December 8, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

How to Get a Marriage Green Card in the United States

Congratulations on your marriage!

If you and your spouse plan to live permanently together in the United States, the next step will be applying for a marriage-based green card or spousal visa.


What is a marriage green card?

A marriage green card allows the spouse of a U.S. citizen or green card holder to live and work anywhere in the United States. A green card holder will have “permanent resident” status until they decide — if they wish — to apply for U.S. citizenship, for which they become eligible after three years.

Boundless helps you build a tailored visa plan for every step of the process, from forms to your immigration interview. Get started today!


How to Get a Marriage Green Card

Getting a green card through marriage is generally a three-step process:

  1. Establish the marriage relationship (Form I-130)
  2. Apply for the green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)
  3. Attend the green card interview and await approval

This guide will walk you through each step, with links to more detailed information along the way. We’ll also explain the process for green card applicants living in the United States versus green card applicants living abroad.

You can also view the types of questions that you’re likely to encounter on a marriage green card application.

But first, we’ll go over the timeline and cost of applying for a marriage-based green card.


Answer a 5-minute questionnaire and we’ll guide you through your visa options


Marriage-Based Green Card Timeline

The total processing time for a marriage-based green card averages 17.5 months, depending on whether you’re married to a U.S. citizen or a U.S. green card holder (lawful permanent resident). Boundless has put together an in-depth guide detailing the processing times for your marriage green card application.

Important update for spouses of green card holders:

The F-2A family-based category, which pertains to spouses and unmarried children below the age of 21 of U.S. Green Card holders, saw a significant change in the April 2023 Visa Bulletin. The change will likely result in significant delays in obtaining green cards for spouses of green card holders. Learn more in our monthly Visa Bulletin report.

U.S. immigration can be complex and confusing. Boundless is here to help. Learn more.


Marriage-Based Green Card Cost

The government filing fees for applying for a marriage-based green card is $1760 for a spouse living in the United States or $1200 for a spouse living outside the United States. Note, this does not include the cost of the medical examination, which varies from roughly $200 to $500. Boundless has put together a detailed guide breaking down the costs of a marriage green card depending on your situation.

USCIS Proposed Fee Increase:

In January 2023, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that they plan on increasing filing costs for most visa application types, including marriage green cards. The proposed fees are not yet in effect, but Boundless is tracking all government updates closely. Check out our USCIS fees guide for a full breakdown of the expected costs and any live developments on the proposal.

It’s important to file your application before USCIS’s fee increase proposal goes into effect to avoid the highest cost. Learn more about what Boundless can do to help.


The Marriage Green Card Process

Step 1: Establish the marriage relationship (Form I-130)

The first step in the process of getting a green card through marriage is to submit Form I-130 (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The main purpose of the I-130 form, along with supporting documents, is to establish that a valid marriage exists.

The spouse filing the I-130 is called the “petitioner” or “sponsor.” This is the spouse who is a U.S. citizen or current green card holder. The spouse seeking a green card is called the “beneficiary” or “green card applicant.”


Critical elements of a complete I-130 filing package

  • Government filing fee of $535
  • Proof that the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen (copy of the sponsor’s birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or valid U.S. passport photo page, for example) or permanent resident (copy of the sponsor’s green card, for example)
  • Proof that a legally valid marriage exists (for example, a marriage certificate showing the names of both spouses, as well as the place and date of the marriage)
  • Proof that the marriage is not fraudulent (for example, a joint lease, joint bank account statements, and pictures together)
  • Proof that any previous marriage of either spouse has been terminated (typically, a divorce document)

Once the I-130 filing package is complete, it must be mailed to the appropriate USCIS address. USCIS will then send the sponsoring spouse an official acknowledgment (or “receipt notice”) in the mail, typically within two weeks.

If USCIS needs more information or documents to process the filing package, they will send the sponsoring spouse a Request for Evidence (RFE) within 2–3 months. Once USCIS has everything they need, it will typically make a decision on the I-130 application within 15.5– months, depending on the couple’s situation.

