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What is the Process for Marrying a Non-U.S Citizen?

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Key Takeaways

Green card holders and U.S. citizens are at liberty to marry non-U.S. citizens. Their foreign spouses can get a marriage green card and live with them in the United States. The application process looks different depending on where you and your future spouse live and your respective immigration statuses. This article explains the possibilities and considerations to keep in mind when applying for a marriage green card. Specifically, the article explains what things look like if both partners are present in the United States versus if both are not and the process if only one partner is in the United States.

Table of Contents

If both partners are present in the United States

If you and your non-U.S. citizen spouse already live in the United States, they likely have a U.S. work visa or visitor visa. Your spouse can become a lawful permanent resident through “adjustment of status,” where they will change their temporary visa to a green card. First, you and your immigrant spouse will need to get married and register your marriage with the state or county officials where your wedding took place. 

However, it’s important to remember the 90-day rule set by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS may think your spouse misled the government when applying for a temporary visa if they apply for a green card within 90 days of entering the United States. Your spouse could have their immigrant visa application denied and their current nonimmigrant visa revoked. 

During the green card application process, you, as the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, are your spouse’s application “sponsor.” As a U.S. citizen, you and your spouse can use the “concurrent filing” method. Concurrent filing means you will file Form I-130, “Petition for Alien Relative,” at the same time as Form I-485, “Application for Adjustment of Status.” USCIS will handle your application and request a biometrics appointment and in-person interview

If you are a green card holder and not a U.S. citizen, your spouse must maintain valid immigration status in the United States while waiting for lawful permanent resident status. To maintain proper immigration status, your spouse must have a valid visa until filing their green card application through Form I-485. They also will have to wait until a visa number is available before applying to adjust status from within the United States. Visa numbers are automatically available for spouses of U.S. citizens because U.S. immigration law considers them “immediate relatives.” However, spouses of green card holders must wait a while. The entire immigration process can take up to 2.5 years, and your spouse must have a valid visa the whole time. However, if you are a U.S. citizen and your non-citizen spouse entered the United States legally but has since lost status, USCIS will forgive their unlawful presence during the process.

If both partners are not present in the United States

Suppose you are both currently outside the United States but want to marry and remain in the United States. In that case, your best option is the K-1 visa. You can apply for the visa with Form I-129F, “Petition for Alien Fiancé.” The fiancé visa will enable your future spouse to come to the United States, marry you, and adjust their status. 

If you want to marry in the United States, but your spouse wants to return to their home country to apply for a green card, perhaps for employment or family reasons, you can always get married on a temporary visa. You will simply need to follow state marriage laws. You also need to understand the 90-day rule, which could deem your spouse ineligible for adjusting their status to permanent resident while in the United States. 

You can also get married and initially live abroad. If recognized local or national authorities issue a marriage certificate, the U.S. government will recognize your marriage abroad. U.S. state laws for marriage do not bind you. Instead, you will follow the laws of the country you are married in, such as specific eligibility requirements or divorce rules. However, UCSIS will not recognize polygamous relationships, underage marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships, even if they are valid in the place celebrated. Additionally, USCIS recognizes same-sex marriages, but you must present a marriage certificate from the country where you married.

If you’re in the United States but your future spouse isn’t

You have two different options if you’re currently in the United States but your future spouse isn’t. 

First, you can get married abroad, and then your spouse can apply for a green card at a U.S. consulate or U.S. embassy in that country. This process is called consular processing. You and your spouse must file Form I-130 and Form DS-160, “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.” Your spouse will then undergo a medical exam and interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. This process can take a while, but your spouse will get a green card when they arrive in the United States. 

The second option is to have your spouse come to the United States on a K-1 visa or fiancé visa. You can marry in the United States. Your spouse can adjust status to become a permanent resident after the wedding. They can get the K-1 visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate in advance. However, before you file for a K-1 visa, you and your spouse must have seen each other in person within the previous two years. Additionally, your spouse needs to marry you and apply to adjust status within 90 days of entering the United States. Otherwise, they may face deportation or will have to leave the country. 

After you marry in the United States, you and your spouse will file Form I-385. Your spouse will undergo biometrics and maybe an interview. If your partner is looking for employment or travel outside the United States during the processing of their USCIS forms, they will need to file for a work permit and travel permit

For both options, you will be temporarily separated from your spouse as they undergo the green card or visa process outside of the United States. Keep in mind that there are severe consequences for marriage fraud or immigrating to the United States under pretenses of marriage. USCIS may require marriage bona fides when your spouse is interviewing for a visa or green card. Bona fides prove your marriage is from a genuine relationship and not purely for immigration purposes. 


Marrying a non-citizen can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your spouse’s green card case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!

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