Getting your spouse a US visa
American citizens have two means of bringing their foreign husbands or wives to the US to live (if you are not yet married, please visit our section for fiancé(e) visas).
- You can "sponsor" your spouse's immigrant visa for entry to the United States. If you follow this process, your foreign spouse will complete the visa process completely outside the US, and then arrive in the US and obtain permanent residency status immediately. You will need to submit an immigrant Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130. After USCIS, the National Visa Center and the US Embassy complete all the necessary administrative processing your spouse will be granted an immigrant visa. Your spouse will receive an IR1 or a CR1 visa.
(Note: An IR-1 (IR stands for "Immediate Relative") visa allows your spouse to immigrate to the U.S. A CR1 Visa (CR stands for "Conditional Residency") will be given to you if your marriage is less than 2 years old. It is conditional for two years.
- You can obtain a K-3 visa. The K3 visa is a non-immigrant visa for the US. K3 visas are granted normally within a few months. You should use the K3 visa to start the process outside of the US, then travel to the US to complete the immigration process. Please note that in this case, the application must be made in the country where the marriage took place. If your marriage took place in the US, your spouse must apply for a K3 visa through the US Embassy in the country of his/her residence. Furthermore, and somewhat confusing – the applicant needs to have form I-129F (called "petition for alien fiancé(e)) also filed on his/her behalf. Since K-3 is a relatively new visa category, USCIS continues to be using the Form I-129F and it is still called a "petition for alien fiancé (e)" rather than a "petition for alien spouse". After the visa has been issued, the spouse can travel to the US.
To obtain either visa, you must meet the following requirements:
- You must be legally married. Merely living together does not qualify a marriage for immigration Unmarried partners are ineligible to sponsor visas to the United Stated.
- In most cases you must have a residence in the US to apply. If you live outside the US, see the next section below.
- You must be 18 years old before you can sign the Affidavit of Support, which is a form that will be required later in the process.
If you live outside the US
If you want to bring your foreign spouse to the US, but you are currently living outside the US, you must submit a visa petition (form I-130) to either your local US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office or directly to the US Embassy where your foreign spouse resides. Please check first if the US Embassy accepts Immigrant Visa Petitions.
Once the visa petition is approved, the foreign-born spouse will receive a packet from the National Visa Center (NVC), which is located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The packet informs your foreign spouse of the various documents which must be presented at the immigrant visa interview abroad (e.g., passport, police clearances, results of medical examinations, etc.). The packet includes certain documents requesting biographic data that must be completed, signed and forwarded to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. Usually, the foreign-born spouse is interviewed and granted an immigrant visa within three to six months.
If you and your spouse are planning to remain outside the US indefinitely, it is not recommended that you apply for a Green Card. The Green Card could be cancelled at the Port of Entry to the US if you have spent more than six months outside of the US. The Immigration Officer at the Port of Entry will have to determine if the US is your main home, so be prepared for a lot of questions.
If you both already live in the US
The U.S. citizen must submit a Petition for Alien Relative (form I-130) to appropriate US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office to prove that the marriage is genuine.
Attached to the visa petition are the following items:
- Biographical forms (forms G-325A) for both the husband and the wife with photos attached.
- Proof of the petitioner's citizenship. This can take the form of a U.S. Passport, a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship or a certified copy of the citizen's birth certificate.
- A certified copy of the marriage certificate.
- Certified copies of the documents that terminated any previous marriages of the husband or wife, including final divorce decrees, and certificates of annulment or death.
At the same time, the foreign-born spouse, assuming he or she entered the U.S. lawfully, should submit an application for adjustment of status (form I-485), which is an application for a green card. Normally you will also have to submit form I-485 along with green card photographs, an affidavit of support from the spouse, an application for employment authorization, an application for a travel permit (known as "advanced parole") - assuming the non-citizen spouse has not been in the U.S. unlawfully for 180 days or more - and numerous other USCIS forms.
Frequently Asked Questions
We don't want to be apart for so long. What can we do to avoid this?
Sometimes in order to avoid a lengthy separation, the couple returns to the U.S. immediately after the marriage (using a visitor visa) and proceeds to file the necessary applications once they are both in the U.S. Often the USCIS does not like this, and it is not uncommon for the USCIS to stop the foreign-born spouse at the Port of Entry and exclude him or her from the U.S. as an intending immigrant. However, if the foreign-born spouse manages to enter the US, USCIS will not deny his or her application for a green card solely because he or she entered the U.S. on a temporary visa when their real intent was to remain permanently in the U.S. You should instead apply for the K-3 visa in order to work and live legally in the US, while waiting your permanent residence.
What about my foreign spouse's children?
Spouses of U.S. citizens, and the spouse's children, can come to the United States on nonimmigrant visas (K-4 visas) and wait in the United States to complete the immigration process. Before a K-4 visa can be issued to a child, the parent must have a K-3 visa.
We haven't been married very long. Does that matter?
If the marriage is less than two years old when the foreign-born spouse becomes a permanent resident, the green card will expire after a two-year period. Both spouses must submit a joint petition (form I-751) to remove the two-year condition. You should do this 90 days before the Green Card expires.
Our marriage has ended. Can I stay in the US?
If the marriage has ended because you got divorced, your US citizen spouse has died, or due to abuse in the marriage, the foreign-born spouse may eligible to apply for a waiver of the joint petition requirement. However, these waivers are very difficult to get.