One way to apply for a "green card" is on the basis of marriage to a US citizen. There are a few important things to keep in mind if you plan to apply for permanent residence through this method.
Talk to an Immigration Attorney BEFORE Planning the Wedding
Before you reserve the church and purchase the cake, you should talk to an immigration attorney if one of you is not a US citizen. Marriage may impact your immigration status and your ability to travel internationally and return to the United States. You should discuss your specific situation and determine the best strategy before you make all of your wedding plans.
Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered "immediate relatives." Immediate relatives are exempt from the numerical quotas that limit other types of family petitions. However, there may be long delays in processing your petition. You will want to consider these delays when deciding whether to marry in the United States or marry in the foreign country. Some couples even have a basic ceremony in the US, file the applications, and then have a big family wedding in the location of their choice once work and travel is authorized, which occurs in about 90 days.
Filing for Your Spouse's Green Card
Once you are married, the US citizen spouse should file an I-130 visa petition with the US Citizen and Immigration Service ("USCIS"). If the foreign spouse entered the United States legally, you can also file an application for permanent residency at the same time
Your application should include proof that you married because you and your spouse intend to live your lives together, and not solely for immigration benefits. The permanent residency application must also include proof that you or a co-sponsor are able to support your spouse financially. The foreign spouse must get a medical exam from a doctor approved by the USCIS. With the I-485 application, your spouse may also request authorization to work and travel internationally while the permanent residency application is pending.
Processing times for these applications vary greatly in different cities. The average time for a permanent residency application based on marriage is between 6 and 10 months.
Interview: How well do you know your spouse?
Finally, the USCIS will send a notice of the date for your adjustment interview. The interview involves questions to each spouse to prove that the marriage is bona fide or legitimate, not just to obtain immigration benefits. Before the interview, review your answers on each of the forms signed, bring in current documents that show you and your spouse live together (or explain why you don't), and provide recent photos of the two of you together.
Approval of the Green Card
The USCIS officer may approve the application directly at the interview and stamp the foreign spouse's passport. In some situations, your application could be decided at a later date. Your green card will be sent several weeks after approval of your application.
Validity of Green Card
The permanent resident card, known as the "green card," will be valid for two years, if the marriage is less than two years old at the time of approval. After two years, you must petition to remove the conditions on your green card by filing the I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions.