Marriage is an exciting time for everyone, especially the newlyweds. But after the “I Dos,” you might wonder, “How long does it take to get a green card after marriage?”
A green card, also known as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document that grants immigrants the right to live and work permanently in the United States. For many foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens or permanent residents, obtaining a green card is necessary to build a life together with their spouse. The green card timeline can take 12-55 months and is dependent on several factors.
But whether you need to obtain your first visa or adjust your status to a marriage-based green card (like J-1 visa holders), this comprehensive article will walk you through the often time-consuming and complex green card process.
If the immigrant spouse lives in the U.S., the application process typically takes approximately 15–20 months.
You’re eligible for a green card if it is a valid marriage, you and your spouse are at least 18, and the U.S. citizen in the relationship meets the necessary income requirements. When a foreign national marries a U.S. citizen, they become an immediate relative of the citizen. As an immediate relative, they have a higher priority in the process.
The good news is you won’t have to worry about annual limits for this category. Even better, the green card processing time is typically shorter for individuals married to U.S. citizens. Let’s break down what you can expect in each step to understand the timeline.
Form I-130 establishes the validity of your marriage. The spouse who is a U.S. citizen (the petitioner or sponsor) will complete this form.
The documents needed to complete this form include:
After completing the form, mail it to the appropriate USCIS location. You’ll receive a receipt notice within about two weeks. USCIS will send a Request for Evidence if additional information is required.
The time for this step will vary depending on the service center or field office processing your application. The average wait time for service centers is about 14 months. If you’re using the National Benefits Center, the wait could be around 55 months.
You can utilize the USCIS Case Processing Times calculator to determine what you can expect based on your situation.
This step is specifically for applicants living in the U.S.
The documents needed to complete this form include:
The average processing time will depend on your location. However, the average waiting time is about 20 months and can range from as little as 13 months up to about 40 months.
The good news is that spouses of U.S. citizens can file Form I-485 when they file Form I-130. The USCIS will process both forms simultaneously, drastically reducing the wait time for a green card.
You can get a rough estimate of the expected wait time for your marriage green card by looking at the average wait time for your location for each step. Be sure you don’t miss any forms, deadlines, or communication from the USCIS. Missing a step can extend the wait time (or worse, force you to start over!)
While waiting for your application to process, start preparing for your interview. The sponsoring spouse and immigrant spouse must attend an interview. The marriage green card interview typically occurs 7-15 months after applying.
If the interviewing office approves your application, the immigrant spouse will receive a green card within 2-3 weeks.
If you are married for less than two years, the immigrant spouse will receive a conditional marriage green card. After two years, you and your spouse can apply for a permanent marriage green card.
The application process typically takes approximately 27 to 46 months if the immigrant spouse lives abroad.
The process will look similar to the process outlined above but with a few key differences that can extend the waiting period. Depending on your situation, a fiance visa can benefit you if you live abroad.
You’ll need all the supporting documents listed above. The spouse who is a U.S. citizen will send the completed form to the appropriate USCIS service center or field office.
The difference in this step is you’ll have to wait until USCIS approves Form I-130 because they will send it to the National Visa Center (NVC).
The NVC will check the documents and assign you a case number. You’ll need the case number to move on to the next step. This step will add an additional one to two months to your processing timeline.
At this point, instead of filing for an adjustment of status, you’ll complete Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Electronic Application.
DS-260 is an online form used by the U.S. Department of State to collect biographical information from immigrant visa applicants, including those applying for a marriage-based green card.
The documents needed to complete this form include:
The form asks for information about your personal background, including your name, date of birth, place of birth, nationality, marital status, spouse’s information, and children. The form also requests details about your education, employment history, and previous travel to the United States.
The NVC will review your application and schedule an interview with a consular officer at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.
Since your spouse is a U.S. citizen, the NVC processing time is usually within 1-3 months.
Most marriage applicants wait the longest for an interview.
The foreign spouse will attend the interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. The consulate or embassy will notify you of the date, time, and location via mail after receiving your application packet.
