Every year, thousands of couples get married and a loved one starts their journey towards U.S citizenship. For many, it’s the beginning of a new life in the United States. For others it is a continuation of their path to citizenship via green card after getting married. But what is the marriage-based green card timeline?
The entire process end-to-end can vary widely due to people’s different situations. However, it should take 7-10 months once the United State Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has everything it needs.
Marrying a U.S. citizen does not mean you can yourself become a citizen right away. But instead, the possibility of obtaining a green card opens up as the spouse of a U.S citizen. However, there are a number of criteria to be fulfilled before you can file for naturalization by filing an N-400 Application for Naturalization.
One of the major criteria for citizenship is to hold permanent resident status as a green card holder prior to filing your Application for Naturalization under Section 319(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
There are, of course, a number of factors and scenarios under which you will have to apply for various petitions and applications before you get to a stage to file form N-400.
Below are the two possible ways a spouse of a U.S citizen can obtain a green card, it basically depends on if the nonimmigrant is abroad or living in the United States. Among other requirements, you need to satisfy that your marriage is genuine in order to qualify for a green card.
Scenario A: Consular Processing
This applies when a non-immigrant abroad is married to a U.S citizen.
Petition for Alien Relative
You can check your address on the USCIS website to find out which office which will have jurisdiction in your area of residence. As a first step in the process, you must establish the existence of a valid marriage. This means that you will need to file the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with the USCIS in a category reserved for immediate family. You will, for all intents and purposes, be known as a beneficiary if you are the applicant seeking a green card.
The spouse who is a U.S. citizen will be known as the “sponsor” and will need to file a supplemental information form known as the I-130A. This will kick off the marriage-based green card timeline which would take anywhere between 7-10 months once USCIS has everything they need. If USCIS sends you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE) it means that further evidence and/or information is required to complete processing.
The Green Card Application
Once you have filed your Petition for Alien Relative along with the supplementary I-130A, the USCIS office will transfer the case to the National Visa Center (NVC). Once a handover is completed from the USCIS to NVC, they will start gathering the necessary forms and documentation to decide if the spouse seeking a green card is eligible for an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.
As soon as everything is ready, it will usually take 3-5 months for the case to be forwarded to the relevant U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the spouse’s country of residence. Once the case is ready for processing, the spouse will have to pay for processing fees and a financial support form fee. The financial support form is commonly known as the Affidavit of Support (form I-864).
At this stage, the immigrant visa application can be made with the DS-260 online immigrant visa application. The NVC will have to be satisfied that all documents and information is in place and will ask for additional documents and/or information if needed.
Once all information is gathered, the NVC will take 1-2 months to make a decision.
Interview and Approval
Your spouse will need to be prepared for the interview at the U.S. embassy. To do this, the following needs to be completed:
- Medical Examination: must be completed with a State Department-approved doctor. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate handling your case will give a list of eligible doctors along with your interview notice.
- Lodge Address: This is done in accordance with the directions from the responsible U.S. Embassy or Consulate for the country of residence of the spouse. Your passport will be delivered to this address once the approved visa stamp is obtained.
- Fingerprinting Appointment: In most cases, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will request for a conduct background and security check. The beneficiary will be informed of the procedure or any special instructions.
When your spouse has completed the above prerequisites they will be required to attend what is known as a green card interview. The interview will be at the embassy or consulate in accordance with the instructions of date, time, and location given in a prior interview notice. This varies from consulate to consulate and will greatly impact your marriage-based green card timeline.
There is no strict criteria such as a number of years of marriage to be eligible. Instead, the consular official handling your case will have to be sufficiently satisfied that your marriage is genuine. There is a rise in the number of fraudulent attempts to obtain marriage-based green cards and, as such, newlyweds usually face more scrutiny. Approval can be given by the consular official on the spot.
The questions that you might be able to expect will likely focus on the relationship between you and your spouse. Many might be simple questions designed to identify if your marriage is legitimate such as:
- What is your spouse’s occupation?
- Where did you first meet your spouse?
- What are your spouse’s hobbies?
- How long have you and your spouse been married?
- What is your anniversary date?
The important thing concerning the marriage-based green card interview is to be honest. You may be tempted to make up an answer if you do not know. However, telling the officer that you are not sure of the answer is always better than lying. If you are denied a green card, you can always refile. But if you are caught in a fraudulent attempt, then you will likely be barred from attempting re-entry into the U.S. for sometimes decades. Your immigration attorney can help you prepare for the interview.
Arriving in the U.S.
When consular processing has been completed and a visa stamp has been given, then an immigrant fee will need to be paid to the USCIS. This is required so that the actual physical green card can be mailed to your address in the United States.
If you have been married for less than two years at the time of issuance of the green card, then your spouse will receive a “conditional green card”, which expires in two years. You will need to file for form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence 90 days before the expiration date of the conditional green card.
The issued green card will be an “immediate relative green card” if you have been married for at least two years. This is a regular 10-year green card with a relatively easy renewal process.
Scenario B: Concurrent Filing with USCIS
This is for married U.S citizens and non-immigrant spouses living in the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa (such as a K-1 visa). This often has a shorter marriage-based green card processing time.
Since the spouse of the U.S. citizen is already present within the country, this process is relatively simple in comparison to Scenario A above. Essentially there will be no processing to seek legal immigrant entry first and as such a concurrent filing can be made.
A “concurrent filing” is when you combine the initial I-130 petition and the form I-485 and file them together. Form I-485 is known as the “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”.
All in all, your application package must include:
- Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
- Form I-130A Supplemental Information Form
- Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Green Card Application)
- Form I-864 Affidavit of Support (Financial Support Form)
- Form I-693 Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
Form I-693 is a sealed envelope issued by your USCIS-approved doctor after your medical exam. Do not open this envelope and simply include it in your application package.
Usually one month after your filing, the USCIS will request for the spouse for a routine biometrics appointment, this is an administrative step for background and security checks. The appointment will be scheduled at the most convenient USCIS office to your location. If the USCIS needs more information, they will send you an RFE.
Interview and Approval
Upon completion of all processing and information/documentation gathering, an interview will be issued for the spouse of the U.S. citizen. The interview notice will inform of the date, time, and location of the green card interview. The total application processing time takes anywhere from 10-13 months for the entire marriage-based green card timeline.
The key difference between an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and in the country is that both the spouse and the sponsoring U.S citizen must attend the interview. A USCIS official will conduct the interview and when he or she is satisfied that the marriage is indeed genuine and there are no concerns or red flags, then your spouse’s green card application will be approved.
If the duration of your marriage at the time of issuance of the green card is less than two years, then the spouse will be issued a conditional green card as in Scenario A.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
Understanding the marriage-based green card timeline starts with understanding your individual case. There are many factors that go into what you can expect in terms of waiting times. The best thing to do is to have an immigration attorney review your case and advise you on more accurate processing times.
Here at Immi-USA, our practice has been built on helping families and immigrants realize their dream of migrating to the United States, and we take pride in the fact that we are the go-to professionals for immigration cases involving marriage and green card applications.
Get in touch with one of our immigration attorneys by filling out this form and scheduling your free and private consultation today.