Yearly, about a million foreign nationals gain legal status in the U.S., and up to 25% of those are through marriage to a U.S. permanent resident or an American citizen. Marriage-based green cards help couples achieve their dream of living together as one family in the U.S. as immigrants.
However, being married to a citizen or permanent resident doesn’t automatically give you legal resident status in the U.S. You need to follow the country’s immigration laws and prove you are not inadmissible. To do this, you will file and complete different forms as required by the USCIS. This article gives you all you need to know about the marriage-based green card document checklist.
To begin, you need to understand the three key terms you will come across when filing a marriage-based green card application. They are:
- The Sponsor/Petitioner Spouse: This is the spouse who is an American citizen or permanent resident in the U.S.
- The Beneficiary Spouse: This is the spouse seeking to become a permanent resident through a marriage-based green card
- United States Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS): The U.S. government agency that adjudicates immigration matters.
Green Card Through Marriage: Forms to File
To get a marriage-based green card, the following forms must be filed and submitted:
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
This is the first step in filing a marriage-based green card. The purpose is to establish that a valid marriage exists between you and your spouse. The petitioner or sponsor of the application must be a citizen or permanent resident in the U.S.
I-130A, Supplemental Information
This form is used by the USCIS to collect additional background information about the beneficiary spouse. The questions in the I-130A are based on the past five years of the beneficiary spouse’s employment and residential history. It must be filled out, signed, and submitted. The I-130A is filed and submitted with the I-130.
I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence
If you, the beneficiary spouse, are in the U.S. on another immigrant status, you will need to file an I-485 form. This is to prove to the USCIS that, by virtue of the valid marriage between you and your permanent resident/citizen spouse, you have met the eligibility requirements to adjust your status to become a permanent resident in the U.S. The I-485 contains several background-checking questions. The I-130, I-130A, and I-485 forms can be filed at the same time by applicants who live in the U.S.
I-1864, Affidavit of Support
This is an agreement form between the green card sponsor spouse and the U.S. government. It is an affidavit showing that you have income and/or assets that is enough to take care of your beneficiary spouse. This is done to assure the government that your spouse will not end up being a public charge after gaining a permanent residency.
I-639, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
The I-639 is filed to prove that you are not inadmissible to the U.S. on health grounds. The USCIS uses the form to assess the results of your medical examination. The medical exam can only be carried out by a USCIS-designated civil surgeon. The results of your medical examination will be used primarily for immigration purposes and are confidential.
According to the U.S. immigration law, there are four categories of health-related grounds of inadmissibility, which are:
- Communicable diseases of public health significance
- Lack of proof of having received the required vaccinations
- Mental or physical disorders with harmful behavior or a history of associated harmful behavior; and
- Drug abuse or addiction
I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
The purpose of this form is to get a temporary work authorization while you wait for your Form I-485 to be approved, which in some cases may take six to eight months. However, though this form is not compulsory in your application process since it comes free of charge and takes about 90 days to be approved, it is usually advisable to take advantage of it while your application for permanent residence is pending. If approved, you will have temporary authorization while waiting for your green card approval.
I-131, Application for Travel Document
If you travel out of the U.S. while you I-485 is yet to be approved, the USCIS may consider your application abandoned, which means you will have to restart the whole process from the beginning. To avoid this, you can file I-131 along with your marriage-based green card application to have the ability to travel abroad while you the application is pending. This is another optional form, and just like I-765, it also does not carry a fee.
Meanwhile, if you have to travel abroad on an urgent basis, you don’t need to wait for your I-131 to be approved before you leave. The approved document can be forwarded to your designated U.S. embassy or consulate abroad for you to pick it up.
Green Card Through Marriage: Supporting Documents
The forms listed above are to be completed and submitted with relevant documents supporting the validity of your marriage and eligibility claims. For a fast and smooth application process, you will need to provide the following documents:
Your Marriage Certificate
This is to prove further that civil marriage exists between you and your spouse.
Proof That Your Previous Marriage Ended Legally
If any or both of you have been into any marriage that ended in the past, you are to present evidence supporting how the marriage ended. Depending on your case, you will need to provide any of these: death certificate, divorce decrees, or annulment decree. If your previous marriage has not been lawfully terminated, the present one cannot be deemed valid.
Evidence Showing Name Change
If you or your spouse has ever changed names, you are to present documents showing the change. For a name change by marriage, your marriage certificate will suffice. If it wasn’t for marriage purposes, you will need to show a court order as proof.
You will need to submit two identical passport photographs each, taken within 30 days of filing your I-130. These requirements must be followed for the passport photographs to be accepted.
You may submit a copy when filing, but when you go into your interview, you must bring the original.
You must present your I-94 arrival/departure record. This document is issued by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to every alien who enters into the country as proof that you have been inspected by the agency when you entered the U.S. You will need to download your form on this CBP page and fill it out appropriately.
A Copy of Government-Issued Identification
In this case, it could be your passport page with a nonimmigrant visa or your passport page with your admission or parole stamp.
I-693, Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
The USCIS requires all beneficiaries to undergo a medical examination which can only be performed by a USCIS-designated physician. After the examination, the doctor will give you the result in a sealed envelope on the I-693, which you are to submit at your green card interview. The USCIS will not accept the result if the envelope is opened. If you would want to have a copy of your result, you can ask the doctor to make one for you. This immigration medical examination complete guide gives you everything you need to know about the I-693.
Furthermore, you need to reveal your criminal history if applicable. If you have been arrested or convicted before either in the U.S. or overseas, you must provide the records. You will likely need your lawyer to advise you on the best way to go about this. Be sure you are truthful in filing your criminal history record as any detection of dishonesty or fraud may lead to denial of your application by the USCIS and possible barring from re-entry into the United States.
Green Card Through Marriage: Cost
Marriage-based green card application fees vary widely depending on if you are filing in the U.S or overseas. Here is the breakdown of the fees
- I-130: $535
- I-485: $1140 (Applicants in the U.S. only)
- I-864: $120 (Applicants living abroad only)
- Biometrics : $85
- State Department Processing Fee: $325
- U.S. Immigrant Fee: $220
- Medical Examination (You are to negotiate this with your chosen physician).
Green Card Through Marriage: Processing Time
Marriage-based green card timeline varies widely due to differing situations. For instance, the process may be faster for a beneficiary who is already in the U.S. compared to someone who is overseas. However, if you file all required forms and provide all necessary documents, the entire process may take 7–10 months after you submit your application.
- Forbes.com. “Immigration And Marriage: What Happens If You Marry Or Divorce A Foreign Spouse?”
- USCIS.gov. “I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”
- USCIS.gov. “I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA”
- Travel.State.gov. “Passport Photos”
- i94.CBP.DHS.gov. “Homepage”
- CATO.org. “Immigration Application Denial Rates Jump 37% Under Trump”