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Marriage Green Card Application: The Definitive Guide (2019 Update)

Marriage Green Card Application: The Definitive Guide

Applying for a green card through marriage? You’ve found the right place!

In this guide, you will learn everything you need to file a successful marriage Green Card application without hiring an immigration lawyer. Instead, save that $5,000 lawyer’s fee for your lovely honeymoon on the beach. Did you know this cool guide makes a satisfying beach read? 🌴

marriage-green-card-application-guide

Before we dive in, here are a couple quick notes:

Is this guide accurate?

Yes. All the information presented here is based on the latest official application instructions from the U.S. government. We take the official instructions and explain them in a language that humans can actually understand. We cite the original sources throughout the guide, so if you ever need to confirm something with the original source, you can find it easily. ✅

What does it cover?

We will explain all the required application forms, supporting documents, government filing fees, and the application timeline. After completing this guide, you can file your application with confidence, and as a bonus, we’ll make the process fun! 🙂

Who is eligible for a Green Card by marriage?

If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen or the spouse of a green card holder, then you are eligible for a green card after marriage. It doesn’t matter if you are currently living inside the U.S. or living abroad.

The application process is different for applicants currently inside the U.S versus currently abroad. Since we cover both cases in this guide, you actually only need to read half of the guide!

Should I apply by myself or hire a lawyer?

In general, if you don’t have immigration violations, past criminal offenses, or a previously denied application, then the application is straightforward and you should be able to complete it yourself without an immigration lawyer. If you want to doubly ensure accuracy, you can hire a lawyer right before submission to review your completed application. That is usually pretty cheap. 💰

If your case is more complicated, however, you should consult an immigration attorney to be safe.

Use our Marriage Green Card: Lawyer or DIY quiz to find out what strategy works the best for your particular case.

Alright, Green Card application time!

There are two distinctive application processes, based on where the applicant (that’s the person seeking a Green Card) lives. So you actually only need to read half of this guide!

Select your situation below and we’ll direct you to the right application path:

Marriage Green Card Guide for Applicants Living INSIDE the U.S.

1. Green Card Process Overview

If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen or green card holder, and you currently live in the U.S., you and your spouse will need to file a Petition for Alien Relative and an Adjustment of Status through marriage[1] [2] (Don’t run, you will become an expert in this in the next five minutes).

Total filing fee: $1,760.
Total processing time: 10-13 months for a U.S. citizen’s spouse, 2.5 – 3 years for a green card holder’s spouse.

The application process can be broken into two steps:

Step 1: The Paper Party – Submit Forms and Documents to USCIS

We kick off the party with forms and documents!

The process is slightly different for spouses of U.S. citizens versus spouses of green card holders. So read the tab that fits your situation:

For U.S. Citizen’s Spouse Only

green-card-dance-party

The application will require the following forms:

  • Form I-130 – Petition for Alien Relatives
  • Form I-130A – Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary
  • Form I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
  • Form I-864 – Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA
  • Form I-765 – Application for Employment Authorization (optional)
  • Form I-131 – Application for Travel Document (optional)
  • G-1145 – e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (optional)

Forms will be explained in details in the forms section of this guide.

You also will need to submit the following supporting documents alongside the forms:

  • Passport-style photos of both spouses
  • Proof of the sponsor’s U.S. citizenship (e.g. U.S. passport, naturalization certificate)
  • Proof of the applicant’s immigration status
  • Current marriage certificate and documents of prior marriages
  • Evidence of joint activities
  • The applicant’s proof of financial support
  • The applicant’s medical examination result
  • The applicant’s birth certificate

Documents will be explained in details in the documents section of this guide.

USCIS charges an application fee of $1,760 [1] [2] (more details in the fees section).

Submit your application as one package to USCIS through mail [1] [2].

For Green Card Holder’s Spouse Only

Come meet our new friends: 8 government forms in total, 4 are required and 4 are optional. You’ll need to submit them in two parts, with a waiting period between Part One and Part Two.

Application Part One (Officially Called Petition for Alien Relative)

Forms to submit:

  • Form I-130 – Petition for Alien Relatives
  • Form I-130A – Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary
  • G-1145 – e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (optional)

Supporting documents:

  • Passport-style photos of both spouses
  • Proof that the sponsor is a U.S. permanent resident (e.g. U.S. permanent resident card)
  • Current marriage certificate and documents of prior marriages
  • Evidence of joint activities

USCIS filing fee: $535 [1]

Submit your application as one package to USCIS through mail [1].

It will take about 12-15 months for USCIS to approve Application Part One. Then, you’ll likely have to wait for another 8-10 months for a Green Card to become available. After that, you can finally submit Application Part Two. (More on the waiting time later.)

Application Part Two (Officially Called Adjustment of Status)

Forms to submit:

  • Form I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
  • Form I-864 – Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA
  • Form I-765 – Application for Employment Authorization (optional)
  • Form I-131 – Application for Travel Document (optional)
  • G-1145 – e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (optional)

Supporting documents:

  • Passport-style photos of the applicant
  • Proof of the applicant’s immigration status
  • The applicant’s proof of financial support
  • The applicant’s medical examination result
  • The applicant’s birth certificate

USCIS filing fee: $1,140 [2]

Submit your application as one package to USCIS through mail [2]. This concludes Step 1 and we now move into Step 2.

Later in this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know (and some more) about formsdocuments, fees and mailing it out.

