Marriage Green Card – Checklist, Forms and Processing Time

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Foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence, otherwise known as a green card. 

Obtaining a green card allows foreign spouses to legally work and live in the U.S.

If you, your spouse or someone you know is interested in applying for a marriage-based green card, you may have questions about how to navigate the process.

In this article, you can find important details that will help you successfully navigate the process of applying for a marriage green card

The article includes information on eligibility, cost, the timeline, required forms, adjustment of status vs. consular processing, documents checklist, income requirements, the interview and what to do after the green card is issued.

Marriage Green Card Eligibility

First things first, before beginning the application process, you’ll want to make sure that the applicant is eligible to obtain a marriage green card. 

In order to be eligible, the applicant must be legally married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. 

If you are engaged or plan to get married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you are not yet eligible to apply for a marriage green card. 

However, the K-1 nonimmigrant visa is a great option for foreign nationals who are engaged to marry a U.S. citizen only.

Permanent residents are not eligible for filing K-1 fiancé(e) visa petitions.

You may have noticed that we said you must be legally married in order to obtain a marriage green card. 

What exactly does that mean? 

In order for a marriage to be recognized as legal by the U.S. government, it must:

  • Be officially recognized by the government of the country in which the marriage took place – This can be a country outside of the U.S.
  • Be a legitimate marriage – Sometimes, people enter illegitimate marriages in order to gain U.S. lawful permanent resident status. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is trained to recognize and stop those who attempt to obtain a marriage green card through an illegitimate marriage. Both parties will need to prove that they married in good faith and are actively building a life together.
  • Only include two parties – If either party is currently married to someone else, then the applicant will be deemed ineligible. Divorcees will need to provide adequate documentation- i.e. a divorce decree- in order to prove that any previous marriages are legally dissolved. Widows and widowers will need to provide a death certificate for their deceased spouse.

Marriage Green Card Cost

The minimum cost of applying for a marriage based green card ranges from $1,200 to $1,760. This amount only includes government fees. The cost of medical forms and legal fees are not included. 

Marriage green card fees will depend on the beneficiary’s location. A beneficiary is a foreign spouse applying for the green card. A U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse is called a “petitioner”. 

So, how much does a marriage green card cost?

If the beneficiary resides abroad the minimum fee is $1,200. The process of applying for an immigrant visa from abroad is called “Consular processing”. 

Consular processing fees:

  • $535 (Form I-130), must be paid to start the process
  • $445 (DS-260 and I-864), must be paid after Form I-130 is approved
  • $220 (USCIS Immigrant Fee), must be paid after you pick up your immigrant visa
  • Medical exam fee – varies. Must be paid before the interview at a U.S. embassy abroad

If the beneficiary is physically present in the U.S. and will be applying for a green card in the U.S., the minimum fee is $1,760. 

The process of applying for a green card in the U.S. is called “Adjustment of Status”.

Adjustment of Status fees:

  • $535 (Form I-130), must be paid to start the process
  • $1,225 (Forms: I-485, I-765, I-131 and biometrics fee), must be paid to start the process
  • $350-$600 (Medical Form I-693 fee). Must be paid before the interview at a USCIS office in the U.S.

Note: if the applicant is over 79, the Adjustment of Status fees will be lower.

You should expect to pay for the following additional services:

  • Translation fees – all foreign documents must be translated to English. Expect to spend $19 per standard document (birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.).
  • Vaccination fees – if an applicant needs to get additional vaccinations to meet the U.S. immigration requirements, expect to pay for each vaccination. U.S. health insurance can cover some vaccinations.
  • U.S. passport style photographs – the fee for 2 U.S. passport style photographs ranges from $9.99 to $19.99.
  • Shipping costs – if you will be mailing the application to USCIS, expect to pay shipping fees. The fee varies depending on the carrier you will choose, delivery time and weight of your package
  • Legal fees – if you decide that you need professional representation to file your application, you will need to hire a licensed attorney. Immigration attorney fees vary. See our legal fees here.

