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Marriage Green Cards, Explained

How to get a U.S. green card through marriage

What is a marriage green card?

A marriage-based green card lets a U.S. citizen or green card holder’s spouse live and work anywhere in the United States. A green card holder will have “permanent resident” status until they decide — if they wish — to apply for U.S. citizenship after three years of marriage.

Quick facts

  • As of January 2024, the processing time for a marriage green card is 9.3 months.
  • The cost for applying for a marriage-based green card is $3005 for couples living in the U.S. and $1340 when one or both spouses live outside the U.S.
  • The first step in the marriage green card process is for the sponsoring spouse to file Form I-130 to establish the marriage is real.

How to get a marriage green card

Getting a green card through marriage is a three-step process:

  1. The U.S. citizen spouse establishes the marriage relationship by filing Form I-130
  2. Apply for the green card through adjustment of status (Form I-485) if you’re living in the U.S. or Form DS-260 if you’re a foreign national living abroad
  3. Attend the green card interview and await approval

This comprehensive guide explains the entire green card process for green card applicants living in the United States and green card applicants living abroad.

You can also view the types of questions that you’re likely to encounter on a marriage green card application.

But first, we’ll go over the documents to gather, how long it takes to be approved, and the cost of applying for a marriage-based green card.

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Supporting documents for a marriage green card

Here’s a quick list of documents to begin gathering when starting the marriage green card process. You can find detailed lists for each form later in the article.

  • A legal marriage certificate
  • Proof of divorce from previous marriage (when applicable)
  • Proof of legal entry into the U.S. (Beneficiary)
  • Birth certificate (Beneficiary)
  • Proof of U.S. Citizenship (Sponsor)
  • Evidence your marriage is real

Marriage-based green card timeline

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

The total processing time for a marriage-based green card averages 9.3 months, depending on whether you’re married to a U.S. citizen or a U.S. green card holder (lawful permanent resident). To help you understand wait times and processing times, Boundless has put together an in-depth guide detailing the processing times for your marriage green card application.

Important update for spouses of green card holders:

The F-2A family-based category, which pertains to spouses and unmarried children below the age of 21 of U.S. Green Card holders, saw a significant change in the September 2023 Visa Bulletin. The change will likely result in significant delays in obtaining green cards for spouses of green card holders. Learn more in our monthly Visa Bulletin report.

Can my spouse apply for citizenship after getting their marriage green card?

Most of the time, a lawful permanent resident married to a U.S. citizen can begin the naturalization process by filing Form N-400 after three years of marriage. This is commonly referred to as the “three-year rule.”

The three year rule only applies to those who got green card through marriage and is different than the five year rule which applies to most other green card holders.

To qualify, you have to have been residing in the United States for three years before you file your citizenship application. You must be physically present in the U.S. for at least 18 months during those three years. You must be living with your U.S. citizen spouse, and must demonstrate “good moral character” in your time in the country.

Additionally, you have to meet all the other standard naturalization requirements. If you’re interested in learning about the process to become a U.S. citizen, check out this guide to understand the entire naturalization process.

U.S. immigration can be complex and confusing. Boundless is here to help. Learn more.


Marriage-based green card cost

The government filing fees for applying for a marriage-based green card is $3005 for a spouse living in the United States or $1340 for a spouse living outside the United States. Note, this does not include the cost of the medical examination, which varies from roughly $200 to $500. Boundless has put together a detailed guide breaking down the costs of a marriage green card depending on your situation.


The marriage green card process

Step 1: Establish the marriage relationship (Form I-130)

The first step in the process of getting a green card through marriage is to submit Form I-130 (officially 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 primary purpose of the I-130 form, along with supporting documents, is to establish whether your marriage is valid or bonafide.

The spouse filing the I-130 is called the “petitioner” or “sponsor.” This spouse is a U.S. citizen or current green card holder. The spouse seeking a green card is called the “beneficiary” or “green card applicant.”

Critical elements of a complete I-130 package

  • Government filing fee of $675
  • Proof that the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen (copy of the sponsor’s birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or valid U.S. passport photo page, for example) or permanent resident (copy of the sponsor’s green card, for example)
  • Proof that a legally valid marriage exists (for example, a marriage certificate showing the names of both spouses, as well as the place and date of the marriage)
  • Proof that the marriage is not fraudulent (for example, a joint lease, joint bank account statements, and pictures together)
  • Proof that any previous marriage of either spouse has been terminated (typically, a divorce document)

Boundless helps you build a tailored visa plan for every step of the process, from forms to your immigration interview. Get started today!


Once the I-130 filing package is complete, it must be mailed to the appropriate USCIS address. USCIS will then send the sponsoring spouse an official acknowledgment (or “receipt notice”) in the mail, typically within two weeks.

