Huff Law Blogs
The 3 steps to obtaining a marriage-based greencard
The 3 steps to obtaining a marriage-based greencard
17 March 2019

As an immigration attorney, I am retained on numerous marriage-based greencard cases, so I have decided to write this blog to outline some of the frequent questions I am asked:

What is a marriage-based greencard?

A marriage-based greencard allows the foreign national spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to permanently live and work in the United States. A greencard holder will have “lawful permanent resident” status until they decide to apply for U.S. citizenship (i.e., naturalization), for which they become eligible after 3 years if they are still married to the same spouse or 5 years if they are no longer married to the same spouse.

How do I get a marriage-based greencard?

Getting a greencard through marriage is a 3-step process:

     1. Establishing the marriage relationship (Form I-130)

     2. Appying for the greencard (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)

     3. Attending the greencard interview and awaiting approval

___________________________________________________________________________________________

STEP 1

ESTABLISHING THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP (Form I-130)

The first step in the process of getting a greencard through marriage is to submit a Form I-130 (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"), which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"). The U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse filing the Form I-130 is called the “petitioner”, “sponsor” or "sponsoring spouse." The foreign national spouse seeking to obtain a greencard is called the “beneficiary”, “greencard applicant” or "foreign national spouse." The main purpose of the Form I-130, along with supporting documents, is to establish that a valid and good-faith marriage exists. The "supporting documents" are simply the evidence that you must submit with your greencard application. 

The key to success in any greencard case is to provide USCIS with sufficient and credible evidence. This is arguably the most difficult part of the process for my clients. Providing insufficient or questionable evidence to USCIS will delay and/or cause your greencard application to be denied. This is where my expertise and experience comes into play. I know the common pitfalls that greencard applicants make and how to avoid them. I know what evidence is necessary to satisfy USCIS. I know how to organize and present the evidence to USCIS in a way to maximize the overall strength of your greencard application. This, in turn, will result in a quicker and more favorable decision from USCIS.  

Generally speaking, the following supporting documents are required evidence for the Form I-130:

     * A Form I-130 filing fee of $535

     * Proof that the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident

     * Proof that a legally valid marriage exists

     * Proof that the marrage is not fraudulent

     * Proof that any previous marriage of either spouse has been terminated

If USCIS needs more information or documents to process the Form I-130 petition package, they will send the sponsoring spouse a Request for Evidence ("RFE") within 2 - 3 months. Once USCIS has everything they need, they will typically make a decision on the Form I-130 petition within 6 - 18 months.

Once the Form I-130 petition package is complete, it must be mailed to the appropriate USCIS address. USCIS will then send the sponsoring spouse an official acknowledgement (or “receipt notice”) in the mail, typically within 2 weeks.

After receiving notice that the Form I-130 has been approved, the next step will be to determine whether the foreign national spouse is eligible for a greencard.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

STEP 2

APPLYING FOR THE GREENCARD

The U.S. government follows 2 different processes to determine a foreign national spouse’s eligibility for a marriage-based greencard. The right process depends on where that foreign national spouse currently lives:

For greencard applicants living in the United States:

If the foreign national spouse physically lives in the United States, the next step is to file a Form I-485 (officially called the “Adjustment of Status” application). The Form I-485 is filed with USCIS, and its primary purpose is to establish that the foreign-national spouse is eligible for a greencard.

Generally speaking, the following supporting documents are required evidence for the Form I-485:

     * A Form I-485 filing fee of $1,225 ($1,140 for the greencard application and $85 for the biometric services fee)

     * Proof of nationaility of the foreign national spouse

     * Proof of lawful entry into the United States by the foreign national spouse

     * A "medical examination" of the foreign national spouse performed by a USCIS-approved doctor

     * Proof of the sponsoring spouse's ability to financially support the foreign national spouse

For foreign national spouses of a U.S. citizen, this Form I-485 application package can usually be combined with the Form I-130 and supporting documents described in Step 1 above. This is a process known as “concurrent filing.” USCIS typically processes this concurrent filing within 6 - 18 months.

For foreign national spouses of a lawful permanent resident, the Form I-485 application package cannot be submitted until the U.S. Department of State determines that a greencard is available in the "visa bulletin," given its various annual caps. The wait time is currently about 1.5 - 3 years, but this can vary by a few months, depending on the home country of the foreign national spouse. Once the Form I-485 application package is submitted, USCIS will typically process it within 6 - 18 months.

For greencard applicants living abroad:

There is a different process to sponsor a greencard for a foreign national spouse living abroad. The next step is to file an application package with the National Visa Center ("NVC"), which is run by the State Department. The NVC gathers the necessary forms and documents and decides whether the foreign national spouse is ready for an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. This is a procedure known as “consular processing.”

Generally speaking, the following supporting documents are required evidence for the NVC application package:

     * A NVC filing fee of $445 ($120 for the financial support form and $325 for the State Department processing fee)

     * A Form DS-260

     * Proof of nationality of the foreign national spouse

     * Copy of a "police clearance certificate" for the foreign national spouse.

     * Proof of the sponsoring spouse's ability to financially support the foreign national spouse

The NVC will typically process a greencard application package within 3 – 6 months, and then forward it to a U.S. embassy or consulate in the home country of the foreign national spouse.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

STEP 3

ATTENDING THE GREENCARD INTERVIEW AND AWAITING APPROVAL

The final step in the marriage-based greencard process is the greencard interview. The interviewing officer’s primary goal is to assess the authenticity of the marriage. Questions can focus on the couple’s relationship history, as well as their daily activities and future plans together. If the interviewing officer is sufficiently convinced that the marriage is not fraudulent, they will approve the foreign national spouse for a greencard.

The location of the interview — in addition to whether the sponsoring spouse must also attend — depends on where the foreign national spouse currently lives:

For greencard applicants living in the United States:

A foreign national spouse applying for a greencard from within the United States will attend their interview with the sponsoring spouse at their local USCIS office. The physical greencard will typically arrive by mail within 2 - 3 weeks after case approval.

In my experience, having an attorney present with you at your greencard interview will show USCIS that you are taking your case seriously and will maximize your chances of getting your greencard application approved.

For greencard applicants living abroad:

A foreign national spouse applying for a greencard from abroad will attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.

The foreign national spouse will then receive a visa stamp in their passport that allows travel and entry into the United States. The USCIS Immigrant Fee of $220 must be paid online before a physical greencard can be issued. I recommend paying this fee before the foreign national spouse leaves for the United States. The physical greencard will typically arrive by mail within 2 - 3 weeks after the foreign national spouse arrives to the United States.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

What's next?

What happens next depends on the length of the marriage at the time of greencard approval:

For greencard applicants married for less than 2 years:

The foreign national spouse will receive a CR1 (or "conditional") greencard. Conditional greencards are valid for only 2 years. Couples together must file a Form I-751 (officially called the “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence”) during the 90-day period immediately before the expiration of the conditional greencard in order to “remove the conditions” and obtain a "permanent" greencard. Upon receiving this form, USCIS will re-evaluate the couple’s marriage to make sure it is authentic and that the couple did not marry only for immigration purposes.

For greencard applicants married for more than 2 years:

The foreign national spouse will receive an IR1 (or “immediate relative”) greencard, which is a “permanent” greencard that needs to be renewed every 10 years. In most cases, renewing this 10-year greencard is a simple process and does not require the couple to prove the authenticity of their marriage again.

Do not leave your case to hope and call me today. I am confident you will be in great hands.

By Ekaterina Huff, Esq.