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  • Writer's pictureRyan Driscoll

Marriage-Based Green Card Process

If you marry a U.S. Citizen, what is the process to apply for a green card?

Our law firm handles a heavy caseload of marriage-based green card cases, officially known as Marriage-Based Adjustment of Status. This article will explain the process for how a non-citizen, after marrying a U.S. Citizen, can then file for the spousal green card.

Before we begin, I will define a few labels that will be used in this article so that it is clear who I am talking about.

  • Petitioner – the US Citizen spouse who is petitioning and sponsoring their non-citizen spouse

  • Beneficiary – the non-citizen spouse who is applying for the green card

  • Sponsor – US Citizen spouse

  • USC – US Citizen

With an adjustment of status application, the non-citizen spouse is allowed to stay in the United States while the applications are processed with USCIS because a visa is immediately available to the non-citizen spouse after the I-130 application is approved, and USCIS forgives the unlawful presence, if the non-citizen spouse entered the US on a visa. After the application package is mailed to USCIS, USCIS will schedule an interview with you and your spouse at your local USCIS office so that you can establish the bona fide nature of your marriage before a USCIS immigration officer. If your spouse did not enter the United States on a visa, the process of obtaining a green card is different because your spouse will need to leave the United States and receive a waiver for their unlawful presence in the US. The unlawful presence is waived by filing Form I-601A with USCIS. Click here to read our article on Form I-601A, Provisional Waiver of Unlawful Presence.

After you and your spouse marry, the USC spouse qualifies to file an I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and the non-citizen spouse is then eligible to file the green card application. All of the applications for the Adjustment of Status can be mailed to USCIS at the same time. The entire application package will include Form I-130, Form I-130A, Form I-485, Form I-864, Form I-765, Form I-131, the non-citizens medical exam, supporting documents, and USCIS application fees.

Form I-130 Application: The main purpose of the I-130 application is to establish that you and your spouse have a bona fide marriage.

Proof of a bona fide marriage is accomplished by providing documentation that you and your spouse have joined your finances together, live together, and if applicable, have children together. We recommend you provide copies of your jointly held bank account, life insurance policy showing your spouse as the beneficiary, health care insurance showing your spouse on the policy, a jointly held lease at an apartment, and if children are present in the marriage, birth certificates showing both of your names.

Additionally, we recommend you include pictures of your life together, like your time dates, the marriage ceremony, honeymoon, and any other picture that establishes the bona fide nature of your marriage, and a written testimony of how you met each other and why you decided to get married. Then, and finally, we suggest you have family or friends write an affidavit-letter on your behalf that lends further credibility to your marriage. The affidavit-letter should include the writer’s first and last name, date of birth, city and country of birth, and a copy of a government issued ID.

Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status and Form I-864, Affidavit of Support

Next, form I-485 and form I-864 are filed in order to establish your admissibility to receive a green card.

All immigrants seeking a green card must establish that they are admissible to the United States.

Admissibility is a complex topic in immigration law, but for our purposes, we can say for now, that your spouse must disclose any arrests and convictions for crimes from anywhere in the world, ever. Then, they must disclose any fraud perpetrated on the US government, such as immigration fraud, or if they were ever removed from the United States or were in the immigration court. And finally, if your spouse has harmed a person, been a member of any military, received weapons training, and a long list of other cruel acts perpetrated on another person. The green card application has dozens of Yes/No questions that must be answered truthfully, and can have detrimental impact on your admissibility, so be sure to consult with an immigraton attorney if you have to answer “Yes” to any of those questions.

Through the Affidavit of Support, your sponsor will need to establish that there is enough income in your house such that your spouse will not become a public charge. Consult the latest federal poverty tables to know the amount of money you must show on your federal income taxes to satisfy the public charge. The sponsor will be the USC spouse. This is accomplished by providing your last three years of federal income taxes, W2/1099, six months of pay stubs, and a letter from your employer establishing your title and annual salary.

If your income is insufficient to satisfy the public charge requirements, then you can seek a joint sponsor. The joint sponsor must be a US Citizen or Green Card holder, and must provide the same information as the spousal sponsor, and complete their own Form I-864.

Work Authorization and Travel Document

Along with the applications discussed above, you will send to USCIS an Application for Work Authorization and the application for a Travel Document. The Work Authorization is designed to allow your spouse to legally begin working in the United States while the green card application is processed with USCIS, but depending on how quickly an adjustment of status interview is scheduled at your local USCIS office, the Work Authorization card may not be issued. The non-citizen spouse should be prepared to be in the US for at least a year, after filing the adjustment of status application package, without the ability to legally work in the US.

The Travel Document is designed to allow temporary foreign travel before your spouse receives the green card. Before leaving on temporary foreign travel, you need the Travel Document, and will want to make sure you have already attended your biometrics appointment with USCIS.

  • CAUTION: Do not leave the US after filing your adjustment of status application, unless you have been issued your Travel Document. If you before receiving the Travel Document card, USCIS will consider your application abandoned and will deny the green card application. This will mean you will have lost your USCIS application fees and will have to start over.

Medical Exam

Finally, the non-citizen spouse must complete a medical exam at a USCIS approved doctor. For a list of doctors near your house, click here. After the medical exam, the doctor’s office will give you a sealed envelope that must be sent into USCIS with the rest of your applications, or brought to your adjustment of status interview. The sealed envelope cannot be opened before giving it to USCIS.


This article was meant to be a general overview of the Marriage-Based Adjustment of Status application for a non-citizen who marries a US Citizen, and the non-citizen spouse entered on a visa. This article is meant for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. For a free legal consultation on your specific situation, please contact our office.


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