Each year, over 160,000 citizens of the United States marry foreign-born persons
and petition for them to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. Spouses of U.S.
citizens are considered "immediate relatives" under the immigration
laws, and are exempt from all numerical quota limitations. In other words,
marriage to a U.S. citizen is the fast lane to a green card.
Marriage to a permanent resident is very problematical and often
results in the recently- married spouses living apart for many years.
It is also possible for a U.S. citizen to obtain a
visa for a fiancee and get married once he or she arrives in the U.S.
IF THE MARRIAGE OCCURS IN THE U.S.
Procedurally, the process works like this. The U.S. citizen must submit a visa
petition to appropriate INS Service Center to prove that the marriage is
bona fide, that is, entered into for love rather than simply for the
foreign-born spouse to obtain a green card.
Simultaneously, the foreign-born spouse should submit an application for
adjustment of status which is an application for a green card. Items which may
accompany the green card application include green card photographs, an
application for employment authorization, an application for a travel permit and
numerous other INS forms.
IF THE MARRIAGE OCCURS OUTSIDE THE U.S.
The process is roughly the same except that the foreign-born spouse usually must
remain in his or her country until he or she obtains a green card.
The process begins when the citizen spouse submits a visa petition to either
the INS office which has jurisdiction over his residence or directly to the U.S.
Embassy or Consulate in the country where the foreign-born spouse resides.
Once the visa petition is approved, the foreign-born spouse will receive a
packet from the National Visa Center (NVC) located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The packet informs the foreign-born spouse of the various documents which must
be presented at the immigrant visa interview abroad (e.g., passport, police
clearances, results of medical examinations, etc.). The packet includes certain
documents requesting biographic data which must be completed, signed and
forwarded to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.
Usually, the foreign-born spouse is interviewed and granted an immigrant visa
within three to six months.
Sometimes, in order to avoid a lengthy separation, the spouses return to the
U.S. after the marriage and proceed to file the necessary applications once they
are both in the U.S. Usually, INS takes a dim view of this practice. It is not
uncommon for the INS to stop the foreign-born spouse at the border and exclude
him or her from the U.S. as an intending immigrant. However, if the foreign-born
spouse is able to enter the U.S., INS will not deny his or her application for a
green card simply because he or she entered the U.S. on a temporary
visa when their real intent was to remain permanently in the U.S.
If the marriage is less than two years old when the foreign-born spouse becomes
a permanent resident, the green card will expire after a two-year period. Both
spouses must submit a joint petition to remove the two-year condition within the
90-day period immediately preceding the end of the two year period.
If the marriage has terminated by reason of divorce, death of the citizen
spouse or spousal abuse, the foreign-born spouse may apply for a waiver of the
joint petition requirement.