Marriage Green Card Timeline

Marrying a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident does not immediately guarantee a green card. 

The process of obtaining a marriage green card can be tedious. 

How long does it take to get a green card through marriage? 

Marriage green card processing time will vary. 

Keep in mind that the processing times published on the USCIS website are often inaccurate.

Below we provide the average processing times for each category based on our clients applications. 

Adjustment of Status Processing Time 

for Spouses of US citizens 

(“Concurrent filing”)

Application Steps

Estimated Timeline

Step 1. Mailing application to USCIS (Forms G-1145, I-130, I-130A, I-485, I-765, I-864 and I-131)

1-3 days from the date of shipment

Step 2. Receipt numbers are sent by USCIS via email and text messages

7 days from the date of filing 

Step 3. Hard copy USCIS Receipt Notices Received by Mail

2 weeks from the date of filing

Step 4. Hard copy USCIS online account creation notice received by mail

2 weeks from the date of filing. We highly recommend you create the online USCIS account. It will allow you to access all USCIS notices in electronic form.

Step 5. Biometrics Appointment

About 1 month from the date of filing the I-485 application package

Step 6. EAD (Employment Authorization Card) and Travel Document 

 

(Optional, only if you filed Forms I-765 and I-131)

  • EAD – 10-12 months after filing the application. *Sometimes green card is approved earlier
  • Travel document (“Advance Parole”)– 10-12 months after filing the application. *Sometimes green card is approved earlier

Step 7. Green card interview

12 months after filing the adjustment of status application (the average time for all 50 U.S. states)

Step 8. Green Card Arrival

1 week after the interview** (if I-485 was approved on the interview date)

** Very often USCIS officers need additional time to review the application after the interview. In this case, your green card will arrive later.

Adjustment of Status Processing Time 

for Spouses of Permanent Residents

Application Steps

Estimated Timeline

Step 1. USCIS Processing of Form I-130

11-15 months from the date of filing

Step 2. Form I-130 USCIS Receipt Notice Sent by Mail

  • Immediately if you file Form I-130 online (recommended)
  • 2 weeks from the date of filing by mail

Step 3. Visa Number Availability (F2A category)

Varies (Check the latest Visa Bulletin) but usually F2A is current

Step 4. Form I-485 Processing

12 months from the date of filing

Step 5. Biometrics Appointment

About 1 month from the date of filing the I-485 application package

Step 6. EAD (Employment Authorization Card) and Travel Document (Optional)

  • EAD – 10-12 months after filing the application. *Sometimes green card is approved earlier
  • Travel document – 10-12 months after filing the application. *Sometimes green card is approved earlier

Step 7. Green card interview

12 months after filing the adjustment of status application

Step 8. Green Card Arrival

1 week after the interview**

** Very often USCIS officers need additional time to review the application after the interview. In this case, your green card will arrive later

If you incorrectly file your marriage-based green card application, the processing time will significantly increase

Avoid making mistakes by hiring professional immigration attorneys to get your green card approved.

If the foreign spouse is living abroad at the time of applying for a marriage green card, the timeline will look a bit different. 

Below, find the estimated timeline for processing a marriage green card when the foreign spouse is living abroad.

Consular Processing Time 

for Spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents

Application Steps

Estimated Timeline

Step 1. USCIS processing of Form I-130

Up to 12 months

Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice issued

  • Immediately if you file I-130 online (recommended)
  • 2 weeks by mail from the date of filing

Step 3. National Visa Center Processing

3-12 months after Form I-130 is approved

Step 4. Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate

12 months after National Visa Center Processing is approved

Step 5. Receiving an immigrant visa

1 week after the interview

Step 6. Green Card Arrival

6 months after arrival in the U.S.

Based on this estimated timeline, the processing time for a foreign spouse located outside the U.S. ranges from just over two years to almost three years. 

If you incorrectly file your marriage-based consular processing application, the processing time will significantly increase. 

