Marrying A US Citizen: Are You Green Card Eligible?
Having married a US citizen, or if you are not yet married, and are planning to set up home and start your new life in the United States with your US citizen spouse, you will need to understand your immigration options.
You will not automatically attain any US immigration rights by reason of marriage to an American. In this article, we look at what marriage to a US citizen means for your status, including the main options open to you to attaining lawful permanent residence in the USA.
How does marrying a US citizen affect my immigration status?
After marrying a US citizen you will not immediately become eligible to apply for US citizenship. However, as the spouse of a US citizen, you will be classed as an “immediate relative” and, accordingly, you will be eligible to apply for permanent residence, or what is commonly known as a green card.
A green card is essentially a photo ID card that grants you the right to live and work in the United States indefinitely.
As there are no annual numerical limits on green cards issued under the “immediate relative” category, you will not need to wait before you can apply for permanent residence as the spouse of a US citizen.
How do I apply for a green card after marrying a US citizen?
After marrying a US citizen, how you apply for a green card will depend upon where you got married and where you are currently residing, ie; overseas or already in the United States.
Married and still living overseas
You have the choice to either obtain a K3 non-immigrant visa to enter the USA or apply to adjust your status to become a lawful permanent resident once you are there or, alternatively, obtaining a CR1 immigrant visa to enter the USA as a lawful permanent resident.
The K3 marriage visa will only permit you a time-limited stay in the United States. However, with a K-3 visa you can stay in the US while you await a decision on your petition. In other words, by allowing you to get a temporary visa to come to the US while your nonimmigrant petition is being processed, you can be start your married life with your US spouse in the USA.
That said, in most cases, the K3 visa will not prove necessary as USCIS will generally approve the CR1 immigrant visa petition as quickly as a K3 visa.
The CR1 spousal visa is an immigrant visa that allows the non-US national spouse of a US citizen to enter the US as a conditional permanent resident. The acronym “CR” stands for “Conditional Residency” and is applicable for marriages less than 2 years old.
Married and already living in the USA
If you are already residing in the USA but originally entered the country for a reason other than to get married, for example, as a student or worker, you may be able to apply for an adjustment of your status from your existing visa.
Broadly speaking, you can apply to change your nonimmigrant status in the following circumstances:
- You were granted lawful admission to the US under a nonimmigrant visa which is still valid
- You have during this time breached the conditions of your visa status, and
- You do not have any convictions that would make you ineligible.
You will also need to show that you made plans to marry after you entered the United States. In the event that you entered the United States with the intention of getting married but under the wrong type of visa, this is likely to be classed as fraudulent and you may be at risk of being deported and even permanently banned from returning to the USA, not to mention criminal prosecution.
Planning to marry and stay in the USA
If you are the fiancé(e) of a US citizen planning to marry your partner in the USA, but you are still overseas, your partner will need to petition for a K1 visa.
The K1 fiancé(e) visa is a temporary 90-day visa with which to enter the USA to get married, and that will subsequently allow you, as the new spouse of a US citizen to apply to adjust your status to that of a lawful permanent resident. In other words, you can apply for a green card once you are legally wed.
The K-1 visa would not be suitable if you are already married, or if you intend to marry outside the US or if you are already residing legally in the US.
The K-1 visa will expire if your wedding is delayed beyond 90 days. You cannot apply to extend the K-1 visa. If you are marrying after the 90 days, you would be faced with filing your Green Card application late.
If you decide not to get married to the US citizen K-1 petitioner, in most cases you would need to leave the country. It is unlikely to be possible to legalize your status from the K-1 visa from within the US.
Green Card application documentation
Marrying a US citizen does not guarantee you being granted a green card. Applications for lawful permanent residence through marriage are carefully scrutinised by USCIS to prevent abuse of the system, namely to stop applicants using a sham marriage for the purposes of procuring a green card.
As such, when filing a petition for a green card, and when submitting an application for the visa itself, both you and your spouse will need to provide documentary evidence that the relationship is legally valid and was made in good faith. In other words, USCIS must be satisfied that the marriage is genuine.
Equally, where you have been granted a conditional residency green card, you will be required to submit further documentation shortly prior to expiry of the 2 year period that the marriage is ongoing and genuine.
Applying for US citizenship after marrying a US citizen
Deciding to become a US citizen is one of the most important decisions you can make as an immigrant, not least if you want to share the same rights as your US spouse. The grant of citizenship means that you can share equally in the rights and privileges of other US citizens, offering you the ability to:
- Vote in federal elections
- Travel with a US passport
- Run for elective office where citizenship is required
- Become eligible for jury service
- Become eligible for federal and certain law enforcement jobs
- Obtain certain state and federal benefits
- Obtain citizenship for children born overseas
- Expand and expedite your ability to bring family members to the USA
Having been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, you can apply for citizenship through the process of naturalization, albeit only once you satisfy certain eligibility requirements. Naturalization is the manner in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a US citizen.
As the spouse of a US citizen you can apply for naturalization once you have held your green card for a period of 3 years. That said, you must have spent the majority of that period actually living in marital union with your US spouse in the United States.
In most cases, you will also need to meet various other requirements, including:
- Be of good moral character
- Be able to read, write and speak English
- Be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of the fundamentals of US history and government, otherwise known as civics