Green Cards Through Family

Marriage Green Cards Through a Spouse

U.S. immigration law allows both permanent residents and citizens to petition for their spouse to become a green card holder. These laws apply both to spouses that have been married for a while and to newlyweds. These types of green cards are often called green cards through marriage.

U.S. citizens and green card holders can petition their spouses that are whether inside or outside the United States. If the beneficiary spouse is outside the U.S., once the petition is approved, they can apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or a consulate abroad. If the beneficiary spouse is inside the U.S., most of the time they can change their status without leaving the U.S.

Marriage green cards through a spouse, as the name implies, require a documented marriage. Applications for marriage green cards for newlyweds are usually supported by a marriage certificate, photographs of the couple before, during and after the wedding, printouts of text-based conversations and call logs of the couple, social media accounts, jointly held bank accounts, vehicle titles, insurance policies, rental agreements, and utility bills.

The amount of evidence depends on whether the newlyweds live in the United States after the wedding or if one of the spouses is still living abroad and will apply for a marriage green card at the embassy. The point of this documentation is to prove that there is a bona fide marriage relationship and it is not a sham marriage for immigration purposes only.

The process timeline depends on whether the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder. A spouse of a U.S. citizen is considered an immediate relative. This means that there are no quotas on the number of green cards that spouses of U.S. citizens can receive. Hence, the process is immediate and there is no artificial wait time. As of the date of this article, the process for U.S. citizen sponsors/petitioners takes 6 to 9 months depending on whether the beneficiary spouse is inside the United States or abroad.

Permanent residents can petition for a marriage green card for their spouse, too. Spouses of green card holders, however, fall under the Second Preference (2A) category of immigrants. This means, that there are limitations on the amount of available green cards per year. Thus, the process may take around two years, because of quota limitations of such green cards. As of March 2018 there is an approximate wait time of 2 years for beneficiaries from all countries except China, Mexico, India and Philippines. The USCIS publishes visa bulletins that contain the information about the approximate wait times as of each month. A link to the visa bulletins, including the most recent one, can be found at the bottom of this page, under useful resources.

Cases where the beneficiary spouse is inside the U.S. usually take less time, because the only entity involved in the processing is the USCIS. Cases where the beneficiary spouse is abroad take longer, because the USCIS has to send the approved marriage green card petition to the National Visa Center, which then reviews the rest of the petition and forwards it to the U.S. Embassy abroad. In both cases, there is an interview process before issuing a green card.

For adjustment of status inside the U.S., the beneficiary spouse of a green card holder needs to have a legal nonimmigrant status until at least the date of formal receipt of form I-485 by USCIS. Under conditions must be fulfilled as well.

When the beneficiary is aboard, the interview is only with the beneficiary at the U.S. Embassy abroad. When the beneficiary is inside the U.S., both the petitioner spouse and the beneficiary spouse attend the interview. During most interviews both spouses remain together. In some cases, however, when the interviewer doubts the marriage relationship, he or she may require a separate interview of the couple.

Although most marriages are real, it is still important to consult an experienced immigration attorney for preparation of marriage based petitions. Although the process may seem straightforward, there are many traps to fall in. As such, there are at least 6 separate forms that should be correctly filled out for the entire petition. Further, there is a long list of evidence that should be presented to USCIS not only to prove bone fide relationship, but also to show the biographic information of both spouses. The stronger the petition and the initial documentation, the easier the interview process.

Fiancé(e) visas

To be able to apply for a fiancee visa, the U.S. citizen petitioner and the beneficiary should be able to document and prove that they have met at least once within the past 2 years. This requirement can be waived in certain religious cases.

Further, within 90 days of entering the U.S., the beneficiary is required to get married to the U.S. citizen petitioner and to apply for a green card. If the petitioner and the beneficiary are not married, the beneficiary is required to leave by end of the 90 day period.

Upon entering the U.S. using a fiancee visa, the only way the beneficiary can adjust his or her status to a permanent resident status is through a marriage to the person who petitioned for the fiancee visa.

Green Cards for Children

Both U.S. Citizens and permanent residents can petition for a green card for their children (unmarried and younger than 21 years old). The definition of children includes stepchildren, adopted children, and children born out-of-wedlock.

Children (Unmarried and under 21) of U.S. citizens are considered immediate relatives by U.S. immigration law. This means that there are no yearly quotas on the number of green cards available to children of U.S. citizens.

Children of permanent residents (Unmarried and under 21) fall under the (2A) Second Preference category of immigrants. This means, that there are limitations on the amount of available green cards per year. As of March 2018 there is an approximate wait time of 2 years for children beneficiaries from all countries except China, Mexico, India and Philippines. The USCIS publishes visa bulletins that contain the information about the approximate wait times as of each month. A link to the visa bulletins, including the most recent one, can be found at the bottom of this page, under useful resources.

Applying for a green card for a child is more straightforward than applying for a spouse. This is because the primary documentation required to prove a parent-child relationship is the birth certificate of the child. If the birth certificate names the parent who is sponsoring the child for the green card, then that would be the only document required to prove the parent-child relationship.

