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Get Your Green Card Through Marriage: A Step-by-Step Process

If you are wondering how to get a U.S. green card through marriage, you are in the right place. Getting a marriage based green card involves a few different steps, but ultimately, there are many benefits when this process is done correctly. First and foremost, you will be able to remain in the country with your U.S. citizen spouse indefinitely and gain peace of mind around staying close to the person you love the most. 

There are a few different steps in this process and a few different types of spousal visas you can receive (you may get a CR1 or an IR1), but we will cover all of the intricacies of marriage for green card holders and U.S. citizens so that you have the know-how you need to move forward. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will detail the process of obtaining US residency by marriage – in other words, the process of getting a US spousal visa. By the time you are finished reading this guide, we hope that you feel empowered and confident to take the next steps in securing your green card by marriage. 

What Is a Marriage Green Card?

In short, a marriage-based green card allows the spouse of a U.S. citizen or green card holder’s spouse to live and work anywhere in the country. That’s right – marrying a green card holder also makes you eligible for a U.S. green card

When someone holds a green card, they have what is called “permanent resident” status in the United States. If you are gaining a green card through marriage, you must be married for three years before you apply for U.S. citizenship, if you choose to do so. Essentially, this U.S. spouse visa is part of the country’s family immigration laws, which aim to keep families together whenever that is possible. 

Marriage for green card holders is often one step along the way to gaining full U.S. citizenship. While there are other considerations on the path to becoming a citizen, the spousal visa is a strong start to this process. 

Who Is Eligible for a Green Card Through Marriage?

As you learn more about the marriage-based green card, you are probably wondering about the eligibility requirements. In other words, what does it take to get a green card by marriage? There are a few different requirements, which can be difficult to understand when they are complicated by unnecessary legal jargon, as you might see on the USCIS spouse visa page. However, the eligibility requirements are actually quite simple. So, let’s break them down. 

Eligibility Requirements for a Green Card by Marriage

In order to receive a green card by marriage, there are a few criteria that you (and/or your spouse) must meet. First and probably most important, one of the two spouses must be either a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident (LPR) already – this spouse is called the “sponsor” and they will file the spouse petition. The other spouse, who at this point is a foreign national, is called the “beneficiary.” The sponsor must also be at least 21 years old. 

From there, a lot of this process comes down to documentation. Here are some of the documents you will need: 

  • A legal marriage certificate
  • Proof of divorce from any previous marriage, if that applies to you
  • Proof of legal entry in the United States for the beneficiary
  • Birth certificate for the beneficiary
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or LPR status for the sponsor
  • Bona fide evidence that your marriage is real

Possessing these documents and qualifications is necessary to receive a marriage-based green card in the United States. If you do not have these qualifications, you may not be eligible to get a spousal visa… at least not yet. But if you do have these documents and meet these criteria, it is time to move forward to talk more about the spousal visa U.S. process. 

The Marriage Green Card Process: How to Get a Green Card By Marriage

There are a few steps in the process of getting a green card by marriage. Let’s dive into the requirements for a marriage visa and how you can gain legal U.S. residency by marriage. We will cover both the IR1 visa and the CR1 visa. 

Step 1: Initial Petition (Form I-130)

To kick off the U.S. marriage visa application for a wife or husband, you will first need to file Form I-130, also called the “Petition for Alien Relative.” This form must be filed by the sponsor – remember, that is the spouse who is already a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. For instance, if you are a foreign national marrying a green card holder, the person who already holds the green card will be the one who fills out a petition for a spouse.

So what goes into filling out Form I-130? Well, the purpose of this form is to establish a relationship between the sponsor and the beneficiary. As a petition for spouse, Form I-130 can be used by both U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The person filling out the application must be at least 21 years of age. 

Once you have filled out the form and compiled the required documentation, you can send this information to USCIS. They will send an acknowledgment that they have received your petition, although the processing time for this form is typically about 11 months. Hopefully, you will then receive notice that your I-130 form has been approved. 

If the spouse who is applying for residency is already living in the U.S., then Form I-130 can be filed at the same time as the Adjustment of Status form (see step 3, below). 

Step 2: Visa Application and Processing

Once your spousal petition, or Form I-130, has been approved, then it is time to apply for a visa. If the foreign national spouse is already living in the U.S., then you do not need to worry about this step. Instead, you can just skip ahead to the next step: Adjustment of Status. 

For marriage based green card applicants who are living abroad, there is an additional step of obtaining a visa before entering the United States. The husband application or wife application when that spouse is living abroad will need to be filed with the National Visa Center, or NVC. For spouses of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, the marriage visa processing time for this step can vary.

