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While marriage is a commitment between two people who wish to spend their entire lives together, it’s a legal process that can be complicated, especially if you marry a foreigner. If you marry a U.S. citizen, you may wish to live together in the United States. 

However, simply marrying a U.S. citizen doesn’t automatically give you the right to be a permanent resident or a citizen. There are still immigration laws that you must follow to gain full U.S. citizenship.

So, whether you’re already married or planning to marry a U.S. citizen, this article explains everything you need to understand about immigration law.

What Is a Marriage-Based Green Card?

When you marry a U.S. citizen, you don’t automatically qualify to be a citizen. You have to apply for a marriage-based green card to live and work anywhere in the United States. You can qualify for this green card only if your spouse is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder.

The marriage greed card classifies you as an immediate relative of your spouse and gives you the right to live in the U.S.

Once you apply and qualify for a marriage green card, you may apply for citizenship or a U.S. passport by following the naturalization process.

While immigration law allows you to immediately begin your application for a marriage green card after getting married, you must have a sponsor. In this case, your immediate relative (spouse) should sponsor your application.

The person sponsoring your application must have enough documents showing their tax compliance and income capability.

In addition, your sponsor must complete Form I-864. This is an Affidavit of Support showing that they’re ready to support you if you don’t find employment or a source of income while living in the U.S.

The duration of time it will take before you get your marriage greed card will depend on where you two got married. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processing time may take several months or even years in complex cases. 

Usually, it takes about 14 to 28 months if you begin your application within the United States. It may take 17 to 24 months if you start your application outside the United States.

Green Card Application Process When Married to a U.S. Citizen

When you plan to move to the United States with your spouse after getting married, you must carefully plan and consider your place of marriage.

Whether you get married in the U.S. or overseas will highly affect how easily you qualify for a marriage green card. Let’s have a look at how the different situations work.

Married and Living Overseas

If you and your spouse marry abroad, you can apply for U.S. citizenship through consular processing. This is where you send your visa application documents to your local embassy and wait several months for the processing to finalize.

During the waiting period, you can still continue with your activities, such as employment in your local country.

Another option is to apply for K3 non-immigrant visa, which allows you to temporarily stay in the U.S. as you wait for your petition as a permanent resident to be processed.

With this, you have the chance to start your married life with your spouse in the United States, even without being a permanent resident.

Finally, you can obtain a CR1 immigrant visa allowing you to stay in the U.S. as a permanent resident. CR stands for Conditional Residence, which permits you to stay in the U.S. as a conditional permanent resident for any marriage of less than two years.

In some cases, the USCIS might process your CR1 petition so quickly that you won’t need to apply for a K3 visa.

Married and Living in the United States

If you marry a U.S. citizen and both of you stay in the States, your application to be a permanent resident will be slightly different from that of a person living overseas. Such cases happen when someone already entered the U.S. for other purposes other than marriage.

It could be to study or to work. The immigration law will allow you to change your status after that.

However, you must meet three conditions to change your status:

  • You have a valid nonimmigrant visa.
  • You haven’t breached the conditions of your visa status.
  • You have no convictions during your stay.

In addition to meeting the above conditions, you must also prove that you had no prior plans of getting married before you entered the U.S. If you planned to get married and entered the U.S. under the pretense of work or studies, your application will be considered fraudulent.

Planning to Marry a U.S. Citizen

If you have a fiancé who is a U.S. citizen, you can also apply for a marriage visa to be a permanent resident. The application process for those planning to marry also differs from that of already married people. If you still live overseas, you’ll need to apply for a K1 visa, also known as a fiancé visa.

You will get a K1 visa under the condition that you marry your partner within 90 days of entering the U.S. Once you get married after the end of the 90 days, you can adjust your status to lawful permanent resident.

Remember, the K1 visa is only valid for 90 days, and you cannot extend it under no circumstances. If you don’t get married after 90 days or decide to break your engagement, you’ll have to leave the States as your visa will expire.

Bottom Line

Becoming a permanent resident of the United States is possible if you get married to a citizen. However, whether you get married overseas or in the U.S. will determine how soon you get your marriage green card.

Also, understand that immigration laws will only approve your permanent residency if you enter a valid civil marriage according to the laws of your country of residence.

Remember, the process can be complicated if you don’t understand the immigration laws. A simple mistake can delay your visa or deny you the chance to be a permanent citizen. Working with an expert who understands the laws can help make the process much easier.