What Is a Green Card Marriage?

A green card marriage is when a foreign citizen marries a U.S. citizen. When a foreign citizen marries a U.S. citizen, they can receive a green card or permanent resident status in the U.S. There are many steps and checks taken by the U.S. government to make sure the marriage is legal prior to the foreign national receiving a green card.

Green Card Through Marriage Application

Permanent residents and U.S. citizens can sponsor their spouse through a petition or application for a green card. Both spouses must be eligible to receive approval.

The process by which the application takes place is dependent upon whether the green card sponsor is put forth by the U.S. citizen or a green card holder.

The process through which to receive their green card will also depend on whether the foreign citizen entered the U.S. legally or illegally.

Green Card Marriage to U.S. Citizens

A U.S. citizen can sponsor their spouse as an "immediate relative." An immediate relative can instantly receive a visa number.

To petition for a green card, the spouse who's a U.S. citizen must submit Form I-130 for approval. As soon as the petition is approved, a visa number is made available to the spouse who is a foreign citizen.

The spouse who is a foreign citizen must then update their status to Permanent Resident. This can be done from within the U.S. with a simple form or through their local consulate if they're living outside the U.S.

Legal Entry to the U.S.

If the foreign spouse entered the country legally, that means they entered with the proper documentation and were inspected by a U.S. Border Patrol officer at the border. A legal port of entry can include an airport, seaport, or bus station.

Valid forms of entry might be a tourist visa, student visa, temporary worker visa, border crossing card, or arrangement under the Visa Waiver Program.

Even if the foreign citizen is now considered illegal, meaning they stayed longer in the U.S. than was allowed by their visa, as long as they entered legally, the consequences are different.

Illegal Entry to the U.S.

Any entry to the U.S. where the person isn't inspected by a U.S. Border Patrol officer is considered to have entered the U.S. illegally.

There are many ways to illegally enter the U.S., but it comes down to the fact that the person wasn't inspected and didn't have the proper paperwork to enter. This is formally known as Entry Without Inspection.

If you have illegally immigrated, spent one year or more during an illegal stay in the U.S., or been deported, you'll need the help of an immigration lawyer when attempting to get a green card. Illegal entry to the U.S. can get someone permanently barred from immigrating to the U.S.

Grounds for Inadmissibility

There are certain grounds for which people may not be admissible to the U.S. The following list summarizes some of the reasons why people may not be allowed.

  • Communicable diseases such as tuberculosis

  • Physical or mental disorders that may cause harm to themselves or others

  • Drug addicts or abusers

  • Drug traffickers

  • Lacking proper vaccinations

  • Convictions for crimes

  • Prostitution

  • Violation of immigration laws

  • Spies

  • Terrorists

  • Nazis

  • Those who would be dependent upon need-based government assistance

Green Card Marriage to U.S. Permanent Residents

U.S. permanent residents can also sponsor their spouses for a green card. The process for a permanent resident takes a little longer than for a U.S. citizen.

When a U.S. permanent resident applies for a green card for their spouse, the spouse must wait for a visa number (it isn't made available immediately).

The permanent resident must submit Form I-130 and once approved, the spouse will receive a priority date. Once the priority date becomes current, a visa number is made available. The priority date status can be checked on the Visa Bulletin published by the U.S. State Department.

K-1 Visa for Fiances

There's even another option for U.S. citizens, the K-1 visa. The K-1 visa is also known as the fiance visa. The U.S. citizen with a foreign national fiance can file Form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance for a K-1 visa. A K-1 visa allows the fiance of a U.S. citizens to enter the U.S. for 90 days. During those 90 days, the couple must get married and apply for a status adjustment.

This may or may not be an easier option than just receiving a green card after marriage. There are many factors and costs associated with the K-1 visa process.

One thing to keep in mind if you're considering a K-1 visa is that if your fiance has petitioned for a K-1 visa twice in the past, it's not possible to petition a third time.

