A Complete Guide for Obtaining Marriage-Based Green Card

I-130 marriage
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First of all, congratulations on your marriage! Living with your spouse in the United States of America is the dream of many people around the world. We’re sure you’re going to love it here.

When it comes to obtaining a green card after marriage, you’re not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people marry people who do not have a permanent visa yet. Be it that your spouse was presently residing in the United States with a work permit or an education visa, they’ll need to apply for a green card right away.

However, applying for permanent citizenship in America can be a tough task for most people. You need to manage multiple documents, make your entire case, go through several hoops, and the entire marriage-based green card process can be daunting for most people. This is why we have compiled a complete guide for obtaining a green card.

Let’s start with the basics of a marriage green card

There is a common misconception that a green card is the same as permanent citizenship in the United States. This is false. A marriage green card allows the spouse of the U.S. citizen to work or live in any part of the country, but that does not mean that they are complete U.S. citizens.

If you’re applying for a marriage green card, you should know that once you get your green card, you become eligible for U.S. citizenship after three years of holding the green card. After you’re eligible, you can apply for the U.S. citizenship test. However, it is completely up to you and your wishes if you want to become a U.S. citizen or not.

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Also, there are more benefits to holding a green card except for being able to live or work anywhere. You can also apply for social security and a driver’s license as a green card holder. Simply put, it is strongly advised that you get your green card after marriage right away.

Please note that your green card has a validity period of 10 years but do not worry. You can apply for a renewal in the last six months of your green card’s validity.

So, what is the application process?

The application process is generally dependent on where the applicant was residing initially and if their spouse is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder. But, there’s one thing you need to ensure before beginning the application procedure. It is of utmost importance that you have a legally binding marriage certificate before the commencement of the procedure.

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Once you have your certificate, the entire process can be broken down into 3 main steps –

  • Establish the marriage relationship (Form I-130) –
  • Apply for the green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)
  • Attend the green card interview and await approval

The first step requires you to present your marriage certificate, and there are multiple other documents required for the second step as well. However, most people say that the hardest step is the interview, wherein you have to prepare for a multitude of questions and answer them all confidently.

What are all the documents required for a green card?

For each step, you will need to present some documents or the other. That’s why it’s best if you know about the list as soon as possible so you can arrange and consolidate all the articles for a smooth procedure. The list is as follows –

No. 1: Proof of sponsor eligibility

You need certain documents from the applicant and the sponsor as well. In this case, your sponsor will be your spouse, and here are all the documents you may require –

If your spouse is a U.S. citizen,

  • S. birth certificate
  • Valid U.S. passport
  • Naturalization Certificate
  • Certificate of Citizenship

If your spouse is a green card holder,

  • Green card (permanent resident card)
  • Passport issued in another country and bearing stamp or temporary permanent residency in the United States

No. 2: Proof of valid marriage

Secondly, you will need to present proof of a valid marriage since you’re applying for a marriage-based green card. You will need the following documents –

  • Marriage certificate
  • Joint leases
  • Joint bank account statements
  • Photos of you together
  • Letters from friends and relatives proving your relationship

No. 3: Proof of termination of prior marriage(s) (if applicable)

In case you were in a marriage in the past, you can show the proof of the same via different types of documents. They are –

  • A divorce decree
  • A death certificate of the other spouse
  • A certificate of annulment

No. 4: Proof of an official name change (if applicable)

If you have changed your name, you may need to present the documents for the same –

  • A marriage certificate
  • A court order of name change
  • Adoption papers

No. 5: Petitioner’s passport photos

Every sponsor needs to have and attach 2 passport size photographs to their Form I-130 petition. These photos are excluded from any other application requirements you may be applying at the same time as Form I-130.

What are the costs of a green card?

Before you begin the process, you should know that applying for a green card can be a very expensive procedure. You will have to pay for accruing different forms. You will be amazed by how much it can cost.

However, it does depend on where you’re currently residing. If you are currently not residing in the U.S. but are married to a U.S. citizen, you will need to pay $1,200. The same process will cost you $1,760 if you are currently living in the United States.

You should know the cost breakdown of the green card application so that you are informed about what steps cost the most money and how these 2 costs differ from each other.

