Even if your marriage green card application is straightforward and free of red flags, the high stakes make a lot of applicants anxious. If you’re unable to sleep at night, envisioning all of the reasons why your application might be denied, remember that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has the same goal as you and your spouse: Ensuring that eligible couples with genuine marriages are able to live together in the United States.
Marriage-based green card applications have a relatively high approval rate, but that doesn’t mean that they are never denied. Here are some of the most common problems that marriage-based green card applications run into, and how you can avoid them.
Failing to establish a valid and authentic marriage
The most essential part of your green card application is proving that you and your spouse have a legally recognized marriage and that your relationship is authentic. This marital relationship is the foundation of your eligibility for a green card.
The first step is proving that you have a valid, legally recognized marriage. In the simplest of cases, USCIS needs to see a copy of your marriage certificate. There are a number of ways that this can become more complicated, however. Your marriage must be valid and legally recognized in the place where you were married, and you have to prove that any previous marriages ended before your current marriage started, by including either divorce certificates or death certificates for any prior spouses.
Here are some examples of how you might run into trouble proving that your marriage is legally valid:
- One spouse’s divorce didn’t become final until after you were married.
- You are a same-sex couple and got married in a country that does not officially recognize same-sex marriages.
- Your marriage wasn’t legally recognized in the country where you got married for other reasons, such as a prohibition against interfaith marriages.
The second part of establishing your marital relationship is proving that your marriage is authentic, rather than a marriage made solely for the purpose of getting a green card. You and your spouse must provide evidence of your relationship and your life together, such as financial documents, photos from trips together, and birth certificates of your children, if you have any, to prove the authenticity of your marriage. Check out our article for more information on proving your marriage is real.
Mistakes on the green card application package
Simple errors are a common reason that green card applications get denied. It’s important to carefully review all of your application materials before sending them to USCIS. The most common errors include:
- Failure to provide translations. Any documents in a non-English language, including birth certificates and marriage certificates, must be translated, word-for-word, into English. You need to include both the translation and the non-English version in your application package, and the translations have to be certified. That simply means that the translator must certify in writing that he or she has translated the document accurately. The certification should include the translator’s name, address, and signature, as well as the date the translation was completed.
- Missing information in the forms. Make sure you fill out the green card application forms completely, and write “N/A” (meaning “not applicable”) if a question doesn’t apply to you and your spouse.
- Problems with the photos. The green card application package requires passport-style photos. You will be able to take these photos at most drug stores. However, you should make sure they meet government requirements.
- Insufficient fees. Required filing fees for a marriage-based green card vary by situation, ranging from a total of $1,200 to $1,760. You can check the current list of all USCIS fees here.
- Missing signatures. Make sure that both you and your spouse have signed on all of the required signature lines. Only an original (“wet ink”) signature will be accepted by USCIS.
Insufficient financial resources
As part of the marriage-based green card process, the U.S. citizen or green card holder sponsoring his or her spouse must prove that he or she has enough financial resources to support the spouse. USCIS generally requires that sponsoring spouse earn at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Level in order for his or her spouse to qualify for a green card. This is usually established by providing copies of the sponsoring spouse’s federal income tax returns and/or recent pay stubs.
There are alternatives for demonstrating sufficient financial resources, including income from the sponsoring spouse’s household members, assets in place of income, or financial co-sponsorship by a family member or friend. Check out our article for more details on these income requirements for a marriage-based green card.
Not eligible to apply for a green card from inside the United States
Just being married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder does not always mean that you are eligible to apply for a green card from within the United States.
- If you entered the United States as a tourist (either on a tourist visa or under the Visa Waiver Program) and applied for a green card less than 60 days after arriving in the United States, your application might be denied unless you can prove that you didn’t intend to apply for a green card when you entered the United States. (For more, see our detailed article on traveling to visit a spouse.)
- If you entered the United States illegally, you aren’t eligible to apply for a green card from inside the United States. If you are in this situation, you would need to apply for a “provisional unlawful presence waiver” and then apply for a green card at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. (For more, see our detailed article on green cards and prior immigration violations.)
- If you entered the United States on a J-1 exchange visitor visa, you may be required to spend two years in your home country after your time in J-1 status—unless you obtain a waiver of this residency requirement.
- If you entered the United States on C-1/D “crewman visa,” you are ineligible to apply for a green card from within the United States.
- If you are currently in removal proceedings, you are ineligible to apply for a green card from within the United States.
- If you originally entered the United States on a K-1 fiancé(e) visa sponsored by a different partner, but did not marry that person, you generally won’t be able to apply for a marriage green card.
Not eligible, period
There are some situations that can make you or your spouse categorically ineligible to obtain a green card. These situations include:
- Certain criminal records. Some (but not all) types of criminal records could make you or your spouse ineligible to apply for a green card. The rules are different for green card sponsors and green card seekers.
- Certain medical issues. If the spouse seeking a green card has a communicable disease, a mental illness, or a history of drug abuse, he or she could be ineligible for a green card. For more details, see our article about the green card medical exam.
- Lies and misrepresentations. Any kind of misrepresentation or dishonesty to immigration officials is considered fraud, and will prevent you from getting a green card.
Even for someone who is otherwise ineligible for a marriage-based green card due to a criminal record, a medical issue, or prior immigration fraud, it may be possible to qualify for a “waiver of inadmissibility.” Typically, USCIS will only grant such a waiver when presented with proof that a U.S. citizen or green card holder spouse would suffer “extreme hardship” if his or her spouse could not live in the United States.
Many potential reasons for denial can be avoided with proper preparation. It’s always better to know ahead of time what problems your green card application might face, so that you can address them from the start.
Preventative measures could include filing a waiver request, finding a financial co-sponsor, or getting married again if there are legal issues with your initial marriage.
Thorough preparation can make the difference between a smooth green card application process and a denial that threatens your plans to live together in the United States.