Permanent Residency by Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

This is often considered to be the fastest way to obtain permanent residency. However, the USCIS looks closely at these petitions to see if the marriage can be considered bona fide or if it has been entered into for the purposes of getting a green card. If the latter is found, the immigration petition is denied and the non-U.S. spouse will be required to leave the country immediately. Fortunately, the greater number of spousal petitions are approved.

Other factors that determine the legitimacy of the marriage are that:

  1. The marriage must be valid at the time it was entered into (ie. each party was legally able to marry).
  2. The marriage must still be in existence. Although the couple may be separated, as long as a legal separation agreement has not been entered into, the USCIS continues to recognize a relationship.

The other criteria that must be met is that the foreign spouse of the U.S. citizen must be eligible to be admitted to the United States. This means that they are not in deportation proceedings or other limits which may rule out entry into the U.S.

If You Get Married In the U.S.

If the marriage took place in the U.S. and can be evidenced with civil documentation, the U.S. citizen spouse must petition the USCIS for an immigrant visa. At the same time, the foreign-born spouse applies for an adjustment of status to permanent residency. At the same time they may also apply for work authorization and permission to travel abroad if needed.

The work permit and travel permit (advance parole) are usually issued within a few of months. The green card process takes slightly longer. For example, in Los Angeles it can take less than 6 months for the initial interview with the USCIS.  The application to adjust status must be filed with the USCIS local office that has jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence.

In any case, the foreign-born spouse is permitted to live, work and study in the United States. They are also subject to all federal, state and local laws such as income tax filing, driver’s license requirements and other laws as applicable.

If You Get Married Outside the U.S.

If a U.S. citizen marries a foreign national outside of the United States, the same initial procedures apply except that the foreign-born spouse must usually wait outside the United States for the immigrant visa to be approved.  Procedurally, this petition process also includes presentation of documents and an interview at the U.S. Embassy or consulate in the country where the foreign-born spouse resides, before an immigrant visa is granted. Usually, immigration processing time through the consulate is significantly more than in many local USCIS offices.

Conditional Residency

If the marriage is less than two-years-old before permanent residency is approved, the USCIS issues a conditional residency. In this case, the green card will expire after two years. Conditional residency can be removed within 90 days of the expiration of the green card and must be petitioned for jointly by both spouses. Failure to remove the conditional residency in time, places the foreign-born spouse out of status and subjects him or her to deportation proceedings.

If the marriage has dissolved for reasons of death of the citizen spouse, spousal abuse, or divorce, the foreign-born spouse may request to have the joint petition requirement waived. The Law Offices of David M. Kramer has many years of experience in assisting clients in obtaining waivers of the joint petition requirement.