How To Get a U.S. Marriage Green Card: A Step-by-Step Guide

In a Nutshell

A marriage green card is a type of immigrant visa that allows you to live and work in the United States. It is available to the spouses of U.S. citizens or green card holders. Applying for a marriage green card takes 9–38 months and costs $1,400–$1,960. You can apply for a marriage green card from inside the U.S. or from abroad. This guide explains what a marriage green card is and how to get one.

Written by Immigration Help Team
Updated December 22, 2022


‍What Is a Marriage Green Card?

So you married a U.S. citizen or green card holder? Congratulations! Now that you and your fiancé have gotten married, it is time to start your new life together. Before you can make the U.S. your permanent residence, you will probably need to apply for a marriage-based green card. 

A green card allows you to live and work in the U.S. as a permanent resident. It is a type of immigrant visa that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants, and it is the first step toward U.S. citizenship

A marriage-based green card is valid for a set period of time before you must renew it. 

  • If you have been married for over two years before you apply for your green card, you can receive the IR1 green card, which lasts for 10 years.

  • If you have been married for less than two years when you apply, you will receive a CR1 green card, also known as a conditional green card. This is valid for two years. After two years, you can apply to renew and get a 10-year green card.

Are You Eligible for a Marriage Green Card?

To be eligible for a marriage-based green card, you must prove several things to USCIS, including the following:

The U.S. government considers your marriage legally valid for immigration purposes if your marriage is officially recognized by the government in the country where your marriage took place.

You Are Married to a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident

The government gives immediate relatives of U.S. citizens priority in the green card process. You can prove that your spouse is a U.S. citizen by providing a copy of their birth certificate, U.S. passport, naturalization certificate, or certificate of citizenship with your application.

Being married to a U.S. green card holder (lawful permanent resident) also entitles you to apply for a green card. A copy of your spouse's green card is sufficient proof of this requirement.

Your Marriage Is Legitimate

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) knows that some people enter fake marriages to live and work in the U.S. You will have to provide USCIS with documents showing that you and your spouse are actually building a life together to prove that your marriage is "bona fide."

Neither of You Is Married to Anyone Else

If you've been married in the past, you will have to provide a divorce decree, death certificate, or another document to prove your prior marriage has ended.

How Do You Apply for a Marriage Green Card?

Once you have determined that you are eligible for a marriage-based green card, applying is a three-step process:

  1. Submit Form I-130 and supporting documents

  2. Submit your green card application (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)

  3. Attend your green card interview and receive your green card

Step 1: Submit Form I-130

The first step in the process of applying for a marriage-based green card is completing Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative. The purpose of the I-130 petition is to establish that you have a valid marriage to a U.S. citizen or green card holder.  

Along with the completed form, you must provide your marriage certificate and required documents showing that your marriage is legitimate. For example, you could show a joint lease, a joint bank account statement, or photos of you and your spouse together from your wedding or after marriage. It’s a good idea to include a cover letter with your I-130 petition. You can use our I-130 cover letter template to get started.

Once the I-130 filing package is complete, you can submit it online in your USCIS account or mail it to the appropriate USCIS address. ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare your Form I-130 for free with our simple web app.

Step 2: Apply for Your Marriage Green Card

The next step in your application process is to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. The way you do that will depend on whether you are living in the U.S. or abroad when you apply. If you live in the U.S., you’ll file for an adjustment of status. If you live abroad, you’ll file using consular processing.

Applying for a Marriage Green Card From the U.S. Through the Adjustment of Status Process

If you are currently living inside the United States, you must file Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This is more commonly known as the Adjustment of Status form because it allows you to change your current immigration status (whether it be a fiancé visa or nonimmigrant visa) to a marriage-based green card. 

When you submit Form I-485, you must also submit supporting documents, including the following:

If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, then you will usually submit your Form I-485 at the same time as your Form I-130. This is called concurrent filing.

If your spouse is a green card holder, however, you will have to wait several more months before submitting your Form I-485, known as non-concurrent filing. The government will notify you when it is time to file your Form I-485.

Applying for a Marriage Green Card From Abroad Through Consular Processing

If you are currently living outside of the United States, you will use a process called consular processing to apply for a marriage-based green card. With consular processing, you wait in your home country until USCIS approves your Form I-130. Once USCIS approves your Form I-130, it will send your file to the U.S. Department of State's National Visa Center (NVC). 

The NVC will then send you a notice with important case information. The agency will send this notice by mail or email, depending on what you requested when you filed your Form I-130. The NVC will also let you know when you can take the next step — submitting your NVC filing package.

Your NVC filing package will include:

  • The required government filing fees of $445. You will usually pay these online, but look for specific instructions from the NVC or the U.S. consulate or embassy handling your case.

  • Your Form DS-260. This is your actual green card application, and you will file it online through the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC).

  • Proof of your nationality. This is usually a copy of your birth certificate and passport photo page.

  • Police clearance certificates from relevant countries where you have lived since age 16.

  • Proof that your U.S. citizen or green card holder spouse will be able to financially support you. This includes Form I-864, which is called the Affidavit of Support, and evidence like tax returns and pay stubs.

Step 3: Attend Your Green Card Interview and Receive Your Green Card

The final step in the application process is a green card interview. The primary purpose of this interview is for the government to determine whether your application is legitimate and whether to give you a green card.

At your interview, the immigration officer will ask you questions about your relationship with your spouse, your daily activities, and your future plans as a couple. You should expect extra questions if your case has any facts that might suggest immigration fraud. 