The type of visa you will receive depends on the length of your marriage. A CR1 spouse visa is for a conditional resident – that is what the “CR” piece stands for. After two years of holding a CR 1 visa, you will need to petition to have the conditions removed from your green card. You will likely receive this type if you have been married for two years or less. 

If you have been married for over two years, you might instead receive an IR1 spouse visa. The “IR” stands for immediate relative. This is a different type of US marriage visa that is valid for ten years and does not have conditions that need to be removed. Instead, you must simply renew this visa after a decade, meaning less paperwork and less hassle. 

Step 3: Entering the U.S. and Adjustment of Status

If the spouse who is seeking a green card already lives in the United States physically, then the next step is to file Form I-485, which is called the “Adjustment of Status” application. This form can be filed with Form I-130 if the spouse already lives in the U.S. If not, it must be filed separately. 

Adjustment of Status will also yield one of the two visa types listed above. Depending on the length of your marriage, you may either receive a CR1 visa or an IR1 visa. In either case, however, you will not be granted this visa until you have completed the entire process, including the final step, which is the green card interview. 

Once your Adjustment of Status application is reviewed or your marriage visa application is reviewed, your interview may be scheduled. Where it takes place depends on where the beneficiary spouse resides. It will be either in the U.S. at a local USCIS office (if the spouse is already in the country) or at the U.S. Embassy or consulate in the foreign national spouse’s home country. 

Recently, there has been a positive change in this area. USCIS will now occasionally waive interviews. If the bona fides and all proper documentation are submitted, then your interview may not be scheduled at all, and you may be able to continue your immigration process without the interview step. 

Step 4: Interview and Green Card Issuance

The marriage based green card process concludes with a green card interview. In that interview, both spouses will be present. An immigration officer will ask a series of questions to assess the authenticity of the marriage. Questions often touch on topics like the couple’s relationship history, their daily life together, and their future plans. The interviewing officer must feel confident that the marriage is not fraudulent, in which case they will approve the spouse for a green card. 

In order to ensure that this process goes smoothly, it is smart to get help from professional immigration experts, like our team at Consulta immigration. With long processing times, you don’t want to have to start over – so ensure that you are applying with your best foot forward in order to get the best results possible. 

If you receive a CR1 green card, that is valid for two years. After two years, the couple will have to file Form I-751, or the “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence” during the 90-day period immediately before the conditional green card expires. The couple may have to once again prove the authenticity of their marriage and offer bona fide evidence that it was not just marriage for green card. 

The more desirable option, when it is possible, is receiving the IR1 green card, which is an option if you have been married for more than two years. This is a so-called “permanent green card” that is valid for 10 years. Renewing this one is a much simpler process and you will not have to re-prove the legitimacy of your marriage.

Need a helping hand with your marriage green card process? Reach out to our team today. 

Common Concerns: FAQs About Spouse Visa USA

What if we recently got married? Are we eligible for a US marriage visa?

If you have been married for less than two years, you can still receive a US marriage visa. You will most likely receive the CR 1 visa, which stands for “conditional resident.” This is a two-year marriage visa that you will need to apply to have the conditions removed from once it expires. If you have been married for more than two years, you may instead receive an IR1 visa, which is a ten-year visa without conditions. 

Can I apply for a green card if I’m already in the U.S.?

Yes, you can apply for a green card if you are already in the U.S. If you have married a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, you can apply for a green card through marriage. You will, however, need documentation to prove that you legally entered the United States in order to receive a marriage green card in this scenario. 

What happens if our marriage ends before the green card process is complete?

If a foreign national divorces from their green card holder or U.S. citizen spouse before obtaining conditional residency by marriage, that person’s immigration process will come to a stop. Why? That person has now lost their eligibility to apply for a green card through marriage. There may be other channels that the person can seek residency through. If the foreign national gets divorced after obtaining permanent residency (i.e. after they receive an IR1 visa), then the risk of deportation after divorce is significantly lowered. 

What documents do we need to submit for the USCIS spouse visa?

In order to obtain the USCIS spouse visa, you will need a few different documents. Most importantly, you will need the following: 

  • A legal marriage certificate
  • Proof of divorce from any previous marriage, if that applies to you
  • Proof of legal entry in the United States for the beneficiary
  • Birth certificate for the beneficiary
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or LPR status for the sponsor
  • Bona fide evidence that your marriage is real

Most of these documents will be submitted in the initial step of filing Form I-130, or the Petition for Alien Relative, as this establishes the relationship between a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident and their foreign national relative – or in this case, spouse.

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