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Green Card through marriage

Many USA fans dream of getting a Green Card by marrying an American. However, the costs, hurdles, and security mechanisms of the US authorities are often underestimated. Learn about getting a Green Card through marriage and what to look out for.

Marrying for a Green Card?

For most lovers, getting a Green Card through marriage is a legitimate way to immigrate to the United States. Nevertheless, the marriage-based Green Card process can be a tiring business.

Most of the difficulties arise from the amount of evidence you must present to the issuing authority, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Two people holding hands in front of Grand Canyon in USA

Anyone who marries a US citizen or Green Card holder is eligible for a Green Card

The burden of proof for a Green Card through marriage

Why the authorities are so strict: in the past, the Green Card through marriage was often exploited by fraudsters who obtained US immigrant visas via sham marriages.

US authorities nowadays require valid evidence from Green Card applicants in the context of a marriage. These can be:

  • Joint children
  • Existence of a functioning marriage for several years
  • Joint credit card statements
  • Joint utility bills for living space
  • Joint telephone bills
  • Evidence of years of joint communication (e.g., through messenger services such as WhatsApp)
  • Photos of trips you took together or your wedding
  • Affidavits from family members or friends about the legality of the marriage
  • A joint bank account
  • Letters from third parties addressed to you and your spouse at the same address
  • Joint insurance policies
  • Personal records showing that your spouse is your contact person in emergencies
  • Joint tax returns

Often, very tight deadlines are set to submit this evidence, making it even more difficult for couples to prove their true love.

Also, there are reports that USCIS has rejected applications for Green Cards through marriage out of hand, without even allowing applicants to present evidence.

Green Card on Probation: Conditional Status

The evaluation criteria for marriage-based Green Card applications are not very transparent. You can rely on one thing, though: The younger the marriage, the more suspicious the US authorities will be.

Thus, there is the "Conditional Green Card" with a 2-year time limit for young marriages. The Green Card holder must apply for converting from a conditional Green Card to an unlimited "Permanent Resident Card" shortly before the expiration of these two years.

Apply for a Green Card through marriage

If you plan to apply for a Green Card after marriage, prepare well. Even if your marriage is legal and old-established, review your joint history to avoid any discrepancies (and thus rejection).

In at least one Green Card interview, a US government employee will ask you questions about your daily life. Always stick to the truth, even if specific details may make you uncomfortable. Even the slightest variance between your stories may result in the rejection of your Green Card application.

Take your chance for a Green Card now! Apply now

"Marriage Swindler" interview questions

As part of proving your immigration petition, you should expect the following questions:

  • Questions about your spouse's relatives
  • Questions about your shared house or apartment equipment
  • Questions about gifts you have given each other
  • Questions about vacations you have taken together
  • Questions about jointly owned items
  • Questions about shared pets

An examiner may even visit you at home after your interview. During such an on-site inspection, they will look for evidence of "single living," such as missing cosmetics or clothing from one partner in the household. Sometimes even the neighbors are questioned.

The application process for a Green Card through marriage

If applying for a Green Card by marriage, a US citizen or Green Card holder applies on behalf of their non-American spouse. The applicant is called "Petitioner" or "Sponsor" in the Green Card process. The spouse seeking to immigrate is called "Beneficiary.”

There are two distinct methods in every Green Card process:

  • Consular Processing
    (if the Green Card applicant is still abroad)
  • Adjustment of Status
    (if the Green Card applicant is already in the US)

Marriage outside the USA: Consular processing

If you married a US citizen or a "Permanent Resident" (which is the official name of a Green Card holder) outside the US, you must go through the so-called consular process.

As part of this procedure, you will be interviewed at your local US embassy or consulate, obtain an immigrant visa and apply for registration as a Permanent Resident once you arrive in the United States.

Marriage within the USA: Adjustment of Status

If you are already in the US, entered legally, and are married to a US citizen or Green Card holder, you will go through the “Adjustment of Status” process to receive your Green Card.

