There are three main ways in which family members can receive a Green Card and become a permanent resident of the United States after marriage to a U.S. citizen or resident:
Application for a Family-Based Green Card: the regular route.
The regular route consists of two stages. In the first stage, an application must be submitted (along with supporting documents) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and must prove the following: The petitioner is a US citizen or resident, the marital relationship between the petitioner and the spouse, and the “bona fide” (genuine) relationship between them.
Once the USCIS approves the first stage of the application, it will be possible to proceed to the second stage, conducted by the National Visa Center (NVC). At this point, it needs to be proven that the petitioner, has the financial means to sponsor their spouse to immigrate to the United States and start establishing their life there without being a burden on the economy of the United States. The applicant for the green card must also issue a police record to show any criminal history and must undergo a medical exam.
Once the NVC accepts all the forms and documents for the second stage of the application, the file will be forwarded to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country of the applicant. The Embassy or Consulate sets up an interview date, and after having a successful interview, the Embassy or Consulate issues the applicant an immigrant visa.
The process can take anywhere from 8 months to a year (and often even longer) from the date the first stage of the application is submitted. The length of time depends on the immigration authorities, and their ability to process the case within a reasonable time, the extent of the documents submitted along with each step of the process, requests for additional evidence (RFE) that are sometimes received to provide additional information for the immigration officials and more. Of course, there is also the importance of cooperation on the part of the client.
Application for Family-Based Green Card: Direct Filing, only for U.S. citizens.
Direct Filing is available only for U.S. citizens (not permanent residents). For a direct filing application, it is important to show that the application is urgent, this can be demonstrated by the need for the U.S. citizen to return to the United States. In most cases, the proof of urgency is given when the U.S. citizen has a job offer from an employer in the United States.
In the first stage, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate should be asked to recognize the couple’s case as urgent. The explanation for the urgency in the case must be specified.
After receiving approval from the Embassy or Consulate, we move on to the second stage of the application. In the second stage, the marital relationship between the U.S. citizen and the spouse must be proven, similar to the first stage of the regular route from above.
Once the Embassy or Consulate confirms that the second stage has been successfully completed, the third stage begins, where the applicant will be interviewed at the embassy. The applicant will need to prepare before the interview to bring evidence proving that the US citizen has the financial means to support their spouse to allow them to immigrate to the US without becoming a public charge. Lastly, the applicant will need to bring police certificates, medical documents, and other up-to-date information, which our attorneys will assist the applicant to gather.
The process is quick and can sometimes be completed within a few months, sometimes even in less than two months from the date of submission of the application. Again, as in the first option, the duration of the application also depends on the immigration authorities and the degree of responsiveness of the client and his / her cooperation.
Application for Adjustment of Status
An application to adjust your status is an application that is submitted when the Green Card applicant is already legally residing in the US and is interested in completing the process without leaving the US.
An application to adjust status will need to be submitted to the USCIS along with the forms and documents proving the relationship from the first step of the regular route and the documents proving financial support from the second stage of the regular route.
It is very important to note that to submit this application, the applicant must be at a stage where their visa application is in a current status and there is a visa immediately available for them without a waiting period. Only in this situation, the green card applicant is allowed to remain in the US while their adjustment of status application is pending even if their visa on which they entered the US is no longer valid.
Despite the above, applying for adjustment of status does not confer additional rights to the Green Card applicant. If the applicant would like to work in the United States while the application is being processed, he must submit a special application for a work authorization. In addition, if the applicant decides to leave the United States prior to the decision of the USCIS, their application will be denied. Therefore, if it is necessary to leave the United States before there is a final decision in the case, another application for the leave of absence (from the United States) must be submitted and the applicant needs to wait until it is approved.
After the USCIS examines the application for adjustment of status and if everything is in order, the Green Card applicant will receive an invitation for an interview, whereafter the immigration authorities will decide whether to approve the Green Card application.
All said and explained in this article does not constitute a legal opinion and does not replace legal advice. Responsibility for using the wordings and opinions conveyed in this article relies solely and entirely on the reader.
This article was written by Dotan Cohen Law Offices, working in the field of immigration law in the United States, Canada and Australia.