Green Card Marriage: The Ultimate Guide to Residency Through Marriage
If you marry a U.S. citizen, you can get a green card and become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. In fact, this is one of the most common paths to U.S. citizenship – but how does it work, and can you marry someone just to get residency? Here’s what you need to know.
Your Guide to Green Card Marriage
In order to qualify for a green card through marriage, your relationship with your spouse must be bona fide. That means you must have a real marital relationship – you can’t simply marry someone to obtain an immigration benefit. That’s a crime, and if you’re caught, you’re facing serious criminal penalties and removal from the United States. You could even be barred from reentering the U.S., even if you have children or other family members who live here.
There’s no limit on the number of green cards available to the spouses of U.S. citizens. That means you don’t have to wait in line to get a green card (although most other people do).
What is a Marriage-Based Green Card?
A marriage-based green card is a way for the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card-holder) to become a lawful permanent resident in the United States. Your green card gives you several benefits, including the ability to travel outside the country, work anywhere you’d like, and even apply for U.S. citizenship after a certain period of time has elapsed.
If you have been married for less than two years, your marriage-based green card will be “conditional.” That means you can keep it on the condition that you remain married to your spouse and your circumstances don’t change in a way that would make you ineligible. You can’t renew a conditional marriage-based green card, but you can ask the government to remove the conditions attached to it within 90 days of its expiration date. (If you don’t ask the government to remove the conditions, you won’t be considered a lawful permanent resident, and you can be deported from the country.) Your Austin immigration attorney can help you petition to remove the conditions when it’s time.
Can You Get a Green Card for Your Spouse?
The only way to get a green card through marriage is through a sponsoring spouse. You can’t apply for your own green card; your spouse must do it for you. Your spouse must be a U.S. citizen or current green card holder in order to petition the government for your green card.
Is it Legal to Obtain a Green Card Through Marriage?
It is legal to obtain a green card through marriage – but it’s against the law to get married only so you can gain an immigration benefit (such as a green card). If you are genuinely married, and you and your spouse intend to maintain a future together, the U.S. government says you have a bona fide marriage and it’s legal for you to get a green card based on your marital relationship.
However, if you only married your spouse for the green card, there’s a good chance that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, will find out – and if your marriage is fraudulent, you have committed a crime and can be removed from the United States.
A Word on Marrying for Citizenship: How the Government Finds Out
When people marry for citizenship benefits (or even just to move to the United States) without being in a genuine relationship, they are committing immigration fraud. It’s illegal, and when (not if) the government finds out, you can be deported and barred from returning.
So how does the government find out?
Everyone who wants a marriage-based green card must prove that they are involved in a genuine relationship. You must submit evidence, such as wedding invitations or photos, proof that you own or rent property together, copies of your joint utility bills, letters from friends or family addressed to both of you, joint tax returns and bank statements, photos or other evidence (like receipts) of trips you’ve taken together, and even photos of you and your spouse together at family events. If you can’t come up with any of that evidence, the officer in charge of your case will likely become suspicious.
What is the Green Card Through Marriage Processing Time?
The processing time for a marriage green card ranges between 10 and 38 months. Your processing time will depend on whether you’re married to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder (a lawful permanent resident) and where you currently live. If USCIS asks you for supporting documentation, you should provide it as soon as possible – the longer you wait, the longer your petition will take to process.
Documents Needed to Apply for a Green Card Through Marriage
The documents needed to apply for a green card through marriage can include:
- Marriage certificate
- Birth certificate
- Proof of sponsor’s citizenship or lawful permanent residence
- Proof of the beneficiary’s legal entry to the United States
- Police clearance certificate, if it applies to your situation
- Divorce decrees or death certificates from previous marriages, if applicable
- Medical examination results
- Military records, if applicable
- Bank statements
- Tax returns
- Other supporting documentation that the officer handling your case requires
These are just the basic documents. Your immigration attorney can help you determine what other types of documentation you’ll need to petition the U.S. government for a green card through marriage. Remember, too, that you’ll most likely need other types of evidence to prove that you’re in a bona fide marriage. Those types of documents can include things like:
- Joint utility bills
- Proof that you and your spouse own property together
- A lease that shows both of your names
- Bank statements for accounts you share jointly
- Tax returns that show you filed jointly
- Wedding information, such as invitations, guestbooks and even photos of both of you at your wedding
- Proof that you’ve taken trips together
- Photos of you together as a couple
Anything that shows you and your spouse are in a genuine relationship can help prove to USCIS that you’re in a bona fide marriage. You may need to provide this type of documentation during your green card interview – and at that time, the USCIS officer in charge of your case will ask you (and your spouse) questions about your relationship. Your answers can help USCIS determine the validity of your relationship.
