Since a naturalization form is generally approved within 6-12 months of the filing date, if your naturalization application is pending, or if you are planning on applying for US citizenship and you are currently eligible to do so, you might want to consider waiting until you become a citizen before commencing the immigration process. Before you make this decision, carefully calculate the timing to make sure that you will actually save time this way.
Step 1: Your Sponsorship Application
The procedure for filing the sponsorship application works like this:
- Complete and sign Form I-130 and Form I-130A.
- Prepare all supporting documents required by the instructions including proof of your permanent resident status, your marriage certificate, proof of the legitimacy of your marriage, divorce records (if applicable), two passport-style photos of each of you and your spouse, a cover letter (optional), etc.
- Prepare payment of the filing fee ($535) by check, by money order, or by credit/debit card (using Form G-1450).
- Wait about two weeks for a Receipt Notice.
- Notify the USCIS of any change in your mailing address.
- Respond to any USCIS Request for Evidence. If you receive one, it will probably arrive a few weeks after you receive your Receipt Notice.
- You should receive an Approval Notice from the USCIS within 12-15 months.
The Visa Bulletin Waiting Period
Because of your status as a permanent resident rather than a US citizen, there is an annual cap on the total number of spouses allowed to immigrate this way, which necessitates an additional delay based on the State Department’s monthly visa bulletin. The average delay at this stage is 8-10 months, but it can vary depending on your spouse’s nationality. Your spouse must maintain legal status in the United States during this period.
Step 2: Applying for Permanent Residence
Step 2 should take 9 to 11 months. Following are the steps that need to be taken:
- You complete Form I-864 (the Affidavit of Support), collect supporting documentation such as a copy of your most recent tax return and provide it to your spouse.
- Your spouse must complete Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status).
- Your spouse must complete Form I-765 (work permit application), and it must be approved before your spouse will be able to work in the United States while his/her permanent residence application is pending.
- Your spouse must complete Form I-131 (travel permit) and receive approval before he or she will be able to re-enter the United States after traveling abroad while his or her permanent residence application is pending..
- Your spouse must submit to a medical exam performed by an approved doctor. The doctor will charge about $200. Your spouse will receive Form I-693 in a sealed envelope to take to the visa interview. The seal must remain unbroken.
- Prepare all supporting documents required by the instructions for the forms, including two passport style photographs of your spouse, a copy of your spouse’s ID card with photograph, a copy of your spouse’s birth certificate, copy of I-94 issued upon your spouse’s arrival to the US, copy of your spouse’s US visa, Approval Notice for Form I-130, Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, a copy of your criminal record,
- Prepare the filing fees ($1,140 for Form I-485 and $85 for biometrics, for a total of $1,225). You can pay by check, money order or credit/debit card.
- Mail the application package to the appropriate USCIS address associated with your state of residence.
- Wait about two weeks to receive receipt numbers from the USCIS..
- Wait to receive the location and date of your spouse’s biometrics appointment. It will probably take place at a USCIS office.
- Your spouse must attend the biometrics appointment to be fingerprinted and photographed. Security and background checks will be completed based on this information.
- Respond to a Request for Evidence if you receive one. If you receive one, it will arrive two or three months after the I-485 filing date.
- It takes about five months after the I-485 filing date to receive approval of the work permit and travel permit applications.
- The USCIS to send the date and time for the green card interview, which will take place at the nearest USCIS office. You must attend this interview with your spouse. You both may also be required to bring certain documentation with you. Your spouse’s permanent residence application might be approved immediately; on the other hand, there might be a delay.
- Your spouse’s green card will arrive in the mail in a couple of weeks.
- If you have been married for at least two years, the green card will be marked “IR1” (unconditional permanent resident). If you have been married for less than two years, the green card will be marked “CR1” (conditional permanent residence), and it will expire in two years.
- Notify the USCIS if your mailing address changes.
- If your spouse received conditional permanent residence, the USCIS will notify you of another interview two years later to remove the condition. You must attend the interview together with your spouse.