If you’re married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you may be eligible for a green card through your spouse. This guide explains who qualifies for a green card through marriage, how to get one, and the special circumstances you may face during the family immigration process.
The Green Card Marriage Guide
In the United States, a green card is a document that gives a person lawful permanent residency. When you’re a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., you may live and work anywhere you’d like; you don’t need employment authorization or any special forms to attend school. You can remain in the United States indefinitely because your residency is permanent.
So how does marriage factor in?
Green cards through marriage are possible when a person is married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. This is important, because not everyone qualifies for a green card – eligibility is limited to people who share certain familial ties with citizens or permanent residents and those who have certain types of U.S. visas.
How Do You Get a Marriage-Based Green Card?
When you’re married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you may be eligible for a green card if you:
- Have a bona fide (genuine) marriage
- Apply for your green card through the right avenues
- Participate in an interview with an official from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Provide all the supporting documentation the U.S. government needs
You cannot apply for your own green card through marriage. Your spouse has to apply for you. However, there are some exceptions, such as those who apply under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which you can learn about in the later section, “VAWA Self-Petitioners for Marriage-Based Green Cards.”
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Bona Fide Marriages and Green Cards
The first step in getting a marriage-based green card is to work on showing the U.S. government that you have a bona fide marriage. A bona fide marriage is one in which both parties entered into the relationship because they want to be married to each other. (On the other side of the coin, a marriage that isn’t genuine is one in which the couple married so that one party could get an immigration benefit.)
Of course, it’s not always easy to prove that your marriage is real – especially if you’ve only been married for a short time. USCIS officials are pretty experienced in spotting fake marriages, so you’ll need to be prepared to show that your relationship is the real deal.
Here are some things you can do to help establish that your marriage is bona fide:
- Prove that you live together by supplying a joint lease or mortgage document, or by providing bills with both your names on them
- Show that you share financial accounts by providing bank statements with both your names on them
- Provide letters from friends, family and others who know you that attest to your marriage’s legitimacy
- Provide any other documentation that would help to establish the bona fides of your relationship, such as wedding photos, travel itineraries showing trips you took together and any other satisfactory proof
Remember that the burden of proof is on you to show that your marriage is real. You’re the one responsible for showing USCIS documentation to prove your marriage is legitimate, and the USCIS official in your case will be on the lookout for any sign that it isn’t.
Helping Your Attorney Fill Out Form I-130
Your attorney will fill out and file Form I-130 for you, but you have to provide certain information. Your lawyer needs:
- A copy of your sponsor’s birth certificate, green card or naturalization certificate or passport photo page
- Your sponsor’s contact information, including addresses for the past five years and current employer information
- Your birth certificate
- Your marriage certificate
- Proof that other marriages (yours or your spouse’s) have been lawfully terminated
What is Form I-485?
After your sponsor files Form I-130 on your behalf and the government approves it, you’ll need to file Form I-485. In some cases, it’s possible to file form I-485 with Form I-130; this process is known as concurrent filing. However, your attorney may only file these forms at the same time if the sponsor is a U.S. citizen (not if they’re a permanent resident).
Form I-485 is also known as the “green card application.” On this form, you’ll provide information such as your:
- Date and place of birth
- Marital status
- Employment history
You’ll also need to have your fingerprints and photo taken as part of the application process.
You must be physically present in the United States when you submit Form I-485.
What is Advance Parole?
You may be eligible to apply for advance parole, which allows you to leave the country and reenter while your application is pending. However, it’s important to speak with an attorney before traveling outside the United States while your application is pending.
What if You Live Outside the United States and Need a Green Card Through Marriage?
If you’re married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and live outside the United States, you’ll need to go through a different process to get your green card. The first step is for your spouse to file Form I-130 on your behalf. After the government approves this form, you need to attend an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy.
At the interview, an official will ask you questions about your relationship and your spouse. You also need to provide proof that you’re eligible for a green card, such as evidence of your:
- Spouse’s U.S. citizenship or permanent residency
- Proof that your prior marriages have ended
After the interview, if everything goes well, you’ll be issued a green card and will be able to live and work permanently in the United States.
When you have immigration questions, you need a legal team you can count on.
VAWA Self-Petitioners for Marriage-Based Green Cards
If you’re a victim of domestic violence or abuse by your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, you may be able to self-petition for a green card without his or her knowledge or cooperation. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) makes this possible. It allows certain victims of domestic violence to get green cards without having to go through their spouses.
To qualify for a VAWA-based green card, you must:
- Be able to show that you have been the victim of battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse
- Be married to (or have been married to) the abuser
- Be currently living in the United States (or, if you have left, have done so because of the abuse)
- Have entered into the marriage in good faith (not just to get a green card)
- Meet certain other eligibility requirements
If you believe you may qualify for a VAWA-based green card, you may want to speak with an experienced immigration attorney who can help you navigate the process. It can be difficult to qualify for a VAWA-based green card, but it’s certainly possible. Your attorney can walk you through the whole process, from start to finish, as well as answer all your questions along the way.
Can You Marry Someone Just to Get a Green Card?
It’s against the law to marry someone simply so you can get a green card. If the government finds that you committed immigration fraud, it will charge you with a crime and deport you from the United States.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Getting a Green Card Through Marriage?
If you’re married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or if you intend to marry one of these people, you may be eligible for a green card through marriage. We can help you throughout the entire process, so call our office to schedule your consultation with an experienced immigration attorney now.
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