Avoid making mistakes by hiring professional immigration attorneys to get your green card approved.

Marriage Green Card Forms

There are a few required forms that need to be completed in order to successfully apply for a marriage green card. 

If the applicant is present in the U.S. when applying, they will be required to complete certain forms. 

If the applicant is located outside of the U.S., they will be required to complete a different set of forms.

Required Marriage-Based Adjustment of Status forms (if Beneficiary is in the U.S.):

Required Marriage-Based Consular Processing forms (if Beneficiary is abroad):

You can view detailed steps and document checklists for each form here (both spouses in the U.S.) and here (foreign spouse outside of the U.S.).

Adjustment of Status vs. Consular Processing

When applying for a marriage green card, the foreign spouse’s application will fall under one of two categories: Adjustment of Status (AOS) or Consular Processing. 

Here, we’ll discuss the difference between the two.

AOS (Adjustment of Status)

AOS is reserved for foreign spouses who are currently living in the U.S. as a nonimmigrant. 

  • For example, if you’re married to a U.S. citizen and entered the U.S. as a tourist (B1/B2 visa) or as a student (F-1 visa), you may be eligible for filing Adjustment of Status application

If the application is accepted, the foreign spouse’s immigration status will be adjusted from nonimmigrant to lawful permanent resident. 

Now, you may be asking, “What’s the difference between a nonimmigrant and a lawful permanent resident?” 

A nonimmigrant can be defined as a person who enters the U.S. on a temporary basis. 

Nonimmigrants can be students, professionals or travelers, and they are granted a visa based on their reason for being in the U.S. 

Visas have a short lifespan and visa holders are given a certain date when they need to leave the U.S. 

A lawful permanent resident can be defined as a person who is allowed to live and work permanently in the U.S. 

In other words, a lawful permanent resident is a green card holder. 

Green cards are valid for 2 or 10 years after issuance. However, they can be renewed. 

It’s also important to note that lawful permanent residence is a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

A foreign spouse is eligible for AOS if they: 

  • Are currently present in the U.S.;
  • Entered the country legally (on a valid visa and were inspected at the port of entry).

If eligible, the foreign spouse will need to complete Form I-485 in order to adjust their current immigration status.

Spouses of U.S. citizens can submit their Form I-485 application (Adjustment of Status) at the same time as filing Form I-130. This process is also called “Concurrent filing”.

However, spouses of permanent residents can submit their Form I-485 application only after Form I-130 is approved. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Note: Filing Form I-130 to sponsor a spouse of permanent resident does not automatically allow a Beneficiary to stay in the U.S. Applicants will need to maintain lawful nonimmigrant status while I-130 is pending and before I-485 is filed.

Some foreign spouses currently in the U.S. might not be eligible for AOS, including those who entered the country as a crewman and those who entered the country on their way to a third country.

Additionally, there are inadmissibility grounds for foreign spouses who wish to adjust their immigration status. 

Foreign spouses could be considered inadmissible if:

  • They are convicted of a serious crime;
  • Have a communicable disease;
  • Are considered a threat to U.S. national security; or
  • Are likely to be a public charge (inadmissible)

Be sure to view the list of the supporting documents needed for AOS before beginning the application process.

Consular Processing

Consular processing is reserved for foreign spouses who are currently living outside of the U.S. 

Foreign spouses living abroad may not obtain a green card through AOS and must use the consular processing method. 

How does consular processing work? 

The spouse who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident must first get Form I-130 filed on their behalf. 

The petitioner will be notified when Form I-130 is approved. 

The National Visa Center will send an email with further instructions immediately after Form I-130 is approved.

The beneficiary can then begin the process of obtaining a green card through consular processing. 

Before beginning the process, don’t forget to take a look at the list of supporting documents needed for consular processing.

Marriage Green Card Documents Checklist

As we mentioned before, you are required to submit a number of documents in addition to the immigration forms. 

