If you marry a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident, you could be eligible for a green card. A green card is proof that you’re a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., and it enables you to live and work anywhere you wish. But how do you get a green card through marriage, and when do you become eligible? This guide explains everything you need to know about getting a green card based on your marriage to a U.S citizen or lawful permanent resident.
What is a Marriage Green Card?
There isn’t a special type of green card for people who marry United States citizens or lawful permanent residents; everyone gets the same type of green card. However, the eligibility requirements for a green card through marriage are different than they are through other paths. Often, people find it easier to get a green card through marriage then they do through a work visa or another program.
Before you can apply for a marriage based green card, you must be married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
Your sponsor has to petition the U.S. government for your green card. Your spouse is considered the petitioner or sponsor for your green card, and you’re the beneficiary. You aren’t allowed to apply for your own green card through marriage except in special circumstances. (See the later section, “Green Cards for VAWA Self-Petitioners,” for more information.)
Working on a Green Card
When you have a green card, you can work anywhere you’d like without special authorization from the government. That’s true even if you came to the United states on a work visa or you needed an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to work before you married your spouse.
Going to School on a Green Card
You’re allowed to attend a college, university or trade school when you have a green card – there’s no special authorization required. You may also participate in on-the-job training programs, get an apprenticeship or attend special certification courses without permission from the U.S. government.
Who Qualifies to Get a Green Card Through Marriage?
You may be eligible to get a green card based on your marriage to a citizen or lawful permanent resident. However, your marriage must be legally valid and genuine. U.S. immigration law says that it must be a bona fide marriage. That means that you’re married because you want to spend the rest of your life with your spouse – and that you didn’t simply marry them to get an immigration benefit (like a green card).
You must also be admissible to the United States.. You’re inadmissible (meaning that you can’t enter the U.S.) if any of the following grounds of inadmissibility apply to you:
- You have a serious substance abuse problem.
- You’ve been convicted of drug trafficking.
- You don’t have the proper vaccines to enter the country, or you have a communicable disease “of public health significance,” such as tuberculosis. However, waivers are sometimes available.
- You’ve been convicted of or admitted to a crime of moral turpitude. A crime of moral turpitude is a crime that most people find shocking or against the rules of morality. Some examples of these crimes include murder, rape, spousal or child abuse, and animal fighting. There are many other crimes that fall under this term, as well, but sometimes waivers are available.
- You violated immigration laws, though you may be eligible for a waiver.
- You’re a spy, terrorist or insurgent, or Nazi.
Even if you’re already in the United States, the government must determine that you’re admissible before you can get a green card through marriage (or through any other means).
Waivers are available for some grounds of inadmissibility. Your Port Chester immigration attorney can talk to you about the specifics if any of them apply to you.
If you’re admissible to the United States and you’re married to a green card holder or U.S. citizen, you may apply. However, your spouse must show that they have the financial means to support your entire household. Additionally, your spouse must actually live in the United States (or intend to return to the U.S. with you if you’re both living abroad).
Can Your Kids Get Green Cards, Too?
Your unmarried, foreign-born children may be eligible to get green cards at the same time you do if they’re under the age of 21 at the time you apply. It’s okay if they’re not your current spouse’s biological or adopted children. They may be eligible based on their relationship with you, rather than their relationship with your spouse. You should talk to your immigration attorney about obtaining marriage-based green cards for your children; she can give you the legal advice you need.
Applying for a Marriage Green Card
Many people choose to work with an immigration attorney to get a green card based on marriage. That’s because the application process can be complicated and time-consuming, and even a small error could lead to rejection.
When your attorney helps you apply for a marriage-based green card, she’ll file Form I-130 to establish your marital relationship. She needs to include several types of documentation with this form, including proof that your spouse qualifies to sponsor you and that you’re legally married. Your attorney will also include proof that you’re in a bona fide (genuine) relationship with your spouse, such as:
- A joint lease
- Joint bank statements
- Photos of you and your spouse together
- Receipts for gifts you and your spouse have gotten each other
Then, your attorney will fill out and file Form I-485 or Form DS-260 for you. That form also needs supporting documentation, including proof of your nationality, that you entered the U.S. lawfully, and that you don’t have any communicable diseases that could pose a public health threat. Your lawyer may need to fill out a number of other forms, too, depending on your situation (such as an application for employment authorization or for travel authorization). You may also need to provide USCIS with other types of documentation, which your attorney will explain to you.
