If you are a citizen or permanent resident of the U.S. married to a foreign-born individual, you and your spouse may choose to permanently live and work in the U.S. To do that, your spouse must obtain a green card that establishes lawful permanent residency. Establishing residency requires going through a process with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which you can start immediately after you are married.
Establishing that a Valid Relationship Exists
The first step in obtaining a green card for your spouse is to establish that you have a valid relationship. This can be done by filling out Form I-130, also called “Petition for Alien Relative.”
You must submit the following documents with Form I-130:
- Proof you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident: You can include a valid passport, birth certificate, naturalization certificate, certificate of citizenship, or consular report of birth abroad.
- Proof you are married: You must include your marriage certificate.
- Proof previous marriages are terminated: You can include divorce or annulment decrees or death certificates.
- Proof of name changes: You can include marriage certificates, divorce decrees, or court orders.
- Proof that your marriage is genuine: You can include property or rental agreements in both your names, joint checking account documentation, or birth certificates of children you have together.
You must submit the petition, all supporting documents, and a filing fee to the location listed on the petition’s instructions. If anything is missing at the time you file, the USCIS will send a request for more information, which can delay the process.
USCIS Review Process
The USCIS will send a confirmation receipt when it receives your petition, and then it will begin the review process. The time it takes for the USCIS to review your information and make a decision depends on a number of factors, so there is not a set timeframe in which you can expect to receive a response.
While reviewing your application, the USCIS may schedule you for a biometrics screening, during which you may be fingerprinted and subject to background and security checks. You and your spouse may also be scheduled for an interview to verify the authenticity of your marriage.
Applying for Permanent Residency
After the review, the USCIS will send a notification informing you if your petition was approved or denied. Having your petition approved does not establish residency for your foreign-born spouse; it only recognizes your relationship as valid.
Your spouse must also apply for the permanent resident card. The application process differs depending on whether you are a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident and whether your spouse is currently (and lawfully) in the U.S.
The Process if Your Spouse Is Currently in the U.S.
If you are a U.S. citizen, and your spouse is living in the U.S., they can apply for permanent residency at the same time you submit Form I-130. If you are a permanent resident, and your spouse is living in the U.S., they must wait until Form I-130 is approved and the USCIS issues a visa number before applying for permanent residency.
To begin the residency process, your spouse must complete Form I-485, Application to Register for Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status.
Along with this form, your spouse must submit the following documents:
- Proof of nationality: Your spouse must include a government-issued photo ID from their country of origin.
- Birth certificate: Your spouse must submit a copy of their birth certificate, but if it is not available, they can submit church, school, or medical records and documentation that shows the birth certificate is unavailable or does not exist.
- Proof of lawful entry into the U.S.: Your spouse can include documents such as Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Records or a stamped passport page.
- Medical examination records: These records can be submitted at the time of filing, or after, and must be completed by a USCIS-approved medical examiner.
- Police or court records: If applicable, your spouse must submit certified records of criminal charges, arrests, and convictions.
- Proof of financial support: Your spouse must include Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, that shows you will be your spouse’s financial sponsor in the U.S.
The filing fee must be included with the form and supporting documents.
The Process if Your Spouse Is Outside the U.S.
If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and your spouse is living outside the U.S., you must wait to begin the application process for permanent residency until the USCIS has a visa number available. The USCIS will send out the number out for processing, and you will be notified when you can apply for an immigrant visa.
Couples Married Less Than 2 Years
After the application has been approved, your spouse will be issued a green card. If you have been married for less than 2 years, your spouse will receive a conditional green card that is valid for only 2 years. After your 2-year anniversary, you and your spouse must submit Form I-175, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence, within 90 days before the green card expires to have the conditional status lifted.
Couples Married More Than 2 Years
If you have been married for more than 2 years when the application is approved, your spouse will receive a green card that is valid for 10 years. You and your spouse simply apply to renew the green card.
Choose the Law Offices of James A. Welcome for Legal Help with the Residency Process
At the Law Offices of James A. Welcome, we understand the permanent residency process can be lengthy and complex, and we can provide solid legal counsel to assist with the process. We have helped numerous individuals seeking to establish U.S. residency and citizenship, and we are committed to helping you achieve your goals.
For effective legal representation, call us at (203) 806-7922 or contact us online.