No need for further research, we’ve got the complete checklist for you below:

Type of document

Examples of acceptable documents

Who needs to provide it

Marriage certificate, plus English translation

 

 

Proof of sponsor’s U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence

  • For U.S. citizens (one of the following): 
    • U.S, birth certificate
    • Valid U.S. passport
    • U.S. naturalization certificate
    • U.S. Certificate of Citizenship
    • U.S.Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA)
  • For green card holders (one of the following): 
    • Green card (front and back)
    • Valid I-551 stamp in passport
  • Petitioner

Evidence of termination of any prior marriage(s) 

  • Divorce decree
  • Annulment decree
  • Death certificate
  • Both spouses

Legal name change documents

  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree
  • Court order of name change
  • Both spouses

Proof of income

  • Federal tax returns for the last 3 years (all pages)
  • W-2 forms for the last 3 years
  • 1099 forms for the last 3 years (if any)
  • Petitioner

Birth certificate, plus English translation

  • Long-form birth certificate that lists both mother and father
  • If birth certificate was never issued, obtain a Letter of Unavailability
  • Both spouses

Foreign passport

  • Biographic page
  • Beneficiary

Copy of visa(s)

  • Copies of all U.S. visa pages
  • Beneficiary

Photo ID

  • State ID
  • Driver’s license
  • Other government-issued IDs
  • Both spouses

Proof of lawful entry to the U.S. (only if Beneficiary ever entered the U.S.)

  • Entry stamp in passport
  • I-94 form
  • Beneficiary

Proof that Beneficiary maintained lawful status in the U.S. (only for spouses of permanent residents)

  • All I-797C notices for change or extension of nonimmigrant stay
  • All I-20 forms (if applicable)
  • All DS-2019 forms (if applicable)
  • All Employment Authorization Documents (EADs, if applicable)
  • Other documents issued by USCIS
  • Beneficiary

Criminal records

  • Copy of certified court dispositions for any charges, arrests, or convictions
  • Copy of police reports of any criminal charges, arrests, citations
  • Beneficiary

Visa denial(s)

  • If you were ever denied a visa: any and all documents relating to all visa denials
  • Beneficiary

Immigration proceedings

  • If you have ever been put in Immigration Court proceedings: any and all documents relating to all visa denials
  • Beneficiary

Medical form

  • Beneficiaries in the U.S.: Form I-693
  • Beneficiaries abroad – see U.S. Department of State instructions for your country
  • Beneficiary

U.S. passport style photographs

  • Both spouses

Proof of marriage

  • Download our free checklist 
  • Both spouses

Marriage Green Card Income Requirements

To be eligible for a marriage green card, sponsors of foreign spouses must meet the minimum income requirements. 

The U.S. citizen or green card holder must sign the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support as a commitment to the U.S. government to financially support his or her immigrant spouse.

Once signed by the sponsor, the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support acts as a legally binding contract between the sponsor and the U.S. government. 

This means that the sponsor will have to abide by sponsorship requirements. 

In the U.S. there are set numbers that determine whether a household is above or below the poverty line (“Poverty Guidelines”).

Keep in mind that these guidelines are solely based on the sponsor’s annual income. Poverty Guidelines get updated every year.

It’s also important to note that if you live in Alaska or Hawaii, the poverty guidelines are different, and the annual income requirements are higher than the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. 

The tables below depict 2022 poverty guidelines based on petitioner’s household size and location.