Green Cards for VAWA Self-Petitioners
Under most circumstances, your spouse must petition the government for your green card. You’re not allowed to apply for yourself. However, in some cases, people are allowed to apply for their own green cards. If you’re the victim of domestic abuse or cruelty, you may be eligible to apply for your own green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). You don’t have to be a woman to apply; it’s open to all victims of abuse or cruelty.
If you apply for your own green card this way, you’re called a VAWA self-petitioner. You may still be able to get a green card without your spouse’s knowledge or consent. If you’re in a situation like this, let your attorney know – she can help you fill out and file the appropriate forms with USCIS.
The Marriage Green Card Interview
After your attorney has filed your petitions and supporting documentation, you have to participate in a green card interview. A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer will interview you. This officer’s primary job is to determine whether your marriage is genuine. That means the officer looks for evidence that you married just to get a green card – and if they find any, the government will deny your petition.
Your interview will take place at the USCIS office nearest your home. If you live abroad, your interview will take place at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.
How the Length of Your Marriage Determines What’s Next
If you’ve been married for fewer than two years and USCIS approves your petition, you’ll receive a conditional green card that’s valid for two years. If you’ve been married for more than two years, you’ll receive a permanent green card that’s valid for ten years.
A Word on Conditional Marriage-Based Green Cards
A conditional green card is only temporary. It’s valid for two years. Before those two years are up, you must apply to remove the conditions; if you don’t, the government can deport you. (The condition is really that you remain married to your spouse for at least that length of time.) Your attorney can help you remove the conditions from your green card. After the conditions are removed, you receive a permanent green card.
Related: The complete guide to deportation
How Long Does it Take to Get a Green Card Through Marriage?
Though processing times vary, it typically takes USCIS between 9 and 36 months to process a green card application. Your immigration attorney can keep track of your application and keep you updated on its status while you wait.
Common Questions About Green Card Marriage
Check out these commonly asked questions about marriage-based green cards. If you don’t see the answer to your question here, please call our office at 914-481-8822 to ask – we’ll be happy to give you the answers and legal guidance you need.
How Long Do You Have to Be Married to Get a Green Card in the U.S.?
You typically have to be married for at least two years to get a permanent green card. However, you can get a conditional green card before you’ve been married that long. After you remove the conditions from your green card – which you do by showing that your marriage is legitimate (and that you’re still married to the same person) – you may receive a permanent green card that’s good for ten years.
Related: U visa processing times
What Happens to Your Green Card if You Divorce?
If you divorce your spouse before the government issues you a green card, the whole process stops. That’s because you were eligible for a green card based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident – and now that you’re divorced, that relationship no longer exists. You cannot get a green card if you divorce while USCIS is processing your application.
If you divorce your spouse while you have a conditional green card, you need to prove that your marriage was genuine and that you didn’t commit immigration fraud. There are some special circumstances, such as when you’re a VAWA self-petitioner, that enable you to apply for your own green card if you divorce before your marriage is two years old.
If you divorce your spouse while you have a permanent green card, which is good for ten years, it probably won’t affect your green card renewal. However, you can contact an immigration attorney if you aren’t sure or need help with your renewal.
Can You Marry Someone Just to Get a Green Card?
It’s illegal to marry someone just to get a green card. When the U.S. government finds out that you committed immigration fraud, you’ll be removed from the country. If you’re removed, you won’t be allowed to come back for a set period of time – even if you have a home, a job and other ties to the United States.
Do You Need to Talk to an Immigration Attorney About Getting a Green Card Through Marriage?
If you need to talk to an immigration attorney, we may be able to help you. Call our office at 914-481-8822 to schedule a consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable immigration attorney who can answer your questions and give you the legal advice you need.