This includes things like:

  • A large age gap between you and your spouse

  • Knowing your spouse for fewer than two years before marriage

  • Having a very different cultural background than your spouse

  • Having different addresses show up for you and your spouse online

You’ll usually have your green card interview at a local U.S. embassy or consulate if you apply through consular processing. If you are adjusting status, you’ll have an interview at a local USCIS field office in the U.S.

If You Adjusted Status With Form I-485…

Once USCIS has reviewed your entire application, the USCIS field office closest to you will send you an appointment notice for a green card interview. Both you and your spouse must attend the interview.

If the USCIS officer believes that your marriage is real, they will approve your application. You should receive your green card in the mail 2–3 weeks later.

If You Applied via Consular Processing With Form DS-260…

After the NVC has finished reviewing your Form DS-260 and supporting documents, the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country will send you an appointment notice for a green card interview. Your spouse does not need to attend your green card interview abroad; only you do.

After the interview, the consular officer will decide – usually within a week — whether to approve your application. It may take longer if the officer believes further investigation is needed. If the officer approves your green card application, the agency will send you a visa allowing you to travel to the U.S. At your port of entry, a U.S. border officer will formally admit you into the U.S. Then, USCIS will mail your new green card to your U.S. address.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Marriage Green Card?

How long the process takes depends on whether you're already living in the U.S. and whether you're married to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder. It can take a while, so some people start preparing their forms with their fiancé up to 90 days before they get married.

Processing Times for Applicants Living in the U.S. With a U.S. Citizen Spouse

The total processing time for your applications should be 10–13 months if you are married to a U.S. citizen and living in the U.S. Here’s a breakdown of the timeline:

  • Proving that your marriage is real with Form I-130 and applying for a green card at the same time (concurrently) with Form I-485: 9–11 months

  • Attending your green card interview and waiting for your green card: 1–2 months

  • Total processing time: 10–13 months

Processing Times for Applicants Living in the U.S. with a Permanent Resident Spouse

If you're living in the U.S. and your spouse is a green card holder, it will take 1–15 months for USCIS to approve your Form I-130. Then, you must wait until a green card becomes available for you in the Visa Bulletin, which takes another 8–10 months. Then, you must submit your Form I-485, which takes USCIS 9–11 months to process. Finally, there is the interview and approval of your application, which takes another 1–2 months. 

In total, the processing time will be 29–38 months from the date you file Form I-130.

Processing Times for Applicants Living Abroad with a U.S. Citizen Spouse

If you're living abroad while married to a U.S. citizen, it should take 7–10 months for USCIS to approve your I-130. After that, you will need to wait an additional 4–6 months for the National Visa Center (NVC) to approve your DS-260. 

In total, it will take about 11–17 months after you file for you to receive your green card.

Processing Times for Applicants Living Abroad With a Permanent Resident Spouse

If you are living abroad while married to a green card holder, it will take 11–15 months for USCIS to approve your Form I-130. Then you will need to wait for a green card number to become available. You can check this in the Visa Bulletin. This process takes roughly 8–10 months. Then, you will submit your DS-260 and usually wait another 4–7 months for approval. 

In total, you should expect a wait time of 23–32 months until you get your marriage-based green card.

How Much Does It Cost To Get a Marriage Green Card?

In 2020, the total cost for a marriage-based green card was $1,760 if the applicant applied while living in the United States or $1,200 if they applied from abroad. These totals include the required U.S. government filing fees and biometrics fees, which are non-refundable. They also include the average cost of the required medical examination.

In addition to the government fees, hiring a lawyer to help with your green card case may cost an additional $2,000–$6,000, depending on the complexity of your case. These costs can be intimidating, but there's hope! You can avoid expensive attorney fees by using a legal aid nonprofit. ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare your marriage green card application for free.

When Should You Work With a Lawyer To Get a Marriage Green Card?

You do not have to hire an immigration lawyer to apply for a marriage-based green card. More than half of all marriage-based green card applications are filed by individuals who do not work with an attorney. You can definitely do it!

In certain circumstances, having an immigration lawyer is essential. You should probably hire an immigration lawyer if you:

  • Are in deportation proceedings

  • Have ever entered the United States unlawfully

  • Have committed a crime

  • Have previously lied to the U.S. government to get immigration benefits

If any of those things apply to you, having a lawyer can be valuable. Immigration attorneys understand the nuances of immigration law. They can confirm your eligibility, prepare your forms and supporting documents, and track your case. They can help you stay on top of USCIS deadlines and understand case status updates as USCIS processes your case. 

But if you have the time and attention to detail to handle the paperwork, you can file your green card application on your own. A free nonprofit service likeImmigrationHelp.org can help you make your immigration dreams a reality.

Marriage Green Card FAQs

Can I work while I wait for my marriage-based green card?

If you applied for your green card while you were living in the U.S., then yes! But you will need to apply for a work permit when you file your Form I-485. 

You can do this by submitting Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization (work permit) when you apply to adjust status. If you submit your I-765 with your I-485, you don’t have to pay an additional fee. 

You will usually receive your work permit 4–6 months after you submit these forms. 

Can I leave the U.S. while I wait for my marriage-based green card?

Yes! But you will need to apply for Advance Parole when you file your Form I-485. You can do this by submitting Form I-131: Application for Travel Document when you apply to adjust status. There is no additional fee as long as you submit your I-131 with your I-485. 

You will usually receive your Advance Parole documents 4–6 months after you submit these forms.


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