How To Marry A U.S. Citizen

If you are planning to marry a U.S. citizen, let’s start off by congratulating you ahead of your big day. As an immigrant, when you marry a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for immigration benefits such as getting a green card, or even U.S. citizenship at a later stage.

More of that later; for now, let’s talk about the process of marrying a U.S. citizen. Here’s everything you need to know.

The location of your marriage could have an influence on so many things as far as immigration law is concerned. In this case, we will look at two different options: marrying a U.S. citizen in the United States, or abroad.

Marrying A U.S. Citizen In The United States

If you are already living in the United States as an immigrant, you may decide to marry your U.S. citizen spouse in the country. However, prior to making this decision, there are several factors that need to be examined. The 90-day rule, in this case, is a good example.

The 90-Day Rule Explained | Read more

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services offers two common types of visas to immigrants after passing their visa interview. These two include the dual intent visa and single intent visa.

The dual intent visa allows the visa holder to initiate the green card application process after living in the United States for a certain period. A single intent visa, on the other hand, requires the visa holder to leave the United States before the deadline provided by the Customs and Border Protection officer at their point of entry. The single intent visa basically means that the immigrant wants to visit the United States with a single intention; to achieve the purpose of their visit and return to their home country.

Therefore, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), immigrants who have single intent visas may be disqualified from adjusting status if discovered to have married a U.S. citizen within 90 days of their arrival into the United States. The USCIS may suspect such marriages of fraud, meaning the immigrant might have provided misleading information to immigration officials at the visa interview for the purpose of entering the country and adjusting their status.

Assuming that your marriage is outside the 90-day bracket, you may be eligible to adjust your status as a spouse of a U.S. citizen. Your U.S. citizen spouse will file Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative to the USCIS. This form is filed to officially inform the USCIS that you are married to a U.S. citizen, and their intention to sponsor you for a marriage-based green card. As the immigrant spouse, you will also be required to file Form I-485 Adjustment of Status.

Read more | Can I Visit My Spouse In The United States While Waiting For My Green Card?

Form I-485 informs the U.S. government about your desire to become a green card holder (permanent resident) in the United States after marrying a U.S. citizen. Form I-130 and Form I-485 can be filed together at the same time. This process, which only applies to a married couple consisting of a U.S. citizen and an immigrant, is known as concurrent filing.

It is also worth noting that the same filing process (Form I-130 and I-485) applies when you marry a green card holder in the United States. However, concurrent filing does not apply when you marry a green cardholder.

Also, when you marry a green card holder, you may experience longer waiting times than marrying a U.S. citizen. For the adjustment of status to be approved after marrying a permanent resident, the U.S. government needs to determine if there is a green card slot available for this specific category.

As you await a decision from the USCIS after marrying a U.S. citizen, you may also file for employment authorization through Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. If approved, you will receive an employment authorization card, also known as a work permit to allow you to legally seek employment in the United States as you await the decision regarding your application to adjust status.

Form I-765 Processing Time | Read more

Marrying A U.S. Citizen Abroad

Assuming that your better half is a U.S. citizen, and you are planning a wedding outside of the United States, the rules are a little bit different as far as immigration is concerned. If you’d like to apply for permanent residence in the United States after marrying a U.S. citizen in your home country, you will have to go through a process known as consular processing.

Understanding Consular Processing

Consular processing is the immigration process an immigrant has to go through in their home country in order to be allowed to travel to the United States. This process usually involves the local U.S. embassy or consulate. It basically the opposite of Adjustment of Status, which occurs inside the United States.

If you apply for a green card through consular processing, you will be required to wait in your home country as your green card application is being processed. While this may take several months, the exact processing times depend on several factors. For example, the Covid19 pandemic has slowed down USCIS processing times due to short staffing, which leads to unexpected backlogs.

The United States government only recognizes marriages that are considered legal in the country or territory where they were held. For example, if you marry a U.S. citizen in your home country and the marriage is not considered valid by local authorities, the U.S. government will also not consider it to be valid even if it may be considered valid in the United States.

Consular Processing Procedures

If you are applying for a green card through consular processing at your local U.S. embassy or consulate, your spouse will have to file Form I-130 with the USCIS. On your side, you will be required to file Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application with the U.S. Department of State.

