Wedding Dress: Check. Wedding Reception: Check. Honeymoon: Check. Now, what?
Congratulations on your marriage! This is an exciting time of merging two lives into one. If you are a foreign national and your spouse is a United States citizen, you may be eligible to apply for legal permanent residency (also known as a Green Card). A U.S. citizen's spouse is considered an "immediate relative," which is a special class or category according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
As an immediate relative, you are eligible to apply for a green card right away, whether you are in the United States or abroad. If you are currently residing in the United States, you will go through a process known as “adjustment of status” in which your U.S. citizen spouse petitions for you on form I-130, and you apply for adjustment of status via form I-485. The forms are filed simultaneously with supporting forms and documents.
If you and your spouse married abroad and you are still residing abroad, your application will be assessed via “consular processing.” In other words, the same forms are involved (forms I-130 and I-485); however, the U.S. spouse has to submit the I-130 first, receive approval, then the nearest U.S. Consulate will provide notification and processing information for the I-485.
USCIS has an interest in allowing families to be united and start their lives together. However, there can be potential bumps on the road. For example, if the foreign national spouse entered the United States without inspection, he or she is not eligible to adjust status – at least, not without further steps. In these cases, it is highly advised to work with an experienced attorney to follow the proper steps to address issues that the USCIS considers as red flags. Another example is if the foreign national spouse has a criminal record, USCIS really scrutinizes criminal records. The good news is that there are certain things USCIS forgives for immediate relatives. One of the best examples is that unlawful presence or unlawful status and/or working without authorization are not bars to adjusting status via marriage.
Overall, the green card application process via marriage can take up to 6-12 months. It depends on the application details and the local USCIS office processing times. If you are applying abroad, it depends on the U.S. Consulate’s processing timeline abroad.
The most interesting part of my job as an attorney is that no two marriage cases are the same. In other words, this can be a very detailed process depending on the couple’s immigration history, criminal record, and other documentation. Applying for adjustment of status via marriage involves substantial amount of supporting documents, and USCIS is particular about how evidence is presented. USCIS has been known to reject applications as being “incomplete” because minor information was excluded. Therefore, to ensure that the application is accepted on the first attempt (and to avoid paying duplicate filing fees), it is highly recommended to work with an immigration attorney that can guide you and your spouse on the process and what evidence to submit.
At ImmigraTrust Law, we have helped many couples go through this process successfully. We are proud to advocate for our clients and their families and to ensure that their cases are accepted. We would love to help you and your significant other apply for a green card.
Contact us to learn more!
--Najmeh Mahmoudjafari, J.D.
Najmeh is the Founder and Lead Immigration Attorney at ImmigraTrust Law, an immigration law practice in Orange County, California, representing individual and corporate clients in all 50 U.S. States and internationally. Najmeh can be reached at Najmeh@ImmigraTrust.com.
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