If you are already married and considering applying for a K-1 visa, it's illegal to mark your marital status as single just to be "eligible" for the K-1 visa.

If you do this and are caught, even 10 or 20 years later, it's possible to be deported and lose your U.S. citizenship.

Foreign Children in a Green Card Marriage

As long as the children of the foreign spouse meet eligibility requirements, they can immigrate with the spouse to the U.S.

Options to Becoming a U.S. Citizen when Marrying a U.S. Citizen

There are many options to becoming a U.S. citizen when marrying a U.S. citizen.

Form I-130 and I-485

After marrying a U.S. citizen, the couple can immediately submit an application for the foreign spouse to receive a green card. Form I-130 Relative Petition and Form I-485 Adjustment Status can be submitted at the same time.

Legal Entry

If the foreign spouse entered the U.S. legally but is out of status, this is a valid option. This is the best option if the foreign spouse has overstayed their visa by more than six months. If the foreign spouse departed the U.S. after overstaying a visa, they could be barred from the U.S. for three to 10 years, depending on their length of stay over their visa.

Illegal Entry

If the foreign spouse entered the U.S. illegally, they often cannot file Form I-485 Adjustment of Status.

An adjustment of status is possible for someone who illegally entered the U.S. if an employer or family member filed an immigrant petition on this person's behalf prior to January 14, 1998 or between January 14, 1998 and April 21, 2001, as long as you can prove you were in the U.S. on December 21, 2000.

As well, you may be able to adjust your status if your visa petition was mistakenly approved or denied by USCIS.

If you fall into any of these categories, get married in the U.S. and immediately apply for a green card. Apply with Form I-130 and Form I-485 together.

Your spouse MUST accompany you to the Adjustment of Status interview and it's recommended to have an immigration attorney present.

If you knew your spouse prior to your arrival in the U.S. on a tourist visa, you may be suspected of visa fraud or entering the U.S. under false pretenses. USCIS might demand an application requesting a waiver of visa fraud.

Overstay by Less Than Six Months

If the foreign citizen has overstayed their visa by less than six months, they should leave the U.S. and apply for a fiance visa from abroad.

Overstay by More Than Six Months

If the foreign citizen overstayed by more than six months since April 1, 1997, they will need to apply for a waiver. The waiver for prior unlawful presence or misrepresentation can waive the illegal overstay.

To receive approval for this type of waiver, the couple must prove that "refusal of admission to such immigrant alien would result in extreme hardship to the citizen or lawfully resident spouse."

A waiver for past criminal history can also be applied for. A similar idea must be proven that the citizen spouse would suffer without their foreign spouse.

For approval for these waivers, the citizen spouse must prove "extreme hardship." There is no set standard for extreme hardship so each consulate has a different rate of approval for these waivers. The consulate will offer examples of acceptable arguments that prove extreme hardship.

Applying With Children

If you have children who are between the ages of 18 and 21 and they aren't the biological children of the spouse sponsoring your visa and you want to bring them to the U.S., you should leave the U.S. and apply for a fiance visa.

On a fiance visa, children under 21 can accompany their parent.

On an immigrant visa, only children under 18 can accompany a just-married parent.

Another option is to go through regular family-based green card processing. This is possible only if the foreign spouse didn't overstay by more than six months and they get married outside the U.S.

K-3 Visa

If you have left the U.S. and are applying from a U.S. consulate, you are required by law to stay in your home country for a minimum of three months. Even if the consulate is efficient and you receive approval, you must remain there for three months.

If you apply for a K-3 visa through a consulate, be sure to have all documentation of your arrival and departure from the U.S. This documentation might include airline tickets, boarding passes, receipts, medical records, credit card statements, or anything else that can prove your whereabouts.

If you or your children have overstayed in the U.S. for six months or more since April 1, 1997, don't leave the U.S. People who overstay by more than six months to one year are barred from entering the U.S. for three years. People who overstay by more than one year are barred from entering the U.S. for 10 years.

