How to Marry a U.S. Citizen
How to live in the United States permanently with your future spouse
Congratulations on finding love and deciding to get married!
Now, because your loved one is a U.S. citizen, you’re probably wondering how to come live with them in the United States, and how the immigration process works. Although at first the process will seem complicated and unfamiliar, because you are marrying or have married a U.S. citizen, you are not subject to the long wait times associated with other family visa categories, such as siblings.
However, as with all U.S immigration, sponsorship is required. In your case, your sponsor will be your U.S. spouse, who will need to apply for you to come and live with them in the United States. You will both need to follow a series of steps in order for you to apply and receive a green card. In this guide, we’ll go over the basics of obtaining a marriage green card and how to go about the marriage process depending on your specific situation.
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How Getting a Green Card Through Marriage Works
To come and live in the United States permanently, you will need to apply for a marriage-based green card.
A marriage green card allows the spouse of a U.S. citizen or green card holder to live and work anywhere in the United States. A green card holder will then have “permanent resident” status until they apply for U.S. citizenship, if they choose to do so.
To receive a green card, you must either be sponsored by a family member — in this case, your spouse — or an employer. There are usually caps or wait times associated with almost all green cards because of the high demand, but good news for you: no wait times or caps apply to marriage green cards! This means that you can apply for a green card immediately when you marry your U.S. citizen spouse.
However, just because there are no wait times or caps does not mean the process will be smooth or quick. It can take months, sometimes years, for the whole process to be complete from start to finish, especially if your case is complex or you have children.
Also, you still require sponsorship from your spouse. They will need to prove they pay their taxes and have sufficient income to support you, or have a sponsor that is willing to instead. This is called an Affidavit of Support and is a legal contract stating that the sponsor will support you if you cannot find income or employment in the United States.
If all of this sounds complicated and daunting, don’t worry! With Boundless, you get an independent immigration attorney who can answer all legal questions related to your application. Boundless also makes the whole application process easy by turning all the government requirements into simple questions you can answer online — on your own time. Learn more about how we help you complete all the required forms, or check your eligibility for a marriage-based green card.
Where Should I Get Married?
Need help planning your wedding? Get detailed information on how to obtain your marriage license and other important tips for couples of different nationalities in Boundless’ Marriage and U.S. Immigration guide.
For most couples, deciding where to get married can be challenging. Add in a foreign spouse and U.S. immigration laws, and the task becomes even harder.
If you decide to get married in the United States, you will be eligible to apply for Adjustment of Status (AOS). This is an internal process that allows you to stay with your spouse in the United States and possibly work while your case is processed.
Importantly, you must be mindful of what visa you are on in the United States and the “90-day rule”. The rule is a USCIS guideline used to determine whether green card applicants applying from within the United States misled officials on their initial visa application to come to the United States. It generally means you cannot apply for AOS within the first 90 days of your stay in the United States and if you do, your case will most likely be denied.
If you decide to get married abroad, you will have to go through Consular Processing (CP). When you apply via consular processing, you must remain in your home country while waiting for your green card to be approved.
Importantly, U.S. authorities only recognize civil marriages registered with the authorities of the country in which the marriage was celebrated. So, be sure to check that your marriage will be valid for U.S. immigration purposes.
U.S. immigration can be complex and confusing. Boundless is here to help. Learn more.
Marrying in the United States
If you are already on a temporary visa in the U.S., you will need to apply for a green card via the Adjustment of Status process. Before applying, you’ll first need to get married.
You will also need to attend a biometrics appointment to have your fingerprints taken and a marriage green card interview. The goal of the interview is for the government to make sure your relationship is genuine.
There are no wait times or caps associated with spouses of U.S. citizens — unlike those of green card holders — and importantly, if you legally entered the United States but fell out of status, you can have it forgiven during the adjustment of status process.
If you live outside the U.S., you have the following options:
1. Get married outside the U.S. and then apply for a green card via consular processing. You will need to file Form I-130 and then Form DS-260 (“Immigrant Visa Electronic Application”), and also attend a medical exam and an interview at a U.S. Embassy or consulate.
Although this can sometimes be a long process, this option does lead to a green card as soon as you arrive in the United States. So you can begin living and working immediately upon arrival!
2. Have your fiancé enter the U.S. on a K1 visa, which permits you to marry in the United States and then apply for a green card.
You can learn more about the differences between the spousal visa process and the K-1 visa process in our comparison guide.
Unsure about which visa option is best for you and your spouse? Answer our 5-minute questionnaire to get started.
Marriage Fraud and Visa Fraud
U.S. authorities only recognize civil marriages for immigration purposes, in which a marriage certificate has been issued by recognized authorities at a local or national level.
USCIS will not recognize (even if valid in the place it was celebrated): polygamous relationships; underage marriages; civil unions, domestic partnerships, or other such relationships not recognized as marriages in the place of celebration; proxy marriages where one person was not present during the ceremony; and relationships entered into for purely immigration reasons.
Remember that same-sex marriages are recognized by USCIS but must be documented by a marriage certificate from a country in which they are legal. This is because USCIS says the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated determines whether the marriage is legally valid for immigration purposes. LGBTQ couples can get additional immigration support in our detailed guide here.
Finally, marriage fraud or the intent to fraudulently immigrate to the United States through marriage is taken very seriously by USCIS. A crucial aspect of the marriage green card process is proving that your marriage is “bona fide,” or formed from a genuine relationship. Proving your relationship is legitimate is a key part of both your application and your interview.
You may face further requests for evidence or questioning during your interview if the officer believes you may not have a genuine marriage.
When you marry a non-U.S. citizen, it can have immigration implications. Depending on the specific circumstances, the non-U.S. citizen spouse may be eligible to apply for immigration benefits, such as a green card, through the family-based immigration process. The process typically involves filing an immigrant petition, providing evidence of the bona fide nature of the marriage, attending an interview, and completing necessary background checks and documentation. It’s important to consult with an immigration attorney or seek guidance from the USCIS for detailed information and requirements based on your specific situation.
While it is possible to get married to a non-U.S. citizen who is in the United States on a tourist visa, it is important to note that the primary purpose of a tourist visa is temporary visitation, not for immigration or marriage intent. Marrying someone on a tourist visa does not automatically change their immigration status. If the non-U.S. citizen intends to stay in the United States and apply for immigration benefits, they would generally need to pursue the appropriate immigration process, such as adjusting their status or applying for a relevant visa, like a marriage-based immigrant visa.
Marriage to a U.S. citizen does not automatically grant someone U.S. citizenship. However, marriage to a U.S. citizen can be a pathway to immigration benefits, such as obtaining a green card. After obtaining a green card, the non-U.S. citizen spouse may become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process. The specific requirements and timeline for naturalization can vary based on factors such as the length of marriage, continuous residence in the United States, and meeting the necessary criteria outlined by the USCIS.