Every year, couples fall in love and get married. For some couples, that means that one spouse is starting the road towards American citizenship.

It’s not as simple as just getting a marriage certificate, but the process of becoming a permanent resident (green card holder), and then a U.S. citizen, through marriage is relatively straightforward so long as you follow the steps correctly.

Here’s what you need to know about green card marriage (permanent resident status via marriage) and the timeline you’re dealing with, from getting engaged to getting married to becoming a resident, and then citizen for good.

Requirements to Get a Green Card via Marriage

First, it’s important to understand that not just anyone can get approved for a green card through marriage.

Among the requirements to get a green card through marriage, here are the top 4:

  1. You must be married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  2. Your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse must earn an income that is at least 125% of the federal poverty line
  3. The marriage must bona fide (genuine, sincere) and be legal, valid, and recognized in the state in which it took place
  4. You cannot be inadmissible for immigration into the country based on past criminal conduct, health restrictions, etc.

You also need to remember that you won’t get a green card immediately after marriage. You’ll usually have to gain a conditional 2 year green card (conditional permanent residence) first before you can apply for a “permanent” 10 year green card. The requirements for this vary, but in general, you’ll need:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificate
  • Financial statements
  • Proof of your spouse’s legal U.S. citizenship or permanent residency
  • Proof of lawful entry into the country
  • Prior marriage termination papers, if applicable
  • Court, police, and/or prison records, if applicable
  • Military records, if applicable
  • Police clearance certificate, if applicable
  • Immigration violation records, if applicable

Basically, you’re going to need all the necessary documentation to prove that you are who you say you are and that you are legally eligible to become a U.S. resident, and then on the road to becoming a U.S. citizen.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card?

You should also prepare for the fact that getting a green card will take some time.

First, the process will be different depending on whether your spouse is a citizen or a green card-holder.

If your spouse is a U.S. citizen and you live in the U.S., you should expect to wait approximately 8-12 months. If your spouse is a citizen but you don’t currently live in the U.S., expect to wait about 11-17 months.

If your spouse is a green card-holder and you live in the U.S., the process will take about 29-38 months. If your spouse is a green card-holder but you don’t live in the country, the process will take 23-32 months.

Green Card Marriage Timeline

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the timeline for gaining a green card through marriage.

If you can, it’s always best to work with an immigration lawyer during this process. They can help ensure that you follow all the steps properly and help prepare you for the marriage interview.

Fiance Visa vs. Marriage Visa

First, you have to know whether you’re getting a fiance visa or a marriage visa.

A fiance visa is among the most common routes of entry for U.S. citizens to bring non-resident spouses into the country to start the process toward a green card.

When you are approved for a fiance visa, your partner is granted 90 days to enter the country so that you can be married. After you’re married, you can apply for adjustment of status to become a legal permanent resident.

However, if your future spouse is already in the U.S. on a different immigration visa status and is otherwise eligible for residence, it usually makes sense to skip the fiance visa, get married and directly apply for a marriage visa and permanent resident processing – and all without leaving the U.S.

Form I-129 or Form I-130

If you take the fiance visa route, you’ll need to file the Form I-129F, or Petition for Alien Fiance, along with supporting documentation, which is used to petition to bring your fiance into the country so that you can be married and they can pursue lawful permanent resident status.

If you marry overseas, you’ll need to use the Form I-130, or Petition for Alien Relative, and submit this petition with supporting documentation. This is used to establish your relationship with a noncitizen relative, including a spouse, so that they may immigrate to the United States with you as their sponsor.

Marriage Interview

As part of the process, you will be summoned to appear before a U.S. government official at an overseas U.S. consular post, or if in the U.S. – at a local Department of Homeland Security/Immigration office for an interview.

This is a source of anxiety for many people. The important thing is to remember that the immigration officer isn’t on a witch hunt–they’re trying to ferret out fraud. If your relationship and marriage are legitimate, you have nothing to fear from this interview.

Speak clearly, confidently, and truthfully. They’ll ask you questions that you know how to answer, like when your anniversary is, how chores are split in the household, and similar questions.

If you don’t know an answer, it’s always better to say, “I don’t know,” than to lie. Being caught in a lie can seriously hurt your chances.

Consular Processing and Adjustment of Status

Once you’re married, your spouse can apply for adjustment of status by filing the Form I-485, which is an application for permanent residency.

You must be in the United States in order to file this form, and it takes between six and nine months to process.

If you’re married outside of the U.S., you’ll need to go through consular processing, which is when you apply for a visa through a U.S. consulate in a foreign country.

If you’re not physically present in the United States at the time your I-130 is approved, you’ll likely have to go through consular processing.

Either way, once adjustment of status or consular processing is granted, you’ll likely be given a two-year permanent residency/green card. This is a conditional permanent residency, and you must apply for unconditional permanent residency with the Form I-751 within 90 days of your green card’s expiration date.

Here, again, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Citizenship and Immigration Services officials will assess the documentation submitted and, depending on the sufficiency of the submission, may determine that another interview is in order to again ensure your marriage is legitimate.

Once approved, you’re given a 10-year green card that you can renew indefinitely and subject to very few conditions. Or, you could apply for naturalization once another year passes and assuming you continue to reside with your petitioning U.S. citizen spouse.  Otherwise, an applicant for naturalization must accumulate 5 years of lawful permanent residence (green card) in order to establish eligibility.

Need Help Figuring Out Your Green Card?

Like we said–green card marriage isn’t simple, but it is straightforward so long as you know what you’re doing.

If you need guidance through the process, we can help, whether you’re just starting to look at a fiance visa, a green card marriage visa, or you’d like to start the naturalization process.

If you need to speak with an attorney about your options, use our contact page to get in touch today.