If you are married to a permanent resident and live outside the U.S., you can apply for a green card.
In this article you will find:
- Application steps,
- List of all required immigration forms,
- Processing timeline.
The total processing time for obtaining a marriage based green card for a spouse of a permanent resident living abroad ranges from 27-36 months:
- Establishing the marriage relationship: 11-15 months
- Waiting for green card availability in the Visa Bulletin: 0 months
- NVC application: 3-5 months
- Visa interview and approval: 6-12 months
You can find the average processing times for marriage-based green cards here.
|Applicant Steps (in order)||Estimated Timeline|
|Step 1. USCIS processing of Form I-130||11-15 months|
|Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice issued|
|Step 3. Visa number availability (F2A category)||0 months (check the latest Visa Bulletin)|
|Step 4. National Visa Center Processing||3-5 months|
|Step 5. Waiting for an interview at a U.S. Embassy||6-12 months|
|Step 6. Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate||1 month after receiving the interview letter|
|Step 7. Green Card Arrival||Within 6 months after arrival in the U.S.|
You can also check out the detailed processing timeline for each of the USCIS application centers here.
Step 1: Filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
If you’re married to a lawful permanent resident and live outside the U.S., then you can apply through a procedure called “Consular Processing“.
After you complete the consular processing, you will be issued an immigrant visa that allows you to enter the U.S.
Immigrant visas are issued by U.S. Department of State.
In particular, the U.S. Embassy in your home country will conduct an interview with you and issue an immigrant visa.
The petitioner spouse (green card holder) must submit the Form I-130 package, to establish a valid marriage relationship.
The I-130 package includes 2 forms that must be submitted along with their supporting documents to the USCIS:
- Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relatives: to be completed by the sponsor/petitioner.
- Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary: to be completed by the applicant (foreign spouse).
Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice (I-797C)
Once you have completed filling out forms I-130 and I-130A and gathered the supporting documents, you will mail this to the appropriate USCIS office.
Typically within a period of about 2-3 weeks, you will receive an official ‘receipt notice‘ from USCIS by mail.
This receipt notice confirms that USCIS has successfully registered your application.
It also contains a “receipt number”, which you can use to track the status of your application on the USCIS website.
If USCIS needs more information or document(s) to process your application, you will receive a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), typically within 2–6 months after the application is registered.
USCIS typically takes 11-15 months to make a decision and send you a Notice of Approval (I-797C).
- Receipt notice (I-797C) issued around 2 weeks after mailing the application to USCIS.
- USCIS sends a Notice of Approval in the next 11-15 months.
Step 3. Visa number availability (F2A category)
After Form I-130 is approved, USCIS sends the case to the National Visa Center (NVC).
There is a waiting period for the availability of a green card for spouses of permanent residents.
This waiting period is called “Visa Availability”.
The spouse of a green card holder needs first to wait until visa number in so-called “F2A category” becomes available, as stated in the Visa Bulletin.
This means that once USCIS approves your Form I-130, the spouse seeking the green card must need to wait until the visa number for category F2A becomes available.
This wait time varies upon the foreign spouse’s country of residence and current Visa Bulletin schedule.
For foreign spouses, the wait time can vary, depending upon their country of birth.
Usually the F-2A category is “Current”, which means that the foreign spouse can start applying for immigrant visa immediately after Form I-130 is approved.
To check the current visa number availability, see the latest U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin.
The Visa Bulletin is updated every month, so always check out the latest bulletin.
Once the visa number is available, the applicant can file their immigrant visa application with NVC (National Visa Center).
- The visa number for F2A category varies, please check the latest Visa Bulletin.
- Usually the F-2A category is “Current”.
Step 4. National Visa Center Processing
After receiving Form I-130 approval from USCIS, the NVC will send you a welcome letter.
It will contain a unique case number and invoice ID number, which then represents your case from that point onwards.
These numbers are important for filing future applications, so make sure to keep a record.
