Spouse Visa USA Process (Application Guide)

Spouse visa USA process guidance

A number of immigration routes exist for non-US spouses looking to join their loved one in the US. Importantly, spouses do not attain US immigration rights automatically through marriage. They must follow the relevant spouse visa USA process and file the appropriate petition(s).

Much will be determined by the circumstances of each case, including your nationality and US immigration status, and the nationality of your spouse who is looking to live with you in the US.

Note also that same-sex spouses are eligible for the same options as opposite-sex spouses.

You are a US citizen or are a lawful permanent resident

With US citizenship or permanent residence, you can apply for your spouse to join you under one of two immigration routes.

IR1 / CR1
The first route is the immigrant spouse visa. This is a Green Card route, and you will be required to sponsor your spouse’s visa. With the spouse visa, it won’t be necessary to apply to adjust status once in the US as Green Card is included. This is advantageous as, for example, it permits your spouse to start working in the US as soon as they arrive, without having to seek specific employment authorization.

The IR1 (Immediate Relative) applies where you have been married for more than two years on the date you become a US resident.

If you have been married for less than two years, conditional residence (CR1) is granted with a two-year expiration date on your Green Card. This status must be renewed within 90 days of the visa’s expiry date, with both spouses submitting a joint petition (form I-751) to remove the two-year condition.

Failure to file during this time will result in status being lost and your spouse may be subject to removal from the United States.

To apply, Form I-130 Immigrant Petition for Alien Relative has to be filed.

K-3 visa
The second route is the K-3, nonimmigrant visa – a temporary visa allowing non-US spouses to enter, live and work in the US while their Green Card application is being processed. Note however the K-3 visa is not available to spouses of Green Card holders.

Two petitions will need to be filed from the country where you married your spouse: Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and Form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e).

If the K-3 visa is granted, it provides temporary permission for your spouse to come to the US where they then await processing of their immigrant application for a US Green Card (lawful permanent residence) under the Immediate Relative category.

As with most Green Card applications, expect lengthy processing times. However, protracted processing could see your marriage pass the two-year conditional residence threshold.

Two petitions are required: Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130, and Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), Form I-129F.

Importantly, you must be legally married before your spouse can apply under either of these two routes.

Not yet married?

If you are not yet married, you may consider the K-1 visa. The US fiancé visa allows your partner to come to the US to marry and live here with you. It is a temporary, nonimmigrant visa, meaning you will need to also consider what your spouse’s future immigration options will be once they are in the US under the K-1 visa.

K-1 visa holders have 90 days in which to get married and file form I-485 to adjust their status.

Spouse visa USA process

To apply as a spouse of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, there are a number to stages to follow.

First, the relevant petition(s) must be mailed to USCIS for processing (Notice of Action 1 NOA1). If approved (Notice of Action 2 NOA2), the case will be forwarded by USCIS to NVC, who then send the case on to the US consular post in the country of origin.

Your spouse will then have to pass a medical examination and attend a visa interview at the Consular Post or Embassy overseas.

During the interview, the adjudicating officer will be looking to satisfy that your marriage is genuine and that there is no immigration fraud.

If successful, the visa will be issued and placed into their passport and they will have six months to enter the US.

Your spouse also at this stage has to pay the immigrant application fee for their immigrant visa petition to proceed.

The Green Card will then be issued and mailed to your residence in the US.

Spouse visa eligibility

To meet the US spouse visa requirements, the couple must be in a relationship that is legally recognized as a marriage in the jurisdiction where the ceremony took place. This applies to same sex as well as opposite sex marriages.

The US citizen spouse must also have stable US employment over the minimum threshold required for visa processing. For Green Cards for example, applicants must demonstrate income of at least 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For the 48 contiguous states and DC, this is:

Persons in family / householdPoverty guideline
2$20,575
3$25,975
4$31,375
5$36,775
6$42,175
7$47,575
8$52,975

Spouse visa processing times

Spouse visa applicants should expect to wait around 8-10 months from initial application to visa issue.

Stringent adjudication under the current Administration is delaying all classes of US visas, including spouse visas. In addition, other factors can also impact processing, which should be addressed prior to filing any petitions to minimize potential delays. For example, the supporting documentation provided with the application, the nationality of your spouse and USCIS and NVC’s overall caseload and volume of applications.

Adjusting status from visitor visa to spouse visa

Adjusting status from visitor visa to a souse visa is not impossible, but will require substantial evidence to support your request and why your circumstances have altered since the initial visitor visa application (for which intention to depart the US on visa expiry is a requirement.

Non-US nationals are required to apply to enter the US using the appropriate immigration route, whether as a fiance, or a spouse. The visitor route generally is only open for short term, visiting of relatives. If you are intending to visit your spouse and leave, you will need to evidence this intention both to the visa adjudicator and also expect to at the border.

If you are a non-US citizen with valid nonimmigrant status

For your non-US spouse to join you in the US, they will need to secure permission either under a dependent visa, relying on you as the principal visa holder and your lawful status, or apply for a visa of their own.

US dependent visas for spouses

For example, E-2 visa holders can bring spouses and dependant children as E-2 dependants. This is an extremely attractive route for spouses as they attain authorization to work in the US – which is not limited to the E-2 company.

L-2 visa is for spouses and dependants of the L-1 intracompany transfer visa and spouses of H-1B visa holders can look at the H-4 visa.

The O-3 visa is open to spouses and dependants of O-1 visa holders who have evidenced extraordinary ability within their field of expertise or O-2 visa holders (key personnel of O-1 workers).


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