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How To Get a U.S. Marriage Green Card: A Step-by-Step Guide

In a Nutshell

A marriage green card is a type of immigrant visa that allows you to live and work in the United States. It is available to the spouse of a U.S. citizen or green card holder. Applying for a marriage green card takes 9-38 months and costs $1,400-$1,960. You can apply for a marriage green card from inside the U.S. or you can apply for a marriage green card from abroad. This guide explains what a marriage green card is and how to get one.

Written by Jonathan Petts
Written May 26, 2022


What Is a Marriage Green Card?

So you married a U.S. citizen or U.S. green card holder? Congratulations! Now that you and your fiance have gotten married, it is time to start your new life together. Before you can make the U.S. your permanent residence, you will probably need to apply for a marriage green card. This guide explains what that is and how to get one.

A marriage green card allows you to live and work in the United States as a permanent resident. It is a type of immigrant visa that is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and it is the first step toward U.S. citizenship. A marriage green card lasts for a set period of time before it must be renewed.

If you have been married for over two years before applying, you can receive the IR- green card which lasts for 10 years. If you have been married for less than two years when you apply, you will receive a CR1 green card. This is also known as a conditional green card. This lasts for two years before you must renew it to get a 10-year green card.

Are You Eligible for a Marriage Green Card?

To be eligible for a green card through marriage, you must show USCIS four things:

  1. Your marriage is legal. The United States government considers your marriage legally valid for immigration purposes if your marriage is officially recognized by the government in the country where your marriage took place.

  2. You are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

    1. Married to a U.S. citizen: The government gives immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen priority in the green card process. You can prove that your spouse is a U.S. citizen by providing a copy of their birth certificate, U.S. passport, naturalization certificate, or certificate of citizenship with your application.

    2. Married to a Lawful Permanent Resident: Being married to a U.S. green card holder (lawful permanent resident) also entitles you to apply for a green card. A copy of your spouse's green card is sufficient proof of this requirement.

  3. Your marriage is legitimate. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) knows that some people enter fake marriages in order to live and work in the United States. You will have to provide USCIS with documents showing that you and your spouse are actually building a life together in order to prove that your marriage is "bona fide" and get a marriage green card.

  4. Neither of you is married to anyone else. If you've been married in the past, you will have to provide a divorce decree, death certificate, or another document to prove your prior marriage has ended.

How Do You Apply for a Marriage Green Card?

Once you have determined that you are eligible for a marriage green card, applying is a 3-step process: First, you submit Form I-130and supporting documents. Then you submit your green card application(Form I-485 or Form DS-260). Finally, you attend your green card interview and receive your green card.

Step 1: Submit Form I-130

The first step in the process of applying for a marriage green card is completing Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative. The purpose of the I-130 petition is to establish that you have a valid marriage to a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

Along with the completed form, you must provide your marriage certificate and documents showing your marriage is legitimate. For example, you could show a joint lease, a joint bank account statement, or photos of you and your spouse together from your wedding or after marriage. Once the I-130 filing package is complete, you must mail it to the appropriate USCIS address.

Step 2: Apply for Your Marriage Green Card

The next step in your application process is to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. The way you do that will depend on whether you are currently living in the United States or abroad when you apply.

Adjustment of Status

If you are currently living inside the United States, you must file Form I-485: Adjustment of Status. This form allows you to "adjust status" from your current visa to a marriage green card. Along with the Form I-485, you normally must file: 

  • Your birth certificate,

  • Proof of your lawful entry into the United States (like your I-94 travel record or prior visa),

  • Proof of your immigration medical examination, and

  • Documents showing that your spouse will be able to financially support you in the United States.

If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, then you will usually submit your Form I-485 at the same time as your Form I-130. This is called filing concurrently.

If your spouse is a green card holder, however, you will have to wait several more months before submitting your Form I-485. The government will notify you when it is time to file your Form I-485.

Consular Processing

If you are currently living outside of the United States, you will use a process called consular processing to apply for a marriage green card. With consular processing, you wait in your home country until USCIS approves your Form I-130. Once USCIS approves your Form I-130, they will send your file to the U.S. Department of State's National Visa Center (NVC).

The NVC will then send you a notice by mail or email, depending on what you requested when you filed your Form I-130. This notice will provide you with important case information and let you know when you can take the next step — submitting your NVC filing package. 

Your NVC filing package will include:

  • The required government filing fees of $445. You will usually pay these online, but look for specific instructions from the NVC or the Consulate or Embassy handling your case.

  • Your Form DS-260. This is your actual green card application, and you will file it online.

  • Proof of your nationality. This is usually a copy of your birth certificate and passport photo page.

  • Police clearance certificates from relevant countries where you have lived since age 16.

  • Proof that your U.S. citizen or green card holder spouse will be able to financially support you. This included Form I-864, which is called the Affidavit of Support, and evidence like returns and pay stubs.

Step 3. Attend Your Green Card Interview and Receive Your Green Card

The final step in the marriage green card application process is an interview. The primary purpose of this interview is for the government to determine whether your application is legitimate, and whether to give you a green card. 

