Marriage-Based Green Cards Explained

Getting married to a US citizen or green card holder is one of the four major pathways to U.S. citizenship.

Just like other pathways, a marriage-based green card also comes with certain eligibility requirements that must be met before the application is approved. If you are planning to apply for a green card through marriage, here’s everything you need to know.

What Is Marriage-Based Green Card?

A marriage green card allows the spouse of a U.S. citizen or green card holder to live and work in the United States. In most cases, green cards are subject to renewal every 10 years and can also be upgraded to citizenship if certain conditions are met.

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How Marriage-Based Green Cards Works?

For a marriage-based green card to be approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the following steps must be followed:

Step #1 – Submitting Proof Of Marriage

The first step to obtaining a green card through marriage is by establishing that indeed, the marriage exists. To prove that the marriage exists, a Form I-130, also known as Petition for Alien Relative, has to be filed by the spouse of the non-US citizen. The spouse filing this form is often referred to as the “petitioner” or the “sponsor”.

The sponsor may be a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen. On the other hand, the person seeking the green card is known as the “green card applicant” or “beneficiary.”

When filing Form I-130 with the USCIS, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the sponsor must also provide supporting documents. Examples of supporting documents for marriage-based green card applications include:

Marriage Certificate

This is a legal document that confirms the marriage between the applicant and the green card holder or U.S. citizen. It is usually issued three weeks after the wedding.

Birth Certificate

A birth certificate establishes the place of birth of both the applicant and sponsor.

Financial Documents

These documents prove that the relationship between the applicant and sponsor is genuine. Financial documents may include joint bank account statements or utility bills.

Proof Of Sponsor’s Eligibility

The petitioner must prove that they are eligible to sponsor their spouse for a green card. The evidence may be in form of documents that confirm the petitioner’s U.S. citizenship or permanent residence.

Medical Report

Prior to obtaining a green card, the applicant must have a medical examination. The exam is made up of several parts: medical history, physical and mental evaluation, drug and alcohol screening, and tests for different diseases and illnesses.

Additional Documents

Depending on your situation, you may be required to submit additional documents before getting a green card through marriage. Examples of these additional documents may include immigration violation records, court records, prior-marriage termination papers, police clearing certificates, and proof of lawful U.S. entry and status.

You can find more info about supporting documents here.

Paying The Filing Fee

The filing fee for Form I-130 is $535 as of May 2022. However, because the fees change unexpectedly, it is advisable to use the USCIS Fee Calculator tool to verify the exact filing fee for your specific application in order to avoid unnecessary delays.

Where To File For Marriage-Based Green Card?

To ensure that your application has been filed to the correct address, USCIS provides a list of addresses based on your location for your reference.

After filing, you will receive Form I-797C (Notice of Action) from USCIS confirming receipt of your application. If additional evidence is required from you before processing the application, you will receive a Request for Evidence, also known as RFE.

Step #2 – Evaluating Spouse’s Eligibility For Green Card Through Marriage

Once the marriage has been confirmed to be genuine, USCIS will seek to establish the applicant’s eligibility for a green card through marriage to a US Citizen. There are two major steps to be followed at this stage, depending on where the applicant lives.

Applicants Living In The United States

Applicants living in the United States need to file Form I-485, also known as Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. The filing fee for this type of form is $1140 as of January 2023. However, as mentioned earlier, it is advisable to use the USCIS Fee Calculator to confirm the correct fee.

Read more: Form I-485 Processing Time

Some supporting documents that may be required when filing for a marriage green card include proof of nationality of the applicant (birth certificate or copy of their passport), proof of lawful entry into the United States (I-94), proof of medical examination performed by a USCIS-approved physician, and proof of the sponsor’s ability to financially support the applicant.

The proof of financial support may be in form of Form I-864, also known as an Affidavit of Support. It may also be accompanied by pay stubs and tax returns as further evidence.

