I am Married to a US Citizen, how do I get my Green Card?

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Added on October 3, 2016

Congratulations! You recently got married and your new spouse is a U.S. citizen, but you are not. One of the first questions on your mind may be: how do I get my green card now that I am married to a citizen? The answer could be fairly simple—or quite complex. No matter what your situation, if you marry a U.S. citizen and want to adjust your status (become a lawful permanent resident) go see an experienced and trusted immigration attorney for a consultation.

Many experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorneys may charge you a nominal fee for the consultation, but it is definitely worth it. Remember the old saying, "you get what you pay for," well that is usually the case with free advice from attorneys. An attorney who charges you a consultation fee will likely spend more time preparing for and with you during the consultation. An attorney who gives you a free consultation may not want to spend anymore time with you or talking to you then they have too, remember, an attorney's time and knowledge is their money.

Now back to how to try and get your green card now that you are married to a U.S. citizen. My guidance will start with the premise that you and your new spouse married for love and not solely for an immigration benefit—this is not a "how to engage in marriage fraud" piece. Still, be sure to document your new life together, or as we say in the field, gather evidence that you have "co-mingled" your lives. That means if you have not already open a joint bank account that you will put money into and use for marital expenses, do it now. Add each other to car insurance, life insurance, health, dental, vision insurance and retirement accounts. If you buy a house or apartment or condo, make sure both of your names are on the deed and mortgage. If you rent, make sure your existing lease is amended to add your spouse and any new lease has both of your names on it. Add your spouse to your credit cards or open new ones in both names. If you have utility, cable, and cell phone bills, add your spouse's name. Every piece of paper, bill, or invoice that you can produce, post-marriage, that has both of your names and your marital address on it, will go a long way to convincing the immigration officers that your marriage is real and not solely for immigration purposes.

All of these documents, along with your marriage certificate and some other required paperwork will go together to support the Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. This is the document that your U.S. citizen spouse will file for you to get the ball rolling on you getting a green card. This petition is where you and your spouse convinces the government that they are a citizen and your marriage is legal. If approved, this will give you a visa to use to get your green card. When you file the I-130, and what other applications you may be able to file with it, will depend on your specific situation.

Whether you can get your green card in the U.S. or may have to go to a Consulate in another country first, will depend on how you last entered the United States and your immigration history. A person who last entered the U.S. with inspection and was either admitted or paroled, is eligible to apply to adjust status and get their green card while in the U.S. That means if you came in as a tourist, student, temporary worker or were paroled in at the border for any reason, even if you overstayed your admission or parole, you can apply to adjust in country. That is great news if this is the case because you can file the I-130 Petition and the I-485 Adjustment Application at the same time and stay in the U.S. while those are pending.   You can also apply for a work permit (I-765) and permission to travel (I-131) while your applications are pending. While it may take 6-9 months for an interview on your I-130/485, your work permit and permission to travel should be approved before that. You will have to submit your fingerprints and be interviewed, but if all goes well, you should get your green card when its all done.   If you have been married for less than two years at the time your application is approved, then you will get a two-year green card and have to request a 10-year green card before the two-year cared expires. You do this on a From I-751. If you have been married more than two years at the time you get your green card, then you will get your 10-year green card straight away and don't have to worry about the I-751.

That's the easy way to get your green card when you marry a U.S. citizen. The hard way is more complicated and can be required if your last entry into the U.S. was without inspection (EWI) or you have an order of removal/deportation, or you have criminal convictions or committed immigration fraud in the past. If your last entry was legal (admitted or paroled) and you have prior crimes or fraud, you may be able to adjust status like I talked about above, but you may need one of several waivers of inadmissibility. You apply for these waivers on a Form I-601. You may have to prove that your spouse or kids or parents will suffer extreme hardship if your application is denied. This makes things harder, but you still get to apply from here in the country.

If you have an order of removal/deportation, you may need to reopen your case in order to be eligible to adjust status. This can be done, but you will want an immigration attorney to help you with that. If your last entry was without inspection, then with few exceptions, you cannot adjust your status in the U.S. through your spouse. You have likely accrued what is called, "unlawful presence" and have to apply for a waiver of that unlawful presence before you leave the U.S. and get your green card at a Consulate in another country. The good news is, if you are eligible for an I-601A waiver called a "state-side waiver" or "unlawful presence waiver," you can apply for it while you are in the U.S. and if its approved, travel abroad for hopefully what is a short period of time and come back with your green card. The bad news is, if your last entry was without inspection and you have entered the country multiple times without inspection and left multiple times, you may have a permanent bar from every coming back to the U.S. and you may not ever be eligible for a waiver. Best advice in this circumstance or any other? Go see an experienced and trusted immigration attorney who can look at your case, your marriage, your immigration history and advise you what to do to get your green card through your U.S. citizen spouse.


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