How to Get a Green Card in the U.S. Through Marriage
How to Get a Green Card If Married to a U.S. Citizen
I recently went through the entire USCIS adjustment of status process with my spouse. As much as we were excited to get married and start our life together, obtaining a green card or permanent residency in the U.S. was a detailed, stressful, and lengthy process. But knowing what to expect and what to do helps immensely.
Here is what you need to know about applying for your green card or permanent residency if you are married to a U.S. citizen:
How to Apply for a Green Card in the U.S.
- How Did You Enter? (Overstaying a Visa; Legal/Illegal Entry)
- Marriage to a U.S. Citizen
- Is an Immigration Attorney Necessary?
- Necessary Papers and Forms
- Waiting Times/Timeline
- USCIS Interviews
- Being Called for a Second Interview
I am not an immigration attorney and have no legal background. This advice is solely experiential. As of August 2019, Trump has pushed for legislation that will make the process even more challenging. We applied during the earlier half of the Trump presidency in mid-2017.
1. How Did You Enter? Legal vs. Illegal Entry
I am writing from the advice of someone whose spouse entered legally but overstayed. This is quite common. My spouse came to the U.S. when he was over the age of 18. All of his family members are now U.S. citizens except for him. Two of his family members both had cancer at the same time and he overstayed to support his family.
Overstaying Your Visa
You should seriously consider the consequences of overstaying your visa and the risks of deportation under the Trump presidency. My spouse struggled for many years with work and opportunity because of his status.
USCIS Processes You Under Your Current Status
USCIS is accepting if you overstay so long as you have a clean record and go through the correct proceedings for applying for permanent residency if married to a U.S. citizen. Keep every document you used to enter the U.S.
2. Marriage to a U.S. Citizen
If you've married a U.S. citizen for the right reasons and have a clean record, you're in great shape (speeding tickets, etc. are fine). Part of proving the legitimacy of your marriage will be through documentation.
How to Document Your Marriage
- Be sure to collect photos throughout the years
- Take pictures of your trips together
- Save cards/correspondence
- Share car insurance policies, bank accounts, the usual (if possible)
- Get to know your spouse's family
- Love each other
- Remember the details
No Marriage Is Perfect
USCIS agents don't care about "perfection" so long as you are honest. For instance, my spouse and I still live with our parents and can't afford our own place because we live in a very expensive area and he's a student. It's better that your relationship facts match up correctly then you try to paint a pretty picture and lie. They will find out and it will make your process difficult or they will deny you approval.
It is necessary, however, that your spouse earns enough money to be above the poverty threshold (they are sponsoring you, after all). In my case, I had my spouse's sister co-sign as a sponsor for added income. You can have a family member co-sponsor if you like.
Cautions About Marriage Fraud
Marriage fraud happens all the time, and USCIS is extremely suspicious of it. My husband and I were still called in for a second interview during which they separated us, videotaped us under oath, and warned us that fraud results in 5 years in jail and a 250,000 fine. It's super freaky—this is me communicating the severity to you.
3. Is an Immigration Attorney Necessary?
We did not work with an immigration attorney, however, we did work with an immigration consultant (who later went on to work for an immigration attorney). She had been in the industry for 15+ years.
If you can afford to hire someone to oversee the paperwork you are submitting, this is highly advised. Make sure it is someone who comes highly recommended, too. You need to submit the correct documentation the first time. A small mistake could cost you. There are so many steps to take. I would say it's worth the extra money and peace-of-mind.
4. Necessary Papers and Forms for Permanent Residency
We applied to adjust my spouse's status July 31, 2017, roughly 3.5 months after marriage. Many people think you need to wait to avoid suspicion of fraud, but we applied fairly soon. We sent our paperwork CERTIFIED to:
PO Box 805887
Chicago, IL 60680-4120
Important: We submitted our paper work the last month before Trump tweaked the application process. Please be sure to check the USCIS website for further changes.
We Submitted the Following Forms in One Folder
- Form G-1145: G-1145 "e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance"
- Form I-485: I-485 "Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status" (includes place of entry and visa type, parents' place of birth/information/applicant statement)
- Form G-325 A: "Biographic Info" (every past place of residence listed)
- Visa from entry: one copy of the visa used to enter the U.S. (e.g. type B2) and stamped
- Passport: copy of the alien's passport (expired and current accepted)
- Birth certificates: copies of the birth certificates of the alien and sponsor (translated into English and certified)
- Form I-864: "Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA" (sponsor's work history; letter of employment; tax documents from previous year)
- Medical exam: sealed medical exam results (vaccines, blood test, etc.; can be done in one appointment). DO NOT OPEN THIS SEALED LETTER.
- Form I-130: "Petition for Alien Relative"
- I-130A: "Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary"
- Marriage certificate: certified marriage certificate
- Passport photos: one passport photo each
- Payments: cashier's checks to the US Department of Homeland Security; the I-485 costs 1,225.0 and the I-130 costs $535.00. Please verify the necessarily method of payment and current fees.
How Much Does a Green Card Cost?
The I-485 was $1,225.0 and the I-130 was $535.00; biometrics was under $100. We spent just under 2,000 in total (costs accrue from certified mail, photo copying documents, certified copies, etc.)
Waiting Time for Papers and Interview
Receipt of application
Employment Authorization Card
Social Security Card
Checking Case Status Online
You can check your case status online with your MSC number(s). You will need an account with USCIS. This website is slow to get updated, so it might not be that helpful to check. I had success calling as well in the mornings.
5. Waiting Times and Timelines for Interviews/Green Cards
Prepare to be very, very patient. Our entire process took 2 years—which is fairly fast come to think of it. If you go and check the USCIS website for wait times, you will only be disappointed. When I used to check for an update on our papers, it would say anything from a few months to 36 months (that's 3 years!).
