If you and your spouse plan to live permanently together in the United States, you'll need to apply for a marriage green card.

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Marriage Visa

Living outside the U.S. and Married to a U.S. Green Card Holder

If you are a green card holder married to a foreign national who lives outside the United States, this guide is for both of you. This type of green card application process is also sometimes referred to as “Consular Processing.”

The first step in the marriage-based green card process is to submit a Petition to USCIS. The main purpose of this form is to establish that a valid marriage exists.

The spouse filing the Petition is called the “petitioner” or “sponsor.” This is the spouse who is the current U.S. green card holder. The spouse seeking a permanent resident card (Green Card) is called the “beneficiary.

Processing Time

18-32 months to obtain green card..

Government Forms and Fees

This step requires $535 in government fees, two forms, and supporting documents:

Additional government fees, forms, and supporting documents for the later steps in this process will be described below.

Once your petition package is complete, you’ll mail it to the designated USCIS address. Then you’ll get an official receipt notice by mail from USCIS, typically within two weeks. If USCIS needs more information or documents to finish working on your materials, they will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE) within 2–3 months.

Waiting Period

Once the petition is approved, USCIS transfers the case to the National Visa Center (NVC), which is run by the U.S. State Department. The NVC assigns a unique case number that’s then used to identify the case from that point onward. The next active step is to file a green card application with the NVC.

But first, there’s a waiting period.

For spouses of U.S. green card holders (permanent residents), the NVC green card application cannot be submitted until the State Department determines that a green card is available given various annual caps. The dates published in the State Department’s monthly visa bulletin will determine whether an NVC package can be filed or not. Currently there is no wait for spouses of lawful permanent residents.

Green Card Application

The NVC accepts the green card application and ultimately decides whether the spouse is ready for an interview at a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad (called “consular processing”).

The next step is to file the Green Card application form, which is quite a simple form that tells the State Department how to communicate with you. There is no fee to file it, and it can take up to three weeks for the NVC to process it.

At this point, you’ll need to pay a total of $445 online, which includes both the State Department’s application processing fee ($325) and the financial support form fee ($120). It can take up to a week for the NVC to process your payment.

Filing the Visa Application

Once your payment has been processed, you can file the visa application. You’ll need your case number, beneficiary ID number, and invoice number from the original welcome notice that the NVC sent you. Once you’ve submitted the application online, you’ll need to print the confirmation page so you can bring it to your visa interview at the U.S. consulate.

After you submit your application, the NVC will send out a notice (again via mail or email) confirming its receipt, usually on the very same day.

You will then need to submit your supporting documents to the NVC as well. Depending on which consulate is processing the application, you’ll either upload, email, or mail all of these supporting documents to the NVC. 

If the NVC needs more information or documents to complete your green card application package, they will send you a checklist of missing documents, typically within 1–2 months.

Pre-Interview Requirements

Next, the NVC transfers your file to the U.S. consulate that processes green card applications in the applicant spouse’s home country. However, there are still a few requirements before the interview can happen.

Medical Exam 

Before attending the green card interview, the applicant spouse must have a medical examination performed by a Government-Approved physician. Your U.S. consulate will send you a list of these doctors along with your interview notice. The cost of this exam varies quite a bit by country, but about $200 is usual.

Once the exam is complete, the doctor will give you a sealed envelope that contains your exam results and vaccination record, which you must take with you to the interview. On no account can you open that envelope or the consular officer will discount its contents.

Passport Delivery

Before the interview, the applicant spouse must sign up online with an address to which the passport can be returned after an approved visa stamp is placed in the passport. Instructions to sign up for this passport delivery are available on each consulate’s website.

Biometrics

The applicant spouse must also (in most countries) sign up for a fingerprinting appointment at a visa application support center. This is usually a location other than the consulate. The purpose of this appointment is for the government to take fingerprints of the spouse, for background and security checks. Relevant instructions are also posted on each consulate’s website.

The fingerprinting appointment can be thought of as more of a procedural step. The applicant spouse will not be asked questions about the marriage or about green card eligibility at this particular appointment. They will simply get their fingerprints taken.

Interview and Approval

The interview is the last big step in the green card application process, and couples can help reduce this stress by knowing what to expect and assembling an organized file to take to the interview.

A spouse living abroad will attend the interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country, after receiving an appointment notice with the exact time, date, and location. The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.

If the consular officer is convinced that the marriage is not fraudulent, they may approve your green card application there and then. 

What's next and what type of Green Card will you get?

The spouse will then receive a visa stamp in their passport, allowing for travel to the US.

