Foreign nationals who marry a US citizen or US permanent resident are eligible for green card through marriage. A marriage based green card is a family based green card that grants eligible spouses of US citizens or permanent residents a US green card after marriage. Although approval is not guaranteed, US green card through spouse is often one of the fastest ways to obtain permanent resident status, given that the applicant and his or her spouse correctly follow all of the steps of the green card through marriage process.

Green Card through Marriage Eligibility

In order to be eligible for a marriage based green card, US citizens or permanent residents applying on behalf of their foreign national spouses must provide documentation of the following:

  • Evidence that the citizen or permanent resident applicant and spouse are legally married;
  • Evidence that the marriage is bona fide (it cannot be a sham marriage with the sole purpose of obtaining immigration benefits);
  • Evidence of the applicant’s citizenship or permanent resident status; and
  • Evidence that neither the applicant nor spouse is married to anyone else.

Filing for Marriage Based Green Card

The US citizen or US permanent resident spouse must file for green card on behalf of his or her foreign national spouse. Different requirements may apply depending on the status of the applicant (US citizen or US permanent resident) and whether the foreign national spouse is inside or outside the United States at the time of filing.

The green card through marriage process is explained for each situation below.

Filing as US Citizen

If you are filing for marriage based green card as a US citizen, your spouse is considered an “immediate relative,” for whom visas are automatically available – there is no wait or priority date.

  • Foreign national spouse is inside the US: The US citizen spouse must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and the foreign national spouse must file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjustment Status. Both Forms may be filed concurrently. Once approved, the non-citizen spouse will receive his/her green card.
  • Foreign national spouse is outside the US: The US citizen spouse must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Once Form I-130 is approved, it will go through consular processing, and the spouse will become a permanent resident when he/she arrives at the US port of entry.

Filing as US Permanent Resident

US green card holders may petition for their foreign national spouses to join them in the US, but there is a yearly limit to this immigration category, meaning that the applicant and his/her spouse will have a waiting period before an immigrant visa number is available.

  • Foreign national spouse is inside the US: US green card holder must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Once approved, the applicant must wait for an immigrant visa category priority date. When the immigrant visa category priority date is current, the applicant must file Form I-485 for Adjustment of Status.
  • Foreign national spouse is outside the US: US green card holder must file Form I-130, and once approved, the foreign national spouse can obtain permanent residency through consular processing.

Learn more about Consular Processing.

Fraudulent Marriages for Immigration

You run great risks if you enter the US on a tourist visa with the intention of getting married. When you enter the US on a tourist visa you are agreeing to your intention of staying in the US for purely tourism-related reasons. Intent is an important element in nearly all immigration-related issues. You should not obtain a tourist visa with the intention of later obtaining a green card through marriage.

CR1 and IR1 Green Card Categories

If your marriage is less than two years old when you receive your green card, it will only be valid for two years. This is known as conditional permanent residency, or CR1. You can remove conditional status during the 90 day period before your CR1 expires by filing Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence.

Contrast this with the IR-1. IR stands for “immediate relative” and these entitle their holder to receive permanent residency in the US for a period of ten years. The IR1 is issued when the couple has been married for a period of two years or longer.

Marriage Based Green Card FAQs

I am a green card holder and I just got married to a Chinese national in China. How do I bring my spouse to the US?
As a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR), you may file Form I-130, Immigrant Petition for Relative, for your spouse, with the USCIS. The visa category for spouse of LPR is Family–based 2A. Currently visa numbers are not available for the 2A category; there will be a waiting period before your spouse can apply for immigrant visa at the US Consulate abroad.

Can my spouse obtain a visitor visa to visit from time to time when the I-130 is pending?
Highly unlikely. Consular officer may not approve or issue visitor visa to your spouse when there is an immigrant petition filed for him or her.

What other option may I have to bring my spouse to the US?
Most non-immigrant visa applicants need to demonstrate strong ties with home country and maintain a residency with home country that they have no intention of abandoning. However, there are several non-immigrant visa categories that do recognize dual intent, most notably “H” or “L.” Your spouse may qualify for H or L and work for a US employer in H or L status.

What about the V nonimmigrant visa?
The V nonimmigrant visa provides a way for LPR’s spouse and children to travel to the United States while waiting for processing of their immigrant visa. Your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may apply for V visas under these conditions:

  • Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) petitioner Must have filed the I-130 immigrant visa petition on or before December 21, 2000.
  • Priority date is at least three years old and not current.
  • Applicant is not inadmissible.

Are there any other options?
Perhaps the most effective way is for the LPR to become a naturalized United State Citizen (USC), which will make the I-130 current based on the upgraded category of Immediate Relative of USC.

For more information about the documents, fees, and other requirements involved in applying for marriage based green card, visit Family Based Green Card Requirements.