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Who Can Apply for a Marriage-Based Green Card?

Understanding the eligibility requirements for a spousal visa

Does your marriage qualify you for U.S. permanent residence?

A marriage-based green card is an immigrant visa available to the spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Although the process can seem daunting, most couples do qualify for a marriage-based green card if one spouse is a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

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When you apply for a marriage green card, the spouse who is already a U.S. citizen or green card holder is called the sponsor or the petitioner, while the foreign spouse who is seeking a green card is called the beneficiary. In this guide, we’ll cover the requirements for both petitioner and beneficiary, as well as the rules about what kinds of marriages qualify.

If you’re already married, Boundless can help you complete your entire marriage-based green card (spousal visa) application — including all required forms and supporting documents, independent attorney review, and support — from the moment your application is filed until you receive your green card. Answer our 5-minute questionnaire to get started.

Requirements for a Marriage Green Card

To qualify for a marriage green card, your marriage must be legally valid, and officially recognized in the country or region where it took place. Proving that your marriage is legally valid generally involves providing a marriage certificate, as well as evidence that any prior marriages have been legally terminated through death, divorce, or annulment.

Your marriage must also be based on a genuine, bona fide relationship, and not entered into in order to gain immigration benefits. In other words, you must have married because you genuinely want to be married to one another and spend your lives together, and not simply in order to gain a green card.

sample green card

Since 2013, same-sex marriages have received the same treatment as opposite-sex marriages under U.S. immigration law. That means that if you’re legally married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you’re eligible to request a green card, regardless of whether you’re in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage. Domestic partnerships and civil unions aren’t recognized as marriage under federal law, so you won’t qualify for a marriage green card unless you’re officially married. You can learn more in our LGBTQ immigration guide.

It’s also important to understand that polygamy, or marriage to more than one person, isn’t recognized under federal law. Even if polygamous marriages are legally valid in your home country, you won’t qualify for a marriage green card if you or your spouse are married to anyone else.

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Check out our U.S. Immigration and Marriage Guide for tips on how to plan your wedding, gather your marriage documents, and more!

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Requirements for the Petitioner (Sponsorship Requirements)

Other than being a U.S. citizen or green card holder, there are a few requirements that the petitioner, or sponsoring spouse, must meet in order to apply for a marriage-based green card for their spouse.

  • The sponsor must be lawfully married to the beneficiary. In some jurisdictions, this serves as an effective lower age limit for spousal visas, since people can’t legally marry until they reach a certain age. A marriage must be valid in the place where it was conducted, not in the place where the spouses currently reside.
  • The sponsor must pledge to support their spouse. The petitioner will need to file an affidavit of support pledging to provide for their spouse. You must be aged 18 or more in order to sign the affidavit.
  • The sponsor must have the means to support their spouse. The petitioner must demonstrate that they have the means to support their entire household, including the sponsor, the beneficiary, and any children, at 125% of the federal poverty level. If the petitioner doesn’t meet the income requirements, he or she can ask a friend or relative to be a joint sponsor.
  • The sponsor must be domiciled in the United States. This means that the sponsor must actually live in the United States, or must prove their intent to return to the United States with their foreign spouse. If the sponsor is currently living abroad, they may need to provide evidence of U.S. job offers, lease documents, or financial investments to prove their intent to return to the United States.
  • There are three main reasons why a U.S citizen or green card holder might be barred from sponsoring their spouse for a green card:
    • Recent remarriage. If the petitioner is a green card holder and received their own green card through marriage, they cannot remarry and then sponsor a new spouse until at least 5 years have passed since they gained residence.
    • Offenses against children. If the U.S. citizen or green card holder has been convicted of certain “offenses against minors,” he or she will be automatically disqualified from sponsoring a marriage-based green card. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can also use its discretion to deny green card requests if the sponsor has been accused or charged with such offenses, even if they were never convicted.
    • Risk to beneficiary. If USCIS has reason to believe that the U.S. citizen or green card holder poses a danger to his or her spouse, it can use its discretion to deny the petition.

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.

Requirements for the Beneficiary (Applicant Requirements)

The beneficiary, or person who is applying to receive a green card, is generally automatically eligible to receive a green card once they are lawfully married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

However, there are 4 key reasons why a green card application might be denied to an otherwise eligible spouse:

1. On health grounds

The beneficiary will have to take a medical exam, and could be denied a green card on health grounds if they have certain communicable diseases or mental illnesses, or if they’ve failed to receive the required vaccinations. It is possible to apply for a waiver if any of these apply to you.

A medical finding of ongoing drug abuse and addiction can also lead to a green card denial. In this case, no waiver is typically available.

2. Due to criminal history

People convicted of certain serious crimes are ineligible for a marriage green card. In many cases, it’s possible to apply for a waiver, although for some especially serious crimes, including drug trafficking, no waivers are available.

People whose backgrounds might make them a security risk are also normally denied green cards. This might include former spies, people linked to terror organizations, or people involved in state-sponsored violence. No waivers of these requirements are generally given.

3. Due to immigration history

People can be denied a green card if they violate certain immigration rules, such as lying to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen, or failing to attend a removal hearing.

If the beneficiary comes to the United States on a temporary visa and then seeks a green card, the government may decide they misrepresented their original intentions and refuse their application. This will generally only be an issue if they marry or file a green card application within 90 days of entering the United States.

If the beneficiary overstayed on a visa but is married to a U.S. citizen, they can generally still apply for a green card through adjustment of status. If they are married to a green card holder, however, they will typically need to leave the United States and apply for residence from outside the country.

If the beneficiary originally entered the United States without a valid visa, and weren’t inspected at a port of entry, they can’t obtain a green card through adjustment of status. They will have to leave the country and apply from outside the country.

If the beneficiary spends significant time in the United States without immigration status and then leaves the country to begin or complete a green card application, they could face a lengthy bar to reentry. It is sometimes possible to apply for a waiver of this bar in order to gain a green card and return to the United States.

4. On public charge grounds

The government may deny green cards to beneficiaries who they think will struggle to support themselves and become reliant on public benefits, now or in the future.

Boundless can help you avoid common pitfalls in the immigration process with unlimited support from our team of immigration experts. Learn more.

Who Signs What?

When you’re preparing your marriage green card application packet, the petitioner (or sponsoring spouse) generally starts the process by filing a petition asking the government to recognize the couple’s marriage and promising to support their foreign spouse financially.

Once the initial petition is approved, the beneficiary then files a number of additional forms that make up the full green card application packet.

You can learn more about the full process of applying for a marriage green card here, but for now, let’s take a quick look at the forms each spouse will be expected to sign:

The petitioner signs the following forms:

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

Marriage Green Card Requirement FAQs

If neither spouse is currently a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you do not meet the marriage visa requirements and won’t be able to obtain a marriage green card. However, if one person has an existing temporary visa, such as an F-1 student visa or an H-1B work visa, the other spouse will often be able to gain a visa as a dependent. In some cases, dependent visas can confer the right to work or study in the United States, but they don’t provide a direct pathway to permanent U.S. residence, like a marriage-based visa does.

If you are related to a U.S. citizen or green card holder other than through marriage, you may be able to obtain a family preference green card. Depending on how closely related to the sponsor you are, you could face a long wait before a green card is made available to you. Check the latest visa bulletin for current wait times for family applicants.

While you are not required to hire an immigration attorney to apply for a marriage green card, obtaining legal assistance and advice can increase your chance of success. Boundless has helped more couples than any single law firm (for a third of what it typically costs to hire a lawyer). Learn more about what Boundless can do to help.

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