Marriage-based green card FAQs


There are several ways that a foreign national can obtain permanent residency (green card). One of the most common methods is by marrying a U.S. citizen. In these cases, a green card is immediately available to the foreign spouse.

How soon can I get a green card if I marry a US citizen?

You may apply for a green card immediately after you marry a US citizen. Assuming that there are no requests for evidence or deficiencies in the application, a green card can be issued anywhere between 3-8 months.

Can I start the green card process before I get married?

No. You must be married to a US citizen before you can begin the application process.

Can I get a green card if I marry a US permanent resident?

The foreign spouse of a US permanent resident may be eligible for a green card. However, the green card would not be immediately available and the foreign spouse would fall under the second family-based preference category.

What is the exact process for applying for a marriage-based green card?

It depends on whether the foreign spouse is lawfully in the United States at the time of application. If the foreign spouse is in the United States, the US citizen can file a petition to sponsor the spouse while the foreign spouse files a concurrent application to adjust his/her status. Once filed, the foreign spouse will undergo biometrics and, in most cases, be required to attend a USCIS interview with his/her spouse.

What if the foreign spouse is outside of the United States?

If the foreign spouse is not in the United States in lawful status, or is outside the United States at the time the application is submitted, then he/she would undergo consular processing. The US citizen would submit a petition to sponsor the foreign spouse. Once approved, the application will be sent to the US consulate closest to where the foreign spouse is residing where he/she would undergo biometrics and a consular interview.

If the foreign spouse is outside the United States when the application is filed, will he/she be able to enter the U.S. before the green card is issued?

A foreign spouse with a pending green card application may be denied entry to the United States as a visitor. This means that consular processing often results in an extended period of separation whereby the foreign spouse must remain abroad until a green card is issued.

Is there anything that can be done to reduce the separation time?

The ideal situation to reduce separation time is to have the foreign spouse adjust his/her status in the United States. However, this requires the foreign spouse to be in the US lawfully when the application was filed. For example, a Canadian citizen in the US while on a work visa may adjust her status to a permanent resident after marrying her US citizen boyfriend. In this case, the husband and wife can remain together throughout the entire green card application process.

If the foreign spouse cannot adjust his/her status and must undergo consular processing, he/she can apply for a K-3 visa. This visa allows a foreign spouse with a pending green card application to enter the U.S. to be with the spouse during the pendency of the application.

Does the petitioner have to meet a certain level of income to sponsor a foreign spouse for a green card?

Yes, the US citizen sponsor generally must have income that exceeds 125% of the HHS poverty guidelines. So for a household of two, the petitioner’s income must exceed $18,912.00.

What if the petitioner does not meet the income requirements?

If the petitioner does not meet the income requirements, there are a couple of options. The petitioner can use his/her other assets, such as real property, stocks or savings. The foreign spouse/beneficiary may also use his/her income. The couple may also use a joint sponsor. The joint sponsor must be a US citizen domiciled in the United States. He/she does not have to be related to either of the spouses, though his/her income alone must meet or exceed the poverty guidelines.

Can I adjust my status while in the United States on a visitor visa?

Generally, a foreign national entering the US on a visitor visa (B-1/B-2) cannot adjust his/her status to permanent residency. This is based on the presumption that, at the time he/she entered the US, the intent was to return to his/her home country. Thus, a foreign national who enters on a visitor visa, marries a US citizen and applies for adjustment of status may be presumed to have ‘preconceived intent.’ Preconceived intent may be rebutted in some cases by showing proof of ties to the home country. There are also ways to avoid preconceived intent by timing the filing of the adjustment of status application.

What does the USCIS look for when evaluating a marriage-based green card petition?

The USCIS looks to see whether the marriage is bona fide, genuine and entering into in good faith. There are a variety of factors and evidence that can be used to evaluate this – including statements from family/friends, photos, joint ownership of assets, and in-person interviews.

What happens once I get my green card?

If the application is approved, the foreign spouse is issued ‘conditional residency.’ This means that he/she is a resident of the United States conditioned on remaining married for two years. Three months prior to the two year anniversary of being a resident, both spouses must jointly apply to remove the condition – at which time the foreign spouse becomes a permanent resident.
What happens if I get divorced or separated before the two year anniversary?

If the couple separates or divorces prior to two years, the foreign spouse may still apply to remove the condition on the green card by providing documentation or other evidence that the marriage was entered into in good faith.

What are the filing fees associated with a marriage-based green card?

The petitioning US citizen must pay a filing fee of $420.00. If adjusting status, the beneficiary’s filing fee is $1,070.00 (includes biometrics). If the beneficiary undergoes consular processing, the fee is $230.00 (unless waived under reciprocity agreements).

Learn more about getting a green card by marrying a U.S. citizen.