediately available during application processing. If you married a United States citizen, an unlimited number of green cards are immediately available. If your spouse is a legal permanent resident, you may have to wait longer in line for an available green card. Spouses of legal permanent residents are subject to preference categories for green cards. According to the preference categories, spouses of legal permanent residents take second preference after adult, unmarried children of citizens.
What Do I Do While I Wait?
While you wait for a decision on your green card application, follow all directions you receive from the government. You must also make sure you maintain a continuous and lawful presence in the United States. If you need to travel temporarily while you wait, you need to apply for a travel document first. You can also check the status of your application online while you wait.
What If I Have Not Received My Green Card Approval and I Need to Work?
The application process for a green card is not speedy, and you need to be able to live your life while you wait. While your lawful permanent resident application is pending, you can apply for employment authorization.
You Might Have to Take Extra Steps After Green Card Approval
If your marriage is new, you do not receive a full-fledged green card immediately after approval. Spouses who have been married for less than two years receive conditional lawful permanent resident status. You still have the right to live and work in the United States with this status, but that right lasts for only two years. After you and your spouse have been married for two years, you can apply to have the conditions on your green card removed. You have to apply for removal of conditions within the 90 days before your conditional green card expires. You must pay a filing fee with your application. You might also have to attend an interview before the government removes the conditions on your green card.
Contact an Attorney for Help
Your marriage is a wonderful union, and you and your spouse should reside comfortably in the same place. When applying for a green card, marriage to a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident can give your request priority with the USCIS. Although your spouse can petition for your lawful permanent resident status, there might be factors about your specific case that complicate the process. An experienced immigration attorney can help you determine whether you need to file additional applications with the government, prepare for interviews, and prepare your applications.
The network attorneys at Vantage Group Legal Services are highly experienced and well-vetted. We offer subscription legal services tailored to address your problems quickly and effectively. Contact us online or call us at 773-938-4747 for a free consultation.