As the spouse of a US citizen, you are eligible to apply for lawful permanent residency (aka a green card) based on your immediate-family status. There are a handful of other eligibility factors that apply, and your citizen spouse will need to sponsor your application, but the process is fairly straightforward:
- Determine your eligibility
- Complete Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
- Complete Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
- Complete Form I-864, Affidavit of Support
- Complete Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
- Complete any other applicable immigration forms
Following is a brief overview of each step in the green card application process. You can certainly complete these actions on your own, but it’s always a good idea to consult with an immigration attorney before submitting your application. An experienced immigration attorney can check your paperwork for red flags and recommend filing strategies to help your application pass as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Eligibility for a Green Card
The spouse of an American citizen who is currently in the United States must meet the following requirements to be considered eligible for a green card:
- The spouse is eligible to receive an immigrant visa, and a visa is immediately available (immigrant visas are always available for immediate family members of US citizens)
- The spouse is not barred from an adjustment of status
- The spouse is not considered inadmissible to the United States (or has a waiver of inadmissibility)
- The spouse is physically present in the United States when they file for a green card
- The spouse merits a favorable exercise of discretion
- The spouse was properly inspected and admitted (or inspected and paroled) when they entered the United States
Keep in mind that these conditions apply to immigrants who are already in the United States. If you are currently outside of the United States and do not have a valid US visa, you will need to obtain a visa through standard consular processing. Once you have your visa, you may travel to the US and apply for an adjustment of status to lawful permanent residency.
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
In order for USCIS to recognize your immediate-family relationship to a US citizen, your American spouse will need to complete and submit Form I-130. This document validates your marriage and certifies that the marriage was not entered into purely for immigration benefits. As long as you are already in the United States, your spouse can submit this concurrently with your green card application (though you’re welcome to submit Form I-130 before your full application, if you’d prefer).
Note that Form I-130 carries a standard filing fee of $535. If you qualify for an exemption, you can request a fee waiver with Form I-912.
Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
Form I-485 is your actual petition for a green card, so it’s safe to say that this is the most important form in your application packet. The petition formally requests that USCIS adjust your immigration status from a visa-holder to a lawful permanent resident.
In addition to filling out Form I-485, you’ll need to include the following supporting documents:
- A copy of a government-issued ID with your picture
- A copy of your birth certificate
- A copy of your passport page with the admission/parole stamp that you received when you entered the country
- If you have a criminal record, include certified police reports and court records of any criminal charges, arrests, and convictions
- If you have a nonimmigrant visa, include a copy of your passport page with the visa
- Two passport-style pictures
Generally speaking, Form I-485 carries a $1,140 filing fee and an $85 biometric services fee. The biometric services fee is waived for children 14 and under and adults 79 and older. Children who are younger than 14 and who are filing jointly with a parent qualify for a lower fee of $750. As with all other USCIS filing fees, you may request a fee waiver with Form I-912.
Form I-864, Affidavit of Support
Immigration officials are reluctant to grant permanent residency to someone who will immediately become a public charge, so it helps to have someone to financially sponsor your green card. In this case, that sponsor would be your American spouse. Have your spouse complete and sign Form I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA.
Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
Every green card applicant is asked to complete a medical examination with a designated civil surgeon. You can find a list of USCIS-approved providers on the agency’s website. After completing your examination and receiving any necessary vaccinations, have the healthcare provider complete and sign Form I-693.
Other Immigration Forms
Forms I-130, I-485, I-864, and I-693 are the primary immigration forms in your green card application packet, but in many cases, you may need to include a few more forms. Depending on your current immigrant status, you may need to file the following forms:
- Form I-797, Approval or Receipt of Notice – include a copy of this form if you have already submitted Form I-130 and received a receipt from USCIS
- Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record – you can obtain a digital copy of this form from Customs and Border Protection
- Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility – complete this if you are considered inadmissible to the United States but qualify for a waiver
- Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal – include this form if you are subject to a ban on entering the United States
- Form I-612, Application for Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement – file this if you have previously held J-1 or J-2 nonimmigrant visa and have not met the two-year foreign residence requirement under INA 212(e)
- Form I-508, Request for Waiver of Rights, Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities – file this form if currently have A, E, or G nonimmigrant status
- Form I-508F, Request for Waiver of Rights, Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities for French Nationals – use this form if you are a French national
- Form I-566, Interagency Record of Request, A, G or NATO Dependent Employment Authorization or Change/Adjustment to/from A, G or NATO Status – complete this form if you have A, G, or NATO nonimmigrant status
After the Application
Once everything is properly submitted to USCIS, it takes the agency approximately 1 – 2 years to process your green card application. If your current visa is set to expire during that time, don’t worry—your visa will automatically be extended until USCIS issues a decision.