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Marriage Green Card Timeline

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

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Marriage Green Card Timeline

If you are looking to apply for a marriage-based green card, to be able to plan ahead, you will need to know how long this will take.

In this guide, we look at the marriage green card time line, both for spouses of US citizens and spouses of other green card holders, as well as those applying from the United States and overseas. We provide practical guidance in respect of the green card application process and the timescales that you can expect.


What is a marriage based green card?

A marriage based green card is an immigrant visa aimed at the spouse of a US citizen or the spouse of a lawful permanent resident (or green card holder) and can be applied for from inside or outside the United States. Having a green card, also referred to as a Permanent Resident Card, will enable you to live and work permanently in the USA.

To be eligible for a marriage green card, you must be classed as a “spouse”, which is defined as a legally-wedded husband or wife, where merely living together does not qualify a couple for immigration. To qualify for a green card on the basis of your marriage, you must also be sponsored by your husband or wife who is either a United States citizen or a US lawful permanent resident, where a lawful permanent resident is a green card holder.


Marriage Green Card timelines

Marriage based green card timelines can vary significantly, depending on whether you are a spouse applying for an adjustment of status from inside the United States or pursuing immigrant visa processing abroad. It will also depend on whether you are the spouse of a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident, where these categories of green card are classed entirely separately. Spouses of US citizens fall under the category of green cards for “immediate relatives” (IR1), while spouses of lawful permanent residents are categorised as “family based preference immigrants” (second preference F2A).

The number of immigrants applying as immediate relatives is not limited each fiscal year, where immigrant visas for immediate relatives of US citizens are always available. In contrast, for those applying in the family based preference category, United States law limits the number of immigrant visas that are available each year in certain visa categories. If applying for a marriage green card as the spouse of another green card holder, this means that even if USCIS approves your immigrant visa petition, you may not immediately receive an immigrant visa number due to these numerical limitations. US law also limits by country the number of visas available in certain categories. For limited categories, the availability of immigrant visa numbers will depend on the date that your petition was filed, known as your priority date, as well as the number of others waiting for the same category of visa.

Priority dates are posted monthly on the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin, providing up-to-date priority dates for cases being processed by the NVC. While the NVC attempts to contact all green card applicants when their visa number is available, you can also use the Visa Bulletin to check whether a visa is ready for your I-130 petition. If an immigrant visa is available and NVC has not yet contacted you in relation to your application for a marriage green card, you can contact the NVC using their Public Inquiry Form.


Marriage Green Card Application Process

The steps that you must take to apply for a marriage green card will vary depending on your situation. For example, you could be the spouse of a US citizen already living in the United States and looking to adjust from nonimmigrant to immigrant status. Equally, you could be the spouse of a lawful permanent resident looking to apply from overseas. You could also be the spouse of an American applying to enter the United States in immigrant status or the spouse of a green card holder living with them in the US and looking to become a lawful permanent resident yourself so you can work without restriction.

However, in all cases, your US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse must file a petition on your behalf with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) using Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). This can either be done electronically or through the traditional paper process via the mail. While most immigrant visa petitions are filed within the United States, it may be possible for an I-130 petition to be filed from outside the United States for spouse petitioners living overseas at the time of filing. Importantly, a petition cannot be filed for a spouse until the wedding has taken place.

The purpose of an I-130 petition is to establish the existence of a qualifying spousal relationship where you, as the beneficiary of that immigrant petition, are wanting to come to or remain in the United States as a lawful permanent resident. As part of the petition process, your US spouse must demonstrate to USCIS that the marriage is genuine and made in good faith, and not a sham for the purposes of unlawfully procuring a green card.

As the beneficiary of the I-130 petition, you must complete and sign Form I-130A (Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary). This is to collect additional information from you as the spouse beneficiary, including your address and employment history. If you are overseas, Form I-130A must still be completed, although you do not have to sign this. However, your Form I-130A must be submitted to UCSIS together with Form I-130.

Importantly, an approved petition does not grant you automatic lawful permanent resident status or the permission to immigrate immediately to the United States. You will still need to obtain your immigrant visa, although the paperwork for marriage green cards can sometimes be filed at the same time as the Form I-130. If you are applying from overseas, you will need to submit Form DS-260 (Immigrant Visa Electronic Application). If you already in the United States, you will need to file Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), where you are applying to adjust from nonimmigrant to immigrant status. Form I-485 can be concurrently filed with Form I-130, so prior to approval of the underlying immigrant visa petition, if you are either the spouse of a US citizen living in the United States or if an immigrant visa number is available.

