Green Cards Through Marriage to US Citizen

Green cards through marriage to a US citizen is the fastest and most common way to become a permanent resident. The spouse of a US citizen is deemed an “immediate relative” under the law meaning that there are no quota restrictions on the number of people who can obtain green cards through marriage to US citizens. The US citizen starts the process by submitting a form I-130 visa petition on behalf of their foreign-born spouse. If the spouse entered the US lawfully, he/she can file for adjustment of status (I-485 packet) without having to leave the US.

Generally, the spouse receives an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) within 90 days, and may also be eligible for an Advance Parole document to travel abroad. If the foreign-born spouse entered the U.S. without inspection, he/she may have to apply for a green card through marriage in his home country. He may, however, be eligible to apply for a provisional waiver in the United States. Green Cards Through Marriage


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To obtain a green card through marriage, your marriage must be bona fide. This is a lot easier to prove if there is a wedding reception where the US citizen spouse’s relatives are present, where the couple has joint property and files joint income tax returns and especially if the couple has a child together.

If the marriage is less than two years old when the green card is granted, it will have a two-year time limit. The couple must submit form I-751 during the 90-day prior before the expiration of the green card in order for the foreign-born spouse to obtain a ten-year green card. If the couple divorces before the end of the two-year period, the foreign-born spouse must use form I-751 to apply for a “good faith marriage waiver” of the joint petition requirement.

Please view our video about How to Obtain a Green Card Through Marriage before you get married and before you submit any paperwork to the USCIS. If you have a two-year green card, but are separated or divorced, see our video I-751 Waiver Where Marriage Ends in Divorce.

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Each year, over 400,000 US citizens marry foreign-born persons and petition for them to obtain lawful permanent residence in the US. Spouses of US citizens are considered “immediate relatives” under US immigration law and are exempt from all numerical quota limitations. In other words, marriage to a U.S. citizen is the fast lane to a green card. Alternately, marriage to a lawful permanent resident is very problematical and often results in the recently-married spouses living apart for two years or more. A legislative solution to this problem is required. Battered spouses and children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are entitled to special benefits under the law. It is also possible for a US citizen to obtain a temporary visa for a fiance and get married once he or she arrives in the U.S.


Procedurally, the green cards through marriage process works as follows. The US citizen must submit a visa petition (Form I130) to the National Benefits Center in Chicago to prove that the marriage is bona fide, that is, entered into for love rather than simply for the foreign-born spouse to obtain a green card. Attached to the visa petition are the following items: (1) Biographical forms (Forms G-325) for both the husband and the wife with photos attached; (2) Proof of the citizenship status of the petitioner (This can take the form of a U.S. Passport, a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship or a certified copy of the citizen’s birth certificate); (3) A certified copy of the marriage certificate; (4) Certified copies of the documents that terminated any previous marriages of the husband or wife including final divorce decrees, and certificates of annulment or death.

Simultaneously, the foreign-born spouse, assuming he or she entered the US lawfully, should submit an application for adjustment of status (Form I-485) which is an application for a green card. Items which generally accompany form I-485 include green card photographs, an affidavit of support from the spouse (Form I-864), an application for employment authorization (Form I-765), an application for a travel permit (Form I-131) known in USCIS jargon as “advance parole” – assuming that the non-citizen spouse has not be present in the U.S. unlawfully for 180 days or more – and numerous other USCIS forms.

And don’t forget to include a check for USCIS filing fees. The USCIS will accept the applications for a green card through marriage, cash your check, and schedule an interview within a few months. If the wait for the interview exceeds 90 days, chances are that the work card and the travel permit will be issued. We link to the USCIS Processing Times for all 80+ District and Sub-Offices.


The green cards through marriage process is similar except that traditionally the foreign-born spouse had to remain in his or her country until he or she obtained a green card. This changed on August 14, 2001 when temporary K-3 and K-4 visas became available and allowed the spouse and children of U.S. citizens to obtain temporary visas to come to the U.S. and process the paperwork in the U.S. The immigration process begins when the citizen spouse submits a visa petition to either the USCIS office which has jurisdiction over his residence or directly to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where the foreign-born spouse resides. The citizen spouse must attach the same items with the visa petition which are listed above including the filing fee.

Once the visa petition is approved, the foreign-born spouse will receive a packet from the US National Visa Center (NVC) located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The packet informs the foreign-born spouse of the various documents which must be presented at the immigrant visa interview abroad (e.g., passport, police clearances, results of medical examinations, etc.). The packet includes certain documents requesting biographic data which must be completed, signed and forwarded to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. Usually, the foreign-born spouse is interviewed and granted an immigrant visa within three to six months. The State Department charges a fee for an immigrant visa.

Sometimes, in order to avoid a lengthy separation, the spouses return to the US after the marriage and proceed to file the necessary applications once they are both in the U.S. Usually, USCIS takes a dim view of this practice. It is not uncommon for the CBP to stop the foreign-born spouse at the border and exclude him or her from the U.S. as an intending immigrant. However, if the foreign-born spouse is able to enter the U.S., USCIS will not deny his or her application for a green card solely because he or she entered the U.S. on a temporary visa when their real intent was to remain permanently in the U.S.

Green Cards Through Marriage: Additional Resources

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