Attorney Lawrence Gruner explains the ins and outs on how to file for a marriage green card for your spouse.
Green Card Through Marriage
A green card through marriage is a great way to obtain a green card for your spouse. The process for obtaining a green card through marriage will depend on where your spouse is located.
If your spouse is in the United States, you may be able to obtain a green card for him or her, via the adjustment of status process.
If your spouse is in the United States (with a legal entry and you otherwise qualify) you will submit all of your required paperwork (see below) to the USCIS lock box in Chicago.
An example of a legal entry would be: You came to the United States on a tourist visa with the intention of returning to your home country. You overstayed your visa but you met your spouse. You both decided to get married and apply for your green card via the adjustment of status process. Assuming USCIS believes you have a valid marriage and there is no other basis for you to be deemed inadmissible you should receive your permanent residence (green card).
An example of an illegal entry would be: You came to the United States without being legally admitted by a border agent. You met your spouse. You both decided to get married and apply for your green card. If this is your situation you should DEFINITELY speak to an Immigration Attorney to review all of your options. For now do not file anything with USCIS and do not leave the United States. The information below does not apply to you. Feel free to contact our office for advice.
Paperwork to File
The paperwork you would file in the green card through marriage case would include:
I-130, I-130a, I-131, I-485, I-864, and I-765 These documents can change so check to make sure that this is accurate prior to filing any documents with USCIS
The I-130 Form is the petition for an alien relative. It establishes that you are an immediate relative to a U.S. Citizen. According to USCIS :
“Use this form if you are a citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States who needs to establish your relationship to an eligible relative who wishes to immigrate to the United States.”
Filing a Form I-130 is only the first step in helping an eligible relative immigrate to the United States. The filing or approval of this petition generally does not give your relative any status in the United States.
Once we approve the petition, your relative may apply to become a LPR.”
The I-485 form is the application for adjustment of status. You are adjusting your status from one status (e.g. a tourist visa) to another status (e.g. obtaining a conditional green card). USCIS is using this form to learn about your status in the U.S and whether or not you have any prior criminal or immigration issues which could cause your case to be denied.
I-864 Form. This is the affidavit of support form that the U.S. Citizen will complete and turn in showing that he or she has the ability to support you so that you will not become a public charge. With this form the U.S. Citizen is guaranteeing to repay the government should you receive certain public benefits. The U.S. Citizen will always need to file the I-864 form in this type of case.
If his or her income is not enough to meet the income requirements (125% of the federal poverty level based on family size and state of residence) assets may be used (subject to some limitations) to meet the requirement.
USCIS issues income requirements for the I-864 form every year.
If the U.S. Citizen still does not meet the financial requirements then a co-sponsor may be used. In certain situations the non-U.S. Citizen’s income may be used to meet this requirement. (Call us for details about how this may work in your case.)
You will need to turn in your latest federal income tax return and the
information from the 2 most recent federal tax returns or you may turn in IRS transcripts for these years. In addition you will turn in an employment letter showing that your income is above the poverty level for your size of a family and recent pay stubs.
If you are using a joint sponsor and the person is n your household or you are using a dependent as a co-sponsor they will submit form I-864A. They will also need to provide the same type of financial proof as the U.S. Citizen in this type of case.
I-765 Form. This form is used for work authorization. Currently, it is taking between 3 and 6 months for the work authorization card to be issued. Some clients are getting their work authorization cards in less than 3 months and others in longer than 6 months. However, overall you should expect it to take 3-6 months.
I-130a Form This form is used by USCIS to gather more information in marriage green card cases.
I-131 Form. Travel document request. I recommend that you do NOT travel while your case is in process, even if you get a travel card from USCIS prior to your green card through marriage interview, unless an immigration attorney reviews your total situation and lets you know it is ok to travel outside of the United States while the case is pending.
When do I receive information from USCIS?
A receipt notice should be sent to you within 2-4 weeks informing you that USCIS has received your packet.
Generally a combination work authorization/ travel (advance parole) card should come in the mail in the next 3 to 6 months. However, there is no guarantee that you will receive this card within that time period. Some applicants receive their cards sooner than 3 months (unlikely) and some later than 6 months. Once you receive this card you can go to your local social security office and request a social security card. You can use this card with your work authorization card to work legally in the United States.
Documents to Prepare for Green Card Through Marriage Interview
About a month before your interview you will receive an interview notice. This notice will tell you the date, time and place for your interview. It will also tell you what evidence USCIS wants you to bring to your interview. Make sure to bring this evidence. You should also bring originals of all the key documents in the case. These would include birth certificates, divorce decrees, marriage certificate etc. These should be brought whether or not USCIS lists these documents on your interview notice.
In addition to the above documents you should bring evidence showing that your lives are mingled together. These documents should include a wedding album, an album showing your trips together and time you both have spent with family and friends, joint documents such as joint tax returns, joint bank accounts, life insurance (showing that your spouse is the beneficiary in case you die), medical insurance, car insurance and documents which show that you have joint ownership of cars, boats, homes etc.