After receiving notice that the I-130 form has been approved, the next step will be to determine whether the spouse seeking a green card is eligible for one.

Required documents marriage green card

Step 2: Apply for the green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)

The U.S. government follows two different processes to determine a spouse’s eligibility for a marriage-based green card. The right process depends on where that spouse currently lives:

For Green Card Applicants Living in the United States

If the spouse seeking a green card physically lives in the United States, the next step is to file Form I-485 (officially called the “Adjustment of Status” application). The I-485 is filed with USCIS, and its primary purpose is to establish that the spouse is eligible for a green card.

Adjustment of status is the immigration process for the following marriage visa types:

  • IR6/CR6 spouse and accompanying IR7/CR7 child when the sponsor is a U.S. citizen
  • F2A category (F26 spouse; F27 child) when the sponsor is a legal permanent resident (aka green card holder)
  • CF1 spouse; CF2 child when the sponsor is a U.S. citizen and the foreign spouse is adjusting status from a K fiancé visa

Critical elements of an I-485 filing package include:

  • Government filing fees of $1225 (including $1140 for the green card application and $85 for biometrics)
  • Proof of nationality of the spouse seeking a green card (copy of birth certificate and passport photo page)
  • Proof of lawful entry to the United States by the spouse seeking a green card (copy of I-94 travel record and prior U.S. visa)
  • Medical examination performed by a USCIS-approved doctor
  • Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support the spouse seeking a green card (including Form I-864, or “Affidavit of Support,” and evidence such as tax returns and pay stubs)

For spouses of U.S. citizens, this I-485 filing package can usually be combined with the I-130 form and supporting documents described in Step 1 above (a process known as “concurrent filing”). USCIS typically processes this concurrent filing within 12.5–22.5 months.

For spouses of U.S. green card holders, however, the I-485 filing package cannot be submitted until the U.S. Department of State determines that a green card is available in the visa bulletin, given various annual caps. The wait time is currently about one and a half years, but this can vary by a few months, depending on the home country of the spouse seeking a green card. Once the I-485 filing package is submitted, USCIS will typically process it within 12.5–22.5 months (although it could be longer depending on your local field office).

Boundless can help U.S. citizens and U.S. green card holders sponsor their spouses for marriage green cards through the adjustment of status process. Learn more.

For Green Card Applicants Living Abroad

There is a different process to sponsor a green card (spousal visa) for a spouse living abroad. The next step is to file an application package with the National Visa Center (NVC), which is run by the State Department. The NVC gathers the necessary forms and documents and decides whether the spouse is ready for an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad (a procedure known as “consular processing”).

Consular processing is the immigration process for the following visa types:

  • CR1/IR1 spouse and the accompanying CR2/IR2 child when the sponsor is a U.S. citizen
  • F2A category (F21 spouse; F22 child) when the sponsor is a legal permanent resident (aka green card holder)

Critical elements of an NVC filing package include:

  • Government filing fees of $445 (including $120 for the financial support form and $325 for the State Department processing fee)
  • Form DS-260 (green card application filed online)
  • Proof of nationality of the spouse seeking a green card (copy of birth certificate and passport photo page)
  • Copy of a police clearance certificate for the spouse seeking a green card (showing previous interactions with law enforcement, if any)
  • Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support the spouse seeking a green card (including Form I-864, or “Affidavit of Support,” and evidence such as tax returns and pay stubs)

For spouses of U.S. citizens, the NVC typically processes an application package within 1-2 months.

For spouses of U.S. green card holders, the NVC typically processes an application also within 1-2 months.

Once processed, the NVC then forwards it to a U.S. embassy or consulate in the home country of the spouse seeking a green card.


Step 3: Attend the green card interview and await approval

The final step in the marriage-based green card process is the green card interview. The interviewing officer’s primary goal is to assess the authenticity of the marriage. Questions can focus on the couple’s relationship history, as well as their daily activities and future plans together. If the interviewing officer is sufficiently convinced that the marriage is not fraudulent, they will approve the spouse for a green card.

