Obtaining a Marriage-Based Green Card

If you have U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence status and fell in love with a foreign national, you probably consider options on how to bring your loved one to the United States where you can live together and make a family.

If you decided that your spouse should move to the United States permanently and apply for permanent residence status as an immediate relative and get immigration benefits, then it’s time for you you learn about the marriage green card process.

This article is a short review on the process of applying for a green card and possible scenarios, documents you have to submit (I-130 petition, form I-485, affidavit of support, etc), and how to handle it, but if you need legal advice, better consult an immigration attorney.

Eligibility Requirements

If a sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder, then a foreign national can apply for U.S. lawful permanent residence status. The U.S. immigration law imposes several requirements to make a person eligible to apply for a marriage green card:

  • Marriage has to be legal
  • Marriage has to be bona fide (show marriage certificate)
  • You have to have U.S. citizenship or a lawful permanent resident status to sponsor your foreign spouse
  • Neither of you can’t be married to another person.

How long does it take to get a marriage green card through marriage in 2021?

This waiting period also depends upon other factors such as Visa number availability (Visa Bulletin), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS or NVC processing time, U.S. embassy or consulate interviews schedules, etc.

Four possible situations will have different processing times:

  1. Your spouse lives in the U.S., and you are a U.S. citizen;
  2. Your spouse lives abroad, and you are a U.S. citizen;
  3. Your spouse lives in the U.S. and is you are a green card holder;
  4. Your spouse lives abroad, and you are a U.S. green-card holder.

Properly filing documentation can play a significant role regardless of which group you belong to.

Your spouse lives in the U.S. and you are a U.S. citizen.

If a spouse of a U.S. citizen seeking a marriage-based green card lives in the U.S., you can expect the shortest processing time, which is usually between 10-13 months.

Moreover, you can go through a procedure called “Concurrent Filing.” This will save you plenty of time because you will file two forms at the same time.

There are four steps in this process: Filing Green Card Application

A U.S. citizen files a marriage green card package for his or her foreign spouse with whom he or she must be legally married.

The application includes:

Optionally, you can submit:

  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
  • Form I-131, Application for Travel Document or Advance Parole

After USCIS receives your application package, it will issue a receipt notice containing a set of case numbers in about 2-3 weeks.

Attend Biometrics Appointment

Usually, 3-5 months after USCIS receives your immigrant visa application, your foreign spouse will get the biometrics appointment date.

Attend the Interview

From 4 to 12 months after applying, USCIS will send you a green card interview notice. This notice will state the exact date, time, and location when you will attend the interview.

Receive Green Card

When you apply for a green card, it will arrive 2-3 weeks after the interview, but in some cases, it may take longer. You can check this article –How Long Does It Take To Get?

Your spouse lives abroad, and you are a U.S. citizen

A foreigner married to a U.S. citizen who lives outside the U.S. has to submit the green card application through a USCIS procedure called “Consular Processing. ”

Processing of Form I-130

When you file Form I-130 and Form I-130A along with supporting documents, in 2-3 weeks, you will receive a Receipt Notice from USCIS.

National Visa Center (NVC) Processing

When USCIS receives your application, it will transfer it to the National Visa Center (NVC). Processing time in NVC, including the time your application returns to USCIS, is about 3-5 months.

Interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate:

In about one month after receiving the interview letter, you will attend the interview. When a consular officer approves your application, you will get a visa that allows you to enter the U.S.

Green Card Arrival

You will receive the green card within six months after arriving in the United States.

As you can see, from the date when you apply for a green card to its arrival, you will wait somewhere between 11-17 months.

Your spouse lives in the U.S., and you are a green card holder

In this case, you will need to apply through a procedure called “Adjustment of Status. ”

Form I-130 Processing

After a green card holder submits Form I-130 and Form I-130A, USCIS will take about 11-15 months to process it.

Visa number availability

After USCIS approves your Form I-130, the petitioner has to wait until the visa number for the F2A category becomes available to file form I-485.

Form I-485, Adjustment of status processing

You can file Form I-485 for adjustment of status and supporting documents after the visa number becomes available. Processing adjustment of status form takes 9-11 months.

Green Card Interview and Approval

When USCIS finishes processing your form I-485, Application to adjust status, it will send you an appointment notice with the exact time and date to attend the interview. The interview that both of you have to attend usually happens a month after receiving the notice. Don’t forget that before coming to the interview, your spouse must see a USCIS-approved doctor for a medical exam.

