So you’ve completed all the necessary steps towards becoming a lawful permanent resident and you’ve received your green card. Now your top priority is to reunite with your husband or wife in America. Because of your status as a lawful permanent resident, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services recognizes your spouse as an eligible candidate for a green card. Unfortunately, since you are not a full-fledged U.S. citizen, your spouse does not fall into the “immediate relative” category, and this process will take you a while longer. Your first step is to file a visa petition for your spouse who will then be placed in the second category of family visa preferences. As such, your spouse will be put on a waiting list for their priority date to become current before they eventually obtain their green card. The priority date is used to determine your spouses place in line for a visa. Your waiting time depends on the supply and demand for immigrant visa numbers, visa limitations per country, and the number of visas allocated for your spouse’s preference category. This usually takes several years, but do not be discouraged! The sooner you begin the process and file your I-130 (Petition for Alien Relatives), the sooner you can live with your spouse in the United States. The purpose of this website is to simplify this process and to clarify confusing jargon on USCIS forms, so be sure to explore the rest of our site.
You should only begin this process if your spouse intends to live with you in the United States as soon as he or she obtains a green card. Otherwise, wait until your spouse is ready and able to make the move overseas. Also, as your wife or husband’s sponsor, you must be able to show that your household income is enough to support your family at 125% or more above the United States poverty level for your household size. To determine the poverty level guidelines for your household size, check the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. Make sure to consult an attorney if you, the petitioner, have any criminal record. Failure to do so could further delay your application process. Most importantly, you are ONLY eligible if your marriage is legal and bona fide, meaning that you entered the marriage for love and not simply for the purpose of gaining entry into the United States. The legality of your marriage depends on whether or not the marriage is valid and recognized by the laws of your home country. Once you confirm that these conditions are met, you are ready to begin your application process.
You should know that the USCIS has determined that half of all marriage-based visa petitions are fraudulent. In 1986, Congress passed a law called the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments in order to reduce the amount of immigrants granted permanent residence based on marriages of convenience. Because of this, you will be subject to a thorough interviewing process to confirm the validity of your marriage. Trying to bypass immigration laws by means of a fraudulent marriage is a federal crime—if found guilty, you could be imprisoned for up to five years, fined up to $250,000, or both. Not only that, permanent residents can be deported. If you intend to enter a false marriage for the sake of obtaining your green card, weigh the consequences. You will most likely lose any chance of ever getting your green card, regardless of your future circumstances. If your marriage is legitimate, you have nothing to worry about. With proper evidence, the USCIS will soon determine that your marriage is bona fide.
The actual process begins when you, the lawful permanent resident, submit form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). Note that you must submit this (and all forms) by mail—you cannot hand deliver it to a USCIS office. This form establishes your relationship, proving to the government that you and your spouse are indeed married. This petition will stay with the USCIS until your spouse’s priority date becomes current. Once the petition is approved, your spouse will have to complete and submit their green card application. The National Visa Center will notify you and your spouse once they receive your petition, let you know when an immigrant visa number will be available, and tell you when you must submit your processing fees. If your spouse is currently living overseas, they will then go through “consular processing.” This means that they will continue their application process at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country. After your petition is approved, your spouse will attend an interview at the U.S. Consulate where they will be granted a visa. If your spouse is currently living in the U.S., the process is a little different. Your husband or wife may only remain in the U.S. if he or she has been living here legally, in which case they would need to file to adjust status (Form I-485) after the visa petition has been approved. If your spouse has been living in the U.S. illegally, he or she will need to continue the case overseas at a U.S. Consulate. However, if your spouse has been here illegally, it could result in a three or ten year ban on their reentry. Turning in a green card application would be tantamount to handing yourself over to the authorities, and will almost certainly result in deportation. If your spouse has been living in the U.S. illegally, seek the help of an immigration attorney before going any further.
With your visa petition, you need to include several things. First and foremost is Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, which the permanent resident must sign. Next up you will need two copies of Form G-325A, which contains your biographical information. There should be one form each for husband and wife, filled out separately and signed. Basically, this form includes information about your family, employment, and residences, and is used for checking your spouse’s background. Along with these forms you must include two passport-style photos, one of you and one of your spouse, taken within the last thirty days. Be sure to write your name on the back of your photo in case it gets separated from your file. You will also need proof that you, the petitioner, are a permanent resident. Provide photocopies of your green card (front and back), passport stamp, or USCIS approval notice. Then you will need documents that prove the validity of your marriage, such as a marriage certificate, and proof of the termination of any previous marriages, such as a divorce decree, death certificate, etc. Your goal is to prove that your marriage is absolutely legitimate beyond any reasonable doubt, so you will want to collect as much evidence as possible. This evidence will be important later for your green card interview. Finally, you will need to include the filing fee, which is currently $420, in the form of a check or money order to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Once you have submitted this information, you will most likely have to wait several years for your spouse’s priority date to become current. The Department of State currently estimates the waiting period for the second preference category at five years. The USCIS has placed a limitation on how many green cards are given out in each category every year, which has resulted in a backlog of eligible immigrants waiting for their turn. If you are concerned with how long your application is taking, you could send an inquiry letter to the USCIS office you last corresponded with. However, the Department of State keeps an up-to-date chart on their website with estimated waiting times for each preference category, so it advisable to check the online chart before contacting their offices.
After your petition has been approved and it is time for your green card interview, you will need to gather as much evidence as possible to prove that your marriage is indeed bona fide. Other than your marriage certificate, examples include birth certificates for all children born from your marriage, joint back account statements, any bills or statements containing both of your names, leases on apartments that you have occupied together, federal income tax returns, and even photos of your wedding or the two of you together. As long as your marriage is truly legitimate, your spouse will eventually be granted a green card. Once your spouse is approved for their visa, they will need to enter the United States within six months to claim permanent residence.
If your marriage is less than two years old, your spouse will only be granted “conditional permanent residence.” You will need to remove the conditions on residence with form I-751 within ninety days before the second anniversary of your spouse’s conditional permanent residence. With this form you will need to include the $505 filing fee along with evidence of a bona fide marriage, similar to the evidence mentioned earlier. Don’t worry—the two years your spouse spent as a conditional resident will still count as permanent residence towards naturalization and other purposes. It simply provides the USCIS with another opportunity to verify the legitimacy of your marriage.
Because you are a lawful permanent resident and not a full-fledged U.S. citizen, your application for your foreign-born spouse will inevitably take longer. The sooner you complete the naturalization process and become a U.S. citizen, the sooner your spouse can immigrate because they will be upgraded from the second preference category to immediate relative status, eliminating the long waiting period. Don’t worry if your status changes from permanent resident to citizen while your spouse’s visa petition is pending—simply mail a letter with a copy of your naturalization certificate to the USCIS office you last interacted with. Either way, if you have a bona fide marriage, you will eventually be able to reunite with your loved one on American soil.