Step 2: The Waiting Game – Wait until the Interview and the Green Card Approval

No more paperwork at this point! Now it’s mostly waiting around until you receive a Green Card interview notice around 10-13 months later [3]. The interview will take place at a USCIS office near you, and both spouses need to attend in-person. (More on the interview later.) If everything goes well, you will receive your Green Card approval at the end of the interview, and within another month, your Green Card will arrive in the mail!

The timeline section will explain the waiting process in detail.

green-card-confusing
Don’t worry. Everything will make sense in the next section.

2. The Logic Behind the Mess

Why all these forms and documents? How do I know this is all that’s required? In this section, we explain the Green Card application logic that routinely confuses the world’s smartest rocket scientist. Once you understand the logic behind it, this process will make a lot more sense.

To begin, let’s meet Arnold and Maria:

arnold

Applicant: Arnold is 28 years old and hails from the snowy mountains of Austria. Arnold is not a U.S. citizen and is applying to receive a Green Card.

 

maria-profile

Sponsor (also known as a petitioner): Maria is 27 years old and is a native to the sunny Southern California. She is married to Arnold and is a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

 

 

 

After getting married, Arnold and Maria started researching how to apply for a marriage Green Card for Arnold.

For U.S. Citizen’s Spouse Only

For couples like Arnold and Maria, the application paperwork contains two parts:

🔑 Application Part One: Establish Arnold’s Eligibility for a Green Card (Officially Called “Petition for Alien Relative”. We will call it “immigrant petition” in this guide.)

Since Arnold’s eligibility is based on his marriage to Maria, Maria needs to complete Application Part One (immigrant petition) to demonstrate [1]:

  • Maria is a real person.
  • Maria is a U.S. citizen.
  • Arnold is her husband.
  • Their marriage is real.

This step is mostly for Maria to complete.

🌱 Application Part Two: Apply for Arnold’s Green Card (Officially Called “Adjustment of Status to Lawful Permanent Resident”. We will call it “adjustment of status” in this guide.)

After the immigrant petition has established Arnold’s Green Card eligibility, now Arnold can apply for it. Application Part Two (adjustment of status) collects information that demonstrates [2]:

  • Arnold is a real person.
  • Arnold’s current immigration status doesn’t bar him from receiving a Green Card.
  • Arnold can financially support himself in the U.S. without government assistance.
  • Arnold is in good health.
  • Arnold has no criminal history.

This step is mostly for Arnold to complete.

USCIS processes the forms and documents for the immigrant petition (Application Part One) independently from those for the adjustment of status (Application Part Two) [1] [2], so we need to separate the paperwork of each part when we submit the application (more on that in the submit section of this guide). In the next section, we will explain all the forms, documents and filing fees you need.

For Green Card Holder’s Spouse Only

For couples like Arnold and Maria, here is the application paperwork timeline:

🔑 Application Part One: Immigrant Petition

Part One’s purpose is to establish Arnold’s eligibility for a Green Card. Since Arnold’s eligibility is based on his marriage to Maria, Maria needs to complete the Application Part One to demonstrate [1]:

  • Maria is a real person.
  • Maria is a U.S. permanent resident.
  • Arnold is her husband.
  • Their marriage is real.

This part is mostly for Maria to Complete.

Around 2 Weeks Later

USCIS Receipt Notice (Form I-797) Arrives

The receipt notice confirms that USCIS has received your Application Part One. It contains a case number, which you can use to track your Part One case status with the USCIS Case Status Checker. It also contains a date labeled “Priority Date”. You will use this date later to determine when to submit Application Part Two.

Around 12-15 Months Later

USCIS Notice of Approval Arrives 😀

For Around 8-10 Months after receiving USCIS Notice of Approval

Wait time… ⏰

🌱 Application Part Two: Adjustment of Status

Part Two’s purpose is to apply for Arnold’s Green Card. After USCIS approves Part One, Arnold has successfully established his Green Card eligibility; now he can apply for it. The Application Part Two collects information that demonstrates [2]:

  • Arnold is a real person.
  • Arnold’s current immigration status doesn’t bar him from receiving a Green Card.
  • Arnold can financially support himself in the U.S. without government assistance.
  • Arnold is in good health.
  • Arnold has good moral characters.

This part is mostly for Arnold to Complete.

Around 2-3 Weeks after Filing Part Two

USCIS Receipt Notices (Form I-797) Arrive

For each form you submit in Application Part Two, you will receive a receipt notice from USCIS. Each receipt notice contains a case number. You can use these case numbers to track your Part Two case status with the USCIS Case Status Checker.

For the Next 8-10 Months after receiving USCIS Notice of Approval

Mostly Waiting until Receiving Green Card Interview Notice

This is where Step 2 – the Waiting Game begins. We will explain what happens during this time in the timeline after filing section later.

Why the wait before submitting Part Two?

The answer: Arnold cannot apply for a Green Card, until a Green Card becomes available for him to apply to.

This may sound very strange, until you learn this fact: the U.S. government only gives out a fixed number of Green Cards each year, no matter how many people are eligible for it. So when there are more eligible people than there are Green Cards, some people have to wait until a new batch of Green Cards become available. 1

When can I submit Application Part Two?

You can find out by checking the USCIS Visa Bulletin information page, which updates once a month. Click on the link to the current month, and in the chart find category “F2A”.

uscis-visa-bulletin

If the date on the chart is current (“C”), or your priority date (explained below) is earlier than the date on the chart, you may file Application Part Two. Otherwise, you will need to continue waiting and check the bulletin page again next month. 2

What's Priority Date?