Steps in the application process

  1. The US citizen spouse (or Green Card holder) files a petition to inform USCIS that the partner wishes to immigrate to the United States.
  2. The US authorities require payment of the fees and submission of additional evidence, if necessary.
  3. The US citizen spouse (or Green Card holder) submits an affidavit of support, pledging financial support for his or her immigrating spouse.
  4. The immigrating spouse undergoes a medical examination by a physician who is approved for the immigration process.
  5. If still outside the USA, the immigrating spouse is interviewed and undergoes a "Biometrics" appointment for passport photos and fingerprints before getting their immigrant visa.
  6. The immigrating spouse applies for "Adjustment of Status" or registers as a Permanent Resident after entry.
  7. In the case of a young marriage (under two years), you may need to apply for removing the time restrictions on your Green Card.

Cost of a Green Card through marriage

A Green Card through marriage is costly compared to the inexpensive Green Card Lottery. The following costs are involved in the application process:

Process step Form Costs
Petition for Alien Relative I-130 $535
Affidavit of Support I-864 $120
Application for the immigrant visa DS-260, DS-261 $325
Immigrant Fee - $220
Biometrics Services Fee - $85
Medical examination - Costs vary
"Adjustment of Status" or application for registration as a "Permanent Resident". I-485 $1,140
If necessary: Removal of conditions I-751 $595
Take your chance for a Green Card now! Apply now

Fee waiver for a Green Card application

Under certain circumstances, you may be able to have some of the applicable Green Card fees waived. Possible reasons for a fee waiver can be:

  • You and your spouse are dependent on Social Security benefits.
  • Your household income is below the federal poverty guidelines (HHS Poverty Guidelines for Fee Waiver Requests).
  • You are experiencing financial hardship for other reasons.

If any of these criteria apply to you, you may apply for a Green Card fee waiver using USCIS Form I-912.

Waiting times for a Green Card through marriage

As with almost all Green Cards, there are waiting periods for a Green Card through marriage. Spouses of US citizens only have to expect a few months of processing time.

However, if you married a Green Card holder, then the wait can extend to several years. Check the average wait times for individual steps in the process on the US government's Case Processing Times page.

Your very own "waiting room" is the Visa Bulletin, where you can check when your "Priority Date" and thus when your immigration petition is due.

No waiting times for spouses in the Green Card Lottery

An entire family can receive Green Cards in one go and without long waiting periods if at least one of the spouses participates and wins in the Green Card Lottery. The odds of winning are currently very high at 1:25.

Tip: Thanks to the so-called double chance for married couples, the winning chances for the whole family are doubled, and the participation fee for the partner is reduced. To take advantage of this benefit, sign up through The American Dream.

Traveling to the USA despite a Green Card application

If you are in the middle of the consular process to obtain a Green Card, the US authorities will make your visit to the USA a little more difficult than usual. The reason: you have already declared your intention to immigrate and are therefore under general suspicion of wanting to stay in the USA illegally if necessary.

It is best to submit sufficient evidence that your planned visit is genuinely only a temporary stay when applying for a visa. Appropriate evidence may include:

  • Existing non-terminated employment contracts in your home country
  • Homeownership or rental agreements
  • A return ticket
  • Own children in your home country

If you want to live in the United States while awaiting your immigration petition's approval, you can use the K-3 visa. K-3 and K-4 visas are for US citizen spouses and their children under the age of 21 who are currently awaiting approval of their immigration petition.

Not married yet? The K-1 visa for fiancés

US citizens or Green Card holders can file an I-129F petition for their fiancées if they wish to marry them in the United States. You can obtain the K-1 visa needed for entry at a US embassy or consulate after USCIS approves the I-129F petition.

In the United States, the K-1 visa can then be converted into a Green Card after marriage. Sounds convenient! However, the K-1 visa comes with some disadvantages:

  • Additional proof is required.
  • There are additional fees.
  • The wedding must take place within 90 days of entry.
  • Waiting periods for a work permit are long.

Given these additional hurdles, it is much easier to apply for an immigrant visa only after marriage or - even better - to participate in the Green Card Lottery.

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Sources:

uscis.gov, de.usembassy.gov