Marriage to a Permanent Resident

When marrying a permanent resident of the U.S., there are many options.

Fiance Visa

The fiance visa isn't an option for permanent residents of the U.S. The sponsoring fiance must be a U.S. citizen for this option to be legally available. You can wait until the sponsoring fiance becomes a U.S. citizen and then apply for a fiance visa.

Once the sponsoring fiance is a U.S. citizen, explore the options listed above for marrying a U.S. citizen.

Marriage in the U.S.

If you and your permanent resident spouse marry in the U.S., there could be a long wait for a visa number. There's a long line in the F-2 category and therefore it could take years to get a current priority date. Until the priority date is current, the foreign spouse cannot live in the U.S. legally. If the foreign spouse can get approval for a different type of visa, they may be able to live in the U.S. legally.

If the foreign spouse entered the U.S. legally, has never worked illegally in the U.S., and has a current priority date, they can file for Adjustment of Status.

The wait time for a current priority date is between three and five years after filing a petition. The only visas that allow for legal stay for that length of time are students visas and temporary work visas. A tourist visa only allows for six months of stay with one six-month extension. If the foreign fiance is out of status, they should leave before they overstay more than six months.

If the foreign fiance chooses to stay in the U.S. illegally, deportation at any time is possible.

On a fiance visa, if the foreign spouse entered the U.S. illegally, an adjustment of status will NOT be allowed. With a fiance that illegally entered the U.S., it's best to wait for the permanent resident fiance to wait to become a U.S. citizen before applying for an adjustment of status.

There are exceptions for adjusting status when applying while engaged to a permanent resident.

If an employer or family member filed an immigration petition for the foreign fiance before January 14, 1998 or between January 14, 1998 and April 21, 2001 and they can prove they were physically present in the U.S. on December 21, 2000, they may be eligible for an adjustment of status.

If a visa was approved or denied by USCIS by accident, you may be eligible for an adjustment of status.

If the foreign fiance leaves the U.S. before having overstayed by six months or more, wait until the priority date is curren, go through Consular Processing, then adjust status.

If the foreign fiance overstayed by more than six months, there will be a period of inadmissibility of either three or 10 years. They can go through Consular Processing and apply for a waiver of the inadmissible period.

The application for a waiver of overstaying a U.S. visa by more than six months can be submitted at the same time as the application for marriage to a permanent resident. In this case, the foreign spouse must prove that denial of the visa will cause extreme hardship for the U.S. citizen spouse or children.

Waiting Until Spouse is U.S. Citizen

The spouse of a U.S. citizen is considered an immediate relative and therefore doesn't have to wait for a priority date. There's also no annual quota. In comparison, a spouse of a permanent resident is given F-2A status which has an annual quota and can have a waiting period of several years before the priority date is current.

This doesn't mean you should wait to apply until the permanent resident spouse is a U.S. citizen. Begin the application process as soon as possible. Once the permanent resident spouse becomes a U.S. citizen, the application can be upgraded.

There's no benefit to waiting until the permanent resident spouse becomes a U.S. citizen. If the naturalization process is delayed for any reason, it could delay the time before which you can begin the application.

The Green Card Marriage Process

Obtaining a green card or permanent resident status through marriage can be one of the fastest ways to become a resident in the U.S. There are many steps to the process, potential pitfalls, and requirements, and approval isn't guaranteed nor automatic.

Green card marriage applications are highly scrutinized to make sure that the marriage is legitimate and wasn't entered into solely for the purpose of a green card.

Once the marriage of a foreign spouse to a U.S. citizen has taken place, there is a specific procedure to follow if both parties are present in the U.S.