You can find your Priority Date on the Form I-130 Receipt Notice (Form I-797) you received earlier. The date is under a column labeled "Priority Date". 3

3. Forms, Documents and Filing Fees

Now that we understand the concepts of the immigrant petition and the adjustment of status, it’s time to party! The tables below list all the forms, documents and filing fees you need in order to complete the application[1] [2] [4] [5] [6] [7].

📜Forms

In this world, nothing is certain, except death, taxes, and forms.

Download your forms at the USCIS website. Make sure your printer has enough paper.

🔑 Forms for Application Part One: Immigrant Petition

Form I-130 - Petition for Alien Relatives [Maria to fill out]
No, this isn’t about your aunt Barb who claims to be an extraterrestrial 👽. Maria needs to fill out this form to confirm she is a U.S. citizen and Arnold is her husband. It asks for information about both Maria and Arnold.

Form I-130A - Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary [Arnold to fill out]
Enter Arnold’s information for a second time. Only this time it's Arnold’s turn to fill it out.

Form G-1145 - e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (optional) [Maria to fill out]
Ever dreamed of getting a ping from USCIS on the phone? 💌 Fill in this form to request an electronic notification when USCIS accepts the immigrant petition.
🌱 Forms for Application Part Two: Adjustment of Status

Form I-485 - Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status [Arnold to fill out]
Arnold, please stretch your fingers. 🖐 You are about to enter your information for a third time here. And don’t forget the 66 check boxes at the end for questions such as “Does Arnold intend to sabotage the United States?”.

Form I-864 - Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA [Maria to fill out]
Affi what? Who is David?🧜‍Well, it’s actually a form to show Arnold can financially support himself in the U.S. without government assistance. The simplest way to do so is if Maria can demonstrate that her income is at least 125 percent of the current Federal Poverty Guidelines for Maria’s household size (only 100 percent of the Guidelines if Maria is on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces or U.S. Coast Guard). If this is not the case, the form instruction outlines other ways for Arnold and other relatives to chip in. Yeah… this form is definitely the most confusing one. So make sure to spend some time understanding the form instructions.🤷‍

Form I-765 - Application for Employment Authorization (optional) [Arnold to fill out]
Arnold needs to do this form if he wants to work in the U.S.while his application is pending. (Arnold wants to continue his employment with Skyweb 😎, so he fills out the form.)

Form I-131 - Application for Travel Document (optional) [Arnold to fill out]
Arnold needs to do this form if he wants to travel outside of the U.S. while his application is pending. (Arnold needs to fly to Maluku to terminate a tasselled wobbegong 🐡, so he fills out the form.)

G-1145 - e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (optional) [Arnold to fill out]
Fill in this form to request an electronic notification when USCIS accepts the adjustment of status.

📄Documents

Forms and documents, like coffee and cream, work so much better when together.

Submit photocopies of documents instead of originals, unless USCIS Instructions specifically state that you must submit an original document.

🔑 Documents for Application Part One: Immigrant Petition

Arnold’s and Maria’s passport-style photos
Passport-style photos of both Arnold 🦊 (2 copies) and Maria 🐰(2 copies), taken within 30 days of filing the application

Proof of Maria’s U.S. citizenship or Lawful Permanent Residence Status
e.g. U.S. passport, naturalization certificate, certificate of citizenship, U.S birth certificate, U.S. Permanent Resident Card 🔖

Marriage papers
Current marriage certificate and prior marriage termination documents 📑

Evidence of Arnold and Maria’s joint activities
Documents that prove the marriage is real. 💑 For example, joint ownership of property, joint apartment lease, birth certificates of children you had together, photo collection.[1]
🌱 Documents for Application Part Two: Adjustment of Status

Arnold’s passport-style photos
Passport-style photos of Arnold 🦊 (2 - 6 copies depending on the case), taken within 30 days of filing the application. Did you notice USCIS really loves immigrants’ photos?

Arnold’s birth certificate
Arnold's birth certificate 🐣

Proof of Arnold’s immigration status
Evidence of continuously maintaining a lawful status since arrival in the U.S. 🤟

Arnold’s proof of financial support
E.g. (If Maria is Arnold’s financial sponsor in Form I-864) Maria’s pay stubs, Maria’s tax returns, Maria’s letter from employer🤑

Arnold’s medical examination result
Form I-693 - Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record . This form will be filled out by the doctor who provides you with the exam. At the end of the exam, the doctor will hand you the filled out Form I-693 in a sealed envelop. Do not open the envelope and mail it together with the rest of Application Part 2 to USCIS.) ⚕

(Applicable only if Maria is a U.S. permanent Resident:) Form I-130 Receipt or Approval Notice (called Form I-797)
Around 2 weeks after Maria filed Form I-130 in Application Part One, Maria should have received a Form I-130 receipt notice from USCIS.

🈷 Foreign Documents Translation: If you submit a document with information in a foreign language, you also need to submit a full English translation. The translator should sign a certification that the English language translation is complete and accurate, and that he or she is competent to translate from the foreign language into English. Here is an example certification for your download.

💰 Money Saving Tip: You do not need to pay for a professional translation service to translate documents. For example, a friend who is competent to translate can satisfy the requirement.

💸USCIS Filing Fees

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a free Green Card…

USCIS charges a total of $1,760 for filing fees, paid in two separate checks/ money orders. Make each check/ money order payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”.

