Marriage-Based Green Cards, Explained

For many people, the best way to become a permanent resident of the United States is through marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR). If you are living in the U.S. However, there are certain things you should know about marriage-based green cards before proceeding with the process.

Marriage-Based Green Cards, Explained

With all the different visa options available to foreign-born individuals, it can be difficult to know which to choose. If you’re already married to an American citizen, however, you have the option of applying for a marriage-based green card through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A marriage-based green card is a common phrase used to describe a permanent resident card obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

Permanent residence is an immigration status that allows a foreign national to live and work in the United States permanently. This means you’ll be able to stay in the country long-term—in some cases permanently—and enjoy many of the benefits that accompany citizenship, including voting rights and easier access to other forms of visas and work permits. Generally, the permanent resident may also choose to naturalize as a U.S. citizen once eligible.

A marriage-based green card is an immigration status that allows a foreign citizen to live and work in the United States, under the sponsorship of their spouse who’s an American citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR). This immigration pathway can be one of the quickest ways to obtain permanent residence. The marriage alone doesn’t provide any immigration status to a foreign national. But marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident is a qualifying relationship for a foreign national to apply for immigration benefits like a green card. A number of requirements need to be met before this visa can be granted, though, so it’s important to understand how the process works from start to finish before beginning your application.

What is a Marriage-Based Green Card?

A marriage-based green card, or permanent residency card, is an immigration visa or status that allows a foreign national to legally live and work in the United States under the sponsorship of their spouse who’s a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR). If you want to be considered as someone who qualifies for a marriage-based green card, you need to have the following: proof of your relationship with your spouse, evidence that you plan to live together as husband and wife, financial documentation showing that you can support yourself, and more.

Furthermore, when you apply for a marriage-based green card, the spouse who is already a US citizen or permanent resident holder is called the sponsor or the petitioner. On the other, the foreign spouse who is seeking a green card is called the beneficiary.

Requirements for a Marriage-Based Green Card

To be eligible for a Green Card through marriage, there are certain criteria that must be met. These requirements are grouped as follows:

Requirements for your marriage

To be eligible for a marriage-based green card, your marriage must be legally valid, and officially recognized in the country or region it took place. You can prove this by providing a marriage certificate, as well as evidence that any previous marriages have been legally terminated through divorce or death. 

Moreover, your marriage must also be based on a genuine relationship, and not entered into in order to gain immigration benefits. That is to say, you must have married because you genuinely want to be married to one another and spend your lives together, and not simply in order to gain a green card.

Requirements for the petitioner 

Furthermore, other than being a US citizen or Lawful Permanent resident, there are a few requirements that the petitioner, or sponsoring spouse, must meet in order to apply for a marriage-based green card for their spouse. They are as follows:

  • The sponsor must be lawfully married to the beneficiary.
  • The sponsor must pledge to support their spouse. The petitioner will need to file an affidavit of support pledging to provide for their spouse.
  • The petitioner must demonstrate that they have the means to support their entire household, including the sponsor, the beneficiary, and any children.
  • The sponsor must be domiciled in the United States. In other words, the sponsor must actually live in the United States, or must prove their intent to return to the United States with their foreign spouse. If the sponsor is currently living abroad, they may need to provide evidence of U.S. job offers, lease documents, or financial investments to prove their intent to return to the United States.

Requirements for the Beneficiary

The applicant (beneficiary) is generally automatically eligible to receive a green card once they are legally married to a US citizen or green card holder. But there are certain reasons why a green card application might still be denied:

  • The applicant (the beneficiary) will have to take a medical exam and could be denied a marriage green card on health grounds if they have a certain communicable disease or mental illness
  • Applicants with a certain serious criminal history are ineligible for a marriage-based green card.
  • Due to immigration history - applicants can be denied a green card if they violate certain immigration rules, such as lying to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen, or failing to attend a removal hearing.
  • On public charge grounds

How to Apply for a Marriage-Based Green Card

Furthermore, once you've determined that you are eligible for a marriage-based green card. Here are the steps to follow to apply for a green card.

Submit Form I-130

To begin with, the first step in the process of applying for a marriage-based green card completing Form I-130 (petition for alien relative). However, the purpose of the I-130 petition is to establish that you have a valid marriage to a US citizen or LPR. Moreover, along with the completed form, you must also provide your marriage certificate and documents showing that your marriage is legitimate. 

Apply for your marriage-based green card

The next step in your application process is to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. However, the way you do that will depend on whether you are currently living in the United States or abroad when you apply.

If you are currently living inside the United States, you must file Form I-485, called the "Adjustment of Status" form. This form allows you to "adjust status" from your current visa to a Marriage Green Card. Along with the Form I-485, you normally must file:

  • your birth certificate,
  • proof of your lawful entry into the United States (like your I-94 travel record or prior visa),
  • proof of your immigration medical examination,
  • and documents showing that your spouse will be able to financially support you in the United States.

On the other hand, if you are currently living outside of the United States, you will use a process called Consular Processing to apply for a marriage-based green card. With Consular Processing, you wait in your home country until USCIS approves your Form I-130. Once USCIS approves your Form I-130, they will send your file to the U.S. Department of State's National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will then send you a notice by mail or email, depending on what you requested when you filed your Form I-130. This notice will provide you with important case information and let you know when you can take the next step - submitting your NVC filing package.

Attend your green card interview and receive your green card

This is the final step in the green card application process. The primary purpose of this interview is for the government to determine whether your application is legitimate, and whether to give you a Green Card. Meanwhile, during the interview, the interviewing officer will ask you questions about your relationship with your spouse, your daily activities, and your future plans as a couple.

What are the Green Card Sponsor Income Requirements 2022

The most common minimum annual income required to sponsor a spouse or family member for a green card is $22,887. This assumes that the sponsor — the U.S. citizen or current green card holder — is not in active military duty and is sponsoring only one relative.

How much does it cost to apply for a green card?

The government filing fee for getting a family-based green card is $1,760 for an applicant living in the United States or $1,200 for an applicant living outside the United States. This does not include the typical cost of the required medical examination, which varies by provider.

How long does it take to get a marriage green card?

The current total wait time for a marriage-based green card ranges between 11 to 56 months, depending on whether you are married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder and where you currently live (not including possible delays). 

What Documents Do We Need for a Marriage Green Card?

The documents required for a marriage green card vary by the situation but generally include the following:

  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Financial documents
  • Proof of sponsor’s U.S. citizenship or permanent residence
  • Proof of lawful U.S. entry and status, if applicable
  • Police clearance certificate, if applicable
  • Prior-marriage termination papers, if applicable
  • Court, police, and prison records, if applicable
  • Military records, if applicable
  • Immigration violation records, if applicable
  • Current/expired U.S. visa(s)
  • Medical examination document

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re considering applying for a marriage-based green card or helping someone else go through that process, you’ll want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row before starting. If you have questions about how to go about doing that, it never hurts to talk with an immigration attorney about your specific situation. Before filing for a marriage-based green card—as with most other legal processes—it’s always best to be prepared. That's why we recommend talking with an immigration lawyer first. For example, if you're married and need to apply for a visa, the spouse will need proof of sponsorship from the U.S. citizen spouse and proof of being legally married. After this step is complete, the applicant can then submit their application for review by U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You can follow the link below for more information on marriage-based green cards.