These files need to be present to the USCIS:

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

  • Biographic information

  • Affidavit of Support

  • Permission for Work Authorization

  • Medical Examination Results

  • Request for Travel Documents

  • The appropriate supporting documents

  • USCIS filing fee of either $1,760 for people over 14 or $1,285 for people under 14, per person

Once filed, this is the following procedure:

  1. USCIS will contact you to schedule a biometrics appointment.

  2. USCIS will issue work and travel authorization about 90 days after filing.

  3. USCIS will contact you to schedule an interview. This will be between two and four months after filing.

  4. If the interview is successful, the foreign citizen spouse will receive Conditional Permanent Resident status.

  5. USCIS will mail the Permanent Resident Card, also known as a green card, four to eight weeks after the interview.

  6. Once the Permanent Resident Card is received, apply for the Conditional Status to be dropped through Form I-751 with USCIS. This can be done within 90 days of the two-year anniversary of the granting of the Conditional Permanent Residency.

In-Depth Information for Green Card Marriage Application Process

Form I-130

One of the first things filed with USCIS is the Form I-130 or Petition for Alien Relative. The filing of Form I-130 establishes a relationship between the foreign citizen and spouse. This is also a request that a visa be reserved for the foreign spouse. When this form is approved, the U.S. government is acknowledging a legitimate relationship and that a visa is being reserved.

The spouse of a U.S. citizen is considered an immediate relative. This relationship is given priority over other relationships. There are no annual quotas on how many green cards are given to foreign spouses. This makes the process faster than many other visa and U.S. residency options.

Other preference categories can take years to obtain a visa number due to annual limitations and the number of people petitioning for those visas.

Form I-485

This form is to register permanent residence or to adjust someone's status. This form can be filed at the same time as Form I-130 if the foreign spouse is already in the U.S.

Because a visa can be immediately reserved, it's important to file all of this paperwork together. This will expedite the application process.

Who Qualifies for a Green Card Marriage?

Any U.S. citizen with a foreign spouse who entered the U.S. legally on a visa or has a visa waiver is eligible for a green card marriage.

It's OK if the visa or I-94 is expired.

Canadian citizens marrying U.S. citizens do NOT have to prove legal entry to the U.S.

What Happens at the Green Card Marriage Interview?

A married couple that includes a foreign national and a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident that is applying for the foreign national to get a U.S. green card through marriage will have to attend an interview with immigration authorities.

The interview with immigration authorities is a chance for the authorities to make sure that the marriage is legitimate and not just for the purpose of receiving a green card or permanent resident status in the U.S. They will also be checking to make sure that your paperwork matches your in-person answers.

U.S immigration authorities interview many people, not just married couples. They interview families and employees to also make sure their relationships are legitimate.

Green card marriage is one of the fastest and easiest ways to receive permanent resident status. Because of this, the immigration authorities want to make sure the marriage is legitimate and true.

Where Will the Interview Take Place?

The location of the interview depends upon which process you're using to apply for permanent resident status.

The majority of applicants will go through the consular process. This means that their paperwork will be delivered to and their interview will take place at the U.S. consulate in their home country. This is true for almost all spouses who are living overseas.

The U.S. spouse isn't required to attend the interview at the overseas consulate, but it's highly recommended that they do. If immigration authorities have any doubts as to the validity of the marriage and the U.S. spouse isn't present, a separate interview will be scheduled for the U.S. spouse in the U.S.

Some green card applicants may already live in the U.S. Under these circumstances, they may be able to use Adjustment of Status. If this is the case, paperwork is submitted to and the interview will take place at an office of USCIS. For these cases, both spouses are required to attend.

What Happens During the Marriage Interview?

The interview is where the immigration official reviews the submitted paperwork and applications. The official will also ask basic questions such as where you live, who you are, where you work, and if the couple's finances are secure enough that the foreign national spouse will not need government assistance.

The couple should bring documentation of the following:

  • Plane tickets, phone bills, and letters showing visits and communications

  • Birth certificates of any children you may have

  • Photos of your wedding, vacations, or family events

  • Bank statements for any shared finances

  • Statements for shared credit cards

  • Apartment or house contracts that are signed by both parties

  • Shared insurance policies

  • Sworn statements from friends or family who know you are married

The immigration official will also ask personal questions to establish that your marriage and relationship are legitimate, such as:

  • Who was at your wedding?