🔑 Filing Fee for Application Part One: Immigrant Petition

$535 - pay it with a check/ money order
Filing fee for Form I-130
🌱 Filing Fee for Application Part Two: Adjustment of Status

$1,225 - pay it with a second check/ money order
Filing fee for Form I-485 ($1,140) + Biometric services fee ($85), paid a total of $1,225 using one check/money order

For more information on payment, read the USCIS instructions.

How to make sure I filled out the forms correctly?

Each USCIS form comes with an instruction [1] [2] [4] [5] [6] [7]. Make sure you carefully review the instructions. I know, I know – those instructions are written in Austrian Martian. Even the killer robot from the future cannot survive the grandeur of 125 pages of full-length legal verbiage without dropping cold onto the floor.

green-card-instructions

If you are like Arnold, you may dream about doing your application the TurboTax style: fill out a simple questionnaire with step-by-step instructions, and boom!, your forms are completed for you.

Good news – here at GreenCardHero, we have created a handy Green Card application software which does exactly that for you! 😃

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Step-by-step Guided Software, from Start to Finish

Try It for Free!

4. How to Assemble and File the Application

We are all done with the hard part!

Now let’s stuff this delicious paperwork feast in a hungry envelope! 📩

For U.S. Citizen’s Spouse Only

Submit in One Envelope, but as Two Packets

The immigrant petition and the adjustment of status can be submitted together in the same envelope. This is called “concurrent filing” and is a special privilege given to U.S. citizens’ immediate relatives (including the spouse) who are already living in the U.S. [8]. Most other Green Card applicants have to patiently wait until the immigrant petition is approved by USCIS before submitting the adjustment of status. So lucky you!

Even though these two parts are submitted together, USCIS processes them separately [8]. Therefore, to avoid grumpy USCIS agents, kindly organize the paperwork into two separate application packets.

uscis-agent

Cover Each Packet with A Cover Letter

Time to organize, kids! USCIS recommends creating a cover letter for each application packet and placing the cover letter on top of the packet. A cover letter is essentially a table of contents of all the forms and documents contained within the packet. The cover letter helps you organize your papers, and also helps USCIS agents during their review.

If you are using GreenCardHero, GreenCardHero will create a customized cover letter for each of your application packet, making your submission fast and easy.

Stack and Stuff

Now stack your forms and documents in the order listed on the cover letter. Then put the assembled packet in one envelop/package. Your application is now ready to send!

Where to Send

Finally, it’s time to mail the application package! 📩 Mail the envelope to USCIS at the address below [10] [11].

If you mail through U.S. Postal Service (USPS), mail to this address:

USCIS
P.O. Box 805887
Chicago, IL 60680-4120

If you mail through FedEx, UPS, and DHL, mail to this address:

USCIS
Attn: FBAS
131 South Dearborn-3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517
For Green Card Holder’s Spouse Only

Now we’ve got a lot of finished paperwork lying around, how do we organize and submit it? It’s time to learn the subtle art of stuffing hungry envelops. 📩 The process is the same for both Application Part One and Part Two.

Organize Using a Cover Letter

Per the USCIS recommendation, we will create a cover letter and place it on top of the application packet.[6] A cover letter is essentially a table of contents for all the forms and documents contained in an application. A cover letter helps you organize your papers, and also helps you avoid grumpy USCIS agents during processing.

If you are using GreenCardHero, GreenCardHero will create a customized cover letter for each of your submission, making assembling the application fast and easy.

Stack and Stuff

Now stack your forms and documents in the order listed on the cover letter. Then put the assembled packet in one envelop/package. Your application is now ready to send!

Mail It!

Finally, it’s time to mail the application package! 📩 The mailing address for Submission 1 and Submission 2 are different. Make sure you use the correct address for each submission.

green-card-signature
Don’t forget to sign!

5. How to Catch Mistakes before Filing

Before I send this precious application that’s gonna decide my fate, how do I quadruple make sure it is all done right?

  • First, take a deep breath. Hundreds of thousands of couples just like you apply for their Green Cards every year, and the vast majority get approved. The odds are on your side!
  • Review each application form, document and cover letter.
  • If you’re iffy about any particular section, try re-reading the form’s instructions for that section.
  • If you’re still feeling antsy, consider hiring an immigration lawyer to review your completed application. An application review is affordable, usually costs under $300. In contrast, hiring a lawyer to do the whole application for you can cost $5,000 and up.

6. The Timeline after Filing

Yay, you filed! The hardest part is officially behind us! Now we move on to the second – and final – step of the process: “Game of Groans”. The groans are caused by prolonged waiting: once in a while, your application reaches a milestone and you receive a USCIS communication, and then you wait some more, until you get a notice for an interview. Eventually, you will receive that gorgeous Green Card in the mail.

This timeline explains what happens after filing the Green Card application:

Around 2-3 Weeks after Filing

USCIS Receipt Notices Arrive

For each form you submit in the application, you will receive a receipt notice from USCIS. Each receipt notice contains a case number. You can use these case numbers to track your case status with the USCIS Case Status Checker.

Around 3-5 Weeks after Filing

Biometrics Appointment Notice Arrives for the Applicant

The biometrics services appointment is a quick, low stress procedure where the USCIS takes the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and/or signature. This helps USCIS confirm the applicant’s identity and run required background and security checks.4

The appointment will be at a local USCIS Application Support Center (ASC). The applicant’s appointment notice will include the date, time and location for the appointment.5

Around 4-6 Weeks after Filing

The Applicant Goes to the Biometrics Appointment

Attend the scheduled biometrics services appointment. You can learn more about what it’s like on the USCIS website.

