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The Immigration Application Process for
Marriages within or
outside the United States

1. The Requirements to Get Your Spouse a U.S. Immigrant Visa

To obtain an immigrant visa for your spouse, you must meet the following requirements:

1) You must be legally married. Merely living together does not qualify a marriage for immigration. Unmarried partners are ineligible to sponsor visas to the United States;

2) In most cases, you must have a residence in the U.S. to apply;

3) You must be 18 years old before you can sign the Affidavit of Support, which is a form that will be required later in the process.

There is no minimum age for a U.S. petitioner to file a petition for a family-based immigrant visa. However, you must be at least 18 years of age and have a residence in the U.S. before you can sign the Affidavit of Support (Form I-864 or I-864EZ). This form is required for immigrant visas for spouses and other relatives of U.S. sponsors. As a U.S. petitioner, you must maintain your principal residence (also called domicile) in the U.S., which is where you plan to live for the foreseeable future. Living in the U.S. is required for a U.S. sponsor to file the Affidavit of Support.

2. The Income Requirement for a Co-Sponsor of Immigration Application

As a sponsor for an immigrant visa application, if a U.S. citizen's income is not high, the U.S. citizen can find co-sponsor for immigrant visa of his or her spouse's application.

Generally, the co-sponsor should have an income 125% above the federal poverty lines. Unlike the sponsor, a co-sponsor is not allowed to combine his or her assets to meet the 125% guideline. A co-sponsor should submit with affidavit the following documents to prove their income:

1) The Federal Tax Return for most recent year; 

2) The evidence of current employment; 

3) The evidence that sponsor’s income is sufficient to meet the income requirement.

3. Green Card Application for Marriages outside the United States

To get your spouse a U.S. immigrant visa and bring your spouse to the U.S. to live, one method is that you can "sponsor" your spouse's immigrant visa for entry to the United States. If you follow this process, your foreign spouse will complete the visa process completely outside the U.S., and then arrive in the U.S. and obtain permanent residency status immediately. You will need to submit an immigrant Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130, to USCIS. 

If married outside the United States, the foreign spouse usually must remain in her or his country until she or he obtains the Green Card. In this case, the U.S. citizen needs to file an immigration petition (Form I-130) and request that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to notify a U.S. Consulate in the country where the spouse lives. 

Once the form I-130 visa petition is approved, the foreign-born spouse will receive a packet from the National Visa Center (NVC), which is located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The packet informs the foreign spouse of the various documents which must be presented at the immigrant visa interview abroad (e.g., passport, police clearances, results of medical examinations, etc.). The packet includes certain documents requesting biographic data that must be completed, signed and forwarded to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. Usually, the foreign-born spouse is interviewed and granted an immigrant visa within three to six months.

After the Form I-130 approval by USCIS, the National Visa Center and the U.S. Embassy will complete all the necessary administrative processing, your spouse will be granted an immigrant visa. Your spouse will receive an IR-1 (Immediate Relative) or a CR-1 (Conditional Residency) visa. An IR-1 visa allows your spouse to immigrate to the U.S. A CR-1 visa will be given to your spouse if your marriage is less than 2 years old. It is conditional for two years.

4. Green Card Application for Marriages within the United States

In this case, the U.S. citizen needs to submit a visa petition (
Form I-130) to the appropriate USCIS Service Center to prove that the marriage was not entered into for the sole purpose of obtaining a Green Card. The burden is on the parties to establish a real marriage. Attached to the Form I-130 petition are the following items: 

1) Biographical forms (forms G-325A) for both the husband and the wife with photos attached;

2) Proof of the petitioner's citizenship. This can take the form of a U.S. Passport, a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship, or a certified copy of the citizen's birth certificate;

3) A copy of the marriage certificate;

4) Certified copies of the documents that terminated any previous marriages of the husband or wife, including final divorce decrees, and certificates of annulment or death.

At the same time, the foreign-born spouse, assuming he or she entered the U.S. lawfully, should submit an application for adjustment of status (Form I-485), which is an application for a Green Card. Normally, the alien spouse will also have to submit form I-485 with photos, an Affidavit of Support from the U.S. citizen spouse, application for employment authorization (optional), an application for a travel permit (known as "Advance Parole", operational) - assuming the non-citizen spouse has not been in the U.S. unlawfully for 180 days or more.

The spouse does not need to wait for the immigrant visa number to become current before he or she may apply to adjust to permanent resident. The USCIS will schedule an interview and the timeframe depends upon the location. The Service Center can also process the employment card (EAD) and travel permit.

5. Other Considerations

  • If you and your spouse are planning to remain outside the U.S. indefinitely, it is not recommended that the alien spouse applying for a U.S. Green Card. The Green Card could be cancelled at the Port of Entry to the U.S. if the alien spouse has spent more than six months outside of the U.S. The Immigration Officer at the Port of Entry will have to determine if the U.S. is your main home, so be prepared for a lot of questions.

  • If the parties are not yet married, then the foreign fiancé(e) can enter the U.S. on the K-1 fiancé visa, but is required to get married to the sponsoring U.S. citizen, and file the adjustment of status application. For the eligibility of the K-1 visa, the U.S. citizen must remain unmarried until the arrival of the fiancé(e) in the U.S., and the wedding must take place within 90 days of the fiancée's arrival if he or she is to remain in status. The U.S. citizen and the foreign fiancé(e) must have met personally at least once in the two years before the petition was filed.

  • If your wife cannot wait too long to complete the immigrant visa process outside the U.S., you spouse can apply for a K-3 visa. The K-3 visa is a non-immigrant visa. K-3 visas are granted normally within a few months. Your spouse should use the K-3 visa to start the process outside of the U.S., then travel to the U.S. to complete the immigration process. In this case, the K-3 application must be made in the country where the marriage took place.



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Conditional Permanent Residence Status and Consequences of Divorce
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