Marriage Green Cards: Helping You Build Your Life Together in the U.S.
Congratulations on entering this exciting time in your relationship and your life! Whether you’ve just gotten engaged, are already married, or are still dating and simply starting to look into what the process will entail down the road, we would be honored to help you obtain your marriage-based green card. We understand that all of your future plans depend on your ability to get through immigration process as quickly and smoothly as possible.
From the time you start your initial application for a fiancé or spouse petition until the time you become a U.S. citizen (if you choose), there are numerous legal steps that need to be taken over a period of years. We’ve helped thousands of clients through the various steps in this process so they could avoid and overcome bureaucratic difficulties and get on with living their lives. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it!
Step 1 of the Marriage Green Card Process: Choosing Your Path
The first step in the process will be to determine which of the different legal routes is the best for you and your significant other to take. You might be surprised to hear that there are multiple different ways to obtain lawful permanent resident status through your relationship. However, we cannot over emphasize how critical it is to take the time to identify what option is best for you before you take any actions with the government, fill out any forms, or pay any filing fees. It is unfortunately fairly common for us to speak with couples who have started taking steps that they believe would help their cases but instead have complicated their legal position and needlessly wasted hundreds or thousands of dollars of filing fees doing unnecessary things. It’s also a good idea to select the process you’ll be using as early as possible because none of these options are fast, And you’ll want to get started as soon as makes sense in your situation.
The 4 Most Common Ways to Get Permanent Residence through your spouse
The four most common legal paths that immigrants can take to get their marriage green cards are: adjustment of status, a fiancé visa, consular processing, and a direct file abroad. Each of these options has their own procedures and requirements. The best option for you will depend on factors including the stage of your relationship, where both you and your significant other are currently physically located in the world, whether the immigrant has any other visa or status within the United States, the immigrants prior immigration history, your wedding plans, your time frame, your frequency of international travel, and your line of work, among other things. We’ll discuss a brief overview of each of these options now to give you an idea of how they work. However, the rules behind each option are complex and we recommend signing up for a consultation with one of our attorneys so you can get an expert opinion on which of the paths would be best in your situation specifically.
Adjustment of Status
Adjustment of status is the technical term for a green card application in a situation where the immigrant is already inside the United States on some type of temporary legal status. For example, maybe you came to the US as an international student on an F1 visa or are currently working as an engineer on an H1B visa. In many cases, you may be able to complete the adjustment of status application, which allows you to do the whole process inside of the United States without going back to your home country. It also allows you to do the whole process in one step and depending on which local immigration office you live by it may be the fastest option as well. Adjustment of status has certain eligibility requirements that are stricter than those for consular processing, so some immigrants don’t qualify to do an adjustment of status even if they live inside the United States.
K-1 Fiancé Visa and Adjustment of Status
A K-1 fiancée visa is an option that can be used for a couple who is not yet legally married in any country in the world, and the immigrant fiancé does not live in the United States currently. The fiancé has to get a visa from a US Embassy abroad so that they can travel to the United States and get married here within 90 days of arriving. You may have seen parts of this process by watching the reality TV show 90 day fiancé, although they tend to cut out all of the boring legal stuff and focus on the interpersonal relationships on the show. That’s understandable for entertainment’s sake (we love the show, too!), but you have to remember that it makes the fiancé visa process look deceptively simple.
After the marriage, the fiancé then must also go through the adjustment of status process inside of the United States to become permanent resident.
Consular Processing through a U.S. Embassy Abroad
If a couple is already married or plans to be married outside of the United States, and they do not qualify for adjustment of status or choose not to go that route, then they will most likely consular process. This option is A multi-step process that begins by filing a petition at an office in United States. The file then moves to an intermediary office called the national Visa Center, and culminates in an interview of the immigrant at the consulate in the US Embassy in their home country or whichever foreign country they reside in. Once the case is approved, the immigrant gets an immigrant visa stamp in their passport which allows them to move to the US in the next six months. They receive a green card in the mail once they arrive in the US and they do not have to go through an adjustment of status process.
Direct Filing with a U.S. Embassy Abroad
If you and your fiancé or spouse both live in a foreign country outside of the United States, there is a chance that you may have a fourth option that others do not have based on your residence abroad. It is similar to Consul processing, but rather than having to start their case with a petition inside the United States, they actually filed a petition directly with the consulate. The effect is that it is much faster for the immigrant to be able to move to the United States then if they had just done regular consular processing. This option is not available for all couples living abroad; it depends on the location of the foreign offices that are involved in these procedures and whether the couple’s country of residence is in the jurisdiction of one of those offices. The US government has been severely limiting this option and even closing down foreign offices recently, so we believe this option of Direct filing will become more and more rare in the future.