Around 3 Months after Filing

Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card Arrives for the Applicant

If the applicant filled out the optional forms in Step 1 for employment and travel authorization, the applicant will receive an approval notice and an EAD card in the mail. With an EAD card, the applicant can work in the U.S. and/or travel outside the U.S. while the application is pending.

Around 4-10 Months after Filing

Interview Notice Arrives for the Sponsor and Applicant

USCIS will schedule an in-person interview and mail an interview notice. Both the applicant and the sponsor need to attend. The interview notice will contain instructions on what supporting documents to bring to the interview.

 

Around 1-2 Months after Receiving Interview Notice

The Sponsor and Applicant Go to Green Card Interview

The interview is an opportunity for USCIS to verify the inebriation provided in your application, to discover new information, and to determine the credibility of the applicant.6

During the interview, a USCIS officer will ask the applicant a series of questions to confirm that the applicant:

  • Never committed a crime
  • Hasn’t defrauded the U.S. government
  • Hasn’t been deported
  • Has no serious diseases
  • The marriage is real
  • Has financial support

Read our guide on how to prepare and what to expect at the interview.

Around 1-2 Months after Completing Interview

Green Card Arrives in the Mail! 🎉

Congratulations! You have made it!

While you are waiting, it is important to keep on top of immigration policy changes. Especially starting from Trump’s presidency, immigration policies change almost every month.

Stay on top of the changes with the GreenCardHero Newsletter:


7. How to Track Case Status and Processing Time

USCIS Case Status Checker is the official tool for checking your case status. Enter all the case numbers printed on the receipt notices you received, then the tool will display the processing status of each form in your particular case.

You may also use the official USCIS Case Processing Times Checker to see the current processing time of each form, so that you can anticipate when your case status will change. The processing time has been steadily increasing since Trump became president in 2017, and it varies significantly depending on where you live. The tool shows the processing time range for each form type at different USCIS office locations.

How to Preserve Sanity During the Wait

green-card-processing-time

Based on my personal experience, the long wait can get very frustrating – feeling suspended in uncertainty is not fun. Unfortunately, none of us can speed up processing speed (except President Trump perhaps?).

I found it helpful to join an online immigration forum and feel like part of a community that is going through this together. I also found it helpful to keep myself engaged with other activities in life, so I wouldn’t think about “the G” (“g” from Green Card) that much.

Ultimately, the time will come when a fateful USPS letter arrives in your mailbox. You pick it up and feel a thin and sturdy object inside, perfectly rectangular with slight rounded edges. You carefully open the envelope, and there it is – a Green Card, shrouded in an ornate tapestry and soft hues; through a fine layer of misty Atlantic fog, the statue of liberty greets you with a gorgeous smile. This journey has made you older and wiser, and congratulations, you’ve now got the key to America!

Conclusion

So that’s my step-by-step guide to applying for a marriage Green Card from inside the U.S..

As you saw, the application process may look complex at first, but you can definitely do it by yourself with the help of this guide.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

Any tips I missed?

Any other questions you would like me to address in the guide?

Let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

receive-green-card

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Marriage Green Card Guide for Applicants Living OUTSIDE the U.S.

1. Green Card Process Overview

Two Special Words We Will Use

Applicant: The applicant is the person who is seeking to receive a Green Card. The applicant is also sometimes called an "alien" or "beneficiary".

Sponsor: The sponsor is the applicant's spouse and is a U.S. citizen or green card holder. The sponsor will petition on behalf of the applicant for a Green Card. The sponsor is also sometimes called a "petitioner".

This application process (officially called “consular processing”) has four steps:

Step 1: The sponsor submits a petition to establish the applicant’s Green Card eligibility
The petition requires two forms and a set of supporting documents. The U.S. government charges $535 for filing fee, and it takes about 7-10 months to process. (You didn’t think it was going to be free, did you? 🧐)

For Green Card Holders’ Spouses Only – Step 1.5: Waiting period…
After the petition is approved, the next step is to apply for this Green Card. However, as the spouse of a Green Card holder, you have to wait until the U.S. government tells you it’s O.K. to proceed to the next step. This waiting period is currently around 8-10 months.

Step 2: The applicant applies for an immigrant visa in order to enter the U.S.
You’ll spend about 3 months submitting various forms and documents to the U.S. National Visa Center. During this time, your wallet will shed another $445 for government filing fees.

Step 3: The applicant prepares for and attends a Green Card interview at a U.S. embassy/consulate
3 to 4 month after completing Step 2, the applicant will go to their closest U.S. embassy or consulate to be interviewed by a consular officer. The applicant will also need to get a medical examination from an embassy-approved doctor. The interview is free, but the doctor’s exam costs around $250.

Step 4: The applicant receives a Green Card after entering the U.S.
The applicant pays a final (we promise! 🤞) fee of $220, travels to the United States, and receives his/her Green Card in the mail a few weeks later!