  • I-130 form – It costs $535 and is incurred for both applicants the same.
  • I-485 form – This is also known as the green card application form and is required by applicants residing in the United States. It costs $1,140
  • I-864 form – In most cases, there is no charge associated with this form, but there are some cases where the Department of State can levy $120 per case to verify the affidavits of support.
  • I-944 form – It is the form required for the declaration of self-sufficiency and does not cost anything for U.S. residing applicants. It is not required altogether for the applicants outside the country.
  • Biometrics – These levy a charge of $85 in most cases and are uniform for both applicants.
  • DS-260 and DS-261 – This is useful for state department processing and is not required for applicants living in the U.S. For applicants outside the country, the DS-260 costs $325, and DS-261 costs $0.
  • USCIS immigration fee – This is only to be paid by applicants outside the country. The amount for the same is $220

How long does it take

Now that you know the basics of the procedure, you must be wondering how long will the process take. If you’re wondering about the same, keep reading to know the complete tentative timeline for the entire procedure –

No. 1: The I-130 form

This form takes a very long time to be processed properly. During the entire procedure, the person applying for the green card will be known as the beneficiary/green card applicant, whereas their spouse will be termed as the sponsor.

Once you have completed the I-130 form package, you have to mail it to the appropriate USCIS address. Once that’s done, USCIS will send the sponsoring spouse an official acknowledgment – or a receipt notice – in the mail. This is done to notify the sponsor that their form has been received by the relevant authorities, and the processing of their case will begin very soon.

If USCIS requires more information or documents to process the case, they will mail the sponsoring spouse a Request for Evidence (RFE) within 2–3 months of the official acknowledgment. Once USCIS has received your documents and has enough information to process your case, they will generally make a final decision on the I-130 application within 7–15 months. The time completely depends on the couple’s situation, and USCIS will keep you posted in the entire process in case you hit a snag.

No. 2: I-485 form

This form can usually be paired up with the I-130 form and supporting documents if your spouse is a U.S. citizen, and the procedure takes 9-11 months. However, this is not the case for spouses of green card holders. For them, the wait time can be anywhere between a year to a year and a half.

No. 3: Attending the green card interview

If you live in the United States with your spouse, your spouse will have to sit with you in the interview, and your physical green card will arrive in the mail within 2-3 weeks of approval.

Whereas, if you’re an applicant applying from outside the United States, you will have to give your interview alone, and your green card will arrive 2-3 weeks after your arrival in the country.

Green card interview

The green card interview is the most daunting step for most people. The interview has been put in place to check the authenticity of the marriage between the partners. This has been done to verify that the marriage is a legitimate one and not a facade in the eyes of the law for a green card.

Hence, if you’re a U.S.-based applicant, then you will be attending the green card interview with your spouse, where both of you will have to answer questions regarding your marriage. You will get the date of your interview well in advance, and you should take all that time to prepare for the interview and gather all the documents that you may need to further prove the authenticity of your relationship with your spouse.

Ensure that you and your spouse prepare for the interview together because it is fairly normal for people to forget the smaller details about their marriage, and it would be great if you refresh your memory and go over all your important documents before the interview. The more prepared you are, the better your interview will be.

What should you do to ace your green card interview?

There are certain things that you can do to increase your chances of a successful green card interview. If you do all the listed things, it is almost certain that you will get approval without any issues.

Here are some things you can do before walking in your green card interview –

  • Be punctual about your interview. You do not want to appear tardy in front of the authorities. Moreover, being late is considered extremely unprofessional in such proceedings. It should be your aim to arrive at least 30 minutes before your slot begins.
  • Wear professional and formal clothing. You should focus on dressing as well as possible because first impressions are highly important in interviews. Ensure that you are not wearing anything flashy and your ensemble is simple, sleek, and elegant.
  • Be prepared for anything. You should brace yourself for their questions beforehand and mentally prepare yourself for the fact that they may ask you some questions you may not have prepared for. In this case, the best thing for you to do is to keep a calm composure and take a couple of seconds to articulate your thoughts and answer with clarity.
  • Come with a calm personality because immigration officers are on a constant lookout for people who may be defrauding them. Many fake green card marriages have taken place, and an immigration officer is trained to look for people who have erratic behavior. Hence, don’t panic because it may send the wrong message.
  • While you need to memorize certain facts about your marriage, don’t speak about them too enthusiastically. It can possibly make the couple look rehearsed, and that can look like a red flag to an authority figure. Immigration officials know that you won’t remember every minuscule fact about your marriage.

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