This is also a tricky situation since immigration has very clear rules on eligibility for green cards and they are very harsh if people break those rules. Although there is no restriction to getting married while on a tourist visa, there are very clear restrictions on coming to the U.S. on a tourist visa with the intention of getting married and filing for a green card. Many probably have heard of the 90-day rule for tourist visa holders. Basically, the law will assume you had fraudulent intentions if you enter the U.S. and file for a green card within the first 90 days of entry. If this is the case, immigration could not only deny your green card request but could also cancel your existing visa.
Marriage Green Card
A Marriage Green Card is the legal immigration process to become a permanent resident of the United States based on a U.S. Citizen or legal resident sponsor who is your spouse. This immigrant visa requires an interview from the sponsor and the immigrant.
Inside the United States: Immigrants who legally entered the U.S. are eligible to complete the process inside the country. This allows the immigrant to remain with their loved ones, but also allows the immigrant to apply for a work permit so they can seek and accept employment while they are waiting for the green card to be approved
Abroad: Immigrants who live outside the United States and who either do not have a visa to enter the country or who choose to remain in their home country can elect to complete the process in a U.S. embassy. This allows them to remain with their families and to continue preparation for moving to the U.S. for their permanent residency.
Eligibility: To be eligible for legal residency, the immigrant must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident. There also must be a qualifying relationship between the immigrant and their sponsor. Although marriage is most common, the qualifying relationship could also be with a parent, child, or sibling.
Income requirements: All immigrant visas require the sponsor to be able to show the government that they can financially support the new immigrant. Generally, this means that the sponsor must provide income tax information showing that their income for the past 3 years has been above a certain level to be able to support the immigrant. The government looks at the household size and any existing legal dependents that the sponsor is responsible for to see if the sponsor can support the additional dependent.
Inside the United States: Depending on the relationship between the sponsor and the immigrant, a number of different documents are needed to prove the case. Some of the most important documents are:
- Proof of the relationship (such as marriage and birth certificates),
- Proof of legal entry into the United States (passport, visa, and I-94 document) and
- Proof of the ongoing relationship (if the process is based on marriage).
Abroad: Like the process within the United States, it is always necessary to prove the relationship between the sponsor and immigrant, the ongoing marital relationship, and the legal ability to travel internationally (passport). Unique for the processes abroad is the need to provide police and court record checks for anyone over the age of 16.
The marriage green card process outside the United States is actually a bit cheaper than green cards inside the U.S. because the overall filing fees are a bit lower. This is partially related to the fact that there are no application fees to be paid for work permits for those filing abroad since they are not eligible for working in the U.S. until arriving with their green card. The current government filing fee to initiate the green card process is $535. If you will be doing your interview inside the U.S., there is an additional payment of $1225 to cover the green card interview and biometrics.
These fees are not paid by those working with an embassy, but the embassy does charge both processing fees and interview fees. The processing fees abroad are payable to the National Visa Center (NVC) which is the office that covers reviewing the actual entry visa request. This is typically around $500 for a single sponsor and their beneficiary. The interview fees for the embassy appointment vary by country and local currency rates, but typically come in around $300 US dollars.
Inside the United States: Generally, the review and interview process for a green card process can take around 12 months.
Abroad: The processing, review, and interview process for a green card request abroad takes a bit longer than inside the U.S. since this requires reviews from both the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (embassy). Generally, the process takes 1.5 years.
Frequently Asked Questions
Like with most immigration cases, the answer depends on the facts of the case, specifically, what crime was committed. Typically, a conviction of domestic violence will make a person ineligible to sponsor someone for the residency process. Clearly, this law is intended to prevent bad people from targeting and preying upon an unsuspecting individual overseas for abuse or exploitation.
There is no waiting period in place for a marriage-based green card request. There is, however, a two-year requirement in place for certain marriage green card processes. This requirement, however, applies not to the eligibility of the applicant to file or even receive a green card, but to certain applicants who are granted “conditional residency” by filing their petition within the first 2 years of their marriage. All that is required to remove this condition and to receive a full 10-year green card is for the couple to prove they are still legitimately married after the first 2 years of residency.
Essentially, anything that can show the government you are more than just friends. The best documents are those that prove you are living together and share financial obligations. Proving that you are in a strong relationship can also be done by providing evidence of trips together, and providing snapshots of your relationship history (such as text messages or social media posts). Pictures of trips taken together are also very helpful, but even better are pictures of holiday events with other family members.
The answer depends on both the length of the relationships involved as well as the age of the children. First, the child must be under 21 years of age to be eligible for sponsorship immediately with their parent. If the child is not included in the initial process (maybe they decided to stay in their home country rather than relocate with their parent), the U.S. sponsor can file the paperwork later to sponsor the child, but will need to provide information about the relationship between the child and the step-parent.