  • How many people?

  • How did you meet?

  • What color are the curtains in your home?

  • What plans did you make for your spouse's last birthday?

  • What type of birth control do you use?

  • Who pays the bills?

  • Who usually cooks?

For legitimate couples, there should be no trouble answering the questions presented. It is important though that each spouse remembers similar details about first dates or the first time you met, so be sure to talk to one another about these details before the interview.

If all goes well at the interview, approval for an immigrant visa or permanent residence will be given.

If the spouses are giving contradictory answers or can't remember enough details, the immigration official may be suspicious. For couples being interviewed together in the U.S., they may then be separated for a fraud interview. For a foreign national spouse being interviewed overseas, then the U.S. spouse will be separately interviewed in the U.S.

What Happens at a Fraud Interview?

A fraud interview happens when a couple is suspected to not be a legitimate couple. A fraud interview is required anytime an immigration official is suspicious or thinks the couples are giving different answers.

Even legitimate couples are sometimes asked to complete a fraud interview. Some couples may remember different details or answer questions differently enough to cause suspicion.

At a fraud interview, the couple will be separated and will answer the same questions. The immigration official will then compare their answers to see if they match up.

If this interview is taking place in the U.S. and the answers don't match up, the immigrant spouse will be placed into removal proceedings and possibly be deported. There is still the chance to plead your case in front of a judge if the application is denied after a fraud interview with immigration officers.

The fraud interview will be more personal and more intense than the original interview. True couples that are suspected for lifestyle or personality choices may have to go to fraud interviews. Couples are also sometimes asked to go through a fraud interview because they don't share the same language, same religion, same religion, don't live at the same address, or who have differences in age, class, or culture.

A fraud interview can be called after the initial consular interview or when you apply to remove the conditional requirement on your permanent resident status.

The questions and fraud interview situation are intended to be intense so that a person might be pushed to confess that the marriage is false or they'll make a mistake.

The immigration officials may also apply harsh tactics such as saying that the other spouse has confessed to a fraudulent marriage, they may intimidate people with the threat of jail time or monetary fines, and may ask you to sign a document withdrawing the visa application.

If you get advance notice of a fraud interview, you should immediately hire an immigration attorney. The attorney cannot control the questions asked at the fraud interview, but they can help to deal with any repercussions of the fraud interview.

It's important to stay calm and respectful throughout the entire fraud interview. Even if the immigration officer gets hostile or rude, continue to respectfully and honestly answer questions. Don't guess or lie, just state if you don't know or don't remember the answer to one of the questions they ask.

The following questions are a guide that can be used to prepare for a fraud interview. These aren't comprehensive so there's no guarantee that these questions will be asked and that others won't be asked.

Development of the Relationship

  • How did you first meet?

  • Did you make arrangements to meet again?

  • What information did you exchange?

  • When did you first meet?

  • Where did you meet next?

  • Where were you both living at the time?

  • What did you talk about at your first meeting?

  • When did your relationship turn romantic?

  • Who made the proposal?

  • Why did you make the decision for a long or short engagement?

  • Did you live together before being married?

  • Whose parents approved or didn't approve of the marriage?

Information about Your Spouse

  • What is the name, address, and date of birth of your spouse?

  • What did you plan for your spouse's last birthday?

  • What gifts did you exchange on your previous birthdays?

  • How often do you call each other by phone?

  • At what time do you normally call each other?

  • Which holidays do you celebrate together?

  • What did you do the last time you visited one another?

  • Does one spouse support the other financially?

  • Do you or your spouse have any scars or tattoos?

  • Where do you work?

  • What time does the spouse who works arrive home?

  • What is your annual salary?

  • What are your spouse's working hours?

  • What days of the week does your spouse work?

  • What is your spouse's work phone number?

