Faculty, Staff, & Visitors
Marriage to a US Citizen
If you marry a US Citizen you are eligible to apply immediately for Permanent Residency (green card), unless you have had a J-1 visa with a two-year home residency requirement which has not been fulfilled or waived. There are several issues related to travel and timing of an application which need to be considered carefully. The information following may be used to understand the general process, but does not constitute legal advice.
- Do I get to be a permanent resident just by marrying an American?
- A: No, you must file an application with USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly the INS) including an affidavit of support, certified medical examination, and other documentation as outlined in the instruction sheet attached.
- Can I apply before we get married?
- A: No, USCIS needs proof that you are married. You can, however, prepare your application prior to marriage.
- What is a fiancé(e) visa?
- A: A visa that allows a fiancé(e) outside the United States to enter the US in order to get married. The US citizen fiancé(e) has to file a petition with the USCIS in the US. The approved petition will be forwarded to the Consulate, which will contact the applicant and eventually schedule an interview. Processing will probably take 4–6 months before the fiancé(e) visa is issued.
- My fiancé is American, but he doesn’t have a US passport, only a green card.
- A: If your fiancé has a green card, he is not a citizen but a permanent resident. He can petition for you to become a permanent resident, but because of the quota there is a long wait before you can even apply for the green card. The wait is currently 5 years.
- If my permanent resident fiancé applies for me once we’re married, can I stay in the US?
- A: Not unless you have a valid non-immigrant visa throughout the waiting period (about 5 years!)
- Can I work while waiting to get my green card?
A: When you apply for permanent residency (I-485, affidavit, medical exam, photos, etc.), you can also request work authorization to cover employment while your application is being processed.
If you marry a permanent resident and are not able to file for the green card yet, you can work only if you have a valid non-immigrant visa which allows you to work.
- Once I’ve filed the application with USCIS how long does it take?
- A: It varies at different USCIS offices and can take anywhere from six months to two years. You should check with the office where you will be filing.
- After the interview, do I get my green card?
- A: Your laminated “Permanent Resident” green card will be sent to you shortly after your interview unless for reason further documentation is needed. If you need immediate confirmation of your new status before receiving the card, you can request a stamp in your passport evidencing your PR.
- I’ve heard that both my spouse and I have to be interviewed; is that true? What will Immigration ask us?
- A: Yes, both husband and wife will be interviewed. The purpose of the interview is to determine that the marriage was entered into in good faith and that all immigration forms have been correctly completed.
- I’ve heard that the green card is only temporary—is that true?
- A: Yes, because marriage is a relatively easy route to permanent residency, there is a second check on the marriage after 2 years. USCIS will grant conditional permanent residency for 2 years, after which you’ll need to file another form to get an unconditional green card. (If you’ve already been married 2 years by the time you are interviewed, the green card will be permanent.)
- If I become a permanent resident, do I have to give up my passport?
- A: No. A permanent resident is not a citizen. Your citizenship doesn’t change. In fact, you can only apply to become a US citizen after having a green card and being married to a US citizen for 3 years.
- What are the benefits of permanent residency?
- A: You may become eligible for in-state tuition at a state university at a later date, will qualify for most student financial aid, do not have to be a full-time student, will not have restrictions on working, and can return to the US freely after short trips abroad.
- What are the conditions of permanent residency?
- You must not leave the US for more than 365 consecutive days without advance permission.
- If you’re planning to be abroad for extended periods of time you risk losing your permanent residency.
- You will not qualify for some types of Federal Aid such as Food Stamps.
- What forms do I need, and where can I get them?
- A: See the instruction page.
- I understand USCIS will ask my spouse to show she will always support me. What is that regulation?
- A: With the passage of the immigration law of 1996, there are quite specific financial requirements for people applying for the green card based on marriage. You must show income of at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. For a family of two in 2009, that amount was $18,212/year. For more detailed information see for I-864 at the USCIS website.
Travel After Marriage
- I’ve heard it may be difficult to travel after I’ve married an American.
- A: Yes. It may not seem logical, but if you marry an American or green card holder, you have to be very careful about travel. People in F or J status or in tourist status are expected to have a home outside the US to which they intend to return. When you apply for a visa stamp at a US Consulate, you have to prove ties to your home country. This becomes quite difficult once you’ve married a US citizen—you really do look like an intending immigrant. If you need to apply for a new US visa stamp in order to return to the US, there is a strong possibility that visa would be denied, even though you intend to continue as a full-time student.
- What if I have a valid student visa still in my passport? Could I travel in that case?
- A: As long as you have a valid visa stamp, will be continuing as a full-time student, and have your I-20 or IAP-66 signed for travel by International Services, you will probably be able to re-enter the US without a problem. However, if immigration inspector at the port of entry thinks that you will be applying for the green card, the inspector can still refuse to let you enter.
- How about travel to Canada—can’t we go there since I won’t need a new visa stamp to come back from Canada?
- A: Crossing the border from Canada in some ways may be easier, but if your spouse is in the car with you, it may be immediately clear that you are married to a US citizen or permanent resident. That could lead quite naturally to questions about your plans for leaving the US. Several people have had problems returning to the US from Canada, and travel there after marriage is not recommended.
(A) Would it be easier if we were married in my home country?
(B) But we’d planned to have our honeymoon in my home country after we’re married in the US.
- A: It’s the same problem in both cases—how do you get back into the US? Any return to the US after marrying an American raises the issues described in question #1.
- (A) Would it be easier if we were married in my home country?
- You mean I can’t leave the U.S. once I’m married?
A: Once you apply for the green card, it is possible to get permission from USCIS to travel while your application is being processed. This permission is called “advance parole.” You cannot apply for advance parole before being married and filing the entire green card application, and unless there is some emergency, immigration will take 2–3 months to process the parole. Once it is granted, however, you will be able to leave and enter the US freely without having to apply at the US Consulate abroad.
If you are married to someone with a green card, you aren’t able to apply yet for your own green card, so you are not eligible for the advance parole.
- My friend was married at the Courthouse in the US and then went home for a big ceremony. How was she able to do that?
- A: That’s a good point. The civil marriage is the official one in the United States, so someone who wishes to have two separate marriages, a civil marriage and a religious ceremony, could have the civil marriage in the US and apply for the green card. She could then get advance parole and travel home for the religious service, and would be able to return using the parole.