Everything You Need to Know about Green Card Marriages

Posted by Frank Gogol

Immigrants in the United States have multiple pathways to permanent residency status, and one of them is through a “green card marriage.” Spouses of legal residents in the United States are entitled to permanent resident status as well, but obtaining a green card can be costly and time consuming.

A green card affords the cardholder numerous benefits and protections that can make life in the United States much easier, though, so the process is worthwhile. This article provides a guide on the process of obtaining a green card through marriage.

What is a Marriage Green Card?

The immediate family of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident is entitled to permanent resident status, including children, parents, and spouses. A marriage green card is a Lawful Permanent Resident Card (the formal title of the green card) that is obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Unlike nonimmigrant visas like the H1B or F1, maintaining permanent resident status with a green card is not dependent on your job or reason for entering the country. Green card holders can travel freely and have no limits on the duration of their stay in the U.S. or where they live.

A “green card marriage,” on the other hand, refers to a “marriage of convenience” between a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and a foreign national.  This is a colloquial term for a marriage that has the sole purpose of obtaining the spouse citizenship or permanent residency. These marriages are considered fraudulent and illegal by the US government, though very few of these marriages are detected or prosecuted.

Marriage Green Card Process

Obtaining a green card involves three main steps: establishing the legitimacy of your marriage, applying for the green card, and completing an interview with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Read on for a detailed breakdown of each step in the marriage green card process.

Submit Form I-30

First, you must establish the legality and legitimacy of your marriage by submitting a Form I-30 to the USCIS. This form provides proof of the marriage to immigration officials and must be filed by the spouse who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The spouse filing the form is described as the “petitioner” or “sponsor,” while the other spouse is described as the “beneficiary” or “green card applicant.”

The petitioner must provide the following information in their Form I-30 submission:

  • A $535 filing fee
  • Proof that the petitioner is an American citizen or permanent resident, in the form of a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, U.S. passport, or green card
  • Proof that the parties are married, for instance, a marriage certificate featuring the petitioner and beneficiary, along with the date and location of the marriage
  • Proof demonstrating the legitimacy of the marriage, in the form of a joint homeownership or lease, joint bank accounts, or pictures of the parties together at the marriage
  • Proof that the previous marriages of either party have been legally terminated (if applicable)

Once you have completed the form and included any relevant documents and fees, you can mail your submission to USCIS. The sponsor will receive a notice that the form has been received in the mail, usually within 2 weeks.

USCIS may request more documents or information to complete the filing package, in which case the sponsor will receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) within 2-3 months. The sponsor will then get notice of approval or denial of their application within 7-15 months, depending on the circumstances.

Establish Spouse Eligibility

There are two processes in place for applicants to demonstrate the eligibility of their spouse: one for spouses currently in the United States, and another for spouses residing in another country.

For applications with spouses in the United States, the next step is to complete a Form I-485 Adjustment of Status application. This application establishes the green card eligibility of the spouse.

I-485 Applications must include the following:

  • A $1,225 filing fee
  • Proof demonstrating the spouse’s nationality
  • Proof that the spouse legally entered the United States (with a prior U.S. visa or I-94 travel record)
  • USCIS-mandated medical examination
  • Proof that the sponsor can financially support the beneficiary (with a Form I-864 Affidavit of Support, and financial documents like pay stubs and tax returns)

If the sponsor is a U.S. citizen, they can concurrently file the Form I-485 with the Form I-130. Processing a concurrent application typically takes 9-11 months.

Sponsors with a green card, on the other hand, must file these forms separately. These applications can have a one and a half year wait time due to the visa cap, and, after being submitted, can take another 9-11 months to process.

If the spouse of the sponsor lives abroad, there is a different process. Application packages must be submitted to the National Visa Center (NVC), and the green card interview takes place at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Spouses living abroad must submit the following:

  • A $445 filing fee
  • An online green card application, or Form DS-260
  • Proof of the nationality of the spouse
  • Police clearance certificate for the spouse
  • Proof that the sponsor can financially support the spouse in the United States

These applications are typically processed within 3-5 months.

Attend Green Card Interview

The last step of obtaining a green card is the green card interview. This involves an interviewing officer investigating and determining the legitimacy of your marriage. Typically, applicants will be asked questions about their relationship history, their daily life, and their future plans. If the officer believes the marriage legitimate, the green card application will be approved.

Next Steps

If the applicants have been married for less than 2 years, the beneficiary will receive a conditional green card (or CR1) that is valid for only 2 years. In the final 90 days of this 2 year period, the applicants must submit a Form I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. Once the USCIS receives this form, they will again determine if the marriage is legitimate.

If the applicants have been married for more than 2 years, the beneficiary will receive a permanent green card (also known as an immediate relative green card, or IR1). Typically, these cards are easier to renew, and the USCIS does not question the applicants for potential fraudulent behavior.

How Much Does a Marriage Green Card Cost?

The filing fees for a marriage green card are substantial, and perhaps the biggest obstacle that applicants face. Spouses in the United States must pay a total of $1,760, while for spouses outside of the country the total cost is $980.

However, if the cost involved is holding you back from getting your green card, there are other options. Personal loans are a simple way that you can fund your green card application. Some lenders do not require that the applicant is an American citizen or require a cosigner. By filling out a simple application and submitting to a credit check you can have the necessary funds in just a few days.


The most difficult part of obtaining a green card is the wait; you need patience and commitment to be successful. Other than that, as long as your marriage is not fraudulent, your only concern if filling out paperwork correctly and meeting all of your obligations and appointments.

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