One of the most common ways for people to become lawful permanent residents of the United States – that is, to get their green card – is through marriage to a U.S. citizen. It is also one of the quickest ways to obtain permanent residence and later citizenship.
However, a green card does not follow automatically after marriage, and people married to U.S citizens must follow a specific application process. It’s also important to follow all of the legal regulations, including providing proper documentation that affirms that the marriage is based on a real, personal relationship and not only conducted for immigration reasons.
What forms are needed?
There are two forms that are the most important parts of an application for a green card after marriage. One of them must be filed by the U.S. citizen spouse and the other by the applicant for a green card. The U.S. citizen must file Form I-130, the Petition for an Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). With this form, the U.S. citizen spouse affirms the valid relationship with their spouse and requests the reservation of a visa for the spouse.
Spouses already within the United States can also apply simultaneously to adjust their status to that of a permanent resident or green card holder. To do so, they file Form I-485, the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This form is usually filed together with I-130 as part of a packet of documents and forms that work together to support the application for a green card.
Additional documents filed with these can include the I-864, Affidavit of Support; I-693, Report of Medical Examination; I-765, Application for Employment Authorization; and I-131, Application for Travel Document. Each requires a set of supporting materials.
What is the processing time?
After filing these forms, USCIS will respond by notifying the applicant that the documents have been received by mailing a Notice of Action two to three weeks after filing. This document contains a receipt number that can later be used to check on the status of an application.
There will then be an appointment set for biometrics, like fingerprinting, set for five to eight weeks after filing. After this, there is a waiting period while materials are processed. However, an applicant can receive a work and travel permit approximately 12 to 16 weeks after filing.
Some applications will require an interview, which is usually scheduled six to 12 months after filing, while others will have this requirement waived. The full process takes from eight months when processing is moving quickly to 14 months or more at other times.