Getting married is an exciting time. If you are both citizens of different countries, it also presents some challenges and opportunities for citizenship and permanent residence – but only if the proper legal proceedings are followed and the requirements are met. The following is a very general overview of how marriage affects the US Immigration process for permanent residents and citizens.
How Marriage Can Affect Immigration Eligibility
It’s a common misconception that marrying a US citizen automatically gets the spouse a green card. Instead, what happens is they become the immediate relative of a US citizen. This makes them eligible for a Green Card upon completing the green card application process which requires both spouses.
Typically, this takes a 6-18 months. If you are a full citizen, then you can help your spouse or fiancé get a green card. If, however, you are simply a permanent resident, the process is a bit more complicated, there are annual limits on the numbers of permanent residents allowed this way each year. If you are a permanent resident seeking to obtain permanent residency for your spouse or fiancé, it’s best to talk to a qualified immigration attorney who can help assess your specific situation and make recommendations.
Obtaining a Green Card Through Marriage
So how does it work? Barring any complications like past VISA violations or criminal records, the process is pretty straight forward, but does involve a few steps that you may indeed want to get your immigration attorney involved with. The process involves two major parts:
(1) submitting forms and documents and (2) attending interviews with US immigration authorities.
The point of these documents and interviews is to let US immigration officials determine the following:
1.The citizenship status of the petitioner (permanent resident or citizen)
2.If a valid marriage has occurred or will or occur
3.That this is a true and bona-fide marriage, in other words, not one made simply for the purposes of helping someone get a green card.
4.If the candidate is admissible or not into the US (based upon medical, criminal, financial, and other qualifications)
The exact specifics of these steps can vary based upon if you are married or not, if your spouse is in the US already or not, and if there are any issues with your particular situation that may complicate the process.
The K-1 Fiancé Visa
If you’ve not yet married your intended, they can apply for a temporary, 90-day VISA that will allow them to enter the US and have an official ceremony and make the marriage legal
ly valid. The form you’ll need from this is USCIS Form I-29F, which is to be filled out by the US Citizen. Upon approval, the case then transfers to the US Consulate in your Fiancé’s country where they will apply for a K-1 VISA. This process, like most VISA processes, includes submitting documents and forms as well as interviewing at the appropriate consulate.
Once you are married, your spouse can begin the procedure of applying for a Green Card with the USCIS by adjusting the status of the K-1 VISA. This can be done at your local USCIS office.
Marriage Immigrant Visa Procedures for Mexico
No matter where you and your spouse are married or plan to be married, there is a proper legal process to go through for the marriage to be legally valid. Each government provides a specific document that US Immigration Authorities rely upon to verify that the marriage is legally valid. These procedures begin by filing the appropriate form to begin the application for a Green Card: Form I-130 with the USCIS. Upon approval, the spouse of a US citizen may continue. If you are only a permanent resident and not a US citizen, approval from the State Department must also be obtained before proceeding. As of the writing of this blog post (Q1 2016), the average wait for a visa is a year and a half.
If Your Spouse is Currently in Mexico
The next step will be to complete consulate processing in the country your spouse lives in. This involves filling out and submitting paperwork as well as interviewing. It’s important to know that as of this writing (Q1 2016), the only Mexican Consulate performing Immigrant Visa interviews is the one in Ciudad Juarez. Though there are US Consulates elsewhere in Mexico, this is the only one where such interviews can be performed. Of course, if your spouse currently lives in a country other than Mexico, the interview would be performed at a US Consulate there.
Once this process is complete and approval has been granted, your spouse may enter the US with an Immigrant Visa. This makes them a lawful permanent resident moving forward.
What to Do if Your Spouse is in the US
Your spouse (because of a student work, or other VISA) may already be within the US. If this is the case, the spouse who is a foreign resident may simply apply for an adjustment to their VISA status from a temporary to a permeant VISA. To do this, use USCIS Form I-485. This will require both spouses to attend interviews at USCIS offices. It is important that if you plan to do this, your spouse must have not committed any form of fraud on previous US VISAs. If you think or know you might have complications because of this or other criminal records, your best course of action is to contact an experienced immigrant attorney to make your best decisions on how to move forward in order to avoid being unable to enter the US for up to 10 years.
If the License is obtained in the US
If you plan to wed in the US, to make the wedding legally valid, you’ll need to follow the rules of the state you intend to get married in. This includes obtaining a marriage certificate from the appropriate local government official. Typically, a certificate from the minister who performed the service or thechurch is not enough.
If the License is obtained in Mexico
If instead of in the US you plan to wed in Mexico, you will need to ensure you are following the laws of the state you are in. The Mexican Governmental Office Registro Civil is typically the presiding body in each state when it comes to marriage requirements and information. You’ll need a copy of this certificate to file as the USCIS keeps copies of valid documents for marriage from different countries and will compare it to ensure it’s the exact license required (again, a license from a church or separate body will not qualify). If you need help identifying what document you need, your immigration attorney can be a great resource.
Still Have Questions About Immigration? The process of securing citizenship or permanent residency for your spouse is an important one. As an experienced immigration attorney who has helped hundreds of clients secure a better life for their families and spouses here in the US, Yoel Molina is fully able, qualified, and dedicated to handle the various needs of his US immigration clients. As an experienced and reliable attorney who has made it his business to help people seeking opportunities in the US, Yoel has the compassion and legal understanding of immigration law needed to help give his clients their best chance at successfully securing as US VISA or Green Card.
If you have any questions or need the service of a qualified and experienced immigration attorney, look no further than the Law Offices of Yoel Molina for help. Give us a call today!