Form DS-160, in this case, is equivalent to Form I-485, but the only difference is the former is meant for individuals applying for a green card outside the United States. After submitting Form I-130 and DS-160, the applicant will be required to undergo a medical exam conducted by a USCIS approved doctor, followed by a visa interview at the local U.S. embassy or consulate.

The K1 Visa Alternative

Alternatively, you may marry your U.S. citizen spouse in the United States by applying for the K1 visa. This is a special type of nonimmigrant visa that allows the fiancé’ of a U.S. citizen to travel to the U.S. and marry their U.S. citizen spouse.

After the marriage, you can then adjust your status to become a green card holder, and possibly a citizen in the future. Given that you will be based in the United States with your spouse at the time, you will be required to file Form I-130 and Form I-485 as previously discussed, and not form DS-160.

K1 Visa rules

However, because the K1 temporary visa is prone to fraud when some applicants use it to enter the United States but not for the purpose of marrying their U.S. citizen spouse, it comes with some strict rules. Let’s take a look at some of these rules.

Petitioner Must Be A US Citizen

The U.S.-based spouse must be a U.S. citizen. In this case, green card holders cannot sponsor a foreign spouse via the K1 visa. However, they can sponsor their foreign spouses for a CR1 visa.

Must Be Legally Free To Marry

If the petitioner was previously married, they are required to provide proof that their previous marriage was terminated. This proof may be in form of a death certificate or divorce declaration.

Must Marry Within 90 Days

The petitioner must prove that the relationship is genuine and that the couple intends to marry within 90 days. In the event that the couple fails to get married (to each other) within 90 days, the alien spouse will be required to leave the United States immediately.

Must Have Met Within The Past Two Years

To prove the genuineness of their relationship, the couple must demonstrate, with supporting documents or evidence, that they met at least once over the past two years. Knowing each other for two years, in this case, cannot be counted as evidence.

In a addition, online meetings such as Zoom or Skype do not count in this situation. The two must have met physically within that period.

Must Meet The Income Requirement

To sponsor an alien spouse for a K-1 non immigrant visa, the petitioner must meet the minimum income requirements as stipulated by the USCIS.

After getting married in the U.S. to a United States citizen, the alien spouse can now file Form I-485 to adjust status. While their application is being reviewed and processed, they may also file for a work permit, which allows them to be employed in the country. If they wish to travel outside of the United States, they may apply for a special travel permit to prove that they have not abandoned their application for permanent residency by traveling.

Frequently Asked Questions About Marrying A U.S Citizen

Given that the topic of marrying a U.S. citizen is broad, we have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions. Let’s take a look.

What Can Be Used As Proof Of Marriage When Applying For A Green Card?

To prove your marriage to a U.S. citizen, you will be required to provide a legal marriage certificate to USCIS officials if you are in the United States, or the immigration officials at your local U.S. embassy or consulate if you are applying from abroad.

What Types Of Marriages Are Considered Invalid By The US Government?

The United States government does not recognize proxy marriages. A proxy marriage is the type of marriage where another person stands in for the groom or bride. However, this marriage may be recognized by the U.S. government if the couple later consummates the union.

In addition, for a marriage to be considered legal for immigration purposes, it must also have been legal in the country or state at which it was celebrated. For example, if your marriage is considered illegal in your home country, it will not be approved by U.S. immigration officials even if you have a certificate to prove that it is genuine.

Does The USCIS Recognize Same Sex Marriage To A U.S. Citizen?

Yes, the U.S. government legalizes same-sex marriages. However, for immigration purposes, the marriage must be held in a country, state, or territory where this type of marriage is considered legal. As mentioned earlier, even if the U.S. government considers a certain type of marriage as legal, things are quite different when it comes to immigration. This explains why it is important to ensure that the place where the marriage takes place approves that particular type of marriage in the first place.

One of the most important things to do, whenever you need help with married-based green cards, is to hire an immigration attorney from a good law firm. This type of lawyer is the best person to analyze your situation and provide legal advice that will boost your chances of being approved for a green card.

Read more: How To Marry A Non-U.S. Citizen


  • Commit To Citizenship Staff

    Commit To Citizenship‘s team consists of individuals who have successfully immigrated to the United States and have learned how to avoid common mistakes in filling out immigration applications. Our team works closely with immigration lawyers to ensure that all content provided on our website is up-to-date and accurate. We offer guidance on a range of immigration topics, including green cards, diversity visas, and DACA.