Phew! 😅 That’s a lot of stuff and we’ll break down each step below. In summary, applying for a marriage based Green Card will take:

  • Total cost: $1,200 government filing fee + around $250 for medical exam. 💸
  • Total processing time: 14-18 months for a U.S. citizen’s spouse, 22-28 months for a green card holder’s spouse. ⏳

Yep, that’s a long time and a lot of money. Despite all of this, being married to a U.S. Citizen/ green card holder is actually one of the fastest ways to get a Green Card. Did you know it currently takes 😱23 years😱 for Filipino applicants to get Green Cards through their U.S. citizen parents? 7

2. Application Timeline, Forms, Documents, Fees

Let’s take a closer look at these four steps in detail. By the end of this section, you will have all you need to know to start your application.

Step 1: The sponsor submits a petition to establish the applicant’s Green Card eligibility

First, the sponsor submits two forms to “petition” for the applicant’s marriage based Green Card. It’s basically a way of telling the U.S. government “Hey, I’m a U.S. citizen/green card holder and I married this person. Let’s get their Green Card process started!”

During this step, you’ll be dealing with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It’s the government agency that handles Green Card petitions.

The timeline for filing a petition:

The Sponsor Submits Immigrant Petition Forms and Documents to USCIS

The sponsor needs to submit two forms, along with supporting documents8:

  • I-130 – Petition for Alien Relative, to be completed by the sponsor. (The US government uses the term “alien” 👽 to refer to foreigners. This can get truly confusing when real aliens from Mars arrive and start filing U.S. government paperwork).
  • I-130A – Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary, to be completed by the applicant.

Also submit the following supporting document together with the forms:

Passport-style photos of both spouses
Passport-style photos of both the applicant🦊 (2 copies) and the sponsor🐰(2 copies), taken within 30 days of filing the application

Proof that the sponsor is a U.S. Citizen/Legal Permanent Resident
e.g. U.S. passport, naturalization certificate, certificate of citizenship, U.S birth certificate, U.S. Legal Permanent Resident Card 🔖

Marriage papers
Current marriage certificate and prior marriage termination documents 📑

Evidence of joint activities
Documents that prove the marriage is real. 💑 For example, joint ownership of property, joint apartment lease, birth certificates of children you had together, photo collection. 9

You can download the forms and instructions from the USCIS website. You’ll mail the completed forms and supporting documents in one package to the address specified by USCIS. Don’t forget to include the $535 filing fee in the submission package.

Around 2 Weeks Later

USCIS Receipt Notice Arrives

The Receipt Notice confirms that USCIS has received your application. It contains your case number, which you can use to track your case status with the USCIS Case Status Checker.

Around 7-10 Months Later

USCIS Notice of Approval Arrives 😀

Your petition has been approved and it’s time for Step 2!

For Green Card Holders’ Spouses Only – Step 1.5: Waiting Period

Welcome to the most frustrating step of the whole application! For the next 8-10 months, all we’ll be doing is… nothing.

Why do I have to wait?

The answer: the applicant cannot apply for a Green Card, until a Green Card becomes available to apply to.

This may sound very strange, until you learn this fact: the U.S. government only gives out a fixed number of Green Cards each year, no matter how many people are eligible for it. So when there are more eligible people than there are Green Cards, some people have to wait until a new batch of Green Cards become available. 10

How do I know when the waiting period is over?

You can find out by checking the State Department Visa Bulletin, which updates once a month. Click on the link to the current month, scroll down to section “B.  DATES FOR FILING FAMILY-SPONSORED VISA APPLICATIONS“, and in the chart find category “F2A”.

If the date on the chart is current (“C”), or your priority date (explained below) is earlier than the date listed on the chart, your waiting period is over, and NVC has started to process your case; you will soon receive an NVC Welcome Letter in the mail. Otherwise, you will have to continue waiting and check the bulletin page again next month. 11

What's Priority Date?

You can find your Priority Date on the Form I-130 Receipt Notice (Form I-797) you received earlier. The date is under a column labeled "Priority Date". 12

Step 2: The applicant applies for an immigrant visa in order to enter the U.S.

We are making progress! Now that USCIS has approved the applicant’s eligibility to apply for a Green Card, it’s time to apply for it!

Since the applicant is currently outside the U.S., applying for a Green Card actually means applying for a special spouse visa called “Immigrant Visa for a Spouse of a U.S. Citizen”13 (for U.S. citizens’ spouses), or “Immigrant Visa for a Spouse of Lawful Permanent Resident”14 (for green card holders’ spouses).

We will call it “immigrant visa” for short. You can think of this immigrant visa as a token for your eventual Green Card: Once the applicant enters the U.S. using this immigrant visa, an actual Green Card will be automatically sent to the applicant without further paperwork.

During this step, you will be dealing with the U.S. National Visa Center (NVC), which is part of the U.S. Department of State. NVC is the government agency that handles immigrant visa applications.

The timeline for applying for an immigrant visa:

Around 3 Weeks after USCIS Notice of Approval (or in the Green Card holder’s spouse case, 3 weeks after the waiting period ends)

Welcome Letter from NVC Arrives

The Welcome letter from National Visa Center contains your unique case number and invoice ID number. 15 You will need these numbers for filing future applications, so make sure to save the numbers and only share them with people you trust. 16

The Applicant Submits Form DS-261

Form DS-261 – Choice of Address and Agent, is a simple form you use to appoint a person (called an “agent”) who will receive NVC communication. You can appoint yourself as this agent, or appoint any other person you trust. 17 Don’t appoint any actual extraterrestrials 👽, though.