If USCIS needs more information or documents to process the filing package, they will send the sponsoring spouse a Request for Evidence (RFE) within 2–3 months. Once USCIS has everything it needs, it will typically make a decision on the I-130 application within 15– months, depending on the couple’s situation. These estimates are based on USCIS data published each quarter.

How long does the I-130 petition process take?

The average processing time for Form I-130 is around 12 months. This estimate is based on analysis by Boundless partner Track My Visa Now, which tracks wait times in real-time, giving the most up-to-date forecasts for Form I-130 petitions filed today.

After receiving notice that the I-130 form has been approved, the next step will be determining whether the spouse seeking a green card is eligible.


Step 2: Apply for the green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)

The U.S. government follows two different processes to determine a spouse’s eligibility for a marriage-based green card. The right process depends on whether that spouse lives in the United States or outside the United States.

For green card applicants living in the United States

If the spouse seeking a green card physically lives in the United States, the next step is to file Form I-485 (officially called the “Adjustment of Status” application). The I-485 is filed with USCIS, and its primary purpose is to establish that the spouse is eligible for a green card.

Adjustment of status is the immigration process for the following marriage visa types:

  • IR6/CR6 spouse and accompanying IR7/CR7 child when the sponsor is a U.S. citizen
  • F2A category (F26 spouse; F27 child) when the sponsor is a legal permanent resident (aka green card holder)
  • CF1 spouse; CF2 child when the sponsor is a U.S. citizen and the foreign spouse is adjusting status from a K fiancé visa

Boundless Tip

Adjustment of Status can also be used to apply for employment-based, humanitarian, and diversity visa lottery green cards.

For spouses of U.S. citizens, this I-485 filing package can usually be combined with the I-130 form and supporting documents described in Step 1 above (a process known as “concurrent filing”). USCIS typically processes this concurrent filing within 10–23 months.

For spouses of U.S. green card holders, however, the I-485 filing package cannot be submitted until the U.S. Department of State determines that a green card is available in the visa bulletin, given various annual caps. The wait time is currently about one and a half years, but this can vary by a few months, depending on the home country of the spouse seeking a green card. Once the I-485 filing package is submitted, USCIS will typically process it within 29–40 months (although it could be longer depending on your local field office).

Critical elements of an I-485 filing package

  • Government filing fees of $2330 (including $1440 for the green card application)
  • Proof of nationality of the spouse seeking a green card (copy of birth certificate and passport photo page)
  • Proof of lawful entry to the United States by the spouse seeking a green card (copy of I-94 travel record and prior U.S. visa)
  • Medical examination performed by a USCIS-approved doctor
  • Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support the spouse seeking a green card (including Form I-864, or “Affidavit of Support,” and evidence such as tax returns and pay stubs)

Boundless can help U.S. citizens and U.S. green card holders sponsor their spouses for marriage green cards through the adjustment of status process. Learn more.


For green card applicants living abroad

There is a different process to sponsor a green card (spousal visa) for a spouse living abroad. The next step is to file an application package with the National Visa Center (NVC), which is run by the State Department. The NVC gathers the necessary forms and documents and decides whether the spouse is ready for an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad (a procedure known as “consular processing”).

Consular processing is the immigration process for the following visa types:

  • CR1/IR1 spouse and the accompanying CR2/IR2 child when the sponsor is a U.S. citizen
  • F2A category (F21 spouse; F22 child) when the sponsor is a legal permanent resident (aka green card holder)

Boundless Tip

Consular Processing can also be used to apply for employment-based, humanitarian, and diversity visa lottery green cards.

For spouses of U.S. citizens, the NVC typically processes an application package within 1-2 months.

For spouses of U.S. green card holders, the NVC typically processes an application also within 1-2 months.

Once processed, the NVC then forwards it to a U.S. embassy or consulate in the home country of the spouse seeking a green card.

Critical elements of an NVC filing package

  • Government filing fees of $445 (including $120 for the financial support form and $325 for the State Department processing fee)
  • Form DS-260 (green card application filed online)
  • Proof of nationality of the spouse seeking a green card (copy of birth certificate and passport photo page)
  • Copy of a police clearance certificate for the spouse seeking a green card (showing previous interactions with law enforcement, if any)
  • Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support the spouse seeking a green card (including Form I-864, or “Affidavit of Support,” and evidence such as tax returns and pay stubs)

Step 3: Attend the green card interview and await approval

The final step in the marriage-based green card process is the green card interview. The interviewing officer’s primary goal is to assess the authenticity of the marriage. Questions can focus on the couple’s relationship history, as well as their daily activities and future plans together. If the interviewing officer is sufficiently convinced that the marriage is not fraudulent, they will approve the spouse for a green card.

The location of the interview — in addition to whether the sponsoring spouse must also attend — depends on where the spouse seeking a green card currently lives:

Does your spouse live in the United States?

A spouse applying for a green card from within the United States will attend an interview with the sponsoring spouse at their local USCIS office. The physical green card will typically arrive by mail within 2-3 weeks of case approval.