Next, the USCIS Immigrant Fee ($220) can be paid online. This fee must be paid for USCIS to produce and mail the physical green card. Typically 2–3 weeks after the applicant spouse arrives in the US, the physical green card is then mailed to the couple’s U.S. address.

If you’ve been married for less than two years at the time of green card approval, then this green card will be marked “CR1,” for “conditional green card.” These green cards are valid for only two years, at which point you must file another form to “remove the conditions,” giving USCIS one more opportunity to make sure that the marriage is real, and then get a permanent green card.

If you’ve been married for more than two years at the time of green card approval, then the green card will be marked “IR1,” for “immediate relative green card.” These green cards are valid for 10 years, and renewal is typically a simple process.

 

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Living in the U.S. and Married to a U.S. Citizen

If you both live in the US and your spouse is a US citizen, you can save time by combining both parts of the process into one "concurrent filing" that you send to USCIS) as one package.

  • Petition to establish the marriage relationship
  • Applying for the green card (Adjust Status)

Medical Exam

All spouses seeking a green card need to complete a medical exam.

This is an important step of the process and is required for all family members seeking a family-based green card. The exam, which must be completed by a government-authorized doctor, consists of:

  • A review of your medical history and immunization records
  • A physical and mental evaluation
  • Drug and alcohol screening
  • Tests for various diseases and illnesses

You have two options to schedule your appointment with a doctor. You can either attend the appointment before you file, and then include the exam with your application, or you can submit your medical exam to USCIS soon after submitting your application or bring the results with you to your green card interview.

US Government Processing Fees

$535 for the petition
$1140 for adjustment of status
$85 for biometrics (fingerprints and photo)
Total: $1760

Other forms like the work permit application, travel permit application, and financial support form do not require additional government fees. And again, the medical exam fee is paid directly to the doctor.

Processing Time

12-26 months for application processing, including the interview

Within about two weeks after mailing the complete application package to the appropriate USCIS address, you should receive official “receipt numbers” in the mail from USCIS (one each for the family sponsorship form, green card application, work permit application, and travel permit application).

Approval of the travel permit and work permit take around five months (longer in some cases).

Biometrics Appointment

You will then receive notice of a biometrics appointment, normally about one month after USCIS receives your application. The appointment is typically scheduled at the USCIS field office closest to where you live. USCIS will take fingerprints and photographs of the spouse seeking a green card, in order to conduct background and security checks. The sponsoring spouse is not required to attend this appointment.

If USCIS needs more information or documents to process your application, they will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), typically within 2–3 months.

Attending your green card interview

Once USCIS has completed all the background processing of your visa application, your file is transferred to your nearest USCIS field office. This local office will then send you an appointment notice with the time, date, and location of an interview that both spouses must attend.

This interview is the last step in the process, and it’s normal to feel intimidated and stressed by this part. But you can help by knowing what to expect and assembling an organized file to bring to your interview. 

A USCIS officer will conduct the interview. If they’re convinced that you and your spouse married “in good faith,” they can approve your spousal visa application on the spot. 

Receiving your spousal visa (Green Card)

Your physical spouse visa or green card will arrive by mail, typically within two to three weeks of approval. The green card entitles you to work anywhere in the US and take international trips without separate work and travel permits.

The type of green card you receive will depend on how long you and your spouse have been married at the time of visa approval:

Married for under 2 years

Your green card will be marked “CR1” for “conditional green card.” This type of green card is valid for only two years, at which point you and your spouse must file another form to “remove the conditions," giving USCIS another opportunity to make sure that the marriage is authentic, and then you'll get a permanent green card.

Married for more than 2 years

Your green card will be marked “IR1” for “immediate relative green card.” This permanent green card is valid for 10 years, and renewal is typically a simple process.

Living outside the U.S. and Married to a U.S. Citizen

If you are a U.S. citizen married to a foreign national who is living abroad, this type of green card application process is also commonly called “Consular Processing.”

The first step in the marriage-based green card process is to submit a Petition to USCIS. The main purpose of this form is to establish that a valid marriage exists.

The spouse filing the Petition is called the “petitioner” or “sponsor.” This is the spouse who is the current U.S. green card holder. The spouse seeking a permanent resident card (Green Card) is called the “beneficiary.

Processing Time

12-27 months for application processing, including the interview

Within about two weeks after mailing the complete application to the appropriate USCIS address, you should receive official “receipt numbers” in the mail from USCIS (one each for the family sponsorship form, green card application, work permit application, and travel permit application).

Approval of the travel permit and work permit take around five months (longer in some cases).