The sponsoring spouse does not need to attend this interview. The consular officer conducting the interview will decide whether to grant the immigrant spouse an immigrant visa. Decisions are usually made within a week unless the U.S. consulate requires further information.
If granted a visa, the consular officer will give the immigrant spouse a packet of information known as a visa packet, which should not be opened. The Customs and Border Patrol Agent will open the visa packet when the immigrant spouse arrives at customs.
Unfortunately, in this situation, interviews are through consular processing. Average wait times will vary significantly by location and are not published.
In this situation, the wait times are significantly longer than when the spouse is a U.S. citizen. Under the best circumstances, if the immigrant spouse is married to a legal permanent resident, the application process will take 30–44 months. Unfortunately, it can take much longer if there is a significant visa backlog.
We’ll explain the variables affecting the timeline.
The documents and wait times are the same in this situation. The difference is that USCIS must approve Form I-130 before moving on to the adjustment of status step. Unlike for U.S. citizens, green card holders and their immigrant spouses cannot file Form I-485 simultaneously.
Unfortunately, the wait times for processing Form I-130 are longer for legal permanent residents applying for their spouses. The average wait time for service centers is 24.3 months; at all field offices, the wait time is 46 months.
If you are in the United States and your spouse is a green card holder, you may be eligible to adjust your status to a permanent resident by filing Form I-485. You have the same submission guidelines; however, you must wait until a visa is available based on the visa bulletin published by the U.S. Department of State.
The availability of visas for spouses of green card holders is limited, and there may be a waiting period of several years before a visa becomes available. You must maintain lawful U.S. status throughout the process, or your application may be denied.
The timeline for this form is the same as for U.S. citizens, about 20 months.
Finally, you and your spouse will attend your interview at a local USCIS office. If the USCIS approves your application, you should receive your green card within two to three weeks.
As a U.S. green card holder married to an immigrant spouse who resides outside the U.S., obtaining a green card typically takes 23–32 months.
As in the previous situations, you must submit Form I-130 first. You’ll wait for approval before moving on to the next step.
As in the previous scenario, the average wait time for service centers is 24.3 months; at all field offices, the wait time is 46 months.
After the I-130 form is approved, USCIS will transfer the case to the NVC. Within a month or two, you should receive your unique case number.
You’ll complete the DS-260 with the same documentation listed above for immigrants abroad marrying U.S. citizens. Since this category has annual caps, the NVC may only authorize an application when available.
The approval process for Form DS-260 generally takes two to three months.
Once the consulate or embassy conducting the interview receives the application packet, they will notify the immigrant spouse of the interview date, time, and location by mail. In this situation, the green card sponsor does not attend the interview.
The consular officer conducting the interview will decide whether to grant the immigrant spouse a conditional visa. The decision usually takes about a week. If the consular officer approves your application, they will provide you with a packet of information that a Customs and Border Patrol Agent will open when you arrive in the U.S.
You may have a long wait for an interview through the consular process. Average wait times are not published and can vary significantly depending on location.
If your application is denied, you can appeal the decision or file a petition for review. Your spouse should consult with an immigration attorney to discuss the best options. Otherwise, you may be unable to enter or remain in the U.S.
The price will vary depending on your situation but can range from $1,200 to $1,800. This total doesn’t include expenses you might incur gathering required documentation or the cost of legal representation.
Also, in 2023, the USCIS introduced a comprehensive fee restructuring plan that could escalate the costs of various immigration benefits, including green card applications.
The right to petition for a marriage visa extends to same-sex couples, provided they have a legally recognized marriage under the applicable laws of the United States.
The process of obtaining a marriage green card can be complex, especially for U.S. green card holders married to an immigrant spouse who resides outside the U.S. Seeking help from an experienced immigration lawyer will ensure your application is filed correctly and that you receive all the benefits of legal permanent residency.
Scott D. Pollock & Associates, P.C. has a track record of successfully helping clients with their marriage green card applications and other immigration matters. Contact us today to get started. Fill out our online form or call us at 312-444-1940.View Similar Articles