If your spouse resides outside the US, it could take 12 to 18 months before he or she is allowed to enter the US. If you are not married yet and you are planning to marry before filing your spouse’s permanent resident application, you might want to consider filing for a fiance visa instead (see below) so that your spouse can enter the US sooner. If you are already married, however, you cannot apply for a fiance visa. Permanent residence involves a two-step process.

Step 1: Your Sponsorship Application

I-130 Petition for Alien Relative

I-130 Petition for Alien Relative

The procedure for filing the sponsorship application — Form I-130 and Form I-130A  — is the same as for Pathway 1, except that you cannot send your sponsorship application and your spouse’s permanent residence application in a single package — you must receive approval of Form I-130 before your spouse can apply for permanent residence. Following are the steps in the process:

  • Complete and sign Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and Form I-130A (Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary). It is you who must sign and file these forms, not your spouse.
  • Prepare all supporting documents required by the instructions for the forms you file, including proof of your US citizenship, your marriage certificate, proof of the non-fraudulent nature of your relationship, proof of divorce if either of you has been previously married, four passport-style photos (two of you and two of your spouse) and a cover letter (optional), etc.  
  • Prepare payment of the filing fee ($535) by check, money order or (by filing Form G-1450), credit/debit card.
  • In about two weeks you should receive an official receipt notice for your I-130 and I-130A.
  • Notify the USCIS if your mailing address changes.
  • Respond to any USCIS Request for Evidence that you receive. Although not all applicant receives a Request for Evidence, there is nothing uncommon about it. If you receive one, you will be required to submit additional evidence to process your sponsorship application. If you receive one, it will probably arrive a few weeks after you submit your sponsorship application package.
  • You should receive an Approval Notice within 7 to 10 months.

Step 2: Your Spouse’s Application for Permanent Residence

Interracial Couple

Interracial Couple

If your spouse resided in the US, then he/she would file Form I-485. Since your spouse resides abroad, however, there will be no need to file this form. Instead, your spouse should file an application for a U.S. immigration visa. Technically, your spouse will be considered a US permanent resident as soon as he or she has passed through US immigration screening, although the green card will not arrive immediately.

  • Once The USCIS approves forms I-130 and I-130A, it will transfer your case to the National Visa Center (NVC).
  • The NVC will assign your spouse an NVC Case Number and Invoice ID Number. It will notify your spouse of these numbers by sending a Welcome Letter.
  • Once your spouse receives a case number, he or she must file Form DS-261, which simply tells the State Department how to communicate with you while your visa application is pending. There is no filing fee, and processing takes two or three weeks.
  • Pay the State Department a $445 filing fee online at the Immigrant Visa Invoice Payment Center. You will need a bank routing number and a checking or savings account number from a U.S. bank. You will also need your spouse’s NVC Case Number and Invoice ID Number from the Welcome Letter.
  • Complete and sign Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) and send it to your spouse along with financial documentation that will include your most recent tax return..
  • Your spouse must file the immigration visa application (Form DS-260) online and send Form I-864 and all supporting documents to the NVC.  
  • The NVC might send a Request for Evidence within one to two months of your filing date if it needs more documentation to process your application.
  • The NVC will schedule an interview at the nearest US embassy or consulate within three to five months after the immigration visa application is filed. Your spouse will receive a visa appointment letter that will probably include a list of documents or other materials to take to the interview.
  • Before the interview: Your spouse must complete a medical examination with a local doctor approved by the USCIS. The cost should be around $200, and your spouse will be given a sealed envelope to take to the visa interview. The seal must remain unbroken.
  • Before the interview: Your spouse must access the website of the embassy or consulate that will conduct the interview, and provide an address where his/her passport can be mailed once an immigration visa is stamped onto it. The website will contain instructions on how to do this.
  • Before the interview: Your spouse must make a fingerprinting appointment and submit to fingerprinting at the local visa application support center (in most countries, it is located at a different address than the embassy or consulate).
  • Your spouse must attend the green card interview (you will not be invited to attend), where he/she will be asked questions to determine whether the marriage is legitimate. Your spouse should bring the documentation and materials requested in the visa appointment letter, including his/her passport and the sealed results of the medical exam.
  • If the interview is successful, a US immigration visa will be stamped onto your spouse’s passport. If there is a delay in making the decision (which is not uncommon), your spouse’s passport will be mailed to him/her.  
  • You must pay a $220 Immigrant Fee online. This fee covers the production and delivery of your spouse’s green card. It will be mailed to your spouse’s US address within two to three weeks after he/she arrives in the U.S.
  • If you have been married for less than two years as of the date that your spouse enters the US, your spouse will be granted conditional permanent residence (“CR1”), which will require an additional interview two years later to remove the condition.