Married to a U.S. Citizen and Living Abroad

Married to a US citizen and living abroad

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If you are married to a U.S. citizen and live abroad, you are eligible to apply for a marriage-based green card.

In this guide you will find:

The total processing time for obtaining a marriage based green card when one spouse is a U.S. citizen and the other is a foreign national seeking a green card, lives outside the U.S., ranges from 24-36 months:

Estimated timeline

Applicant Steps (in order)Estimated Timeline
Step 1. USCIS processing of Form I-1307-10 months
Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice issued
  • 2 weeks from the date of filing
  • Notice of Approval received in the next 7-10 months.
Step 3. National Visa Center Processing3-5 months
Step 4. Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate12 months
Step 5. Green Card Interview1 month after receiving the interview letter
Step 6. Green Card Arrival6 months after arrival in the U.S.

You can also check out the detailed timeline for each of the USCIS application centers here.

Step 1: Filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

Form I-130

The first step in the marriage green card application is filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. This form must be submitted to USCIS.

If you live outside the U.S. and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, then you can apply for immigrant visa through “Consular Processing“. 

The petitioner spouse (U.S. citizen) must submit the Form I-130 package, to establish the marriage relationship.

The I-130 package includes the following 2 forms that must be submitted to USCIS:

Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice (I-797C)

I-797C receipt notice

Once you have completed filling out forms I-130 and I-130A and gathered the respective supporting documents, you will mail it to the appropriate USCIS office.

You can also file your I-130 and I-130A forms online.

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 petition.

It also contains a “receipt number”, which you can use to track the progress of your application on the USCIS website.

If USCIS needs more information or document(s) to process your application, it will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), typically within 2–7 months after receiving your application.

After successfully receiving your Form I-130, USCIS will then make a decision on your case and send you a Notice of Approval within 7-10 months.

Estimated timeline: 

  • Receipt notice (I-797C) issued around 2 weeks after mailing the application to USCIS.
  • USCIS sends a Notice of Approval in the next 7-10 months.

Step 3. National Visa Center Processing

NVC Processing

After Form I-130 is approved, USCIS transfers the case to the National Visa Center (NVC).

The NVC is responsible for making sure all the necessary forms and documents have been properly delivered and the spouse is ready for an interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

After receiving your case from USCIS, NVC assigns you a unique case number and invoice ID number, which then represents your case from that point onwards.

The NVC starts processing your case and about 3-5 months later, forwards it to the U.S. embassy or the consulate in the applicant spouse’s country of residence.

Estimated timeline: 

  • About 3-5 months after processing your case, the NVC sends it to the US Embassy or consulate of your residing country.
  • If your application is filed incorrectly, the NVC processing can be significantly delayed (up to 1-2 years).

Step 4. Immigrant Visa Application

DS 260

Once you have successfully received a confirmation letter and email from NVC, you must then:

After you complete the form DS-260 online, make sure to print the confirmation page, as you will need it for your visa interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

After you submit Form DS-260, NVC provides a confirming receipt of your DS-260, generally on the same day.

Estimated timeline:

  • NVC sends you the Receipt Notice for Form DS-260, on the same day of submission.

Step 5: Affidavit of Support, Filing Form I-864

Form I-864 Affidavit of Support

After submitting Form DS-260, the applicant and the sponsor will then need to complete the following three items and submit them in one package to the NVC online:

Once again, if NVC finds any document(s) missing in the package provided by you, it will notify you via email, typically within 3 months.

Once NVC receives the complete application, the decision will be made within 3-5 months.

Estimated Timeline: 

  • NVC makes a decision on your case within 3-5 months after accepting all your forms.
  • If your application is filed incorrectly, the NVC processing can be significantly delayed (up to 1-2 years).

Step 6: Pre-Interview Requirements

After NVC completes processing your application, you will receive an email saying “Your case is documentarily qualified” and your file will be transferred to the  U.S. Embassy/Consulate you chose on your Form I-130.

About 6-12 months later depending on the U.S. Embassy backlog, you will receive an Interview Appointment Letter via email, which will contain all the details of your appointment: date, time and location.

You will need to prepare for your interview:

  • 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.
  • The interview appointment letter you receive will provide 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

Typically 1 month after receiving the interview letter, the applicant attends the interview. 

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 a consular officer approves your immigrant visa application, you will be issued an immigrant visa usually in 1 week.

Immigrant visa allows you to enter the U.S. within 6 months as an immigrant.

You will become a permanent resident on the day you enter the U.S.

Estimated timeline:

  • Interview date is scheduled for about 1 month after receiving the interview letter.

Step 8: Green Card Arrival

Green card

If the interview goes well and the consular officer determines your marriage is bona fide, your immigrant visa will be issued.

A few weeks later, the 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., will the USCIS mail the green card

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. 

Estimated timeline: 

  • 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 issuance of a green card, 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.

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).

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.

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