To promote family unity, immigration law allows U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) to petition for spouses to live permanently in the United States. Spouses of U.S. Citizens have special immigration priority and do not have to wait in line for a visa number to become available for them to immigrate; there are an unlimited number of visas for this particular category.
Process for Family-Based Green Cards
The first step of the green card process involves filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of the sponsoring U.S. Citizen or LPR. In this petition, we seek to establish the foreign spouse’s eligibility for permanent residence based on his or her bona fide marriage to a U.S. sponsor.
The I-130 petition involves the preparation and submission of a comprehensive package to USCIS emphasizing the legitimacy of the marital relationship. Applicants must demonstrate their bona fide relationship through marriage certificates, proof of termination of previous marriages, and a host of supporting documentation.
Upon approval of the Form I-130 petition, the second step of the process involves asking the government to physically create an actual green card for an applicant based on his or her bona fide marriage to a U.S. sponsor.
- Adjustment of Status:
Here, the foreign spouse must physically reside inside the U.S. while the application pends. USCIS grants the applicant interim work and travel authorization while the application is processing. The process culminates in an interview at a local USCIS office in the U.S. Thus, the applicant becomes a Lawful Permanent Resident without having to attend an immigrant visa interview outside the United States. This is generally the faster of the two methods because it can be submitted at the same time the Form I-130 petition is submitted. We welcome you to learn more about this method here: Adjustment of Status.
- Immigrant Visa (Consular) Processing:
This process requires the applicant to reside outside the U.S. while the green card application pends. Following the approval of the Form I-130 petition, the National Visa Center further processes the application. Ultimately, an immigrant visa interview will be scheduled at an U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad with jurisdiction over the applicant. Learn more about Immigrant Consular Processing here: Immigrant Visa (Consular) Processing
Both methods of filing have advantages and disadvantages, and a decision should be made based on the applicant’s location at the time of filing, future travel and work plans, and the couple’s preference for processing.
U.S. Petitioner’s Financial Obligation
The U.S. sponsor must be able to demonstrate that he or she can provide enough financial support to avoid the foreign spouse from becoming reliant on U.S. government welfare. To make this showing, the U.S. sponsor must complete an Affidavit of Support and provide his or her income tax returns, W-2 forms and evidence of current employment. Depending on the sponsor’s financial situation, we may require additional supporting documentation including bank statements and evidence of assets. If the U.S. spouse does not have enough income and/or assets to meet the government’s minimum income requirements, a Joint Sponsor or Household Member may be added to the petition. Our office can make this determination upon a review of the U.S. spouse’s three (3) most recent income tax returns.
Validity of Green Card
Once a green card is issued, the individual is now considered a “Lawful Permanent Resident” and may reside and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. Although this status is permanent, the actual card (Form I-551) expires every ten (10) years and must be renewed much like a driver’s license by submitting a form, fee, and supporting documents to USCIS.
If you have been married for less than two (2) years at the time that LPR status is granted, the foreign spouse will be given “conditional” status which is afforded for two (2) years. Prior to the second anniversary of the green card’s issuance, the couple must apply to remove the conditions on residency. This acts as the government’s “insurance policy” to make sure that the couple is still married and living together in a bona-fide relationship.
Provided the green card holder remains married to his or her U.S. sponsor and meets the physical presence requirements, the green card holder may apply for U.S. citizenship once he or she has been a permanent resident for three (3) years.