It’s not uncommon to find love while deployed or stationed abroad. But once you’ve met and married your true love, how will you bring your new spouse to the United States in order to start a life together?
The answer is a marriage green card. A green card would allow your non-American spouse to live and work anywhere in the United States while providing a path toward U.S. citizenship after 3–5 years.
Before you start the application process, you’ll need to know some basics. This guide will walk you through the steps and help you determine if you qualify. Read on to learn everything you need to know about green cards for military spouses.
Congratulations on your marriage! The first step toward a marriage green card is to make sure you qualify for one. Couples generally must meet a number of requirements, such as proving the authenticity of their marriage, earning at least 100% of the poverty guidelines for your household size,
For sponsoring spouses on active duty:
- Be a U.S. citizen or green card holder (permanent resident)
- Earn at least 100% of the poverty guidelines for your household size
- Accept financial responsibility for your spouse
- Not have previously committed certain types of crimes
For spouses seeking a green card:
- Prove your identity, nationality, and current U.S. immigration status, if any
- Not have previously committed certain types of crimes or immigration violations (or seek a waiver)
For both spouses:
Before starting the paperwork, it’s important to understand which process to follow. The right process — some couples can choose — depends on: 1) whether the sponsoring military spouse is a U.S. citizen or green card holder and 2) whether the spouse seeking a green card lives in or outside the United States. Your situation determines which forms to complete, how much you’ll pay, and how long you’ll wait.
What’s the right process?
- When both spouses live in the United States: You’ll file an “Adjustment of Status.” The spouse seeking a green card won’t need to leave the United States. This is true for spouses of green card holders as long as they maintain a valid student or work visa while waiting for approval. But spouses of U.S. citizens need not maintain a valid immigration status while waiting. They can also file all required forms at the same time, a process called “concurrent filing.”
- When the spouse seeking a green card lives abroad: You’ll go through “Consular Processing.” The spouse seeking a green card must apply through a U.S. consulate or embassy.
- When both spouses live abroad: You can complete the first step through an international U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office — if available in your current country — to speed up the process. This is only an option until all international USCIS offices close by October 2019. Alternatively, you can file with a U.S. consulate or embassy.
How does the process work?
Getting a military spouse green card is a four-step process:
- Establish marriage validity.
- Apply for the green card (from within the United States or from abroad) and prove the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support their spouse.
- Attend an interview.
- Wait for approval.
How long is the process?
Depending on the process you’ll follow, you can expect to wait 10–38 months, not including possible delays. The process generally takes longer for spouses of green card holders — who must wait for a “visa number” before applying — than for spouses of U.S. citizens.
How much does the green card cost?
You’ll pay $1,200–$1,760 in government fees, depending on where the spouse seeking a green card lives. A required medical examination will cost an additional $100–$500.
The U.S. government conducts an in-person interview to evaluate the authenticity of your marriage. If it’s legitimate, you shouldn’t worry.
Where’s the interview?
- If applying from within the United States: You’ll go to a local USCIS office. Both spouses attend unless the sponsoring military spouse is deployed, in which case their spouse (attending alone) should bring evidence of the overseas military assignment — a photocopy of the official orders or letter from the commanding officer — to the interview.
- If applying from abroad: You’ll go to a U.S. consulate. In most cases, only the spouse seeking a green card will attend.
The physical green card arrives 2–3 weeks after final approval (if applying from within the United States) or after arriving in the United States (if from abroad).
But not all green cards are created equal:
- If you’ve been married less than 2 years: You’ll receive a “conditional” (CR1) green card that expires in 2 years. At that time, both spouses will need to apply to “remove conditions” and attend a second interview with USCIS to re-authenticate the marriage.
- If you’ve been married at least 2 years: You’ll receive a “permanent” green card valid for 10 years. Renewing is usually a simple process and doesn’t require proving the authenticity of your marriage a second time.
Congratulations on your green card! In 3–5 years, you can apply for U.S. citizenship. You’ll qualify for expedited or overseas naturalization if you meet certain requirements and if the sponsoring spouse is stationed abroad.