Green Card Arrival

You will receive a green by mail within 2–3 weeks.

The entire process, in this case, takes from 29 to 38 months.

Your spouse lives abroad, and you are a U.S. green-card holder

If you are a green card holder and your spouse is outside the United States, then you’ll use an online green card application- Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Electronic Application. This process used by foreigners living abroad is called ‘Consular Processing.’

Processing of Form I-130

You, as a green card, holder have to file Form I-130 and Form I-130A. It takes about 7-10 months for the USCIS to approve this application.

Visa number becomes available for the F2A category

When USCIS approves your petition, it transfers it to National Visa Center. In this phase, you will usually need to wait until the visa number in the F2A category becomes available. The processing time varies depending on the country of origin.

NVC Processing

Once the visa number is available, your spouse submits documentation for a green card. NVC takes 3-5 months to decide.

Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate

After attending the U.S. Embassy or Consulate interview, a foreign national will attend another interview in 1-2 months at a U.S. embassy or consulate in his or her home country.

Green Card Arrival

To physically receive a marriage green card to the U.S. address, the petitioner will need to wait six months upon arrival in the United States.

The conclusion is that the estimated time of this process, in this case, will take a bit longer, and it can go up to 32 months.

Is marriage The Only Way to Get a Green Card?

As a foreign national, there are several other ways through which you can become a U.S. green card holder or permanent resident, besides being married to a U.S. citizen.

There are three different categories of green cards:

  • Family-based green cards (for parents, spouses, siblings, and dependent children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents)
  • Employment-based green cards.
  • Special immigrant green card.

How Can I Get A U.S. Green Card Without Marriage?

Although marriage to a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident is one of the most popular routes to becoming a U.S. permanent resident, foreign nationals are also given a chance to live and work permanently in the U.S. through one of the categories mentioned above.

Employment-Based Green Card

The employment-based green card is designed for foreign nationals who have job offers from a U.S. employer.

Both foreigners who are already in the U.S. or outside the U.S. can file for an employment-based visa if they already work for an employer or if they have received a job offer from a prospective employer.

Four preferences

  • EB-1 (first preference)
  • EB-2 (second preference)
  • EB-3 (third preference)
  • EB-4 (fourth preference)

Investment-Based Green Card

EB-5 Investor green card is intended for foreign entrepreneurs willing to invest at least $1 million or $500,000 in an approved EB-5 business.

It has to provide or preserve at least 10 U.S. jobs.

Special Immigrants Green Card


  • Religious worker
  • International broadcaster
  • Special immigrant juvenile
  • Afghan or Iraqi national who has served for the U.S. government as a translator, or an Iraqi who the U.S. government employs on or after March 20, 2003, or an Afghan who has been employed by ISAF
  • An employee (or family member) of an international organization; a member of NATO-6

Other Categories

You are also eligible for a green card if you:

  • Have lived in the U.S. as an asylee or refugee for the past year
  • Currently have either a T or U nonimmigrant visa.

Diversity Immigrant Visa

The diversity program has up to 55,000 immigrant visas. This number is available annually for foreign nationals whose countries have low rates of U.S. permanent residency applications.

This lottery mostly depends on luck, which limits your chances of being chosen. If you win and have the education and job qualifications for the program, you will need to undergo a series of processes that may take years before you can eventually become a permanent resident.

Undocumented Spouse

If an immigrant didn’t pass the inspection by a Customs and Border Protection CBP agent at the port of entry with a legally valid visa, you will need to learn how to help them to get a green card. We discussed this in a separate article that you can find here.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Immigrating to the U.S. is a worthy but complicated process. Some tasks can make the process takes even longer if not done correctly, such as fulfilling the documents (I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, I-485 application to register or for adjustment of status, ds-260 online application, etc.) and procedures (concurrent filing, medical examination, getting a conditional green card, consular processing, etc.).

Hiring an immigration attorney is the best option, especially if this is your first time communicating in such was with officials.

How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help?

Richard Herman and immigration attorneys at Herman Legal Group have extensive experience with many successful stories of helping foreign nationals continue their lives together in the United States with their families.

Book online consultation with your immigration lawyer via one of the online platforms: Skype, WhatsApp, or ZOOM if you are overseas. Or, you can call for telephone consultation at +1-216-696-6170. Also, on our site, you can find an online form where you can request your consultation with us.

We will be happy to discuss with you how to get a marriage green card for you or your spouse, provide you the right legal advice, and choose the best and the most proactive strategy.

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