Nonetheless, here's a timeline of when we received notifications in the mail, form by form:
- We mailed our documents on July 31, 2017
- We received the green card June 3, 2019
1. Notification of Receipt: August 11, 2017
We got confirmation from the USCIS lockbox that our application was received.
On August 11, 2017, we received several letters in the mail saying that the following forms were being processed. These all came under the I-797C "Notice of Action" title:
- Form I-797C "Notice of Action": "I-130 Petition for Alien Relative"
- Form I-797C "Notice of Action": "I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status" (this form said USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment)
- Form I-797C "Notice of Action": "I-765 Application for Employment Authorization" (eligibility C09)
2. Biometrics Appointment Notice: August 18, 2017
Got a notice "case type I-485-I-765" during which they gave us the following info:
- A biometrics appointment was scheduled for us on 9/8/2017, at a specific time, and at a specific location. One you complete this appointment, they will stamp your form.
- Classification: 201 B INA Spouse of USC
3. Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card: September 7, 2017
He received notification of his pending EAD or Employment Authorization Document card (Form I-766) on September 7, 2018 (I-765 approval class C09, valid from 10/27/2017 to 10/26/2018; later it was reissued for 5/30/2019 to 5/29/2020, so one year each time). After this, he was able to apply for his state driver's license with the DMV (they will only issue it for 6 months at a time, but will renew it accordingly).
4. Social Security Card: February 9, 2018
On February 9, 2018, we received his social security card notice and got the card 2 weeks later in the mail. This notification came from a nearby field office in the town we live in.
5. Notice for I-485 Interview: February 13, 2019
You are given a specific date and time (we were 1.5 months' notice–March 25, 2019). DO NOT be late. Show up early and anticipate slow security lines. Bring all documents with you, including personal photos.
6. Notice for second I-485 interview: April 20, 2019
This was our second interview. You are given a specific date and time. DO NOT be late. Bring all documents with you, including personal photos. Show up early and anticipate slow security lines.
7. June 3, 2019 Approved!
Green card arrived two weeks later but we were able to check that our case was approved within 24 hours of our appointment (updated online). This was a great day!
6. First Interview With Spouse for Green Card (I-485 Interview)
The first interview is certainly nerve-racking. So much weighs on this first impression. Here are some tips to get you through:
- Show up early (prepare for a slow security line and traffic)
- Bring all documents you used to apply (originals, too); if able
- Bring photos that show you as a couple
- Prepare to answer basic questions about your life together; general family member questions, addresses, numbers, etc. Imagine you are applying for a job (same questions asked about you and your spouse).
- Do your best to relax
- Don't lie (they will find out)
We Did Not Pass Our First Interview
As crazy as this was to learn, we did not pass our first interview (we only found this out when we showed up for our second). At the time, we were handed this a form that showed the following. The officer selected the first bullet for us:
- Your case is being held for review.
- Your I-485 is complete.
- Your case is being transferred to the USCIS office serving your new address
It says to allow 120 business days to pass before checking up on the status. Basically, I learned that you will find out if you pass right away—the officer tells you and you can see the change processd in the data base.
7. Second Interview With Spouse for Green Card (I-485 Interview)
So, we got called in for the I-485 interview again about 3 months after our first. I was naive and thought we were in good shape until they sat us down and said the first officer basically had a few issues with our legitimacy. We then found out the following would take place:
What Happens in the Second Interview?
- We were separated
- We were videotaped
- Our phones were confiscated
- We were under oath
- We faced 5 years in prison and a 250,000 fine if found fraudulent
- We were interviewed separately for 3 hours
Do You Want a Lawyer?
Needless to say, this interview was everything people fear, but I can tell you, we survived it. Do note: You are asked if you want a lawyer before you proceed with the second interview. Think about this carefully!
My spouse and I proceeded with the interview. This time, I brought PLENTY of personal photos. The officer explained that the second interview was our chance to really reveal everything and explain things they had questions about.
Do Not Lie During Your Interview
USCIS hates lies. They were accepting of the fact that my spouse and I could not physically live together full-time (we live in an expensive area, he's in school, and we split time with our families)—but we are within 15 minutes of each other and I spend the majority of my time at his parents' house. The lesson: You do not need to lie to make your relationship look perfect.
Know Everything About Each Other
However, this is the time you need to REALLY know EVERYTHING about each others' life together: spending, daily habits, family, life history, etc. It will become apparent fast if you are truly in a legitimate relationship/marriage or not.
The point is, your answers should be close to identical when you are asked the same things while separated. Luckily, my spouse and I were able to show how well we knew each other (we've been together 6 years and married 2). It's also important that you demonstrate your ability to financially take care of your spouse.
Passing Your Green Card Interview
Our officer told us they passed us but needed final approval from their manager. Again, we received the following form:
- unable to complete your case
We were left exhausted, stressed, and sad (3 hours of interviewing). We nervously checked the case status online after the interview for a good portion of the day and finally just let it go until the following day . . .
Approval Tip: Our officer told us that if approved, our case would be updated within 24 hours on the USCIS case status website. To our greatest delight, our petition was approved later that night per the database. My spouse become a legal permanent resident some 23 months later since we started the process.
I Am Not a Lawyer
I am not a lawyer and my opinions/story does not substitute for legal advice and/or the proper information off of the USCIS website. We submitted our paperwork in the final month before the Trump administration lengthened the application process in 2017.
A Life-Changing Process
Receiving your green card in the mail is a life-changing moment. It's something to cry over just as much as it's something to celebrate. Since my spouse received his green card it feels like a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders and my shoulders! We cannot wait to finally fly to visit his relatives in his home country and meet his family, but we are also looking forward to starting a life here in the U.S. without any roadblocks or discrimination.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2019 Layne Holmes