The location of the interview — in addition to whether the sponsoring spouse must also attend — depends on where the spouse seeking a green card currently lives:

Does your spouse live in the United States?

A spouse applying for a green card from within the United States will attend an interview with the sponsoring spouse at their local USCIS office. The physical green card will typically arrive by mail within 2-3 weeks of case approval.

Does your spouse live abroad?

A spouse applying for a green card from abroad will attend an interview at a U.S. Embassy or consulate in their home country. The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.

The spouse seeking a green card will then receive a visa stamp in their passport, allowing for travel to the United States. The immigrant Fee ($220) must be paid online before a physical green card can be issued. (USCIS recommends paying this fee before the spouse leaves for the United States.) The green card is typically mailed to the couple’s U.S. address within 2-3 weeks of the spouse’s arrival.

Boundless offers unlimited support from our team of immigration experts, so you can apply with confidence and focus on what’s important, your life in the U.S. Learn more.


What’s Next?

What happens next depends on the length of the marriage at the time of green card approval:

If you have been married for less than two years

The spouse will receive a CR1 (or “conditional”) green card. Conditional green cards are valid for only two years. Couples together must file Form I-751 (officially called the “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence”) during the 90-day period immediately before the expiration of the conditional green card in order to “remove the conditions” and obtain a permanent green card. Upon receiving this form, USCIS will re-evaluate the couple’s marriage to make sure it is authentic and that the couple did not marry only for immigration purposes.

If you have been married for more than two years

The spouse will receive an IR1 (or “immediate relative”) green card — a “permanent” green card that is valid for 10 years. In most cases, renewing this 10-year green card is a simple process and does not require the couple to prove the authenticity of their marriage again.

Boundless helps you build a tailored visa plan for every step of the process, from forms to your immigration interview. Get started today!


Marriage Green Card FAQs

Yes, you can work in the United States with a marriage green card. If you wish to work while your green card application is pending, you can apply for a work permit using Form I-765. 

Once you receive your marriage green card, you can work immediately. If you need to work before obtaining your green card, you can apply for work authorization (Form I-765). If approved, you’ll receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), also known as a work permit. Once you have the work permit, you can begin working in the U.S. while your green card application is being processed.

If you obtained your green card through marriage, you will receive a conditional green card that is valid for two years. To remove the conditions and obtain a permanent green card, you must file a joint petition with your spouse to remove the conditions within the 90-day period before your conditional green card expires.

Yes, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse must sponsor you for a marriage green card.

No, you must apply for a marriage green card and go through the application process.

USCIS will investigate a marriage to determine whether it is bona fide (genuine) or entered into solely for the purpose of obtaining a green card. The agency may interview the spouses separately or together to ask questions about their relationship, daily routines, and future plans, and review documents submitted with the green card application, such as marriage and birth certificates, tax returns, and joint bank account statements.

Typically, couples are required to attend one interview together.

Yes, you can travel outside of the United States once you have a marriage green card. However, be sure not to travel abroad before your green card is approved — USCIS will assume you have abandoned your application and deny your green card. 

If your marriage ends before you receive your marriage-based green card, you may no longer be eligible for the green card. The process for obtaining a green card through marriage requires that the marriage be genuine and entered into in good faith, with the intent to establish a life together as spouses. If the marriage ends before the green card is issued, USCIS may conclude that the marriage was not genuine and deny the green card application. Learn more about marriage green cards and divorce.

A conditional green card is issued for two years and requires the couple to file a joint petition to remove conditions. A permanent green card is issued for 10 years and does not require a joint petition.

You can file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals within 30 days of receiving the denial, or you can reapply. 

While it is not required, it is highly recommended to have an immigration lawyer or a service like Boundless to assist with the application process.

Yes, you can apply for a marriage green card if your spouse is living abroad using consular processing.


Boundless Reviews


Marriage Green Card Guides

See All

No time for research? We provide an easy, guided application experience, with 4 anti-rejection checks and a lawyer review. Get started for free.

link