You can fill out and submit Form DS-261 using an online tool provided by NVC called the Consular Electronic Application Center, or CEAC. To log into CEAC, use the unique case number and invoice ID number you received in the Welcome Letter. Then follow the instructions on CEAC for DS-261. 18

Around 3 Weeks Later

Receipt Notice for DS-261 Arrives

The Applicant Pays Processing Fees

NVC charges two processing fees. They can be paid online through CEAC:

  • Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee ($325) 19
  • Affidavit of Support Fee ($120) 20 – Explained in detail below.

For payment, you will need to provide a bank routing number and a checking or savings account number from a U.S. bank. 21

Around 1 Week Later

Notice of Successful Fee Processing Arrives

The Applicant and the Sponsor Submits Application Forms and Documents to NVC

Part 1

Form DS-260 –  Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, is a long form that collects the applicant’s personal information, addresses, family members, U.S. travel history, employment history, education history, medical history, criminal history, etc.

You can fill out and submit DS-260 online through CEAC.

Part 2

The applicant and the sponsor need to complete the following three items and submit them in ONE package to NVC:

1. Collect supporting civil documents for DS-260 (completed by the applicant)

You’ll need to gather supporting civil documents, which are listed on the NVC website. They include photocopies of the following documents, along with their translations (if the documents are not written in English, or in the official language of the country in which the applicant is applying for the immigrant visa):

  • Birth certificates
  • Passport Biographic Data Page
  • Marriage certificates
  • Divorce papers for previous marriages from both spouses
  • Military Records
  • Court and prison records
  • Police Certificates

2. complete Form I-864 (completed by the sponsor)

I-864  – Affidavit of Support, is a form used to show that the sponsor can financially support the applicant in the U.S., if necessary. The form gives the U.S. government assurance that the applicant will not be consuming government assistance such as welfare and food stamps after s/he moves to the U.S..

Form I-864 will collect information to determine if the sponsor can meet the minimum income requirements, which is greater than or equal to 125 percent of the current Federal Poverty Guidelines for the sponsor’s household size (only 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines if the sponsor is on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces or U.S. Coast Guard).

If the sponsor’s income is not enough, there are other acceptable ways to meet the minimum income requirement, such as adding income from other household members, adding a joint sponsor, or adding your assets. These options will require additional forms.

3. Collect supporting financial documents for I-864 (completed by the sponsor)

The sponsor will also need to gather the supporting financial documents listed in the Form I-864 instructions. They include photocopies of documents in the following document categories:

IRS Tax Transcripts
This is a receipt of your tax return, not the actual tax return you filed with IRA. You can order Tax Transcript from the IRS here (and surprise – this service is actually free!)

Evidence of income
E.g. employment letter, pay stub.

Proof of relationship
This is only if you decided to file Form I-864A.

Proof of domicile
If the sponsor’s mailing address and/or place of residence is not in the United States, write an explanation and provide documentary evidence indicating how the sponsor meets the domicile requirement. (Explained in detail in GreenCardHero)

Proof of U.S. status
This is only if you decided to use a joint I-864 sponsor.

Social Security Administration Earnings Statement
This is only if you decided to file Form I-864W.

Proof of Assets
This is only if you are using assets to meet the minimum income requirements.

Submission method for this package varies by your filing location. See the NVC instruction for your specific case.

💰 Money Saving Tips: Contrary to what commercial translation companies will have you believe, supporting documents like birth certificates can be translated by anyone who is fluent in both languages, and willing to swear as such to the U.S. government. It can be a friend or a colleague, as long they follow the instructions outlined by USCIS and the Department of State.

Immediately Available Online After Submission

Receipt Notice for DS-260 Arrives

Around 3 Weeks Later

NVC Approval Notice Arrives 😀

Your application has been approved and it’s time for Step 3!

Step 3: The applicant attends a Green Card interview at the applicant’s closest U.S. embassy or consulate

Good job on finishing all the paperwork! Now it’s time for an in-person interview with a U.S. consular officer. The interview is an opportunity for the U.S. government to double check that you indeed qualify for an immigrant visa. Only the applicant is required to attend the interview. However, if the sponsor is available, we recommend that the sponsor attends as well to show support.

The timeline for interview:

Around 1-2 Months after NVC Approval Notice

Interview Appointment Letter Arrives

After NVC schedules your interview appointment, you will receive a letter noting the appointment date, time and location. The letter usually arrives around one month before the scheduled interview date. 22

The Applicant Completes Pre-Interview Activities

The pre-interview activities must be completed before the interview date. The activities required vary from embassy to embassy. Use this NVC webpage to select your embassy/consulate and get a Pre-Interview Checklist specific for your case.

Some common requirements include:

Medical Exam

The applicant is required to schedule a medical appointment with an authorized doctor in the country where the applicant will be interviewed. The interview appointment letter you receive will provide information on how to find an embassy-approved doctor.

Gather Documents Required for the Interview

These documents include the original version of all civil documents and financial documents submitted to NVC, copies of those documents, and other documents specified in the interview appointment letter.

Embassy/Consulate Specific Requirements

For example, many embassies and consulates require the applicant to register for passport delivery service before the interview. To get the full embassy/consulate specific requirements, use the NVC Pre-Interview Checklist.

Around 1 Month after Receiving the Interview Appointment Letter

The Applicant Attends the Interview

The day is finally here! Put on your cleanest shirt and arrive at the interview at the scheduled date and time. The sponsor’s attendance is optional. They probably won’t call you on time, but, hey, at this point you are a master at waiting for the government, right?