Other Paths to a Green Card Outside of the Marriage
There are other ways that immigrants can legally obtain green cards in the United States that do not involve their marriages. For example, there are several options for obtaining green cards based on being employed in United States. In addition, some immigrants become green card holders by investing in businesses or creating businesses inside of United States. There is even something called the diversity visa lottery which gives immigrants who qualify a random chance to be able to come to the United States if they are from a country with a low level of immigration currently to the United states. Sometimes couples will ask us about options other than applying through the marriage. For example, you may be on an H1B visa and already have a pending petition from your employer. In most cases, the preferable option is still to apply through the marriage due to the faster time frames and better options generally. However, all cases are different and certainly there are circumstances under which It might make sense to carry through with the employment based green card. And sometimes it is okay to leave multiple avenues pending at the same time.
Step 2 of the Marriage Green Card Process: Analyzing Admissibility
“Admissibility” is a technical term in immigration law that basically means the same thing as eligibility for a green card. An immigrant might be married to a US citizen and generally look like they qualify to apply, but if they are in admissible, then they will have additional problems in their case. This is the underlying reason why some people are married to US Citizens and still can never become green card holders or citizens of the United States. So what types of problems might a person have that would make them in admissible? There is a huge long list of grounds of inadmissibility in the immigration laws. The most commonly seen grounds of inadmissibility involve criminal history or problems with immigration history such as having been unlawfully present, misrepresenting or feeling to give accurate information to immigration officers previously, or having been deported. However there are numerous other grounds of inadmissibility that prohibit everything from an intention to overthrow the government of United States, to being a Nazi, being a terrorist, or being a communist.
So what if you’re from a communist country like China and you’ve been registered with the party before? Or what if you overstayed your visa previously? The fact that you are inadmissible does not necessarily mean that there’s no way to resolve your situation. Some grounds of inadmissibility have certain exceptions or they have ways to overcome the ground, such as through the passage of time or by applying for special types of waivers to be forgiven for whatever the action was that caused you to become inadmissible. The details of admissibility are very technical and we can help you figure out whether you are inadmissible or can do something to fix your situation to become admissible.
It’s important to note that many people think “I don’t have any problems with my immigration case,“ or “I’ve always done everything legally so I’ve nothing to worry about.“ Unfortunately, we see plenty of people who are actually inadmissible and they didn’t even realize it. One of the most common reasons for that is that they may have used the incorrect type of visa when traveling to United States or done something else on an application or in a discussion with a Customs Officer that actually creates inadmissibility for a misrepresentation to the government. Those tiny details of immigration cases can be really important.
Step 3 in the Marriage Green Card Process: Proving You Qualify
So it’s one thing to know that your weekly eligible, and it is quite another thing together all of the evidence to convince the government that you are eligible. Every part of your case and your eligibility will have to be shown first on paper, and then in most cases types also during an in person interview of the immigrant and sometimes the immigrant and the spouse. The main types of evidence you’ll be gathering will be proof of your identity, proof of your admissibility, and proof that your relationship is legitimate (and not just a marriage in order for you to get a green card). The rules for immigration cases say that is the immigrants responsibility to convince the government. This is different from, for example, a criminal court case, where the government is the one that has the responsibility to show that they are right. So if the government isn’t convinced by your evidence or you can’t find evidence that exists to prove any of the necessary details, then you won’t be able to finish your case. That’s why it’s really important to begin together the most important things all at the beginning so you’ll be prepared. But don’t worry - We provide all of our clients with extensive documentation lists of what they should collect and detailed information about what types of evidence are the most convincing and why.
Step 4 in the Marriage Green Card Process: After You Become a Permanent Resident
Yay! After a lot of work and hassle and wait, you will finally receive your green card. This means that you now have a legal status as a lawful permanent resident of the United States. What does this actually mean? Permanent residence gives you the ability to live and work in United States as long as you continue to follow the legal rules. It’s important to know that even criminal activity that you might could perceive as minor or not that significant can lead to deportation of a green card holder. They are also rules relating to how much time you physically spend inside the United States. As a permanent resident, you shouldn’t leave the United States for trips of six months or more, Because the government can try to take your green card away by saying that you have legally abandoned your residence here. You also are not eligible to vote or do anything else the only US citizens can do. You have the responsibility to pay taxes and always update your home address when you move with the government database.
Some immigrants will initially receive a green card that is valid for only two years. This is because they are considered conditional permanent residents. Other immigrants will receive a green card that’s valid for 10 years and their residence will not have any conditions attached to it. You will receive a two-year card if, at the time you receive your green card, you have been married less than two years to your US citizen spouse. If you’ve already been married two years or more, then you will get the normal 10 your green card and you do not have to go through any extra procedures other than renewing your green card when the 10 years are up or applying for US citizenship when you’re eligible.
