Each year, countless international couples apply for permanent resident status in the U.S. through marriage. There are two main ways to acquire permanent residency through marriage. First, an immigrant can marry a U.S. citizen, whereby they would be considered an ‘immediate relative.’ An immigrant can also choose to marry a permanent resident, or “green card holder,” whereby they would become a ‘preference relative.’ Obtaining permanent residency through marriage requires a number of steps. If successful, a foreign spouse can acquire permanent residency in the United States.
1. File I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative)
The first step in obtaining permanent residency through marriage is by filling out and filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. The petition will ask for documentation that proves that the U.S. citizen or permanent resident and the foreign-born spouse are in a legally valid marriage and that the marriage was entered into in good faith. Documentation that one would include are a marriage certificate, and evidence of a joint life together, such as joint banking accounts, credit card statements or jointly filed taxes. Once you have completed the petition and have gathered all necessary documentation, the petition has to be submitted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the petition is approved, you can move on to the next step.
2. Wait for a Current Priority Date
This next step only applies to spouses of U.S. permanent residents. While immediate relatives will usually not have to wait for a green card, the same cannot be said for preference relatives. If you are considered a preference relative spouse of a U.S green card holder, you are subject to certain annual limits on the allotment of visas. Currently, there is a long waiting list of around two years. When you receive your USCIS approval notice of the I-130, you will find your priority date listed on the approval notice. You can use this information to track your position on the waiting list through the U.S. State Department’s Visa Bulletin.
3. Consular Processing vs. Adjustment of Status
At this point in the process, the immigrant spouse will have two main options. First, if the immigrant spouse is located overseas, they can go through a method of communication known as “consular processing.” This involves corresponding with the National Visa Center (NVC), submitting an immigrant visa application and other documents, and then attending an interview at a local consulate. If all goes well, a visa will be issued and the immigrant spouse becomes a U.S. permanent resident.
The other option concerns immigrants who are already in the U.S. In this case, the immigrant spouse can choose to leave the U.S. for consular processing or go forward with an “adjustment of status.”
Not all immigrant spouse applicants will qualify for an adjustment of status. To qualify for adjustment of status as the immigrant spouse of a U.S. citizen, you must be able to prove a legal entry into the United States and prove that you are otherwise admissible for a green card. If undergoing an adjustment of status, it is possible to submit your I-130 petition and your green card application at the same time, along with a request for a work permit. Otherwise, if you have an approved I-130 already, the next step would be to file and submit your green card application to USCIS. Additional documentation, such as a passport, birth certificate and USCIS medical exam, are required to be submitted in support of the green card application. The immigrant spouse and U.S. citizen spouse must attend an interview together at USCIS, where an interviewing officer will assess their case and determine if a green card can be approved.
4. Show Ability to Provide Financial Support
Before permanent residency can be given to an immigrant, his or her U.S. citizen spouse will need to show proof that they are able to provide financial support. This is to prevent immigrants from arriving to the U.S. only to rely on government assistance and is known as the “public charge” rule. Proof of financial support can be provided on Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. To qualify as adequate financial support, the sponsor’s household income must be at least at 125 percent of the current federal poverty guidelines. In some instances where the sponsor’s income is not sufficient, high-valued assets can be used to make up for the lack of funds. On February 24, 2020, an expanded version of the public charge rule went into effect, which requires additional documentation to establish that an individual will not be a public charge. This additional documentation includes an additional public charge form and credit reports, among others.
5. Remove Conditions Before Two-Year Marriage Mark
If you and your spouse were approved for an adjustment of status or received entry into the U.S. on an immigrant visa before reaching your two-year marriage mark, you will receive a two year conditional green card from the USCIS. This conditional green card will automatically expire in two years if you do not take the necessary steps to remove the conditions. If you do wish to remove the conditions, you will need to complete Form I-751 and provide any supporting documents asked for in the application 90 days prior to the expiration of your two year green card. If the Form I-751 is approved, you will receive a ten year green card.
6. Help Getting Children Permanent Residency Through Parent’s Marriage to U.S. Citizen
Along with your foreign-born spouse, children of the spouse may also be eligible to receive permanent residency in the U.S. The children must be unmarried and under 21 years old. If you are the U.S. citizen step-parent, each child will need a separate I-130 which should be submitted with the parent’s application.
Can I Handle My Marriage-Based Immigration Case by Myself?
As going through the process to gain permanent residency through marriage can be long and complex, it is wise to seek the guidance of an experienced immigration lawyer. Many people ask if they can do these cases on their own and it is strongly cautioned that they do not. As of September 11, 2018, USCIS issued a policy memorandum that applies to all applications, petitions, and requests, with the exception of DACA. It has given full discretion to immigration officers to deny incomplete and ineligible applications and petitions submitted for immigration benefits. As such, if you submit an application without all of the required documentation, USCIS can deny your case and keep the filing fees that you paid as a result. As such, an immigration attorney can handle your case competently from beginning to end in order to ensure that you get the results you want. To learn more about getting permanent residency through marriage or for help with your case, contact the immigration lawyers at Johnson & Masumi.