  • Do you and/or your spouse attend regular religious services?

  • Describe any joint bank accounts or financials you have with your spouse.

  • What religious holidays do you spend with your spouse?

  • What is the most important holiday to you and your spouse?

  • What did you do for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, and New Year's Eve last year?

  • How did you celebrate your wedding anniversary this year?

  • What movie did you see most recently?

  • Where did you and your spouse go for your last vacation?

  • Did you take photos on your last vacation?

  • Did you file a joint or separate tax return last year?

  • Do you own any property together?

  • Do you have insurance policies that list your spouse as your beneficiary?

  • Are you listed together on any utility bills?

Your Wedding

  • Where was your wedding ceremony held?

  • How did you both get to the ceremony?

  • How many people attended the wedding ceremony?

  • Who were the witnesses at your wedding?

  • Did both spouse's parents attend the wedding?

  • What kind of food and cake was served at the wedding reception?

  • Did you serve alcohol and what kind?

  • Were any of your friends drunk or embarrassing at the wedding reception?

  • How late did the guests stay?

  • Did you and your spouse purchase your wedding rings together or separately?

  • What type of entertainment did you have at the wedding?

  • Who was in the wedding party?

  • Do you have any photos from your wedding?

  • Did the bride change clothes before the wedding reception?

  • Did you have a honeymoon after your wedding?

  • Where did you go for your honeymoon?

Your Relatives

  • Describe your spouse's family members.

  • Have you met your spouse's parents?

  • Do you buy gifts for your in-laws?

  • How often do you see your spouse's parents?

  • How do you get along with your parents-in-law?

Your Children

  • How many children do you have?

  • Give me their names, birth dates, and places of birth.

  • Which children were delivered normally and which by C-section?

  • What is the name of your child's best friend?

  • Who is your usual babysitter?

  • Who makes lunch for the children?

  • Do your children go to daycare?

  • What day of the week or times of the day do they go to daycare?

  • Who is your child's teacher?

  • Who picks the kids up from school?

  • Do any of the children still use a car seat?

  • Are the children from your current marriage or a previous marriage?

Your Shared Home

  • Where did you live right after marriage?

  • Please provide a detailed description.

  • Who does the house cleaning?

  • Do you rent or own your home?

  • What day is the garbage picked up?

  • How do you pay your rent or mortgage?

  • What color are the curtains?

  • What type of window covering do you have?

  • Who gets up first?

  • What time do you and your spouse get up?

  • Do you set an alarm clock to wake you in the morning?

  • What do you typically eat for breakfast?

  • Is your house carpeted?

  • What type of flooring is in your kitchen?

  • Do you have any pets?

  • How many bathrooms are in your home?

  • Where did your furniture come from?

  • Do you have a garage?

  • How many telephones are in your home?

  • Does your home phone have an answering machine?

  • Who checks the messages on the answering machine?

  • Do you have a TV? A DVR? A DVD player?

  • Do you have cable or satellite?

  • What type of music do you listen to?

  • How do you listen to music?

  • What TV shows do you watch together?

Your Kitchen

  • Who does the grocery shopping?

  • How often do you go to the grocery store?

  • Who makes breakfast?

  • What does your spouse drink in the morning?

  • What is your spouse's favorite and least favorite food?

  • Do you eat a particular meal every week?

  • Do you have an outdoor grill?

  • How often do you use your outdoor grill?

  • How many times a week do you eat out?

  • Do you have a favorite restaurant?

  • Where do you put kitchen trash?

Your Bedroom

  • What size bed do you have?

  • Who sleeps on which side of the bed?

  • Do you read or watch TV before going to sleep?

  • Do you have lamps near the bed?

  • Have you ever had an argument that results in one of you sleeping in another room?

  • What form of birth control do you use?

  • When was your wife's last menstrual period?

  • Do you leave any lights on at night?

  • How many windows are in your bedroom?

  • Where do you keep your toothbrushes?