Does your spouse live abroad?

A spouse applying for a green card from abroad will attend an interview at a U.S. Embassy or consulate in their home country. The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.

The spouse seeking a green card will then receive a visa stamp in their passport, allowing for travel to the United States. The immigrant fee ($235) must be paid online before a physical green card can be issued. (USCIS recommends paying this fee before the spouse leaves for the United States.) The green card is typically mailed to the couple’s U.S. address within 2-3 weeks of the spouse’s arrival.

Boundless offers unlimited support from our team of immigration experts, so you can apply with confidence and focus on what’s important, your life in the U.S. Learn more.

Marriage green card denial rate

In FY 2022, USCIS received 873,073 applications for Form I-130 (the first step in any family-based green card application, including the marriage green card) and denied 133,251 (15%).

During that same year, USCIS also received 327,184 Form I-485 applications (applications to adjust the status for foreign spouses or relatives already living in the U.S.) and denied 40,201 (12%).

Note these numbers apply to all immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and green card holder and not only spouses.

For more info, check out the Boundless guide on common reasons for green card denial.


What’s next?

What happens next depends on the length of the marriage at the time of green card approval:

If you have been married for less than two years

The spouse will receive a CR1 (or “conditional”) green card. Conditional green cards are valid for only two years. Couples together must file Form I-751 (officially called the “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence”) during the 90-day period immediately before the expiration of the conditional green card in order to “remove the conditions” and obtain a permanent green card. Upon receiving this form, USCIS will re-evaluate the couple’s marriage to make sure it is authentic and that the couple did not marry only for immigration purposes.

If you have been married for more than two years

The spouse will receive an IR1 (or “immediate relative”) green card — a “permanent” green card that is valid for 10 years. In most cases, renewing this 10-year green card is a simple process and does not require the couple to prove the authenticity of their marriage again.

Boundless helps you build a tailored visa plan for every step of the process, from forms to your immigration interview. Get started today!

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Marriage Green Card FAQs

Yes, you can work in the United States with a marriage green card. If you’re already legally in the US and have a valid nonimmigrant visa that allows work authorization (like an H-1B or L-1), you can continue working while your green card application is pending. If you wish to work while your green card application is pending, you can apply for a work permit using Form I-765

Once you receive your marriage green card, you can work immediately. If you need to work before obtaining your green card, you can apply for work authorization (Form I-765). If approved, you’ll receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), also known as a work permit. Once you have the work permit, you can begin working in the U.S. while your green card application is being processed.

If you’re applying from within the U.S., you will need to file Form I-130, Form I-485, and supporting documents, including a birth certificate and passport photos. If you’re applying from outside the U.S., you will need to file Form I-130, Form DS-260, and the supporting documents.

If you obtained your green card through marriage, you will receive a conditional green card that is valid for two years. To remove the conditions and obtain a permanent green card, you must file a joint petition with your spouse to remove the conditions within the 90-day period before your conditional green card expires.

Yes, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse must sponsor you for a marriage green card.

No, you must apply for a marriage green card and go through the application process.

USCIS will investigate a marriage to determine whether it is bona fide (genuine) or entered into solely for the purpose of obtaining a green card. The agency may interview the spouses separately or together to ask questions about their relationship, daily routines, and future plans, and review documents submitted with the green card application, such as marriage and birth certificates, tax returns, and joint bank account statements.

Typically, couples are required to attend one interview together.

Yes, you can travel outside of the United States once you have a marriage green card. However, be sure not to travel abroad before your green card is approved — USCIS will assume you have abandoned your application and deny your green card. 

If your marriage ends before you receive your marriage-based green card, you may no longer be eligible for the green card. The process for obtaining a green card through marriage requires that the marriage be genuine and entered into in good faith, with the intent to establish a life together as spouses. If the marriage ends before the green card is issued, USCIS may conclude that the marriage was not genuine and deny the green card application. Learn more about marriage green cards and divorce.

A conditional green card is issued for two years and requires the couple to file a joint petition to remove conditions. A permanent green card is issued for 10 years and does not require a joint petition.

Common reasons for denial include lack of evidence of a bona fide marriage, criminal history, incomplete forms, ineligibility, immigration violations, and marriage fraud. 

You can file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals within 30 days of receiving the denial, or you can reapply. 

While it is not required, it may be helpful to enlist a lawyer’s during the application process. Boundless put together a detailed guide that explains when hiring an immigration lawyer can be helpful, and when you may be able to apply on your own. Boundless also offers two different service options for marriage green card help: application guidance that includes lawyer support, and application support that does not (for simpler cases). Learn more about these service options here.

It may, depending on the severity of the offense and other factors. It is best to consult with an immigration lawyer. Learn more about green card sponsors with criminal records, and applicants with criminal records.

Yes, you can apply for a marriage green card if your spouse is living abroad using consular processing.


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