If applying for a marriage green card from overseas, your I-130 petition must be approved by USCIS before your case can then proceed to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC). After USCIS approves your petition, they will automatically transfer your case to the NVC for pre-processing. The first pre-processing step is the creation of your case in the NVC system. Once this is complete, you will be sent a Welcome Letter by either e-mail or physical mail. Once you submit your form, fee and supporting documents, your case will be reviewed to ensure that you have provided all the documentation required to schedule your visa interview. Visa interviews for green cards are based on the availability of appointments offered at the US Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence.

For spouse based I-485 applications, USCIS also requires an immigrant visa interview, where both you and your petitioning spouse will be required to attend. Your petitioning spouse will also be required to submit Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support), together with supporting documentation, when you submit your adjustment application with USCIS or once you have been scheduled for an immigrant visa interview with an overseas consular officer. This is to show that they have the financial means to support you, in this way preventing you from becoming a public charge as a lawful permanent resident.


How long will a Marriage Green Card take?

The first stage of the marriage green card timeline is the filing of an I-130 petition on your behalf, where it can take several months or more for a spousal petition to be processed by USCIS. Once approved, the petition will be sent to either the NVC in New Hampshire (if the petition was filed by your spouse in the United States) or the Immigrant Visa Unit at the US Embassy or Consulate (if filed with the USCIS field office in your home country).

You can check the processing times for your Form I-130 petition on the USCIS website by searching “Check Case Processing Times”. You will need to select the form type (I-130) and form category, so either US citizen or US permanent resident filing for a spouse. You will then need to select the field office or service center where your petition was (or is due to be) filed. For example, for US citizens filing for a spouse at all service centres, the estimated processing time is currently 14 months. In contrast, for permanent residents filing for a spouse at the California service center, the processing time is currently 39.5 months.

If your petition is approved by USCIS in the United States and your green card application is subsequently processed by NVC, they should contact you with an interview appointment date. If your application is processed by NVC and then forwarded to the US Embassy or Consulate before you completed your application form, then you should input the invoice number provided by NVC. If your petition is approved by a USCIS office in your home country, as soon as the Embassy’s Immigrant Visa Unit receives your approved petition from USCIS, they will write to you. This will usually be within 2 months of your spouse receiving the I-797 (Notice of Action). You should then complete your Form DS-260 online application, using your immigrant visa case number and/or NVC invoice number.

You may have a long wait for an interview through the consular process, where average wait times are not published and can vary significantly depending on location. Prior to attending your marriage green card interview, you will also be required to undergo a medical examination with an Embassy-approved doctor, where you should allow sufficient time for the results of the medical examination to be couriered over to the Embassy when scheduling your visa interview. This can take at least a week, in some cases more. You will also be required to attend your interview with a number of other documents.

If applying from the United States for an adjustment of status to become a permanent resident, so as to establish that you are not inadmissible to the USA on public health grounds, you must also undergo an immigration medical examination with a designated civil surgeon and file Form I-693 (Report of Immigration Medical Examination and Vaccination Record). You are not required to submit your Form I-693 together with Form I-485, where this can be mailed later or brought with you to your interview. However, filing Forms I-485 and I-693 at the same time can eliminate the need for USCIS to issue you with a Request for Evidence (RFE) to obtain your Form I-693, in this way saving time.

If your visa is approved following your consular interview, you will be informed how and when your passport and visa will be returned to you. Equally, if applying from the USA, you should receive your marriage green card within a few short weeks following your interview.


Marriage Green Cards delays

In addition to the long waiting times for processing, priority dates and interviews, there are a number of reasons why delays can occur during the marriage green card process. Some common reasons can include problems with proving that your marriage is bona fide or issues in satisfactorily meeting the financial requirement. Delays can also occur if there are errors or omissions in the application or if additional information is required by USCIS.

To maximise the prospects of a successful outcome, and to minimise any unnecessary delay, you are strongly advised to seek the assistance of an immigration specialist before applying.


Need assistance?

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, we are on hand to help non-American spouses with Green Card applications. Contact us for expert advice.


Marriage Green Card FAQs

How long does it take to get a green card through marriage?

The time that it can take to get a green card through marriage can vary, depending on whether you are applying from inside or outside the USA, and as the spouse of a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident.


How long does it take to get a green card in 2024?

The current petition processing times for green cards in 2024 can be anything from a few months to several years, depending on the basis upon which immigrant status is sought. Once approved, you can then apply for your immigrant visa.


How long after marrying a US citizen can I work?

To be able to undertake gainful employment in the United States as the spouse of a US citizen, having submitted an application for lawful permanent residence you can also apply for employment authorisation, although this authorisation could take several months.


Can I stay in the US while waiting for marriage green card?

You can apply to adjust your status from nonimmigrant to immigrant status while in the United States, provided you are eligible, in this way allowing you to stay with your spouse while waiting for approval of your marriage green card.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

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For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.

For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.