Processing Time

9 - 13 months for application processing, including the interview

Within about two weeks after mailing the complete application to the appropriate USCIS address, you should receive official “receipt numbers” in the mail from USCIS (one each for the family sponsorship form, green card application, work permit application, and travel permit application).

Approval of the travel permit and work permit take around five months (longer in some cases).

US Government Petition Processing Fees

$535 for the Petition

There will be additional government fees, forms, and supporting documents for the next steps in this process, described below.

Once your petition filing is complete, you will mail it to the appropriate USCIS address. You will then get an official receipt notice in the mail from USCIS, typically within two weeks. If USCIS needs more information or documents to process your filing package, they will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE) within 2–3 months.

Green Card Application

The next step, since the spouse seeking a green card is living abroad, USCIS transfers the case to the National Visa Center (NVC), which is run by the U.S. State Department. The NVC’s job is to gather the necessary forms and documents and decide whether the spouse is ready for an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad (called “consular processing”).

After receiving the case from USCIS, the NVC assigns a unique case number that is then used to identify the case from that point onward. For spouses of U.S. citizens, the NVC starts processing your case immediately after receiving it from USCIS, and after several months, forwards the case to a U.S. embassy or consulate in the applicant spouse’s country of residence.

Government Forms and Fees

Once you receive your case number from the NVC, the next step is to file a form that tells the State Department how to communicate with you. There is no fee to file it. It can take up to three weeks for the NVC to process this.

Next, you’ll need to pay a total of $445 online, which includes both the State Department’s application processing fee ($325) and the financial support form fee ($120). It can take up to a week for the NVC to process your payment.

Filing the Visa Application 

Once your payment has been processed, you can file the visa application. You’ll need your case number, beneficiary ID number, and invoice number from the welcome notice that the NVC sent you. Once you’ve submitted the application online, you must print the confirmation page so you can bring it to your visa interview at the U.S. consulate.

After you submit your application, the NVC will send out a notice confirming its receipt, usually on the same day.

You will then need to submit your supporting documents to the NVC as well. Depending on which consulate is processing the application, you will either upload, email, or mail all of the supporting documents to the NVC. 

If the NVC needs more information or documents to complete your NVC package, they will send you a checklist of missing documents, typically within 1–2 months.

Pre-Interview Requirements

Once the NVC has completed its processing of your NVC package, the file is then transferred to the U.S. consulate that processes green card applications in the applicant spouse’s home country. But there are still a few requirements before the interview can happen.

Medical Exam

Before attending the green card interview, the spouse seeking a green card must have a medical examination performed by a Government-Approved physician. The U.S. consulate processing your application will send you a list of these doctors along with your interview notice. The cost of this exam varies widely by country, but $200 is not fairly standard.

Once the exam is complete, the doctor will give you a sealed envelope containing your exam results and vaccination record, which you must take with you to the interview. On no account can you open that envelope or the consular officer will discount its contents.

Passport Delivery

Before the interview, the spouse seeking a green card must sign up online with an address to which the passport can be returned after an approved visa stamp is placed in the passport. Instructions to sign up for passport delivery are posted on each consulate’s website.

Biometrics

The spouse seeking a green card must also, in most countries, sign up for a fingerprinting appointment at a visa application support center (usually a location other than the consulate). The purpose of this appointment is for the government to take fingerprints of the spouse, in order to conduct background and security checks. 

The fingerprinting appointment is more of a procedural step. The spouse seeking a green card will not be asked questions about the marriage or about green card eligibility at this appointment. They will simply be fingerprinted

Interview and Approval

The interview is the final major step in the green card application process. Couples should know what to expect and put together an organized file to take to the interview.

A spouse living abroad will attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country, after receiving an appointment notice with the exact time, date, and location. The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.

If the consular officer is convinced that the marriage is not fraudulent, they can approve your green card application there and then. 

What's next and what type of Green Card will you get?

The spouse will then receive a visa stamp in their passport, allowing for travel to the US.

Next, the USCIS Immigrant Fee ($220) can be paid online. This fee must be paid for USCIS to produce and mail the physical green card. Typically 2–3 weeks after the applicant spouse arrives in the United States, the physical green card is then mailed to the couple’s U.S. address.

If you’ve been married for less than two years at the time of green card approval, then this green card will be marked “CR1,” for “conditional green card.” These green cards are valid for only two years, at which point you must jointly file another form to “remove the conditions,” giving USCIS one more opportunity to make sure that the marriage is real, and then get a permanent green card.

If you’ve been married for more than two years at the time of green card approval, then the green card will be marked “IR1,” for “immediate relative green card.” These green cards are valid for 10 years, and renewal is typically a simple process.

