Immigration FAQ


Answers to frequently asked questions about marriage green cards and the U.S. immigration system



Immigration Basics


What is a green card?

A “green card,” issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), provides proof of lawful permanent resident status, with authorization to live and work anywhere in the United States. Most green cards must be renewed every ten years, but some conditional green cards based on marriage or investment must be made permanent after the first two years.


What is USCIS?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the government agency that oversees legal immigration to the United States. USCIS is primarily responsible for approving green cards, naturalization, work permits, travel permits, and other “immigration benefits.”


What is a lawful permanent resident?

A lawful permanent resident, also known as a green card holder, is a foreign national who is authorized to live and work anywhere in the United States, sponsor certain relatives for their own green cards, and ultimately apply for U.S. citizenship.


What is conditional permanent residence?

A conditional green card is only valid for two years, and the designation “CR1” on the physical card stands for “conditional resident.”

A conditional green card holder must file Form I-751 to “remove the conditions” and obtain a permanent green card. In most cases, a conditional green card is issued to a spouse who has been married for less than two years at the time their green card was first approved. Learn more here.


Why would a green card application be denied?

A green card application may be denied by the government for several reasons, including but not limited to mistakes on the required forms, missing documents, insufficient financial resources, or failure to demonstrate eligibility. Learn more here.


Can I work in the U.S. while waiting for my green card?

Anyone who already has a valid work visa (for example, an H-1B or L-1 visa) can usually continue working even while applying for a green card. Otherwise, green card applicants aren’t allowed to start working in the United States until they obtain a work permit by filing Form I-765. Learn more here.


What is the Visa Bulletin?

The visa bulletin, issued every month by the U.S. Department of State, shows which green card applications can move forward, based on when the I-130 petition that starts the green card process was originally filed. The visa bulletin exists because Congress caps the number of green cards that can be issued each year in certain categories, which has created several backlogs. Learn more here.


What is a biometric screening?

During a biometric screening, a government representative records an individual’s fingerprints and takes photos, in order to check government records for any serious criminal record or relevant prior immigration violations. The biometrics appointment is typically short and simple. Learn more here.


Marriage Green Cards


What is a marriage green card?

Most U.S. citizens and U.S. green card holders are entitled by law to sponsor their spouses for a green card, also known as permanent residence status. The total cost, waiting time, and other details of the marriage green card process can vary based on several factors. Learn more here.


How long after my marriage can I apply for a green card?

Right away! As long as you have a legally valid marriage to a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident (“green card” holder), and an authentic relationship with your spouse, you should generally be eligible to start applying for a marriage green card immediately. Learn more here.


What documents do I need for a marriage green card?

The required documents for a marriage green card can vary by situation, but in general the couple must provide evidence such as: proof that the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident; a copy of the marriage certificate; evidence that the marriage is authentic; and evidence that the sponsoring spouse can financially support the spouse seeking a green card. Learn more here.


What is the difference between a fiancé visa and a marriage visa?

A K-1 or “fiancé visa” is a temporary visa available only to fiancés of U.S. citizens who are living outside of the United States and intend to get married within 90 days of arriving in the United States. A marriage green card is available to spouses of both U.S. citizens and U.S. green card holders, whether living in the United States or abroad, and ultimately provides permanent residency. Learn more here.


How long does it take to get a green card?

There are many ways to get a green card, and the timeline for each pathway is different. Depending on the situation, the marriage-based green card process can last as little as ten months or over three years. Learn more here.


What is a K-1 visa?

The K-1 fiancé visa is available to fiancés of U.S. citizens who are living outside of the United States and intend to get married within 90 days of arriving in the United States. Learn more here.


How much does it cost to get a green card?

The total cost for each type of green card application can vary. Government fees for marriage-based green cards are $1,760 if the spouse seeking a green card lives in the United States and $1,200 if the spouse lives abroad, but many applicants have additional costs as well. Learn more here.


What are the income requirements for a marriage-based green card?

To be eligible for a marriage-based green card, the applicant must have a U.S. financial sponsor (usually the sponsoring spouse) who certifies in an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) that their annual income is at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (most commonly $20,300). The exact number depends on where the sponsor lives, the size of the household, and other factors. Learn more here.


How should I prepare for my marriage green card interview?

The final step in the marriage-based green card process is the interview, where the interviewing officer’s primary goal is to assess the authenticity of the marriage. Questions can focus on the history of the couple’s relationship, their daily activities as a married couple, and their future plans as a couple. Learn more here.


How do we prove our marriage is real or “bona fide”?

A “bona fide” marriage means two people who intend to build a future together, and who did not get married only for immigration purposes. Evidence of an authentic marriage can include joint financial documents, evidence of living together, tickets and photos of trips taken together, and other kinds of evidence. Learn more here.


When can I visit my spouse in the United States?

Before obtaining a green card, the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is living abroad must demonstrate their intention to visit the United States only temporarily before returning to their home country. Learn more here.


Common Forms


What is an affidavit of support (I-864)?

Most green card applicants must have a U.S. sponsor who accepts financial responsibility for them. An “Affidavit of Support” (Form I-864) is essentially a contract between the financial sponsor and the U.S. government, where the financial sponsor demonstrates that they meet the government’s income requirements. Learn more here.


What is Form I-693?

The green card medical exam ensures that the spouse (or other family member) seeking a green card has all necessary vaccinations and does not have any medical conditions that could make them ineligible. Inside the United States, the medical exam is performed by a doctor approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), who provides a signed Form I-693. Outside the United States, the medical exam is performed by a doctor approved by the U.S. Department of State. Learn more here.


Special Issues


What is the “Public Charge” rule?

The “Public Charge” policy is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposal aimed at reducing the number of people who are eligible for green cards and other types of visas, by redefining what makes those people dependent on public-assistance benefits — or likely to use these benefits in the future. It could also affect people who already have green cards. Learn more here.



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