In addition, you can bring mail that is addressed to both of you; Facebook and other social media posts congratulating you on your wedding; photos of the wedding gifts you received; wedding cards you received; and affidavits from friends and family stating that they know your marriage is real.
Green Card Through Marriage Interview
At the end of the green card through marriage process you and your spouse will have your marriage green card interview. The interview generally takes about 30 to 45 minutes. I have had interviews that have taken as little as 10 minutes but that is definitely the exception and not the norm.
You should arrive early to your green card through marriage interview, go through security, check in at the check in desk and wait for your interview. I advise my clients to arrive to the building at least 60 minutes before their interview is scheduled. It is definitely a good idea to arrive early. This is because sometimes, due to security entering the building, or long check in lines it can take a longer than expected to check in for the interview. (In Sacramento it is not unusual to have a 45-60 minute wait just to get into the building. I have been to other locations where there was literally no line and no wait. However, even then it took a few minutes to clear security.)
Post Green Card Through Marriage Interview
If all goes well at the green card through marriage interview then your case should be approved. Sometimes the immigration officer who is interviewing you will let you know, at the interview that the case has been approved. Other times they will tell you at the end of the interview that the will notify you or your attorney, of their decision, via mail. Sometimes they do not explicitly say what the result of the interview was but the officer will let you know what they are thinking by the way they act and the words the officer uses when he is talking to you. For example, the officer may say that a conditional green card is only good for 2 years or say other things which indicate that the conditional green card should be coming in the mail soon.
The permanent residence card (green card) should be mailed to your home within 30 days. (If you were married for less than 2 years prior to the green card being issued you will receive a conditional green card instead of a permanent green card. This is the case in the vast majority of green card cases.
If this is your situation the green card you receive will have an expiration date on it. You will need to file form I-751 with all of the supporting documentation that is requested within 90 days of your conditional green card expiring.)
If the green card does not come in 30 days there may be a problem with your security background check. If more than a month or two passes it may be because the interviewer has still not made a decision on your case. He or she may be debating whether or not to have you come in for a second interview.
What happens if you have a bad green card through marriage interview?
If the green card through marriage interview does not go well then USCIS will schedule a much more invasive second interview. This second interview is known as a “fraud interview” or a “Stokes interview”.
At the fraud interview you and your spouse will be separated and asked much more intimate questions and you will likely each be asked to draw rooms in your home.
Your answers and drawings will be compared and the officer will be able to better determine if your marriage is legitimate. You should definitely have an an attorney present with you for this interview. If the interview does not go well you will likely be referred to immigration court for removal (deportation).
This type of interview takes much longer that the green card though marriage interview. The fraud interview should take between 2 and 4 hours to complete. However, I have had an interview that went for 6 hours. .At the end of the interview the interviewer was still not satisfied. The officer held a 3rd interview with another USCIS officer. This interview lasted 2 hours but in the end it was clear that the marriage was real.
My client was very happy to receive her green card.
If your spouse is abroad
The green card for spouse process is different if your spouse is in another country. You would file an I-130 for him or her. The current wait time is between 13-18 months from start to finish. This wait time is likely to increase.
Once the case is approved at the USCIS level it will be forwarded to the NVC for review. You will submit all requested evidence. Once it passes this level it will go to the embassy/consulate for more documentation and your spouse’s interview.
Is a Fiance Visa a quicker and better option?
If your loved one is abroad, you are a U.S. Citizen and you are not married you should definitely consider a fiance visa. It is a faster way to bring your future spouse to the U.S.option to bring your loved one to the U.S.
However, with a fiance visa you will end up doing 2 cases instead of one case. You will first file the k1 fiance visa. This will be handled abroad and the fiance visa interview will be abroad. Once the fiance visa case is over you will have 90 days in which to get married. Once the marriage occurs you can file for a green card for your spouse visa the adjustment of status process. This is the second case and it is described above.
In 2019 the fiance visa process is taking about 9-10 months to complete. This seems like a long time. However, in immigration time it is not long. There are certain types of cases that take over 20 years to finalize. The fiance visa process is currently the faster way to bring your loved one into the United States. Also, in 2019 denial rates for fiance visas nationwide is running at about 50%. Happily we have almost a 100% approval rate.
If you are interested in learning more about the fiance visa route please read: “Fiance Visa Processing Time” and Top 10 Things You Should Know About the Fiance Visa Process.
To learn about why fiance visa cases are denied please read: “Top 10 Reasons Fiance Visas are Denied”.
The information above concerning the spouse green card process is general in nature and absolutely does not take the place of consulting with an experience immigration attorney about your particular case. Laws and immigration procedures can and do change. You should always speak to an immigration attorney prior to filing anything with USCIS.
Lawrence Gruner is a marriage green card and fiance visa attorney with over 20 years of experience handling immigration cases. His office is located in downtown Sacramento California. They handle immigration cases worldwide. He would be happy to consult with you, free of charge, on your immigration case. He may be reached at 888-801-6558 or firstname.lastname@example.org