Removal of Conditions on Permanent Residence
Conditional permanent residents are for the most part almost identical to regular permanent residents. However, they have one crucial extra responsibility: They have to go through an extra application process that begins in the 90-day period before their green card expires. If they do not file their removal of conditions application before the deadline, the government is required to automatically begin trying to deport them. So it’s super important! The application basically requires the couple to again show that the relationship continues to exist and that it is a legitimate or "bona fide" relationship. But what happens if a couple is having relationship difficulties And they are no longer together by the time the deadline comes around? There are alternative types of applications called waivers that allow an immigrant to apply for themselves even if they have separated from their spouse or if their spouse refuses to sign the removal conditions documents. We have helped many immigrants maintain their green cards and become full permanent residents even though their marriage unfortunately did not work out, or in some cases, their U.S. citizen spouse tragically passed away.
Citizenship and The Naturalization Process
Some immigrants who get green cards choose to simply remain permanent residents indefinitely by renewing their green cards. However, in most cases it is advisable to become a US citizen as soon as you are eligible. Most immigrants in general are eligible to apply for US citizenship once they’ve had a green card for five years. Fortunately, there is a special advantage for immigrants married to US citizens — they only need to wait for three years.
The main advantage of becoming a US citizen is that it’s not something that can be undone by the US government in the future except in rare cases where there was something fraudulent in your initial green card application. Unlike the rules for visas or permanent residence, you would become a US citizen like everyone else and cannot be deported for any reason. You can vote, run for office, or even travel outside of United States for years at a time and always be able to reenter as a US citizen. Most countries in the world do not require you to give up their citizenship when you become a US citizen and so you would become a dual citizen of your home country and United States. However, there are a few countries such as Russia, China, and India that do revoke your native citizenship if you choose to become a US citizen.
If you have children who are under 18 years of age and live with you as green card holders at the time that you go through the naturalization process, they may automatically become US citizens as well. There are procedures for obtaining certificates of citizenship for your children also to prove that they have also become US citizens.
The actual process for naturalization involves a written application, background check, and an in-person interview with a test about U.S. history and government. Most applicants must also speak, read, and write in English. After the application has been approved, the immigrant formally becomes a U.S. Citizen during a special legal ceremony.
Choosing Representation: Lawyers, Do-It-Yourself, or DIY with a Safety Net
Now that you have an idea of the whole big picture of what your immigration journey will entail, it’s important to start thinking about how you’ll choose to go forward with the process. The U.S. government provides all legal forms free of charge online through USCIS.gov, along with basic form instructions. If someone is asking you to pay for forms, it’s a scam! There are also unfortunately many other immigration scams out there you should watch out for, such as notario fraud. The government has good information here about how to avoid becoming a victim of an immigration scam, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association also has a website where you can find information about reporting fraud if you’ve been a victim: stopnotariofraud.org.
Some couples choose to do their cases entirely on their own using a strategy they’ve cobbled together from government websites, suggestions from helpful strangers online, and free resources such as the ones offered by our firm. Certainly people do make it through the process successfully that way sometimes, but because of the extremely fast-paced changes in the immigration system and the “gotcha” questions on forms and our bureaucratic system, it can be difficult to get yourself safely through the process without good assistance. The risks of this strategy have also gone up exponentially in the current political environment.
Other couples will hire attorneys to represent them in their cases. The advantage of working with a good immigration lawyer is that they are aware of all of the most recent changes in the law and can predict and prevent problems from happening and help address the inevitable bureaucratic complications that will come up during the process. Lawyers are also allowed to send in special paperwork to the government that permits them to speak with the government on your behalf, attend some types of interviews in person with you such as a marriage adjustment interview, and to receive duplicate copies of all official notices in the mail so that important things are not lost and deadlines are not missed. Many couples who hire us for full representation in their cases tell us that they wanted the peace of mind knowing that we were responsible for their case and taking care of things for them because they have enough things to worry about in their normal life already.
Other couples are interested in doing part of the case themselves but still want to have some sort of assurance or assistance to use as a safety net since they realize that errors in a green card case have the catastrophic potential to ruin their future lives together if something goes wrong.
Over the years, we’ve unfortunately had consultations with many many couples who got into serious problems with their cases when they did not have the proper help from the beginning. That’s why we offer what we call "DIY Support Services." These are package options where you will receive detailed instruction (checklists, videos, templates, and more) about the proper way to prepare your own application, as well as individual time (in person, by phone or by Skype) with our experienced licensed immigration lawyers to discuss your specific questions and review your work before it’s sent to the government. You’ll also always have the option to add on additional attorney time if needed throughout the process as issues and questions arise.
No matter which way you decide to go, we'd love to help you through this process!