Living in the U.S. and Married to a U.S. Green Card Holder

For married couples where one spouse is a U.S. green card holder, one spouse is the foreign national seeking a green card, and both are living in the United States. 

The first step in the marriage-based green card process is to submit a Petition to USCIS. The main purpose of this form is to establish that a valid marriage exists.

The spouse filing the Petition is called the “petitioner” or “sponsor.” This is the spouse who is the current U.S. green card holder. The spouse seeking a permanent resident card (Green Card) is called the “beneficiary.

US Government Petition Processing Fees

$535 for the Petition

There will be additional government fees, forms, and supporting documents for the next steps in this process, described below.

Once your petition filing is complete, you will mail it to the appropriate USCIS address. You will then get an official receipt notice in the mail from USCIS, typically within two weeks. If USCIS needs more information or documents to process your filing package, they will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE) within 2–3 months.

Waiting for an available Visa Number

Because the spouse seeking a green card is present in the US, the next step is to file your Adjustment of Status. This is filed with USCIS and its primary purpose is to establish that the spouse is eligible for a green card.

Because the sponsoring spouse is a green card holder themselves, however (and not a U.S. citizen), there is an extra waiting period first.

For spouses of U.S. green card holders (permanent residents), the Adjustment of Status application cannot be submitted until the U.S. State Department determines that a green card is available, given various annual caps. 

The wait time is currently about 13-23 extra months after the Petition is approved, but can vary by a few months depending on the home country of the spouse. While waiting for a green card to become available, the spouse seeking a green card must maintain continuous lawful immigration status in the US.

This means that the spouse seeking a green card should be in valid “nonimmigrant status” (e.g. having a valid student visa or temporary work visa) for the entire time that they are waiting for a green card to become available. Unlike spouses of U.S. citizens who can still file a green card application even if their immigration status lapses, spouses of U.S. green card holders cannot file green card applications if they have such a lapse.

Preparing your Application Filing

Once the State Department indicates that a visa number is available, it’s time to complete the following USCIS forms (and supporting documents) required as part of the full green card application.

- Green card application form ($1140 filing fee)
- Financial support form ($0 filing fee)

Optional Forms

If the spouse who’s seeking a green card also wants to work in the United States or travel abroad, the following forms can also be included in the full green card application package.

- Work permit application form ($410 filing fee)
- Travel permit application form ($575 filing fee)

Medical Exam

The spouse who’s seeking a green card must have a medical examination that’s performed by a Government-Approved physician. 

These medical exams usually cost $200 or more. At the end of the exam, the doctor gives you a sealed envelope that contains your exam results and your vaccination record.

You have two options to schedule your medical exam appointment. You can either attend the appointment before you submit your green card application, and then include the exam with your application package, or you may submit your medical exam to USCIS soon after submitting your application or bring the results with you to your green card interview.

Filing your Green Card Application

This application package must include a total of $1225 in government fees:

- $1140 for the application 
- $85 for biometrics (fingerprints and photo)

After you mail it to USCIS, within about two weeks you should get official “receipt numbers” in the mail from USCIS (one for the application, one for the work permit application, and one for the travel permit application).

Approval of the travel permit and work permit previously took around 90 days, but wait times are getting longer.

Biometrics Appointment

Usually about one month after USCIS receives your application, you will receive notice of a biometrics appointment. These appointments are usually scheduled at the local USCIS field office close to where you live.

This appointment is when USCIS takes fingerprints and photographs of the spouse seeking a green card, to conduct background and security checks. The U.S. citizen spouse isn’t required to attend this appointment, and often does not attend.

Once again, if USCIS needs more information or documents to move forward with your green card application package, they’ll send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), typically within 2–3 months.

Interview and Approval

Once USCIS has finished processing your green card application, they will transfer your file to the local USCIS field office close to where you live. This local office will then issue an appointment notice for both of you to attend an interview at a certain time, date, and location.

This interview is the last major step in the green card application process, and you can help reduce this anxiety by knowing what to expect and putting together an organized file to bring to the interview. 

If the interviewing officer is convinced that the marriage is authentic, they will approve the green card application, sometimes there and then. The physical green card will arrive by mail, typically within 2–3 weeks of case approval.

Type of Green Card

If you’ve been married for less than two years when the green card is approved, then this green card will say “CR1,” for “conditional green card.” These green cards are only valid for two years. After that, you must file another form to “remove the conditions,” giving USCIS another chance to make sure that the marriage is real, and only then do you get a permanent green card.

If you’ve been married for more than two years when the green card is approved, then this green card will say “IR1,” for “immediate relative green card.” These green cards are valid for 10 years, and renewing them is typically a simple process.