If you are in the United States, and you are married to a US citizen, the "green card" application process begins with the US citizen filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and the foreign national filing Form I-485, Application for Adjustment of Status. Both forms are filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at its National Benefits Center. See the link below for the USCIS web site where you can find the forms and their instructions including the supporting documents that must be filed with the forms, the fees involved and the filing addresses. At the same time that the two basic forms are filed you may also file Form I-765 to obtain employment authorization and Form I-131 to obtain Advance Parole in order to be able to leave the US without abandoning your I-485.
Look out for TRAPS!
TRAP A: If you entered the US by walking through the desert or otherwise evading inspection and admission by a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent, you are not eligible to apply for a "green card" in the United States. See Section 7 below.
TRAP B: If you have been in the US without authorization (for example, by staying beyond the expiration date on your I-94 admission card) for 180 days or more, and you then leave the US, you will be barred from reentering the US for 3 to 10 years, even if your Advance Parole has been approved.
The Basic Process, Step Two
Timing will vary, but 2 to 4 weeks after filing the forms, you will get receipt notices from the USCIS. Shortly thereafter you will get a biometrics (fingerprints, photo and signature) appointment notice giving you a date and time to go to a USCIS Application Support Center (ASC) to have your biometrics taken. Only the foreign national needs to go to this appointment.
The Basic Process, Step Three
Again timing will vary, but 2 to 4 months after the forms are filed, you will get an appointment notice for a date and time to go to an interview with a USCIS officer at the USCIS office. You will usually receive the notice 1 to 2 months ahead of the interview date. At the interview you will be sworn to tell the truth, the officer will review the paperwork and supporting documentation and ask you questions about how you met, how long you dated, when you decided to get married, and other questions aimed at verifying that you have a true marriage, as opposed to a sham marriage arranged just to get the "green card". The officer will also ask questions about things, such as a criminal record, that might make you "inadmissible", that is, ineligible to receive a "green card".
The Basic Process, Step Four
Once you have been determined to have a true marriage and to be "admissible", you will receive an approval of the "green card" application in the form of a welcome notice. You will receive the notice in 2 to 4 weeks after the interview unless the interview raised questions about your admissibility or additional evidence was requested. In 2 to 4 weeks after you receive the welcome notice, you will receive the "green card" itself.
TRAP ALERT - Don't Commit Marriage Fraud
If you have entered into a fake marriage just to get a "green card", both you and your spouse could face long prison terms, and after the foreign national is released from prison, he or she will be deported and never be allowed to reenter the US.
TRAP ALERT - Entries Without Inspection (EWIs)
Foreign nationals who enter without being inspected at a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) station, most of whom are from Mexico or Central or South America, are not eligible to apply for a "green card" from inside the US. They must apply for immigrant visas in their home countries, BUT if they have been in the US for 180 days or more or one year or more without authorization, they will be barred from entering the US for three or ten years respectively. There is a waiver available for spouses or children of US citizens, but not parents of US citizens, who can show it would be an extreme hardship to the US citizen, if the foreign national were not allowed to enter the US. It is a time consuming and expensive ordeal to apply for one of these waivers, and they are not always granted.
Conditional Permanent Residence
If you have been married for fewer than two years at the time you are approved for a "green card", the foreign national will be given Conditional Lawful Permanent Resident status, conditioned upon the two of you staying married for two years, not from the marriage date, but from the date the "green card" is approved. The "green card" will only be valid for two years. Then during the 90 day period before the "green card" expires, the two of you will have to file Form I-751 Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence along with documentation such as joint bank account statements, apartment leases in both names, health insurance cards, etc. to show that you are truly husband and wife sharing a joint life together. Once this petition is approved, the foreign national will be given a "green card" that is valid for ten years and is much easier to renew.
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