For the 48 Contiguous States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands:

Sponsor’s Household Size

100% of HHS Poverty Guidelines*

125% of HHS Poverty Guidelines*

 

For sponsors on active duty in the U.S. armed forces who are petitioning for their spouse or child

For all other sponsors

2

$18,310

$22,887

3

$23,030

$28,787

4

$27,750

$34,687

5

$32,470

$40,587

6

$37,190

$46,487

7

$41,910

$52,387

8

$46,630

$58,287

 

Add $4,720 for each additional person

Add $5,900 for each additional person

For Alaska

Sponsor’s Household Size

100% of HHS Poverty Guidelines*

125% of HHS Poverty Guidelines*

 

For sponsors on active duty in the U.S. armed forces who are petitioning for their spouse or child

For all other sponsors

2

$22,890

$28,612

3

$28,790

$35,987

4

$34,690

$43,362

5

$40,590

$50,737

6

$46,490

$58,112

7

$52,390

$65,487

8

$58,290

$72,862

 

Add $5,900 for each additional person

Add $7,375 for each additional person

For Hawaii:

Sponsor’s Household Size

100% of HHS Poverty Guidelines*

125% of HHS Poverty Guidelines*

 

For sponsors on active duty in the U.S. armed forces who are petitioning for their spouse or child

For all other sponsors

2

$21,060

$26,325

3

$26,490

$33,112

4

$31,920

$39,900

5

$37,350

$46,687

6

$42,780

$53,475

7

$48,210

$60,262

8

$53,640

$67,050

 

Add $5,430 for each additional person

Add $6,787 for each additional person

Source: USCIS 2022 Poverty Guidelines for Affidavit of Support

You must show that your petitioner earns at least 125% of the U.S. poverty guideline for his or her household size. 

If the sponsor is on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States, then your petitioner needs to earn at least 100% of the U.S. poverty guideline for your household size. 

Now, you may be wondering how to determine the size of your household. 

The U.S. considers all of the following to be members of a household:

  • You (the sponsor)
  • Your foreign spouse (beneficiary)
  • Any dependent children under the age of 21 
  • Any other dependents listed on your most recent Federal income tax return
  • Any immigrants previously sponsored with a Form I-864 or Form I-864 EZ, affidavit of support whom you are still obligated to support.
  • Any derivative applicants who plan to immigrate within six months.
  • Everyone being sponsored in this Affidavit of Support.

Since you’re applying for a marriage green card, the minimum household size would be two. 

If your household doesn’t meet the minimum financial requirements, there are other ways to obtain a marriage green card for the beneficiary. You can: 

  • Provide income earned by any individuals in your household or dependents listed on your most recent Federal income tax return who signed Form I-864A, Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member
  • Provide income from the immigrant spouse if the income source will remain the same after immigration. If the immigrant spouse’s source of income will change after immigration, their income will not be counted
  • List the value of your assets (i.e. home(s), vehicles, property, etc.). If necessary, you may also include the assets of other members of your household who signed Form I-864A or the assets of the immigrant spouse
  • Provide a joint sponsor whose income and/or assets are at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines

You can learn more about using these additional sources of income here.

Marriage Green Card Interview

USCIS Interview in the U.S.

The last step to apply for a marriage green card is to successfully pass through an interview with a USCIS officer in the U.S. or consular officer at a U.S. Embassy abroad.

If the foreign spouse is located in the U.S., the interview will be conducted approximately 12 months after filing the Adjustment of Status application.

You will be notified of your appointment 1-1.5 months ahead of the interview via mail. 

The notice will include the date, time and location of the interview. 

Both spouses must attend the green card interview. Failure to appear at an appointment could result in significant delays.

If all goes well, the beneficiary’s green card application will likely be approved on the day of the interview.

Interview at a U.S. Embassy Abroad

If the foreign spouse is located outside of the U.S., the interview will be conducted at a U.S. embassy in the foreign spouse’s country of residence. 

When the National Visa Center (NVC) processes your application (3-12 months after accepting all forms), it will send an Approval Notice which sends you to the closest U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence. 

About 12 months later, you will receive an Interview Appointment Letter which includes the date, time and location of your interview. 

Only the foreign spouse attends this interview. 

If the consular officer approves your application, you will be granted an immigrant visa which allows you to enter the U.S. within 6 months of the approval date. 

You can expect to wait a few weeks to receive a visa stamp which allows you to enter the U.S. within 6 months of approval. 