  • Do you use an electric or manual toothbrush?

  • What color are your spouse's pajamas?

  • What is your favorite position for sex?

  • Where do you keep towels for the bathroom?

  • Where do you put your dirty clothes?

Time Before the Interview

  • Did you go to work yesterday?

  • Did you eat dinner last night?

  • What did you have for dinner?

  • Did you watch TV after dinner?

  • Who went to bed first?

  • What time did they go to bed?

  • Did you turn on the AC or heat?

  • Who woke up first?

  • Did you use an alarm clock?

  • Did either of you take a shower this morning?

  • Did you eat breakfast?

  • What did you eat for breakfast?

  • Did you arrive for the interview together?

  • Who drove to the interview?

Conditional Permanent Resident Status

When a foreign national receives permanent resident status after the application process is complete, they may receive what is called conditional permanent resident status.

The conditional resident status is most often given to couples who've only been married for less than two years. The conditional status lasts for two years. Within 90 days of those two years being completed, you and your spouse must submit a Form-751. This form shows that your marriage has continued through the conditional period and that you want to convert the immigrant spouse's status from conditional resident to permanent resident.

There are exceptions made for death and divorce.

Form-751 should be submitted along with documents that prove you and your spouse live together and share financial resources. This documentation is similar to that which was provided to get the immigrant spouse's green card. The documentation needs to cover the two years since the green card was approved.

After reviewing the submitted documentation with Form-751, the USCIS will ask the couple to attend another interview. Once the immigration official is certain that the marriage is valid, the immigrant spouse's green card will be reissued as a permanent resident status card.

Eligibility Requirements for a Green Card Marriage

If you are a foreign national married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you may be eligible for a green card marriage or a permanent resident card.

To be eligible you must be:

  • Legally married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

  • Your marriage must be legitimate, not just for the purpose of immigration status.

  • You must have proof of your spouse's U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status.

  • Neither you nor your spouse can be married to any other person.

Must be Legally Married

To qualify for a marriage-based green card or permanent resident status, you must be legally married.

A legal marriage is one that is recognized by the government in the country where you were married. An official record of the marriage must be obtained from a government office.

For this reason, domestic partnerships aren't recognized for immigration green card purposes. If you live in a country that allows for common law marriages, you may be able to get documentation from that country for proof of marriage.

You don't need to be married in the U.S. for the marriage to be considered legal. You can marry in the U.S., your home country, or another destination of choice.

Many different marriage ceremonies are also recognized. Whether you were married in a church or had a tribal wedding, it just needs government recognition of the marriage.

Both you and your spouse must have attended the wedding ceremony. A "proxy" wedding isn't considered a legal marriage by the U.S. government. A "proxy" marriage is only considered a legal marriage by the U.S. government if the marriage is later consummated with sexual relations.

If you are not yet married but plan to, make sure it is legal for you to marry where you live. The 50 U.S. states all have slightly varied laws on who may marry whom and at what age.

You must show a marriage certificate or other legal document proving marriage that comes from a government body. A marriage license or paper from a ship's captain or church will not be acceptable proof.

Your Marriage Must Be Legitimate

A legitimate marriage is one that is for reasons of love or companionship, not for immigration status. A "bona fide" marriage is one in which the two people intend to establish a life together and live as husband and wife.

This can have a wide variety of meanings to people and that's OK. A marriage entered for the purpose of receiving U.S. citizenship or an American green card is considered fraudulent.

USCIS is very strict when deciding if a marriage is legitimate or not. During the application process, the immigrant spouse will be interviewed in person and if the answers aren't satisfactory, there may be a fraud interview. The fraud interview is intensive and personal.

The USCIS also demands extensive proof and documentation to prove a true marriage.

Your Spouse Must Be a Legal U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident

There are only two types of marriages in the U.S. that can gain a green card for their spouse:

  • U.S. citizens

  • U.S. lawful permanent residents

People who are in the U.S. on temporary visa status cannot petition to get a green card for their spouse.