If the child is over 21 or it is not possible to prove any true relationship with the U.S. sponsor, the child will need to wait for their parent to become a legal permanent resident first and then for that parent to sponsor their child directly. The advantage of this process is that there are no issues qualifying for the green card since the relationship between parent and child is easy to prove, usually with a birth certificate.
Immediately! One of the most common misconceptions out there is that an immigrant must wait at least 2 years after their marriage to apply for a green card. There is no truth to this. While it may be a bit easier to get approval after years of marriage, legally a filing can be submitted immediately after the wedding.
The required documents for a marriage green card are different depending on the history of the sponsor and immigrant. Generally speaking, the government requires proof that the sponsor and immigrant are in a “bona fide” marital relationship. There are many documents that can help prove this to the government. Some of the universally required documents are as follows: proof that the sponsor is a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident; a copy of the marriage certificate; and evidence that the sponsoring spouse can financially support the immigrant spouse.
Since there are a number of ways to get a green card, the timeline for each method is different. Generally speaking, a marriage-based green card process can last as little as 10 months or as many as 3 years. Much depends on whether the process is in the U.S. or abroad as well as the country of origin.
Since the green card process can be very different for each applicant, the total cost will also vary. Government fees for marriage-based green cards in the U.S. are $1,760 and around $1,200 if the spouse lives abroad. Besides government fees, there are also costs for medical exams and document delivery services depending on the country and the U.S. embassy
To be eligible for a marriage-based green card, the applicant must have a U.S. financial sponsor who is always the sponsoring spouse, but may also include a co-sponsor. These sponsors will agree (certify) that their annual income is at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (or only 100% for military sponsors). The exact minimum income required depends completely on the size of the family and the number of dependents on income tax returns. For a couple with no children or other dependents, the minimum needed income for 2022 is $22,887.
The final step in the marriage-based green card process is the interview. Depending on whether your process is inside the U.S. or abroad, the interview will be either alone or with your spouse. Depending on the interview location, the government agent will focus on slightly different things. In the U.S., the officer’s primary goal is to assess the authenticity of the marriage and most questions will be about the relationship as well as daily activities and future plans as a married couple. While at the embassy, questions relate to the relationship, but also a fair amount about the immigrants' past immigration history and livelihood in their home country.
Depending on the type of criminal history a person has, there may be no effect on their green card process or it is possible the history could be a complete deal-breaker for them. Because of this, it is recommended that a person with any sort of criminal history consult with an immigration attorney to discover if you will be able to continue with your process. Please click the following link to be put in touch with Attorney Lee L. Marvin to further discuss your situation and how you can move forward. Just because your situation isn’t right for our online services, does not mean we cannot still help you!
An RFE (Request for Evidence) is the government’s method for obtaining additional documents or evidence needed to make a decision on a case. It is very common to receive these requests and most cases will eventually receive one prior to an interview or approval. If you receive an RFE for your case, Immigration will tell you exactly what you need to do. If you are confused and need additional assistance with an RFE, we would be happy to help put you in touch with one of Attorney Lee L. Marvin to help. Please click on the following link.
What sources of income can I include?
In general, your annual income as a sponsor is the same figure you reported on your U.S. federal (not state) income tax return for the most recent tax filing year. As of the 2021 tax filing year, this figure is your “Total Income” listed on your IRS Form. Your total annual income can include wages and salaries, retirement benefits, alimony, child support, dividends or interest earned, and income from other legal sources.
Can I include income from other members of my household?
Yes! If you, the sponsor, do not meet the minimum annual income requirement alone, you can also include income from other adult household members, including your siblings, parents, and children. You can only include their income, however, as long as they are willing to make this income available to help support the relative seeking a green card. The other household member will need to complete another application (I-864A) called a “Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member” to establish this financial commitment.
Can I include income from other people outside my household?
Yes! If the sponsor’s entire household does not meet the minimum annual income requirement together, there is another option:
The sponsor can ask for the help of a secondary co-sponsor — commonly known as a “joint sponsor” — a person who does not live in the sponsor’s household and is willing to accept full financial responsibility for the relative seeking the green card.
The co-sponsor must submit their own Affidavit of Support Form and must meet the above income requirements all on their own. In other words, the sponsor cannot combine their income or assets with those of the co-sponsor. For instance, if the sponsor and their household are required to have a combined $21,550 in annual income, then the co-sponsor (and their household) must separately have at least $21,550 of their own annual income.
Although the co-sponsor need not be a family member, they must be a U.S. citizen or green card holder residing in the United States.
Can I include income from the relative seeking the green card?
The relative seeking the green card can possibly use their own income to meet the financial requirements if this income will continue from the same source after the green card is obtained. This is only possible if you are in the US on a valid working visa.
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