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

Updated on January 5, 2024

At a Glance

  • The time to obtain a marriage green card varies depending on the situation.
  • For U.S. citizens married to nonimmigrants abroad, the process through consular processing takes approximately 29 to 38 months.
  • For nonimmigrant spouses already living in the U.S., concurrent filing with USCIS takes about 23 to 32 months.
  • These timelines include filing the necessary forms, document processing, interviews, and approval stages. It’s important to note that these are general estimates, and individual cases may vary.

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?

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

Generally speaking, it takes between 10 and 38 months to get a green card through marriage. The main deciding factor is the citizenship status and location of the American spouse.

Green Card Applicant TypeHow to FileTotal Time
Spouse lives within the U.S.Consular Processing29-38 months
Spouse lives outside of the U.S.Concurrent Filing with USCIS23 to 32 months

Below, we break down this information in more detail.

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 a green card.

  1. Consular processing (for U.S. citizens married to nonimmigrants abroad)
  2. Concurrent filing with USCIS (for nonimmigrant spouses already living in the U.S.)

Consular Processing Explained

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 Explained

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 (1 Month)
  • Interview and Approval (10-13 months)

Read on to learn more about each step in the concurrent filing process in more detail.

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.

Read More

Final Thoughts

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.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.