I am often asked how a person can get a marriage green card based on marriage to a U.S. Citizen.
If you entered the U.S. legally and with an intention that matched your visa
If you entered the U.S. with a legal visa, you were inspected at your point of entry (you did not enter illegally) and your intention matched your visa (e.g. you came on a student visa and you intended to study when you met with the border agents at the border) then you should be able to marry a U.S. Citizen and apply for a marriage green card via adjustment of status.
However, you may have something that could cause you problems or a denial in your case (e.g. a past criminal matter or past immigration issue). Therefore, you should at least consult with an immigration attorney before you file any paperwork with USCIS.
If you move forward with the adjustment of status you will prepare all of your paperwork and file the paperwork at the USCIS lock box in Chicago. You will be given a receipt notice about 2 weeks after you submit your documents.
Within 3 to 6 months, for most applicants, you will receive a work authorization/ travel (internationally) card. (Most applicants should not travel outside of the U.S. without this card as they may not be able to return to the United States for an extended period of time. Every case is different. Check with an experienced immigration attorney before you leave the country.)
You will also have to do your biometrics (fingerprints) during the case. USCIS will have a security check done on you based on your fingerprints.
Times vary by location, but at the end of your case you and your American spouse will be called in for the marriage green card interview.
Marriage Green Card Interview
At the interview you will be asked all sorts of questions by the interviewer. The interviewer will be probing and trying to find out if your relationship is real and confirm that there is no reason to deny your case.
If all goes well you will receive your green card. This usually happens within a month of the interview. Sometimes approval takes longer as USCIS has to make sure that you pass their security checks.
If you have a bad interview
If the interview does not go well you will have to come back for the dreaded second interview (also known as the Stokes interview). In this case you and your spouse will be separated (different rooms) and asked many questions about your relationship. Your answers will be compared and the interviewer will be looking for any and all answers that do not match. It is not uncommon for these interviews to last 3 hours or longer.
If you do end up having a second (Stokes) interview I strongly suggest you retain an attorney. The attorney will be able to stay in the room while the interview takes place and verify all and possibly explain any inconsistencies in the answers. The attorney will be writing down all the questions and answers during the interview and will be able to help. You would definitely be at a disadvantage, to the interviewer, without an attorney present.
If You Came into the U.S. without inspection (illegally)
If this is your situation you may still qualify to obtain your marriage green card. However, you should immediately speak to an immigration attorney about your situation and do not leave the United States until you obtain a green card. If you leave the U.S. under this situation you may not be able to return to the U.S. for 3 to 10 years.
Every case is different. The best thing you can do is consult with an immigration attorney about your particular case and options. If you think you cannot afford an attorney you can email our office and we will attempt to get you some help.
If your spouse is outside of the United States
If you want to obtain a marriage green card, but your spouse is outside of the United States, then you would file an I-130 for your spouse. This process should take about 12-16 months (2019) to complete and will take longer if your loved one is not a U.S. Citizen but instead is a lawful permanent resident (green card holder).
If your spouse is a green card holder (lawful permanent resident) then he or she should look into their eligibility to become a U.S. Citizen and how long that process would take to complete. An experienced immigration attorney can help you evaluate eligibility and time lines.
Can my spouse come on a tourist visa and then we can get married?
Many people have looked at the options (marriage green card, fiance visa etc.) and do not want to wait for their loved one to enter the United States so they can start their lives together. Instead, they explore the option of simply having their loved one enter the United States by stating that the are just visiting (with the secret intent of marriage) and then marry their loved one once the loved one is here. Do not do this. This is visa fraud. If USCIS catches you doing this it is likely that they remove your spouse and will attempt to bar your spouse from ever entering the United States again. It is not worth the risk.
Lawrence Gruner in a fiance visa attorney (“ Top 10 Things You Should Know About the Fiance Visa Process”.) and immigration attorney with over 20 years of experience handling fiance visa, marriage green card and U.S. Citizenship cases. His office handles immigration cases in California, the United States and worldwide. He would be happy to consult with you, free of charge, about your immigration case. He can help you come up with an immigration plan. He can be reached at 916-760-7270 or 888-801-6558. You may also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is general in nature and does not take the place of a consultation with an experienced immigration attorney. Laws and timelines change. Please do not file any documents with USCIS without consulting an attorney.