At your interview, the interviewing officer will ask you questions about your relationship with your spouse, your daily activities, and your future plans as a couple. You should expect extra questions if your case has any facts that might suggest immigration fraud.

This includes things like: 

  • Having a large age gap between you and your spouse

  • Knowing your spouse for fewer than two years before marriage

  • Having a very different cultural background than your spouse or

  • Having different addresses showing up for you and your spouse online.

How, when, and where this interview will occur depends on how you applied for your marriage green card.

If You Adjusted Status With Form I-485

Once the USCIS has reviewed your entire application, the USCIS field office closest to you will send you an appointment notice for a green card interview. Both you and your spouse must attend the interview. 

At the interview, a USCIS officer will ask you questions about your relationship, your daily activities, and your future plans as a couple. The primary purpose of the interview is to make sure that you are really trying to build a life with your spouse and are not just using them to get a green card. 

You should expect extra questions from the interviewing officer if your case has any facts that might suggest immigration fraud. These include things like: 

  • Having a large age gap between you and your spouse

  • Knowing your spouse for fewer than two years before marriage

  • Having a very different cultural background than your spouse, or

  • Having different addresses showing up for you and your spouse online.

If the USCIS officer believes that your marriage is real, they will approve your application. You will receive your green card in the mail 2-3 weeks later.

If You Applied for Consular Processing With Form DS-260

After the National Visa Center has finished reviewing your Form DS-260 and supporting documents, the U.S. Consulate in your home country will send you an appointment notice for a green card interview. Your spouse does not need to attend your interview abroad, only you do. 

After the interview, the consular officer will decide whether to approve your application. A decision is usually made within a week unless the officer believes further investigation is needed. If the officer approves your green card application, you will be mailed a visa allowing you to travel to the United States. At your port of entry, a U.S. border officer will formally admit you into the United States. Then, USCIS will mail your new green card to your U.S. address.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Marriage Green Card? 

How long the process takes depends on whether you're already living in the United States and whether you're married to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder. It can take a while, so many people start preparing their forms with their fiance up to 90 days before they get married.

Living in the United States With a U.S. Citizen Spouse

The total processing time for your applications should be 10-13 months if you are married to a U.S. citizen and living in the U.S.

  • Proving that your marriage is real with Form I-130 and applying for a green card at the same time (concurrently) with Form I-485: 9–11 months

  • Attending your green card interview and waiting for your green card: 1–2 months

Living in the United States With a Permanent Resident Spouse

If you're living in the U.S. and your spouse is a green card holder, it will take 1-15 months for USCIS to approve your Form I-130. Then, you must wait until a green card becomes available for you in the visa bulletin, which takes another 8-10 months. Then, you must submit your Form I-485, which takes USCIS 9-11 months to process. Finally, there is the interview and approval of your application, which takes another 1-2 months.

The total processing time will be 29-38 months from the date you file for Form I-130.

Living Abroad With a U.S. Citizen Spouse

If you're living abroad while married to a U.S. citizen, it should take 7-10 months for USCIS to approve your I-130. After that, you will need to wait an additional 4-6 months for the National Visa Center to approve your DS-260. In total, it will take about 11-17 months after you file for you to receive your green card.

Living Abroad With a Permanent Resident Spouse

If you are living abroad while married to a green card holder, it will take 11-15 months for your Form I-130 to be approved. Then you will need to wait for a green card to become available in the visa bulletin, which takes roughly 8-10 months. Then, you will submit your DS-260 and wait for approval, usually another 4-7 months. In total, you should expect a wait time of 23–32 months until you get your green card.

How Much Does It Cost To Get a Marriage Green Card?

In 2020, the total cost for a marriage green card is $1,760 if you are applying while living in the United States, and or $1,200 if you are applying from abroad. These totals include the required U.S. government filing and biometrics fees, which are nonrefundable. They also include the average cost of the required medical examination. The filing fees are expected to rise significantly in 2020 to meet USCIS's funding shortfall, so it is a good idea to apply soon if you have been waiting.  

In addition to the government fees, hiring a lawyer for your marriage green card may cost an additional $2,000-$6,000 depending on the complexity of your case. These costs can be intimidating, but there's hope! You can avoid expensive attorney fees by using a legal aid nonprofit. You can also use our free web app to prepare your marriage green card application for free if you're eligible.

When Should You Work With a Lawyer To Get a Marriage Green Card? 

You do not have to hire an immigration lawyer to apply for a marriage green card. More than half of all marriage green card applications are filed by individuals who do not work with an attorney. You can definitely do it! 

That said, in certain circumstances, having an immigration lawyer is essential. You should probably hire an immigration lawyer if you:

  • Are in deportation proceedings,

  • Have ever entered the United States unlawfully,

  • Have committed a crime, or

  • Have previously lied to the U.S. government to get immigration benefits.

Even if those things don't apply to you, having a lawyer can still be valuable. An immigration lawyer will confirm that you are eligible, prepare your forms and supporting documents, and track your case to make sure you're on top of all deadlines, among other things. But if you have the time and attention to detail to handle the paperwork, you can file your green card application on your own.


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