As long as you are a permanent resident of the United States, it is possible to bring your spouse to the US on an immigration visa. Because of immigration visa quotas that apply to permanent residence sponsors, however, the process will take considerably longer than it would take a US citizen. The entire process takes two to two and a half years on average, perhaps a few months more.

Step 1: Your Sponsorship Application

Marriage to US resident - Chinese Couple

Chinese Couple

You must file an application to sponsor your spouse, and only after your application is approved can your spouse apply for an immigration visa. Following are the steps you must take:

  • Complete and sign Form I-130 (sponsorship application) and Form I-130A (supplemental information form).
  • Prepare all supporting documents required by the instructions to Form I-130 and Form I-130A, including proof of your permanent residence, your marriage certificate, proof of the legitimacy of your relationship with your spouse, divorce records (if either of you has ever been married before), two passport-style photos each of you and your spouse, a cover letter (optional), etc.  
  • Prepare the filing fee of $535 in the form of a check, money order, or credit/debit card payment using Form G-1450.
  • Wait about two weeks for a Receipt Notice to arrive confirming that the USCIS has received your application.
  • Notify the USCIS immediately of any change in your mailing address.
  • Respond promptly to any USCIS Request for Evidence that you may receive. If you get one, it will probably arrive two or three months after you file your sponsorship application.
  • If your application is approved, you should receive an Approval Notice within 12-15 months.

The Visa Bulletin Waiting Period

Visa Bulletin Waiting Period

Visa Bulletin Waiting Period

Because of the sponsor’s status as a US permanent resident rather than a citizen, annual quotas apply, and these quotas will result in an additional delay of 8 to 10 months based on the State Department’s monthly visa bulletin. This delay might exceed 10 months depending on the nationality of your spouse.

Step 2: Applying for Permanent Residence

Indian Wedding

Indian Wedding

Once your sponsorship application is approved, your spouse will be ready to apply for an immigration visa, which will lead to the issuance of a green card once he or she has entered the United States.

  • The USCIS will transfer your case to the National Visa Center (NVC) after it approves your sponsorship application.
  • The NVC will send your spouse a Welcome Letter that will include that NVC Case Number and Invoice ID Number.
  • Your spouse should then file Form DS-261. There is no filing fee, and processing only takes 2 – 3 weeks.
  • You pay the State Department a $445 filing fee. This fee can be paid online at the Immigrant Visa Invoice Payment Center with your bank routing number and a checking/savings account number from a U.S. bank. You will also need to supply the NVC Case Number and the Invoice ID Number to identify the case for which the filing fees are being paid.
  • You (not your spouse) must complete Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support). Send it to your spouse along with the required financial documentation (such as your most recent tax return).
  • Your spouse must file Form DS-260 online, and send Form I-864 and all supporting documents to the NVC by mail.  
  • The NVC might send your spouse a Request for Evidence a few weeks later if it requires additional documentation. Failure to respond promptly will delay the processing of the application.
  • Within 3 to 5 months after Form DS-260 is filed, the NVC will schedule an interview at the US embassy or consulate nearest to your spouse’s overseas residence, and send your spouse a visa appointment letter. The letter will include instructions on which documents to bring to the interview.
  • Your spouse must complete a medical examination conducted by an approved doctor in his/her home country. The fee is usually around $200, and your spouse will be issued a sealed envelope containing the results. Your spouse must bring this to the visa interview.
  • Your spouse must provide an address where his/her passport can be mailed after an immigration visa is issued (this can be done on the embassy website).
  • Your spouse must make an appointment and submit to fingerprinting at the local visa application support center.
  • Your spouse must attend the interview (your presence is not required), where he/she will be questioned to confirm that the marriage was not fraudulently entered into for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits. Your spouse should bring all requested documentation.
  • Assuming that the interview is successful, an immigration visa will be stamped onto your spouse’s passport, perhaps even the day of the interview.  
  • You must pay a $220 Immigrant Fee. This fee can be paid online, and it covers the costs of issuing and delivering the green card. It will be mailed to your US address two or three weeks after your spouse’s arrival in the U.S.
  • If you have been married for less than two years as of the date your spouse enters the US, your spouse’s permanent residence will be conditional, and you will both need to attend an interview two years later to have the condition removed.