How to get a green card

The U.S. government follows two different processes to determine a spouse’s eligibility for a marriage-based green card. The right process depends on where that spouse currently lives:

If the spouse seeking a green card physically lives in the United States, the next step is to file Form I-485 (officially called the “Adjustment of Status” application). The I-485 is filed with USCIS, and its primary purpose is to establish that the spouse is eligible for a green card.

  • Government filing fees of $1,225 (including $1,140 for the green card application and $85 for biometrics)
  • Proof of nationality of the spouse seeking a green card (copy of birth certificate and passport photo page)
  • Proof of lawful entry to the United States by the spouse seeking a green card (copy of I-94 travel record and prior U.S. visa)
  • Medical examination performed by a USCIS-approved doctor
  • Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support the spouse seeking a green card (including Form I-864, or “Affidavit of Support,” and evidence such as tax returns and pay stubs)

For spouses of U.S. citizens, this I-485 filing package can usually be combined with the I-130 form and supporting documents described in Step 1 above (a process known as “concurrent filing”). USCIS typically processes this concurrent filing within 9–11 months.

For spouses of U.S. green card holders, however, the I-485 filing package cannot be submitted until the U.S. Department of State determines that a green card is available in the visa bulletin, given various annual caps. The wait time is currently about one and a half years, but this can vary by a few months, depending on the home country of the spouse seeking a green card. Once the I-485 filing package is submitted, USCIS will typically process it within 9–11 months.

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Boundless prints out all your forms and documents, assembled precisely how the government prefers. We mail the whole package to your doorstep, ready for you to sign and send to the correct government address. We even provide the envelope and cover the shipping fee. Ready to start?

There is a different process to sponsor a green card for a spouse living abroad. The next step is to file an application package with the National Visa Center (NVC), which is run by the State Department. The NVC gathers the necessary forms and documents and decides whether the spouse is ready for an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad (a procedure known as “consular processing”).

  • Government filing fees of $445 (including $120 for the financial support form and $325 for the State Department processing fee)
  • Form DS-260 (green card application filed online)
  • Proof of nationality of the spouse seeking a green card (copy of birth certificate and passport photo page)
  • Copy of a police clearance certificate for the spouse seeking a green card (showing previous interactions with law enforcement, if any)
  • Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support the spouse seeking a green card (including Form I-864, or “Affidavit of Support,” and evidence such as tax returns and pay stubs)

The NVC typically processes an application package within 3–5 months, and then forwards it to a U.S. embassy or consulate in the home country of the spouse seeking a green card.

Boundless can help guide you through the entire marriage green card process. Read more about what you get with Boundless, or get started today.

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Sponsorship by Immediate Relative

There is no specified limit of green cards available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.  As such, you can apply for a green card with no waiting period at the same time as applying for or upon approval of an immigrant visa petition.

Immediate relatives include:

  • spouses of U.S. citizens
  • unmarried children under the age 21 of at least one U.S. citizen parent
  • parents of U.S. citizen children who are 21 years and older

Children include:

  • biological children
  • step-children if the marriage between the child’s biological and step-parent was contracted before the child turned 18 years old
  • adopted children if the adoption took place before the child reached 16 (with some limited exceptions) and certain other conditions are met

Sponsorship by Other Family Members

If the family member sponsoring you is not an immediate relative, you may still get your green card but there will likely be a longer waiting period.  Because only a certain number of these green cards can be issued (on a first come, first served basis) each year to persons who are not immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, there can be waiting lines. The length of the wait depends on what preference category your application falls under.  Below are the four preference categories defined by law:

  • First preference: this category applies to petitions filed by U.S. citizen parents for their unmarried children 21 years or older.
  • Second preference: this category applies to petitions for spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of Legal Permanent Residents.
  • Third preference: this category applies to petitions for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizen, and their spouses and minor children.
  • Fourth preference: this category applies to petitions for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age.
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Sponsored by Employer

There are a limited number of green cards that can be issued to foreign nationals who are sponsored for residency through employment. In many cases, to sponsor a foreign national for residency, a U.S. employer must prove there are no qualified, willing, or able American workers for the position being sponsored and agree to pay a certain required wage to the foreign national upon issuance of the green card.  However, there are exceptions to these requirements, such as for individuals of extraordinary ability, outstanding researchers, multi-national managers, foreign nationals performing work of national interest, etc.

Since only a limited number of these green cards are given, in some cases, applicants may have to wait years to apply for a green card.  The waiting period depends on the preference category in which an application is made.  Below are the five preference categories:

  • First preference: applicants of extraordinary ability in arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; and certain managers and executives of multinational companies
  • Second preference: professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability
  • Third preference: skilled and professional workers
  • Fourth preference: religious workers and miscellaneous categories of special immigrants
  • Fifth preference: employment creation visas for investors who invest either $1 million or $500,000 (if business is located in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA)) into a U.S. business that creates or, in some cases, sustains at least 10 full-time jobs
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