Once you have successfully received a confirmation letter and email from the NVC, you must submit the following:
- File Form DS-260, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration online
- Pay the Immigrant Visa Application Processing fee: $325
- Pay the Affidavit of Support fee: $120
- Submit completed Form I-864, Affidavit of Support and supporting documents online
- Submit your civil documents
NVC application process is completed online.
After you submit the form DS-260 online, make sure to print the confirmation page.
You need to present it during your visa interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
After you submit the Form DS-260, the NVC sends out a notice confirming receipt of your DS-260, generally on the same day.
Once all the necessary forms and documents are submitted, NVC will typically make a decision within 3-5 months.
If you incorrectly file the NVC application, the approval process can be delayed to 1-2 years.
- About 3-5 months after processing your case, the NVC sends it to the US Embassy or consulate in your residing country.
- Can be delayed to 1-2 years if filed incorrectly
Step 5: Pre-Interview Requirements
Once NVC completes processing your application, it will send you an Approval Notice saying “Your case is documentarily qualified” and transfers your application to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country.
About 6-12 months later, you will receive an Interview Appointment Letter via email.
How to prepare for your interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate:
- The applicant must schedule a medical appointment with a State Department authorized doctor in the country where the applicant is to be interviewed.
- Your interview appointment letter will contain information on how to find an approved doctor.
- Once your medical exam is completed, the doctor will give you your exam results and vaccination record, which you must carry with you to the interview.
- Before the interview, the spouse seeking a green card must sign up online and provide his or her address.
- This is the address to which the passport can be returned after an approved visa stamp is placed in the passport.
- To get the full embassy/consulate specific requirements, use the NVC Pre-Interview Checklist.
Step 7: Green Card Interview
About 1-2 months after receiving the interview letter, the applicant attends the interview.
The visa interview will be arranged at a U.S. embassy or consulate in the foreign spouse’s home country.
The exact time, date and location of the interview will be mentioned in the appointment notice.
The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.
If the consular officer approves your immigrant visa application, you will be issued an immigrant visa, which will allow you to enter the U.S. within 6 months.
- Interview date is scheduled for about 1 month after receiving the interview letter.
Step 8: Green Card Arrival
If the interview goes well and the consular officer determines your marriage is bona fide, they approve your immigrant visa.
A few weeks later, the foreign spouse will receive a visa stamp in their passport, allowing travel to the United States.
After attending the interview, the spouse gets an immigrant visa and they have 6 months to enter the U.S.
Only after arriving in the U.S., USCIS will mail the green card itself.
Note that the visa will be valid for only 6 months and you must enter the U.S. only in this time window.
Next, you will need to pay an Immigrant Fee of $220, which can be paid online here.
- Typically, it takes up about 6 months to receive the green card in mail, after the applicant spouse arrives in the United States. It takes longer in some cases.
Step 9: Conditional Green Card
The type of green card you receive will depend on how long you and your spouse have been married on the day you were given permanent residence.
If You’ve Been Married for Less than 2 Years
If you and your foreign spouse have been married for less than 2 years at the time of entering the U.S. on immigrant visa, the permanent resident card issued to your immigrant spouse will be valid for a period of 2 years.
This temporary green card is called a ‘Conditional resident green card‘.
To obtain an “unconditional” 10-years green card you and your spouse must file jointly Form I-751 in the U.S.
This process is called “removing conditions on residence”.
After successfully removing conditions on residence, you will receive a permanent resident card, valid for 10 years.
Form I-751 must be filed 90 days prior to the expiration of the permanent resident card (of 2 years validity) with USCIS.
While reviewing your I-751 application, USCIS will have one more opportunity to determine if the marriage is authentic.
If You’ve Been Married for over 2 Years
If you and your foreign spouse have been married for 2 years or more on the day you were given permanent residence, you will receive a green card valid for 10 years.
You don’t need to remove conditions on your permanent residence if you received a 10-years green card.