If you will not enter the U.S. within 6 months after the immigrant visa issuance, the visa will expire.

You will become a permanent resident on the day you first enter the U.S. on your immigrant visa.

Upon arrival in the U.S., USCIS will mail you a green card after you pay an Immigrant Fee here.

To prepare for your green card interview, we recommend practicing the below sample questions.

Beneficiary Questions

  • USCIS officer will go through all immigration forms submitted. Please review the scanned copy of the application before the interview. No need to print it out
  • Your current address
  • Have you updated your address with USCIS (if you changed your address after filing the

application)

  • Full name, date of birth, cell phone number, email address
  • Address on your driver’s license (if you have it)
  • Physical address history
  • Your passport
  • Employment history
  • Your current employment (address, position, dates of employment)
  • Places of parents’ birth
  • Spouse’s place and date of birth
  • Date of marriage
  • Your children and/or your spouse’s children. Note: you must know your stepchildren’s

information (date of birth, full name, place of birth, etc.)

  • Have you ever been denied admission to the U.S.?
  • Have you ever violated your nonimmigrant status?
  • Have you ever committed any crime?
  • Have you ever had arrests in any country?
  • Drugs crimes (if any)
  • Review Form I-485, Part 8 questions (officer will ask these questions)
  • Officer can make corrections on the interview (for example, change of address or

employment)

  • Officer will ask Beneficiary to sign Form I-485
  • Have you signed the forms? Is it your signature?

Petitioner Questions

  • Full name
  • SSN
  • Born in the US or naturalized?
  • Date of birth
  • How long have you been married?
  • Date of marriage?
  • Employment history
  • Current employment information (employer, position, income, employer’s address)
  • Have you ever filed petitions for any other beneficiaries in the past?
  • Phone number, email address
  • Is it your signature?
  • Might ask questions about Form I-864
  • How and when did you meet your spouse? (circumstances of your first meeting)
  • Do you have joint bank accounts?
  • How long did you date?
  • Where did the first date take place? (Describe circumstances)
  • What did you do on your first date?
  • How often did you see each other?
  • History of the relationship (dates, places, etc.)
  • When did you start living together?
  • When did you decide to get married?
  • Did you have a wedding ceremony? (Describe). Was your family/friends present?
  • How many guests did you have at your wedding?
  • Details of joint bank accounts (bank, type of account)
  • Please bring new personal photographs (you can prepare a photo album)

You can download the full list of interview questions here.

What to Do Next

There are two types of green cards that the beneficiary can be issued. 

The type of green card issued depends on how long your spouse and you have been married. 

The first type of green card is called a conditional green card.

Conditional Green Card

If your spouse and you have been married for less than two years at the time of green card issuance, your green card will be valid for 2 years only.

As the name suggests, the conditional green card is temporary and only given to the beneficiary under a set of conditions. 

The conditional green card will remain valid for two years after the issue date. 

During this period, the beneficiary will be a lawful permanent resident. 

However, in order to obtain a 10-year green card, the beneficiary and the petitioner must remove the conditions on a green card.

To do this, both parties are required to file Form I-751 jointly.

Form I-751 must be filed at least 90 days prior to the expiration date of the conditional green card. 

You cannot file Form I-751 earlier than that.

Failure to file Form I-751 will result in the expiration of the conditional green card. 

The beneficiary will no longer have lawful permanent resident status and can be placed in deportation proceedings before the immigration judge.

10-Year Green Card

If your spouse and you have been married for more than two years on the date of green card issuance, then you will receive a 10-year green card. 

As the name suggests, this type of green card is valid for 10 years after the date of issuance. 

Since there aren’t any conditions attached to the 10-year green card, no further action is required.

Get Assistance from a Licensed Immigration Attorney

We understand that this is a lot of information to absorb. 

It may be beneficial to use our services for personalized assistance. 

This can better your chances of successfully obtaining a marriage green card. 

Learn more about the marriage green card service pricing and book a free marriage green card consultation with us here.