If you are marrying a U.S. citizen, there are three different avenues to obtain your green card to live in the United States: the fiancé visa, consular processing, and adjustment of status. Each process is distinct and has different applications, fees, and processing times. It is, therefore, important to have a meaningful discussion with your immigration attorney about your time-frame and goals. In general, depending on (1) where you reside and (2) when you plan to get married will dictate your eligibility for each option. Here is a general overview of each process:
Option 1: the Fiancé visa
If you reside outside the United States, the fiancé visa (technically known as the K-1 visa) allows you to enter the United States with a non-immigrant visa in order to get married to your U.S. citizen fiancé in the United States. The process starts with filing a K-1 petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After your arrival in the United States on the K-1 visa, you must get married within 90 days. After you are married, then you can apply for your green card while living in the United States with your spouse (this is called “adjustment of status.”).
If you think the fiancé visa may be the right avenue for you, it is a good idea to speak to an experienced immigration attorney about whether applying for this visa will actually save you time. This type of visa may be more expensive in the long run and may take the same amount of time, or even longer, than a traditional marriage visa through consular processing, explained in more detail below.
Option 2: Consular processing
If you get married while you are residing outside the United States, you are eligible to “consular process” meaning acquire your green card (technically called “lawful permanent resident” status) by obtaining an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad. This process starts with your U.S. citizen spouse filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative with the appropriate government agency. Once this petition is approved, you will send all the necessary documentation and fees to the National Visa Center (NVC), which is part of the U.S. Department of State. The next step is to attend an interview at the U.S. consulate in your home country where the consular officer will adjudicate your green card application. When approved, you will receive an immigrant visa to enter the United States as a lawful permanent resident.
Option 3: Adjustment of Status
If you are already living in the United States, after you get married you may be eligible to adjust your status to a lawful permanent resident without leaving the country. Put another way, the “adjustment of status” route allows you to obtain permanent residency by filing your application with USCIS and attending your interview state-side at your local USCIS district office.
In order to be eligible for adjustment of status, among other qualifications, you must be physically present in the United States at the time your green card application is submitted to USCIS. Additionally, you must have been “admitted” or “paroled” into the United States following inspection by an immigration officer at the airport or port of entry.
The process starts with your U.S. citizen spouse filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative on your behalf. With this petition, you may submit your application to adjust status by mail to USCIS for initial processing. Your file will then be forwarded to your local USCIS district office for interview and adjudication. Depending on how long you have been married to your U.S. citizen spouse, you will either receive a 2-year conditional residence (for which you may remove the conditions and obtain your green card at the end of the two-year period), or if you have been married for over 2 years, you will receive your green card after the interview.
It is important to discuss the pros and cons for each of these options with your immigration attorney and decide which avenue is applicable and appropriate given your personal circumstances. For example, for some, adjustment of status may be preferable over consular processing because, depending on the processing times at USCIS, (1) it avoids the expense and inconvenience of traveling to your home country; (2) you and your dependent family members are entitled to employment authorization and permission to travel while your application is pending; and (3) there are more options for reconsideration of an unfavorable decision by USCIS. To learn more about your options, click here to set up an appointment to discuss your case with Cynthia V. De Los Santos.
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