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The Complete DIY Guide to Marriage Green Card- Living in the U.S. and Married to a Green Card Holder - GreenCardHero

The Complete DIY Guide to Marriage Green Card- Living in the U.S. and Married to a Green Card Holder

 

Are you reading the right guide?

This guide is for people applying for a Green Card as the spouse of a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident (commonly known as a Green Card holder). In addition, the non-permanent-resident spouse should be physically in the U.S. at the time you file your Green Card application.

If it's not you, let's find the right guide for your situation.

First, congratulations on your marriage! This guide will show you everything you need to file a successful Green Card application without hiring a 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? 🌴

In this guide, we take the official Green Card application instructions from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and explain them in a language that humans can actually understand. After completing this guide, you can file your application with confidence, and as a bonus, we’ll make the process fun!

1. Green Card Process Overview

To apply for a Green Card as someone currently in the U.S. and married to a U.S. permanent resident, you and your spouse will need to file a Petition for Alien Relative, followed by an Adjustment of Status [1] [2] (Don’t run, you will become an expert in this in the next five minutes).

Total processing time: 11-14 months.
Total filing fee: $1,760.

If you don’t have immigration violations, past criminal offenses, or a previously denied application, then the application is pretty straightforward. You should be able to apply for a Green Card by yourself without hiring an immigration lawyer. (If you want to doubly ensure accuracy, you can cheaply hire a lawyer to review your completed application before submission. More on this later.)

The application process can be broken into two steps:

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

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 submissions, with a waiting period between Submission 1 and Submission 2.

Submission 1 (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 takes about 12-15 months for USCIS to approve Submission 1. Then, you’ll likely have to wait for another 2 weeks for a Green Card to become available. After that, you can finally submit Submission 2. (More on the waiting time later.)

Submission 2 (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].

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

This concludes Step 1 and we now move into Step 2.

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

No more paperwork at this point! Now it will be mostly waiting around until you receive a Green Card interview notice around 2 weeks later [3]. The interview will take place at a USCIS office near you, and both spouses need to attend in-person. (More one 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.

Don’t worry. Everything will make sense after the next section.

2. Make Sense of the Process

Why all these forms and documents? Why the waiting period between Submission 1 and Submission 2? 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:

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

 

Sponsor (also known as a petitioner): Maria is 27 years old and resides in the sunny Southern California. She is married to Arnold and is a U.S. permanent resident.

 

 

Read Arnold and Maria's story 💘

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

🔑 Submission 1: Establish Arnold’s Eligibility for A Green Card

Since Arnold’s eligibility is based on his marriage to Maria, Maria needs to complete Submission 1 to demonstrate [1]:

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

This submission 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 Submission 1. It contains a case number, which you can use to track your Submission 1 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 Submission 2.

Waiting period until a visa number becomes available

Good news — in August 2019, there is no wait time! So you can move onto submitting the adjustment of status application immediately after receiving I-130 Receipt Notice. This zero wait-time is expected to last until September this year source

🌱 Submission 2: Apply for Arnold’s Green Card

After USCIS approves Submission 1, Arnold has successfully established his Green Card eligibility; now he can apply for it. The Submission 2 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 submission is mostly for Arnold to Complete.

Around 2-3 Weeks after Filing Submission 2

USCIS Receipt Notices (Form I-797) Arrive

For each form you submit in Submission 2, you will receive a receipt notice from USCIS. Each receipt notice contains a case number. You can use these case numbers to track your Submission 2 case status with the USCIS Case Status Checker.

For the Next 8-10 Months

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 Submission 2?

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 Submission 2?

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”.

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 Submission 2. 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 Submission 1 and Submission 2, 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 Submission 1

🔑 Submission 1: Establish Arnold’s Eligibility for A Green Card

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. permanent resident 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 is 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 Submission 1.

Forms for Submission 2

🌱 Submission 2: Apply for Arnold’s Green Card

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.🤷‍ If you are using GreenCardHero, we will guide you through this form step-by-step.

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 your Submission 2.

📄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 Submission 1

🔑 Submission 1: Establish Arnold’s Eligibility for A Green Card

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 that the sponsor is a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident
e.g. Lawful 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 Submission 2

🌱Submission 2: Apply for Arnold’s Green Card

Form I-130 Receipt or Approval Notice (called Form I-797)
Around 2 weeks after Maria filed Form I-130 in Submission 1, Maria should have received a Form I-130 receipt notice from USCIS.

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 that USCIS 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 Submission 2 to USCIS.) ⚕

🈷 A Word on 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 Submission 1 - Check/ Money Order #1
$535
Filing fee for Form I-130
Filing Fee for Submission 2 - Check/ Money Order #2
$1,225
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.

4. How to make sure I filled out everything correctly?

Each USCIS form comes with an official government instruction that explains the form and its supporting documents [1] [2] [4] [5] [6] [7]. These are the most authoritative instructions you will find anywhere. You may fall asleep a couple times while reading them, but they will answer most of the questions you have.

If you still feel uncertain after completing the application by following the instructions, consider hiring an immigration lawyer to review your completed application. An application review is affordable, usually under $300. In contrast, hiring a lawyer to do the whole application for you can cost $5,000 and up.

Don’t forget to sign!

5. How to Organize and Submit Each Application Package

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 Submission 1 and Submission 2.

Organize Using a Cover Letter

Per the USCIS recommendation, we will create a cover letter and place it on top of each application package.[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.

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.

Don’t forget to sign!

6. The Timeline after Filing

Yay, you have filed both Submission 1 and Submission 2! 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 receive a notice for a Green Card interview. Eventually, you will receive that gorgeous Green Card in the mail.

This timeline explains the game:

Around 3-5 Weeks after Filing Submission 2

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 Submission 2

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 Submission 2

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 (more on this later), 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 Submission 2

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 information 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

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 for Submission 1 and Submission 2, 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 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.

8. How to Preserve Sanity During the Wait

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!

References
[1] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Instructions for Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary,” 27 Feb 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-130instr.pdf. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].
[2] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Instructions for Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status,” 13 Dec 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-485instr.pdf. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].
[3] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “USCIS Processing Time,” [Online]. Available: https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].
[4] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Instructions for Application for Employment Authorization,” 31 May 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-765instr.pdf. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].
[5] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Instructions for Application for Travel Document,” 23 Dec 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-131instr.pdf. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].
[6] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance,” 26 Sept 2014. [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/g-1145. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].
[7] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Instructions for Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA,” 6 Mar 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-864instr.pdf. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].
[8] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Concurrent Filing of Form I-485,” [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/concurrent-filing-form-i-485. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].
[9] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Form Filing Tips,” [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/forms-filing-tips. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].
[10] Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, “Direct Filing Addressepars for Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative,” [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/i-130-addresses.
[11] Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, “Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status,” [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/i-485-addresses.
[12] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “While Your Green Card Application is Pending with USCIS,” [Online]. Available: https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/while-application-is-pending. [Accessed 26 Nov 2018].

Related Posts

  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