Where to file?
The process of obtaining a 'green card' (lawful permanent resident status) through marriage varies from case to case based on a number of factors, including but not limited to:
- Is the foreign spouse already in the USA? If so, she may be able to 'adjust status' without leaving the US, or she may prefer to leave the USA and obtain a 'green card' at the US Embassy abroad. It is advisable to obtain legal advice from a US immigration lawyer before leaving the USA in all cases, and particularly so if the foreign spouse has accumulated any period of unlawful presence in the USA or has other circumstances which could pose problems when she tries to re-enter the country.
- Does the US citizen petitioner live in the USA or in the UK? If the petitioner lives in the UK, he may be able to file the green card petition for his spouse directly with the US Embassy in London. For more information about this subject, please read an earlier article. If he lives in the USA, the only option is filing with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The steps for spousal 'green card' petition
Once a decision is made for the foreign spouse to seek an immigrant visa at the US Embassy in London but file with USCIS, the I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and other required forms, along with supporting documents, are presently sent the Chicago Lockbox. However, filing locations change frequently.
After the relevant USCIS Service Center reviews the documents and approves the I-130 petition, the documents are sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) for further processing. The NVC will contact the US citizen petitioner and the foreign spouse beneficiary to ask that processing fees be paid (referred to as 'fee bills') and further forms and documents be submitted. The petitioner, for instance, will have to pay the Affidavit of Support Fee (currently $88) and submit the I-864.
After the NVC collects the required fees and supporting documents, an interview will be scheduled for the foreign spouse beneficiary at the US Embassy in London.
The foreign spouse must attend a medical examination with a US Embassy-certified physician before the interview appointment. At the moment, there is only one Embassy-appointed medical practitioner in the UK which has two offices, both in London, where visa applicants are examined.
The foreign spouse beneficiary then attends the US Embassy appointment, bringing along required documents. If successful, an immigrant visa is issued, along with a sealed 'Visa Packet' which must not be opened by the beneficiary. The foreign national will then have six months to enter the USA.
The 'green card' will arrive in the post at the beneficiary's US home address after the foreign spouse has entered the USA using the issued immigrant visa. If the couple has been married for less than two years when the foreign national spouse enters the USA, (s)he will be granted conditional lawful resident status (CR1). The conditions will have to be removed through a joint petition filed by the spouses within the 90 day period before the green card's two year anniversary. If the couple has been married for two years or longer, the beneficiary receives an unconditional 'green card' (IR1).
Maximising one's chances of success as a 'green card' applicant through marriage:
- Gather all the required documents at the right time. Once the immigration process is started, and particularly once the petition reaches the NVC, things can move quicker than anticipated. Having all the documents ready will help speed up the process, particularly since some document (such as police certificates from certain countries) can take a long time to obtain. However, some documents can only be used within a certain amount of time after issuance, and therefore it is important not to obtain them too early;
- Ensure that the forms are correctly filled out. Forms containing mistakes or incomplete information may result in a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) which will cause the processing of the immigration petition to take longer;
- Assess whether there is something in the beneficiary's background that may make her inadmissible, including but not limited to past criminal history, unlawful presence in the USA, or public health issues. If any such issues are present, legal assistance may be essential.
- Mistakes can be costly and time-consuming. Budget permitting, retain a qualified US immigration lawyer to represent you in this complex process.
The American Immigration Law Office (AILO) would like to wish you all the best with your US immigration journey. The firm's US immigration lawyer in London, UK, offers legal assistance with immigrant visa petitions through marriage. Contact us for a consultation today!