The Green Card Marriage Interview
The last step in your application process is the green card marriage interview. You’ll have to sit down with a USCIS official who will ask you questions about your relationship with your spouse. The official may ask your spouse questions, as well, and determine whether your answers match. This is a special type of interview that doesn’t always take place – it’s called a Stokes interview (more on that later).
During a standard USCIS green card marriage interview, you can expect to answer questions like:
- Where and how did you meet?
- What did you find that you had in common after you met?
- Where was your first date?
- How long were you together before you decided to get married?
- How many people attended your wedding?
- When did you meet each other’s parents?
- Who were your bridesmaids and groomsmen?
- Where was your honeymoon?
- Who takes care of the finances in your family?
- Do you plan on having children?
- Have you ever been on a vacation together?
- When is your spouse’s birthday?
- When was the last time you saw your spouse’s family?
- How many brothers and sisters does your spouse have, and what are their names?
- Where did your spouse go to school?
These are just a handful of questions you may be asked to answer during your green card marriage interview – the interviewing officer can ask you anything that he or she believes will determine whether you’re in a bona fide relationship.
What is a Stokes Interview?
A Stokes interview is an interview for you and your spouse. The USCIS official (or two separate USCIS officials) will interview you and your spouse in different rooms. These types of interviews are usually conducted by people who work in a specialized division of USCIS – its Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) unit.
The reasons USCIS uses Stokes interviews include:
- “Red flags.” Sometimes a USCIS official doesn’t believe that a couple is in a genuine relationship, so extra scrutiny is required.
- USCIS has discovered evidence that suggests you aren’t engaged in a real relationship.
- USCIS uncovers information during your regular interview that casts doubt on the validity of your relationship.
How Much Does it Cost to Get a Green Card Through Marriage?
It costs $1,760 to apply for a green card through marriage if you live in the United States. If you live outside the United States, it costs $1,200.
What is the I-130 Filing Packet for Green Card Marriage Applications?
Your immigration attorney will put together your entire filing packet for you – you simply need to provide supporting documentation. The things that belong in your packet include:
- The U.S. government’s filing fee, which is subject to change (but that is currently $535).
- Proof that the sponsor (the U.S. citizen spouse or lawful permanent resident spouse) is actually a citizen or lawful permanent resident. You may provide the sponsoring spouse’s birth certificate, naturalization certificate or valid U.S. passport photo page, or a copy of the sponsor’s green card.
- Proof that you are legally married, such as your marriage certificate that shows both of your names.
- Proof that your marriage isn’t fraudulent, such as a joint lease or mortgage documents, joint bank statements or tax returns, and photos of the two of you together as a couple.
- Proof that previous marriages have been terminated by divorce, annulment or death.
Your immigration lawyer will be able to file your packet for you, as well.
What to Know About the I-485 Filing Packet
If the spouse seeking a green card lives in the United States, the sponsoring spouse can file a packet that includes Form I-485 to change his or her status. This packet must include the $1,225 filing fee, proof of the petitioning spouse’s nationality, proof of lawful entry into the United States, the results of a medical examination and proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to support the seeking spouse. Your attorney can fill out and file these forms for you, as well as answer your questions about the information necessary to proceed.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Green Card Marriage?
If you intend to marry a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident because you’re involved in a bona fide relationship, you can become a lawful permanent resident yourself. Call our office today to talk to an attorney about your next step toward getting a green card through marriage.
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