Probably the most sought after U.S. immigration benefit is obtaining permanent resident status. One of the most common ways an immigrant will get a green card is through the marriage to a US Citizen or permanent resident. Due to a prevalence of people marrying US residents fraudulently for the purposes of obtaining permanent resident status, these marriages are scrutinized by the USCIS to ensure that they are genuine.
As an immediate relative of a US citizen or permanent resident, a foreign spouse has easy access to permanent residency, compared to a non-related foreigner. The process for getting a family based green card for the spouse of a US resident is as follows.
Filing USCIS form I-130 is the first step towards getting an alien resident into the US. This petition establishes the relationship of the alien to a US resident. Additionally, both the alien seeking immigration and the US resident will need to submit details about biographic information. This is done by filling out and submitting form G-325A. Each applicant has the burden of proving the bona fides, i.e. good faith, of the marriage. Therefore, in addition to the submission of the forms, applicants are required to submit evidence of a valid marriage with documents such as birth and marriage certificates, wedding announcements, banking and insurance accounts, joint auto registration, driver’s license and joint credit card statements if available.
For spouses of US citizens, processing will take only as long as the USCIS administrative process. In addition to the I-130 and I-325A, spouses of US Citizens can concurrently file for adjustment of status by submitting the I-485, Medical Report, Affidavit of Support (See paragraph below), an employment authorization document (EAD) and the Advance Parole (Travel Document), the associated photographs and Fees. If all the documents are properly submitted then your spouse is sent for a biometric (fingerprint) appointment. Shortly thereafter the US Citizen and spouse are scheduled for an immigration interview with the nearest USCIS Service Center. If all your documents are complete and original and certified copies are available for presentation at the adjustment interview you should be granted your Permanent Residence Status at the interview.
However, for spouses of non-citizen US residents, a visa number must be available in order for the USCIS to process the petition. To find out more about available visa numbers, check the US Department of State Travel site. Spouses of non-US citizens generally have to go through consular processing in their home country and have to submit, the DS230 part 1 and affidavit of support with attachments to the National Visa Center before the interview is scheduled at the Consulate abroad. At the Consular interview you have to present your Medical Examination Report, The Affidavit of Support, Police clearance certificates for any country you have lived in for more than six months since age 16, original and certified copies of all other necessary documents.
The petitioning spouse will have to prove to the US Government that he or she will be able to support the immigrant(s) financially. This is done with the Affidavit of Support. The household income must be at least at 125% of the current poverty level. This income requirement must be proven by the spouse that currently resides in the United States by providing copies of tax returns for the last three years, job letters for the petitioner and beneficiary if applicable and asset documents if it is being used to qualify financially. Assets include banks statements for the last 12 months, ownership documents for stocks, bonds and certificates of deposit, evidence of personal property and date acquired, evidence of ownership of real estate, date acquired and liens or liabilities attached to same. These assets must be readily available to convert to cash within one year.
For those couples who petition the USCIS prior to their two year marriage anniversary and a granted the permanent resident card, a "conditional green card" will be issued, which may require green card renewal later. This means that upon the two year marriage anniversary, both spouses will be required to appear for an interview with either an immigration official or consular officer to remove the conditions from the permanent resident card.
This interview is designed to determine two main things:
Any children of the alien spouse will also need to apply for permanent residence separately. Separate I-130 should all be packaged and sent together so that they can be reviewed at once.
This article is only a very basic introduction to the marriage based green card requirements. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice. Always seek competent legal counsel for any immigration related questions.