June 16, 2024

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Newly Married to a U.S. Citizen: Your Path to a Green Card

Marriage is a life-altering event that not only brings two people together, but also has significant implications for their immigration status, especially when one of the spouses is a U.S. citizen. The United States offers a pathway to permanent residency, commonly known as a green card, for the foreign national spouse of a U.S. citizen. In this post, we will guide you through the process of obtaining a green card after marrying a U.S. citizen and why the expertise of a marriage immigration lawyer can be invaluable on this journey.

Understanding the Green Card Through Marriage

A green card, or lawful permanent residency, is one of the key steps toward becoming a U.S. citizen. When you marry a U.S. citizen, you gain eligibility for a family-sponsored green card. This particular category, known as Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen, provides an efficient and relatively swift way to obtain permanent residency.

The Marriage Green Card Process Explained

While the path to a green card through marriage is relatively straightforward, it still involves several steps:

Filing the Petition

The U.S. citizen spouse must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on behalf of their foreign national spouse. This petition establishes the qualifying relationship between the two.

The I-130 petition is the initial and critical step in the green card process. It’s a way for the U.S. citizen spouse to officially request that their foreign national spouse be recognized as an immediate relative. This petition is filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and must include supporting documentation, including proof of the marriage’s legitimacy. The goal is to prove that the marriage is bona fide and not a fraudulent attempt to obtain immigration benefits.

Once the I-130 petition is approved, it establishes the qualifying relationship necessary to move forward in the process.

Consular Processing or Adjustment of Status

Depending on whether the foreign national spouse is in the U.S. or abroad, the next steps differ. If they are in the U.S., they may apply for adjustment of status, which allows them to apply for a green card without leaving the country. If they are abroad, consular processing will be required.

Adjustment of status is the process by which an eligible foreign national already in the U.S. can apply for lawful permanent resident status without leaving the country. It’s a crucial step for those who wish to continue living in the U.S. during the green card application process.

Consular processing, on the other hand, is required for foreign national spouses who are outside the United States. This process involves attending an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country. During this interview, the consular officer will assess the marriage’s bona fides and determine if the foreign national spouse is eligible for an immigrant visa.

Affidavit of Support

The U.S. citizen spouse must also submit Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, to demonstrate their financial ability to support their foreign national spouse.

The I-864 affidavit of support is a critical document that assures the U.S. government that the foreign national spouse will not become a public charge and will have adequate financial support. This document is a legal contract between the sponsoring spouse and the U.S. government.

To meet the requirements of the I-864, the sponsoring spouse must demonstrate income or assets that are at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for their household size. If the sponsoring spouse’s income falls short, they can use assets, a joint sponsor, or a combination of these resources to meet the requirements.

Biometrics and Interviews

Both spouses will typically be required to attend biometrics appointments and, in many cases, interviews to establish the bona fides of their marriage.

Biometrics appointments are a standard part of the immigration process. During this appointment, the foreign national spouse will have their fingerprints and photograph taken for background checks and identification purposes.

Interviews are conducted by USCIS or at a U.S. consulate or embassy during the consular processing. The purpose of the interview is to verify the legitimacy of the marriage and to determine the eligibility of the foreign national spouse for the green card.

It’s essential to prepare thoroughly for the interview, as the questions can be detailed and may cover various aspects of the marriage, such as shared finances, living arrangements, and future plans.

Conditional Green Card

In cases where the marriage is less than two years old when the green card is approved, the foreign national spouse will receive a conditional green card, valid for two years. To remove the conditions, they must file Form I-751 within 90 days of the two-year anniversary of receiving the conditional green card.

The conditional green card serves as a temporary form of lawful permanent residency. It’s designed to ensure that the marriage is bona fide and not a sham to gain immigration benefits. The two-year period allows U.S. immigration authorities to further assess the legitimacy of the marriage.

To remove the conditions, the couple must jointly file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, within the 90-day window before the conditional green card expires. This petition requires evidence of the ongoing marital relationship and is an opportunity for the couple to demonstrate that they continue to share a life together.

Permanent Green Card

If the marriage is more than two years old when the green card is approved, the foreign national spouse will receive a permanent green card, valid for ten years.

A permanent green card signifies the culmination of the green card journey. It provides the foreign national spouse with lawful permanent resident status without conditions. This status is renewable every ten years and offers the flexibility to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely.

The Role of a Marriage Immigration Lawyer

While the process might seem relatively straightforward, there can be complexities and potential pitfalls along the way. This is where a knowledgeable marriage immigration lawyer can make a substantial difference. Here’s how they can assist:

Navigating Potential Complications: Immigration law can be intricate, and unexpected issues can arise. An experienced attorney can help you navigate any complications, such as prior visa violations or previous marriages.

Some spouses may have unique circumstances or past immigration issues that require special attention. An immigration lawyer can assess your individual situation and provide guidance on how to address any complications.

Document Preparation: The paperwork involved in the green card application process can be overwhelming. A lawyer can ensure that all required documentation is prepared correctly and submitted on time.

Immigration applications often require a significant amount of documentation, including forms, supporting evidence, and fees. Mistakes or omissions can lead to delays or even denials. A lawyer will meticulously prepare and review all documentation to ensure accuracy and completeness.

Interview Preparation: If you or your spouse is required to attend an interview, a lawyer can help you prepare. They can advise you on what to expect and help you navigate the interview process with confidence.

Immigration interviews can be stressful, and the questions asked can be highly detailed. A lawyer will help you prepare for the interview by going over potential questions, practicing responses, and ensuring you have all the necessary documents and evidence ready.

Addressing Inadmissibility Issues: In some cases, issues related to inadmissibility, such as criminal convictions or health concerns, may arise. An immigration attorney can help you address these issues and explore potential waivers or remedies.

Inadmissibility issues can be significant hurdles in the green card process. A lawyer will assess the nature of the issue and determine the best course of action, which may involve seeking a waiver or other legal remedies.

Condition Removal From a Green Card: If you receive a conditional green card, a lawyer can assist with the process of removing those conditions, ensuring that you meet all the requirements for permanent residency.

Removing the conditions on a green card involves providing evidence of a bona fide marriage. A lawyer will guide you in gathering the necessary documentation, completing the I-751 petition, and navigating the process to ensure the conditions are lifted.

Legal Support Throughout: From the initial petition filing to the final green card issuance, a lawyer provides continuous legal support, guiding you through each step and addressing any concerns that may arise.

Immigration processes can be lengthy and require ongoing communication with government agencies. A lawyer will be your advocate, ensuring that all aspects of the process are handled professionally and efficiently.

Marrying a U.S. citizen opens the door to a path toward permanent residency and, ultimately, U.S. citizenship. While the process may seem straightforward, it’s essential to be prepared for potential challenges and complications along the way. A marriage immigration lawyer can provide the expertise and guidance necessary to ensure a smooth and successful journey to obtaining a green card. Whether you’re just starting the process or facing challenges along the way, having a legal advocate by your side can make all the difference in realizing your dreams of living and thriving in the United States. With their support, you can navigate the intricacies of immigration law with confidence, knowing that you have a professional in your corner to guide you through each step of the process.

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