It's very important to determine with certainty that your spouse is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident before beginning the green card marriage process.

A person can become a U.S. citizen in a few ways:

  • They were born in the United States or one of its territories.

  • They became a citizen through naturalization.

  • They acquired citizenship through a family member.

The U.S. doesn't require citizens to carry a national identity card. For this reason, there are many forms of documentation that could prove your spouse has U.S. citizenship. These are some examples:

  • Birth certificate

  • U.S. passport

  • Naturalization certificate

  • Certificate of citizenship

A lawful permanent resident is someone who legally obtained a green card. A green card gives that person the right to live in the U.S. and potentially become a U.S. citizen over time. The spouse of a permanent resident is eligible for a green card.

Permanent residence isn't a guarantee. It's possible to lose permanent resident status. A person might lose their status as a permanent resident through committing certain crimes or if they live outside the U.S. for an extended period of time. If your spouse loses their permanent residence before you complete your application, you would lose your right to immigrate to the U.S. through marriage. Gaining a green card through marriage to a permanent resident can take years.

A green card isn't the same thing as a work permit card. Be sure to clarify whether your spouse has a card that permits them to work in the U.S. or a green card.

This Must Be Your Only Marriage

You and your spouse must be married only to each other. Any previous marriages that you have had must be legally ended for you to enter into a new marriage. The U.S. considers death, divorce, and annulment legal means to end a marriage. Documentation of the legal ending of previous marriages should be included in any filing for a green card marriage.

Any previous marriages will raise questions from U.S. immigration officials. The U.S. immigration officials want to make sure that your new, current marriage is legitimate and not just for immigration status.

Status of Spouse on a Nonimmigrant Visa

If your spouse has a nonimmigrant visa, that means they have a temporary visa. This might include an H-1, L-1, or F-1 visa. As their spouse, you can join them in the U.S. It's important here to note that these visas only give permission to live temporarily in the U.S. The spouse that holds the dependent visa can stay in the U.S. only as long as their spouse does.

Tips for Before Beginning the Green Card Marriage Process

Before getting married, it's important to clarify the legal status and citizenship of the person you are marrying. Be sure to ask for proof and get copies. This might include:

  • U.S. passport

  • Green card

  • Visa stamp

  • Social security card

  • Driver's license

  • Proof of income

  • Tax return

Potential Problems with a Green Card Marriage

If the U.S. spouse decides to change their mind, he or she may choose to not file the petition for the foreign national spouse's green card, even after the marriage has taken place. The U.S. spouse can also withdraw the petition for the green card at any time.

Divorce in the U.S. doesn't have to have a significant reason. Because of this, the U.S. spouse may legally file for divorce at any time. The divorce can be granted on any grounds.

If the U.S. citizen was previously married and is now divorced or widowed, it is more difficult to prove a green card marriage. It's much easier to prove a marriage is legitimate if it is the U.S. citizen's first marriage. It's very important to have documentation of death or divorce if this is the case. Proof that the previous marriage was genuine may also be helpful in your petition for a green card.

Even though it is legal to marry more than one person in some countries, it isn't legal in the U.S. The law is clear that a person in the U.S. may be married to only one other person.

Green Card Marriage Fraud Is Punishable

If you get married just for immigration purposes or to get a green card, it is punishable as a crime. The punishment is a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison. The foreign national can be stripped of their U.S. citizenship and deported.

There should be communication and constant contact between you and your spouse during the green card marriage process and application. This will be looked at by immigration officials as part of determining the legitimacy of your relationship.

Visa Fraud as It Applies to Green Card Marriage

It's very important to understand what constitutes visa fraud if you and your spouse are considering a green card marriage.

If your foreign national spouse is in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa such as a tourist visa, student visa, or temporary worker visa, the U.S. understands that these people have the intention to return to their country of origin. This opens the door to what's called wrongful intent and can be considered visa fraud. 

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