This guide is for married couples where one spouse is a U.S. permanent resident (a “green card” holder), one spouse is a foreign national seeking a green card, and both of you are living in the United States. We’ll go through the process, step by step, of applying for a marriage green card.
Costs and timeline
22-36 months to obtain green card
(more details on timing)
$1,960 ($1,760 in government fees + $200 for medical exam)
(more details on cost)
The first step in the marriage-based green card process is to submit Form I-130 (technically called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The main purpose of this form is to establish that a valid marriage exists.
The spouse filing the I-130 is called the “petitioner” or “sponsor.” This is the spouse who is the current U.S. green card holder. The spouse seeking a green card is called the “beneficiary.”
Government forms and fees
This step requires $535 in government fees, two forms, and supporting documents:
There will be additional government fees, forms, and supporting documents for the next steps in this process, described below.
Once your I-130 filing package is complete, you will mail it to the appropriate USCIS address. You will then get an official receipt notice in the mail from USCIS, typically within two weeks. If USCIS needs more information or documents to process your filing package, they will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE) within 2–3 months.
Once USCIS has everything they need, they will typically make a decision on your I-130 petition within 8-11 months.
Because the spouse seeking a green card is present in the United States, the next step is to file Form I-485 (technically called the application for “Adjustment of Status”). The I-485 green card application package is filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and its primary purpose is to establish that the spouse is eligible for a green card.
Because the sponsoring spouse is a green card holder themselves, however (and not a U.S. citizen), there is an extra waiting period first.
The visa bulletin
For spouses of U.S. green card holders (permanent residents), the I-485 green card application package cannot be submitted until the U.S. State Department determines that a green card is available, given various annual caps. The dates published in the State Department’s monthly visa bulletin determine when you can file. For more information, check out our guide on “How to Read the Visa Bulletin.”
The wait time is currently about 13-23 extra months after the I-130 is approved, but can vary by a few months depending on the home country of the spouse. While waiting for a green card to become available, the spouse seeking a green card must maintain continuous lawful immigration status in the United States.
This means that the spouse seeking a green card should be in valid “nonimmigrant status” (for example, having a valid student visa or temporary work visa) for the entire time that they are waiting for a green card to become available. Unlike spouses of U.S. citizens who may still file a green card application even if their immigration status lapses, spouses of U.S. green card holders may not file green card applications if they have such a lapse.
Required Government formS
Once the State Department indicates that a visa number is available, it’s time to complete the following USCIS forms (and supporting documents) required as part of the full green card application package—and Boundless can help you complete them all!
- Green card application form (I-485)
- Financial support form (I-864)
- Declaration of self-sufficiency form (I-944)
Optional government forms
If the spouse who’s seeking a green card also wants to work in the United States or travel abroad, the following forms can also be included in the full green card application package (and Boundless can help you complete these, as well):
The spouse who’s seeking a green card must have a medical examination that’s performed by a USCIS-approved physician. You can find one of these physicians near you by using the USCIS find a doctor tool.
These medical exams usually cost $200 or more. At the end of the exam, the doctor gives you a sealed envelope that contains your exam results and your vaccination record (Form I-693).
You have two options as far as when to schedule your medical exam appointment. You can either attend the appointment before you submit your green card application, and then include the exam with your application package, or you may submit your medical exam to USCIS soon after submitting your application or bring the results with you to your green card interview.
Filing the application
This I-485 application package must include a total of $1,225 in government fees:
- $1,140 for the Form I-485
- $85 for biometrics (fingerprints and photo)
There is no fee for the work permit, travel permit, and declaration of self-sufficiency applications.
After you mail this package to the right USCIS address, within about two weeks you should get official “receipt numbers” in the mail from USCIS (one each for the I-485, the work permit application, and the travel permit application).
Usually about one month after USCIS receives your I-485 application package, you will receive notice of a biometrics appointment. These appointments are typically scheduled at the local USCIS field office close to where you live. This appointment is usually not stressful; it’s just the moment when USCIS takes fingerprints and photographs of the spouse seeking a green card, to conduct background and security checks. The U.S. citizen spouse isn’t required to attend this appointment, and often does not attend.
Once again, if USCIS needs more information or documents to move forward with your green card application package, they’ll send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), typically within 2–3 months.
Once the I-485 filing package is submitted, USCIS typically processes it within 13-23 months.
The Green Card Interview
Once USCIS has finished processing your green card application materials, they will transfer your file to the local USCIS field office close to where you live. This local office will then issue an appointment notice for both of you to attend an interview at a certain time, date, and location.
This interview is the last major step in the green card application process, and it can be the most intimidating and high-stress part. You can help reduce this anxiety by knowing what to expect and putting together an organized file to bring to the interview. Here are some resources with more details:
If the interviewing officer is sufficiently convinced that the marriage is authentic, they will approve the green card application, sometimes on the spot! The physical green card will arrive by mail, typically within 2–3 weeks of case approval.
What happens next
This whole process, from start to finish, typically takes 22-36 months—first, 8-11 months for USCIS to process the I-130 petition, then 13-23 months to process the I-485 form and 1-2 months for USCIS to schedule the interview.
If you’ve been married for less than two years when the green card is approved, then this green card will say “CR1,” for “conditional green card.” These green cards are only valid for two years. After that, you must jointly file another form to “remove the conditions,” giving USCIS one more chance to make sure that the marriage is real, and only then do you get a permanent green card.
If you’ve been married for more than two years when the green card is approved, then this green card will say “IR1,” for “immediate relative green card.” These green cards are valid for 10 years, and renewing them is typically a simple process.