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So You Got Married! Now What?

April 2008
So You Got Married! Now What?

Marriages within the United States

The U.S. citizen needs to submit an I-130 visa petition to the appropriate USCIS office to prove that the marriage was not entered into for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card. The burden is on the parties to establish the bona fides of the marriage. Proof of a bona fide marriage is very flexible – you can send in proof of the wedding, such as invitations, pictures, etc., as well as proof that you are now living as a married couple, such as a joint lease, joint bank account documents, utility bills, etc. At the same time, the non-citizen spouse should submit an application for adjustment of status, green card-type photographs, and numerous other USCIS forms, plus USCIS filing fees. The USCIS schedules an interview, with the timeframe depending upon the location.

Marriages outside the United States

The non-citizen spouse usually must remain in her/his country until s/he obtains the green card. On the other hand, if the parties are not yet married, then the foreign fiancé/e can enter the U.S. on the K-1 fiancé/e visa but is required to get married to the sponsoring U.S. citizen and file the adjustment of status application package for the green card within 90 days of entry.

If the marriage takes place abroad, then, after the marriage, the citizen spouse submits a visa petition to either the appropriate USCIS office or directly to the U.S. consulate in the country where the non-citizen spouse lives. Consulates may impose various restrictions on who is eligible to file petitions there. Depending on the location, it could take several months to obtain the approval.

Once the visa petition has been approved, the non-citizen spouse will receive a packet from the National Visa Center (NVC). The packet will inform that spouse of the documents required at the immigrant visa interview abroad and the packet will also include documents requesting biographic data that need to be completed and forwarded to the U.S. consulate. The process can take a further three to six months.

In order to expedite the immigrant visa process after filing the visa petition, the citizen spouse can also file a K-3 petition, a nonimmigrant visa for a spouse. As with the immigrant visa process, NVC notifies the consulate of the approval of the K-3 petition. Often the spouse is able to come to the U.S. on the K-3 in only half the time it would take to wait for the whole immigrant visa process to be completed.

Since spouses of U.S. citizens are considered “immediate relatives” under immigration laws, they are exempt from all numerical quota limitations for the green card, so there is no waiting list.

Conditional Residence

If the marriage is less than two years old when the non-citizen spouse becomes a permanent resident, the green card will expire after a two-year period. Both spouses must submit a joint petition to remove the two-year condition within the 90-day period immediately preceding the end of the two years. If the marriage has terminated by reason of divorce, death of the citizen spouse, or spousal abuse, the non-citizen spouse may apply for a waiver of the joint petition requirement.

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