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How to Get a Marriage Green Card – Marriage Based Green Cards: Step by Step

For many foreign nationals, marriage to a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) is a gateway to gaining lawful permanent resident status—better known as a green card. The process can be complex and lengthy, but with the right guidance, you can successfully attain this crucial step towards citizenship. This guide is designed to walk you through each essential step, from the initial marriage and petition process to the eventual green card interview, ensuring you’re fully prepared to pursue this path.

Marriage green card

Ensure Your Marriage Is Legally Recognized

Before beginning the green card application process, it’s vital to ensure that your marriage is legally recognized in the United States. This involves proving that your marriage is valid, bona fide, and not entered into for the purposes of evading immigration laws. Documentation, such as a marriage certificate, joint financial accounts, shared property, or any children you may have together, can help validate your union.

Once the validity of your marriage is established, the next step is to select the appropriate category for your spouse’s immigration status. There are distinct paths for the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and spouses of LPRs. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are not subject to annual visa limits, while spouses of LPRs must wait until a visa number becomes available.

The I-130 Petition

The sponsoring spouse, whether a U.S. citizen or LPR, is responsible for filing Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Along with this petition, several required supporting documents must be submitted:

  • A copy of the petitioner’s birth certificate or passport to establish citizenship status
  • A copy of the foreign spouse’s birth certificate
  • A copy of the marriage certificate
  • Proof of the termination of any previous marriages for either spouse, such as a divorce decree or death certificate
  • A passport-style photograph of both spouses
  • A filing fee

Once the I-130 petition and all accompanying documents are sent to USCIS, they will review and, if everything is in order, approve the petition. For spouses of LPRs, the waiting period begins as they wait for a visa number to become available.

Waiting for a Visa Number (Spouses of LPRs)

Spouses of lawful permanent residents must wait until there is an available visa number, which is subject to the annual limits set by the U.S. Department of State and the National Visa Center. The petitioner must keep the USCIS informed of any changes in their situation, such as address changes or status updates, throughout this waiting period.

While waiting, it’s essential to remain in legal status in the U.S., whether through a nonimmigrant visa or another means. Once a visa number becomes available, the adjustment of status process can begin.

Adjusting Status or Going through Consular Processing

Adjusting Status

If you and your spouse are in the United States when the visa number becomes available, you can apply to adjust your status to a lawful permanent resident using Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

The I-485 application requires another set of detailed documents, including medical examination records, a financial support form (I-864), and evidence of continuous legal presence in the U.S. throughout the application process, among others.

Consular Processing

If you and your spouse are living outside the United States when the visa number becomes available, you will go through consular processing at a U.S. consulate or embassy to obtain an immigrant visa. This process includes submitting additional documentation, attending an interview, and undergoing medical and background checks.

Once either the adjustment of status or consular processing is complete, and all necessary clearances are secured, you’ll receive your green card, signifying your lawful permanent resident status.

The Conditional Green Card (CR-1 or IR-1 Visa Holders)

Spouses who have been married for less than two years at the time of green card approval will receive a “conditional” green card, which is valid for two years. To remove the conditions and acquire a permanent green card, a joint petition (Form I-751 or I-829) must be filed within the 90-day window before the conditional green card expires, proving that the marriage remains legitimate and ongoing. Additional supporting documentation may be required.

Preparing for the Green Card Interview

The final stage before acquiring your green card is the interview. This is a crucial step, as it allows the USCIS officer to verify the information provided in your application and to evaluate the legitimacy of your marriage. To prepare:

  • Review and thoroughly understand the details of your application.
  • Gather any additional documents that may have been requested by USCIS.
  • Practice being responsive and concise with your answers.
  • If you or your spouse isn’t fluent in English, consider seeking the assistance of an interpreter.
  • Prepare to answer personal questions about your relationship and living arrangements.

By approaching the green card interview with preparation and transparency, you can significantly increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Ensuring Full Compliance and Understanding Your Rights

Throughout the entire process, it’s crucial to understand and comply with all immigration laws and requirements. Your permanent resident status can be jeopardized by failing to meet these obligations. Additionally, familiarize yourself with your rights as an immigrant and seek legal counsel if you encounter any issues or are unsure of how to proceed.

Gaining permanent resident status through marriage is a significant milestone for many immigrants. By understanding the process and ensuring that all necessary steps are completed, you can look forward to a future in the United States with the freedom and security that comes with a green card.


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