U.S. citizens can petition their children that are whether inside or outside the United States. If the beneficiary child is outside the U.S., once the petition is approved, they can apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or a consulate abroad. If the beneficiary child is inside the U.S., most of the time they can change their status without leaving the U.S.

Green card holders can petition for their children whether they are inside the U.S. or outside. For adjustment of status inside the U.S., the beneficiary children need to have a legal nonimmigrant status until at least the date of formal receipt of form I-485 by USCIS. Under conditions must be fulfilled as well.

Green Cards for Adopted Children

It gets a little complicated for adopted children and stepchildren. USCIS considers adopted children those children that have been legally adopted by the sponsor before the child turns 16 AND the adopted child has resided in the legal and physical custody of the sponsoring parent for 2 years prior to filing of the petition to get a green card for the adopted child.

One exception to this rule is when siblings are adopted and one of the siblings was under 16 and the other one is under 18. In this case the 18-year old sibling can also be the beneficiary of the petition.

Green Cards for Stepchildren

USCIS does not require any type of legal adoption for stepchildren. A child is considered a stepchild once the sponsoring step-parent gets married to the biological parent of the child. One requirement for getting a green card for a stepchild is that the marriage creating the step-relationship should occur before the child turns 18. Note that the petition can still be filed even if the child has already turned 18 as long as the child has not reached the age of 21.

To get a green card for a stepchild, the sponsoring petitioner must prove that there is a bona fide marriage between the sponsor and the biological parent of the child. This is done in a similar way as in cases of a marriage based green card through a spouse. It is important to hire an immigration lawyer to sponsor a stepchild for a green card, because petitions to get a green card for stepchildren are basically a petition within a petition, where the first step is to prove a that the child is the child of the biological parent, and the second step is to prove that there is a bona fide marriage between the stepparent and the biological parent of the child.

Green Cards for Parents

Only U.S. citizens can apply to get a green card for a parent. These petitions are almost the reverse of the applications to get a green card for a child. The main evidence of this petitions is the birth certificate of the petitioning U.S. citizen. If the birth certificate names the parents, then nothing else demonstrating the parental relationship will be required.

Parents of U.S. citizens are considered immediate relatives by U.S. immigration law. This means that there are no yearly quotas on the number of green cards available to the parents of U.S. citizens.

It is important to note that only those citizens who have reached the age of 21 can petition for their parents. Interestingly, the petition can also be made for adoptive parents and the step-parents as long as the rules written above as to the step-relationship or the adopted relationship apply.

Green Cards for Adult Children

Both US Citizens and permanent residents can petition to get a green card for their adult children that are 21 years of age and older. While US Citizens can also file for married sons and daughters that are 21 years of age and older, permanent residents can only file for unmarried sons and daughters.

Although the process is substantially the same as filing for children that are unmarried and under 21, the timeline is much longer because of yearly limited quotas. As of the date of this article, the wait for a green card for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and permanent residents is 7 years.

Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens fall under the First Preference category. This means, that there are limitations on the amount of available green cards per year for these categories of green cards. Married sons and daughters fall into the Third Preference category. The wait time is 7 years for unmarried son and daughter beneficiaries. The wait time for a green card for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens is almost 12 years. The noted wait times apply to beneficiary family members from all countries except China, Mexico, India and Philippines. The USCIS publishes visa bulletins that contain the information about the approximate wait times as of each month. A link to the visa bulletins, including the most recent one, can be found at the bottom of this page, under useful resources.

U.S. citizens can petition for their sons and daughters whether they are inside the U.S. or outside. For adjustment of status inside the U.S., the beneficiary needs to have a legal nonimmigrant status until at least the date of formal receipt of form I-485 by USCIS. Other conditions must be fulfilled as well.

Green Cards for Brothers and Sisters

Only US citizens can petition for their brothers and sisters to receive a green card. To be able to petition siblings, the US citizen petitioner should be at least 21 years old. The siblings are considered brothers and sisters if they have at least one common parent with the petitioning US citizen.

The main evidence required in these cases are the birth certificates of the US Citizen and the beneficiary siblings that show at least one common parent.

Brothers and sisters fall into the Fourth Preference category. Because of yearly quotas, as of March 2018 there is an approximate wait time of 14 years for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.

Green Cards for Step-Siblings and Adoptive Siblings

Immigration laws allow US Citizens to petition their step-siblings and adoptive siblings as well. To qualify as an adoptive sibling the sibling should have been legally adopted before the US citizen petitioner or the sibling had turned 16. To qualify as a step-sibling, the parents of the US citizen and the step-sibling should have been married before both have turned 18.

The main evidence in adoption green card cases is the formal adoption decree showing that the adoption took place before both the petitioner and the beneficiary have turned 16. The main evidence in step-sibling green card cases are the documentation to show that the natural parents of both the petitioner and the beneficiary had been legally divorced (a divorce decree) from previous marriages and married (marriage certificate) to each other before the petitioner and the beneficiary turned 18.

The same quotas and timelines that apply to natural siblings apply to adoptive and step-siblings.


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