During the interview, a consular officer will ask the applicant a series of questions to confirm that the applicant:

  • Has never committed a crime
  • Hasn’t defrauded the U.S. government
  • Hasn’t been deported
  • Has no serious diseases
  • The marriage is real
  • Has financial support

Read our article on what to expect at the Green Card interview.

A Few Weeks Later (varies by embassy)

Passport with Visa and Sealed Immigrant Packet Arrive 😀

Yay! You made it! The visa will be valid for 6 months and you can use it to travel to the U.S.. The sealed Immigrant Packet is to be handed over to the border customs official when you enter the U.S.. Keep the packet sealed. Again: Don’t… Open… The Packet!

Step 4: The applicant receives a Green Card after entering the U.S.

Congratulations, you’ve arrived at the easy last step! Once you receive the immigrant visa, you need to travel to the U.S. within 6 months before the visa expires. Once you enter the U.S., the U.S. government will send you the Green Card through mail.

The Applicant Pays Immigrant Fee

Before we are done, the U.S. government needs to get paid one more time…

USCIS charges an Immigrant Fee of $220. 23 Pay it through the USCIS website after you receive the immigrant visa and before you travel to the U.S.. (What is this fee for? As far as we can tell, this fee is primarily an opportunity for USCIS to squeeze some final dollars out of you. Welcome to America! 🇺🇸).

The Applicant Travels to the U.S. within 6 Months

Make sure you come to the U.S. before your visa expires! Immigrant visas are usually valid for 6 months, but double check yours to make sure. 24

Once you arrive in the U.S., go through the border customs and present the sealed Immigrant Packet (you kept it sealed, right?!) to a customs official. You will then be admitted into the country.

Around 2-3 Weeks Later

Green Card Arrives in the Mail! 🎉

 

green-card-party

3. How to track case status and processing time?

In Steps 1 and 4, your application is handled by USCIS. Use the USCIS Case Status Checker and enter your case number, then you can see the processing status of your case. In addition, you can use the USCIS Case Processing Times Checker to see the processing time range for Form I-130 at different USCIS office locations.

In Steps 2 and 3, your applicant is handled by NVC. Use the Consular Electronic Application Center to track your case status.

If you have questions about your case, you can reach USCIS and NVC representatives by phone or online for assistance.

While you are waiting, it is important to keep on top of immigration policy changes. Especially starting from Trump’s presidency, immigration policies change almost every month.

Stay on top of the changes with the GreenCardHero Newsletter:


How do I preserve sanity during the wait?

green-card-processing-time

Based on my own experience, the long application process can get very frustrating – feeling suspended in uncertainty is not fun. Unfortunately, none of us can speed up processing speed (except President Trump perhaps?).

I found it helpful to join an online immigration forum and feel like part of a community that is going through this together. I also found it helpful to keep myself engaged with other activities in life, so I wouldn’t think about “the G” (“g” from Green Card) that much.

Ultimately, the time will come when a fateful USPS letter arrives in your mailbox. You pick it up and feel a thin and sturdy object inside, perfectly rectangular with slight rounded edges. You carefully open the envelope, and there it is – a Green Card, shrouded in an ornate tapestry and soft hues; through a fine layer of misty Atlantic fog, the statue of liberty greets you with a gorgeous smile. This journey has made you older and wiser, and congratulations, you’ve now got the key to America!

Conclusion

So that’s my step-by-step guide to applying for a marriage Green Card.

As you saw, the application process may look complex at first, but you can definitely do it by yourself with the help of this guide.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

Any tips I missed?

Any other questions you would like me to address in the guide?

Let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

receive-green-card

  1. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin/2019/visa-bulletin-for-january-2019.html
  2. https://www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo
  3. https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/visa-availability-priority-dates
  4. https://www.uscis.gov/forms/forms-information/preparing-your-biometric-services-appointment
  5. https://www.uscis.gov/forms/forms-information/preparing-your-biometric-services-appointment
  6. https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/uscis-to-expand-in-person-interview-requirements-for-certain-permanent-residency-applicants
  7. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin/2019/visa-bulletin-for-february-2019.html
  8. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/petition/submit-a-petition.html
  9. https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-130instr.pdf
  10. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin/2019/visa-bulletin-for-january-2019.html
  11. https://www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo
  12. https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/visa-availability-priority-dates
  13. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/family-immigration/immigrant-visa-for-a-spouse-or-fiance-of-a-us-citizen.html
  14. https://www.uscis.gov/ilink/docView/FR/HTML/FR/0-0-0-1/0-0-0-186558/0-0-0-199368/0-0-0-202978.html
  15. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/after-petition-approved/step-2-pay-fees.html
  16. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/after-petition-approved/ceac-electronic-processing.html
  17. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/after-petition-approved/step-1-choose-an-agent.html
  18. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/after-petition-approved/ceac-electronic-processing.html
  19. https://br.usembassy.gov/visas/schedule-of-fees/
  20. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/collect-and-submit-forms-and-documents-to-the-nvc/establish-financial-support/i-864-affidavit-faqs.html
  21. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/after-petition-approved/step-2-pay-fees.html
  22. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/interview.html
  23. https://www.uscis.gov/forms/uscis-immigrant-fee
  24. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/the-immigrant-visa-process/interview/after-the-interview.html

2 thoughts on “Marriage Green Card Application: The Definitive Guide”

  1. Wow, this is really comprehensive! I was gonna hire a lawyer for the application, but now I’ll trying doing it myself. Thanks a lot 🙂

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