Applicants who are spouses of US citizens may benefit from concurrent filing. This involves combining the Form I-130 petition with Form I-485 and supporting documents, and then filing them all at the same time. Concurrent filings may be processed within 11 months after the filing date. Additional information about the processing times will be provided in the sections below.

However, spouses of U.S. green card holders may not benefit from concurrent filing; they can only submit Form I-484 after the U.S. Department of State establishes that there is a green card slot available to be filled. Unlike the concurrent filing option, the processing time for green card applications for spouses of green card holders is between 12 to 18 months.

Applicants Living Outside Of The United States

For spouses applying for a marriage green card outside of the United States, their applications are processed by the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC reviews each application, and then decides if the applicant is eligible for a green card. If eligibility has been confirmed, the applicant will be required to attend an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad.

Applicants based abroad are required to file Form DS-260, also known as Immigrant Visa Electronic Application. They need to pay the filing fees in full, and provide a copy of the police clearance certificate, otherwise known as a certificate of good conduct in most countries.

Lastly, they also need to provide Form I-864 as discussed earlier as proof of the sponsor’s ability to financially support the applicants. Typically, the processing time for this kind of application is usually 3 – 5 months depending on the situation of the applicant and spouse.

Read more | How Long Does It Take To Get A Marriage Green Card?

Step #3 – The Green Card Interview

Once the USCIS or NVC has determined that the applicant is eligible for a green card, they will be notified and a green card interview will be scheduled. The main goal of this interview is to further establish the authenticity of the marriage.

How To Prepare For Marriage-Based Green Card Interview?

Green card interviews vary depending on the situation of the applicant. For marriage-based green card interviews, the procedure is a little bit different. The interview questions are usually based on the relationship of the couple.

Refresh Your Memory

For this reason, it is advisable to prepare in advance to avoid providing contradicting answers. The best thing to do is to remind each other about key dates in the relationship, at least a week prior to the interview. The interviewer may ask about the couple’s first date, date of marriage proposal and venue, and wedding date and venue, among other related questions.

Collect Supporting Documents

It is also a great idea to arrive at the interview with copies of documents that were initially requested when processing the application. Such documents may include birth certificates, court records, marriage certificates, and so on. If any of the spouses has been married before, proof of prior divorce should be readily available just in case the question comes up.

Basically, prior to the interview, the married couple should gather every possible document that proves the legitimacy of their relationship before and after marriage.

Marriage Green Card Interview For Couples Living In The United States

Couples living in the United States are required to attend the green card interview together. Once their eligibility has been confirmed, the USCIS will send them a notice of their scheduled interview, including the venue, date, and time.

The interview is usually held at a local USCIS office. Once the case has been approved, the green card will be sent to the applicant by mail. The exact processing time depends on several factors, such as the situation of the applicant, US government backlogs, and so on.

Marriage Green Card Interview For A Spouse Living Outside Of The U.S.

Once the NVC has determined that the spouse of the sponsor is eligible for a green card, they will be required to attend an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country. However, in this scenario, the sponsoring spouse will not be required to attend the green card interview.

Once the green card has been approved, the applicant’s passport will be stamped to allow their entry into the United States. The applicant will also pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee of $220 prior to travel. Two to three weeks after the applicant’s arrival in the United States, the green card will arrive at the couple’s address.

You can find more info about Green Card Application Questions here.

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What To Do If A Marriage Green Card Application Is Denied

In some cases, though rare, marriage-based green card applications may be denied, and USCIS will provide a reason for their decision. Whether the applicant is based in the United States or abroad, there is usually no direct appeal when a marriage green card is denied.

The best option is to reapply after evaluating the reason for the initial denial. However, due to the volatile nature of such a case, and the risk of deportation especially if the applicant entered the United States without a valid visa, it is always advisable to involve a professional immigration attorney from a reputable law firm.

An immigration attorney has the legal capacity and knowledge to argue the case on behalf of the applicant if the courts are involved. Even if the courts are not involved and the applicant decides to reapply, an immigration attorney from a reputable law firm can help the applicant gather relevant documents that will guarantee better results after the second interview.


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