Marrying a US citizen does not automatically confer US immigration or nationality rights on non-US spouses.
As a non-American spouse, you will need to make an application to US authorities to secure lawful permanent residence status (also known as a ‘Green Card’) through marriage. With a Green Card, you can live with your spouse in the USA and work freely and your movements are not as restricted as applicants under other US immigration routes.
There is no annual cap on the number of Green Cards that can be issued to “immediate relatives”, which spouses are classed as.
If you reside outside of the United States your application must be submitted to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service. Even while the application is pending, you can enter the United States as a visitor.
The challenge for marriage Green Card applicants is that the application process can be protracted, leaving applicants living with the uncertainty of their pending application for months, and in many cases years.
With so much at stake, it will be important to get your application and supporting evidence to work hard in proving your eligibility, and for you and your US spouse to prepare well for the marriage visa interview.
Whether you are living in the US or overseas and you are looking to apply for a US Green Card to join your spouse in the USA, we can help.
As specialist US immigration and nationality attorneys based in London, England, we are on hand to help non-American spouses with Green Card applications.
Green Card rules are onerous and the eligibility criteria stringent, leaving no room for error or omission. With exceptional knowledge and insight into US application processes, we can guide you through the process, from compiling your submission and supporting documents, to advising on and supporting you with interview preparation.
Contact our US immigration experts
For advice on any aspect of a US visa application, contact our US immigration attorneys.
For advice on any aspect of a US Green Card application, contact our US immigration attorneys.
A US citizen can sponsor their non-US citizen spouse for permanent residence (ie a marriage Green Card), to enable their spouse to legally work and reside in the US. If the US citizen and their spouse are outside the US, the non-US spouse will first need to obtain an immigrant visa to enter the US as a permanent resident.
After three years with US lawful permanent residence, the Green Card holder can apply to naturalize as a US citizen.
Obtaining an immigrant visa is a two-step process involving filing an immigrant petition with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and attending a visa interview at a US consular post abroad.
The specific Green Card application process will depend on whether your spouse is a US citizen or a US lawful permanent resident, and whether you as the non-US spouse are living in the US or overseas.
If you are already resident in the US and have already married your US citizen spouse, you will usually make an application to adjust your status. This will be on the basis that you entered and remain in the US lawfully, for example on a work visa, and at the time you applied for your previous visa and were admitted into the country, you did not have the intention or plans to get married and stay in the US.
If you are married to a US citizen and live outside the US, you would need to file Form I-130 to establish the relationship, before applying for your Green Card at a National Visa Center (NVC) and then attending the visa interview.
If married to a US Green Card holder and you are outside the US, the same process applies as if married to a US citizen, except you would need to wait for Green Card availability in the visa bulletin before you can apply to the NVC. This stage alone of waiting for your priority date can take between 8-10 months.
During the visa interview, you and your spouse will be asked questions about your relationship, your history, your future plans, your family circumstances and anything to the authenticity of your marriage. If the adjudicator is satisfied the relationship is genuine, and the application is not fraudulent, they will approve the Green Card.
Throughout the application process, you will need to show the marriage is lawful, valid, genuine and ongoing.
Your relationship must be bona fide, and you will need to show your intention to live your lives together as a couple to avoid allegations of fraudulent intent to gain immigration benefits.
This means providing documentation to show the marriage is officially recognized in the country or region where it took place, and also confirming with evidence that any previous marriages of either spouse have been legally terminated, ie through divorce, annulment or death of a former spouse.
If your spouse is a US citizen and you currently live in the US, application processing is around 10-12 months. If you live overseas, it can take longer, and will usually be more like 12-18 months for a decision.
If your spouse is a US Green Card holder and you live in the US, you can expect processing to take around 3 years. If you live overseas, it is around two to two and a half years.
Within approximately one month of your initial entry to the US, you will be issued your Green Card, which will act as evidence of your lawful, permanent resident status.
The permanent resident card is typically valid for ten years, after which time you will need to apply for renewal of the permanent resident card.
If you have been granted conditional permanent residence, the permanent resident card will be valid for two years. Conditional permanent residence is granted when a US-citizen and non-US citizen spouse have been married for less than two years prior to the date that the non-US citizen spouse was admitted to the US as a permanent resident. In order for the non-US citizen spouse to maintain permanent residence beyond two years they must apply to remove the conditions within the 90-day period before the permanent resident card expires.
You can apply for US citizenship after three years with Green Card holder status.
You will need to evidence that you meet the continuous and physical presence requirements, ie that you have spent the majority of the qualifying period living with your US spouse in the United States, and that you meet the other requirements for US naturalization, including being of good moral character, able to read, write and speak English and to demonstrate a basic understanding of the fundamentals of US history and government.
Once a permanent resident has naturalized, they will be entitled to all the rights and privileges granted to US citizens.