How Long Does it Take to Get a Green Card Through Marriage?

Posted by Frank Gogol

Thousands of American citizens marry foreign spouses each year. This makes the foreign-born spouse eligible for a green card, which is called a marriage-based green card. For these people, it’ll be a new beginning in a new land. But how long does the process take? In this article, we’ll provide information on marriage-based green cards and their timeline.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Marriage Green Card?

The first thing we should make clear is that there is no specific time frame. Each particular marriage is different; it depends on where the marriage took place, the nationality of the foreign-born spouse, and the evidence provided, among other factors.

But the total time ranges between 10 to 38 months. The main deciding factor is the location of the American spouse — either within the United States or outside the United States.

A marriage-based green card is just one of the four types of green cards offered by the USCIS. The process starts with the American spouse filing a petition on behalf of their foreign-born spouse. A petition is submitted for an immigrant visa and then for a green card. The USCIS will carry out a lot of verification work before issuing the visa and green card. The speed at which the agency verifies the documentation influences how fast your visa is processed.

But the good thing about a marriage-based green card is that there is no cap on the number of visas issued per year. Therefore, there are no wait times involved. Still, you’ll need to wait for at least ten months at best.

Please note that the marriage-based green card time frame varies significantly depending on whether you’re getting married to a U.S. citizen or U.S. green card holder.

Marriage-Based Green Card for People Married to U.S. Citizens

If you’re marrying a U.S. citizen who is American either by birth or via naturalization, the time frame is between 10 months and 17 months. It’ll be shorter if he or she is living in the U.S.

Marriage-Based Green Card for People Married to a U.S. Green Card Holder

If you’re married to a U.S. green card holder, you can expect to wait longer. If he or she lives in the U.S. as a green card holder, the expected time frame is 29-38 months. If he or she lives outside of the United States, either because of professional or personal reasons, it’ll be issued within 23-32 months.

Marriage Green Card Timeline

In this section, we will discuss how the entire marriage-based green card process looks from start to finish. This will equip you with a deeper understanding of what goes behind the scenes. Then you’ll be able to estimate the time frame on your own.

There are two scenarios where you can apply for the green card.

  1. Consular processing
  2. Concurrent filing with the USCIS 

Consular Processing

You’ll have to go through consular processing if you’re a U.S. citizen and married to a nonimmigrant who lives abroad. Here are the steps involved in this scenario:

File Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative (7-10 months)

The first thing you need to do is file a petition with the USCIS to bring in an alien relative to the U.S. Since he or she is your spouse, they’ll be categorized as “Immediate Relative.” This form can be filed by a U.S. citizen or green card holder as a sponsor, and your foreign-based spouse will be a beneficiary. This form is used to establish the validity of the marriage since fraudulent marriages used to get around the U.S. immigration system are not uncommon. The USCIS will take at least seven to 10 months to verify all the details provided in the form.

Green Card Application (3-5 months)

Once your petition is approved, the USCIS will forward it to the National Visa Center (NVC). Officials at the NVC will start gathering relevant forms and documents necessary to issue a green card to your foreign-born spouse. The entire process takes about three to five months at a minimum. Once the documents are ready for processing, they are then forward to the relevant embassy or consulate. You’ll be asked to file an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) and pay the required fees. Also, the immigrant will need to file Form DS-260, an online immigrant visa application. All of this can add up to one to two months.

Interview and Approval (1-2 months)

The NVC will send over your documents to a U.S. consulate or embassy. The foreign-born spouse will be asked to visit this consulate and attend an interview. But before attending the interview, you must have:

  • Taken a medical examination
  • Lodged an address where your passport will be delivered
  • Scheduled a fingerprinting appointment

Then you can attend the green card interview. You’ll be asked a lot of personal and professional questions. You should answer them accurately and truthfully. Remember, the officials are just trying to ensure this is a legitimate marriage. Any miscommunication can potentially delay the process.

The approval will take one to two months, after which the foreign-born spouse can enter the United States.

Concurrent Filing With the USCIS

If the nonimmigrant spouse is already living in the United States on a K-1 visa, the entire process is much simpler and faster.

First, there is no need to seek legal immigrant entry into the U.S. The only thing you need to take care of is to establish the legitimacy of the marriage. Here’s how to go about it:

File Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (1 month)

The foreign-born spouse already has a K-2 visa status. So you need to change it to conditional resident status. This is done by filing Form I-485. For this, you need to send a packet to the USCIS containing the following documents:

After you’ve sent over the packet, you should wait at least one month. In the meantime, the USCIS will cross-check and verify all the submitted forms.

Interview and Approval (10-13 months)

Once the verification is done, the USCIS will call the foreign-born spouse to attend an interview. A USCIS official will ask you a lot of personal and background questions. You must answer these truthfully. After you’re done with the interview, the USCIS will take at least 10 to 13 months to issue a marriage-based green card.

If you’ve been married for less than two years at the time of filing, you’ll be provided a conditional green card. This is true for green cards issued via consular processing as well. You can convert it to a permanent green card after two years by filing a petition.

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The last thing you should know is that marrying a U.S. citizen doesn’t make the foreign-born spouse an American citizen. They still would have to go through the naturalization process if they want to become a U.S. citizen. If you’re confused about the process or the forms, we advise you to consult an immigration attorney.