Marriage to a U.S. citizen is a pathway to permanent residency in the U.S. Below are the different ways foreign nationals can obtain a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen.
K-1 Fiancé/Fiancée Visa
A K-1 visa allows a United States citizen to bring a foreign fiancé or fiancée to the United States for the purpose of marriage and becoming a lawful permanent resident. It is a three-step process:
1. The U.S. citizen (petitioner) files a Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- Must show that both parties are free to marry and intend to marry within 90 days of the foreign national’s admission to the United States as a K-1 nonimmigrant.
- The U.S. citizen and the foreign fiancé(e) must have met each other in person during the two years before filing the petition (this may be waived by demonstrating extreme hardship).
- If the petition is approved, USCIS will notify the petitioner and send the approved petition to the Department of State’s (DOS) National Visa Center (NVC). An approval does not guarantee that the DOS will issue a K-1 visa.
- The petition is valid for four months and the foreign national must obtain their K-1 fiancé(e) visa before the expiration date of the I-129F petition.
2. The foreign fiancé(e) files an application for the K-1 visa with the Department of State (DOS).
- The NVC issues the foreign fiancé(e) a case number and sends the petition to the embassy or consulate where the foreign fiancé(e) will apply for the K-1 visa.
- After the application is submitted the foreign fiancé(e) schedules an interview.
- The foreign fiancé(e) must bring documents to their visa interview, including proof of the relationship, proof of medical examination which includes the COVID-19 vaccine, and proof that the U.S. citizen fiancé(e) has sufficient income to ensure that the foreign fiancé(e) will not become a public charge in the U.S.
- The DOS consular officer conducts an interview.
- DOS will issue a visa that is valid for no more than six months and a single entry to the United States, meaning that the fiancé(e) has no more than six months to travel to the country.
3. The K-1 nonimmigrant visa holder travels to the United States.
- The fiancé(e) travels to the United States and is inspected by Customs and Border Control (CBP) to make an admissibility decision. If admitted, the period of admission is 90 days. Admission on a K-1 visa is conditioned on marrying the U.S. citizen petitioner within 90 days, and this cannot be extended.
- The foreign national spouse may then apply to USCIS for adjustment of status after the marriage within 90 days of entry.
Marriage‐Based (Consular Processing)
Form I-130 “Petition for Alien Relative” establishes that a valid family relationship exists between a U.S. citizen or green card holder and foreign national spouse seeking to live in the U.S. permanently.
This strategy is used when the foreign national spouse is outside of the United States and cannot simply adjust their status from within the U.S. This is a two-step process:
1. The U.S. citizen or LPR spouse (petitioner) must file a Form I-130 with USCIS:
- Requires government fees
- Two forms: I-130 and I-130A
- Supporting documents:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificate (and divorce decree(s), if applicable)
- Financial integration documents
- Proof of sponsor’s U.S. citizenship or permanent residence
- Other proof of a legitimate relationship
2. Once approved, USCIS transfers the case to the National Visa Center where the foreign national starts the process of applying for an immigrant visa to move to the U.S.
- Once a case number is received from the NVC, the immigrant visa fee is paid.
- Once the payment is processed, the DS-260 Immigrant Visa Application can be filed. Once the DS-260 is filed, the foreign national can upload the supporting documents, which includes Form I-864, Affidavit of Support to prove that the foreign national spouse will not become a public charge upon entry to the U.S.
- Once NVC completes review, the file is transferred to the U.S. consulate and the NVC will communicate when an interview for the immigrant visa is scheduled. Once scheduled, the foreign national spouse will have to:
- Complete medical examination by a government-approved doctor and provide proof of required vaccinations
- Sign up online for passport delivery
- Make a fingerprinting appointment
- The DOS consular officer conducts an interview.
- DOS will then issue a multi-entry visa that is valid for no more than six months, meaning that the foreign national spouse has no more than six months to travel to the United States. After the initial entry, they can use the immigrant visa as proof of lawful permanent resident status.
- The green card will be produced within 120 days after payment of the USCIS fee (upon entry to the U.S.).
Marriage‐Based Adjustment of Status (AOS) in the United States
Adjustment of Status (AOS) is the process used to apply for lawful permanent residence status (green card) when someone is already physically present in the United States, meaning that an individual can obtain a green card without having to return to their home country to complete visa processing. The steps to adjust status are:
- If married to a U.S. citizen, then the I-130 petition is filed concurrently with the AOS application (along with an application for work authorization and travel permission) in a single, one-step process.
- If married to a Legal Permanent Resident, it will depend on the visa bulletin as to whether the petition and AOS application can be filed concurrently. Additionally, spouses of lawful permanent residents must maintain legal status up until the date of filing of the AOS application to be eligible to adjust status in the U.S.
- Regardless of if the foreign national is married to a United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident, a medical exam with a USCIS doctor is required, where they must show that they satisfy the current vaccination requirements.
- After receiving the Form I-485, USCIS will mail a date, time and location to take the applicant’s fingerprints for a background check.
- The applicant may or may not be required to attend an in-person interview based on the Form I-485 and the background check conducted by USCIS,
- A decision either granting or denying the application will be mailed. The approval notice will be sent in the mail if the application is granted, followed by the physical green card.