Moving to the U.S. and starting a new life is a big step - and what better way to make it than together with the person you love? If you are married to a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident, you may be able to apply for a spouse visa - which automatically leads to a Green Card.
However, being married to a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder isn’t the only requirement in order to successfully obtain a spouse visa.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: in order to apply for a U.S. spouse visa, your marriage needs to be legally recognized in the U.S. Most of the time if the marriage is legal in your country of origin, it will be recognized by the U.S. authorities as well - in case of any doubt, be sure to consult with a qualified professional.
If you have been married for less than two years, you will go through the CR-1 visa process, leading to a conditional Green Card valid for 2.5 years, which can then be extended. If you have been married for 2 years or more at the time of applying, you will go through the IR-1 process and receive a full, unconditional Green Card valid for 10 years.
Any criminal history, and particularly any ties to terrorism or human trafficking (even indirect) can be considered grounds for the U.S. authorities to object against your application. Once you apply for a spouse visa, the USCIS will run a background check for such conditions, but also at any past marriages to ensure the legitimacy of your application.
The officer in charge of reviewing your case has, as his primary task, to assert that your relationship is true, and not simply an arrangement to obtain the right to immigrate to the U.S.
In most cases, you will need to present pictures of your wedding, of holidays together, or times when you met before you got married; plane tickets, reservations for accommodations, and receipts may all contribute to demonstrating that your relationship is genuine. Anything that will demonstrate activities together will contribute to making it easier for the immigration officer handling your case to approve your application.
If you have traveled, or are traveling to the U.S. before you have decided to apply for a spouse visa, you must make sure you abide by all the conditions that apply under the visa you have been granted - especially when it comes to respecting the maximum duration of stay. If you have overstayed a visa in the past, or if you have been deported, you may be barred from applying for a spouse visa.
Finally, you need to make sure that your spouse is either a U.S. citizen or a Legal Permanent Resident with a valid Green Card, and that they fulfill the necessary conditions in terms of income and background validation, in order to sponsor your visa application.
If you and your spouse are planning to start a new life together in the U.S., be sure you understand all the requirements and potential pitfalls. A misunderstanding that leads to a denied visa can make things a lot more difficult in the future - and the best way to avoid that is to make sure you’ve got an experienced professional by your side from the start.
Green Cards are given to people who have obtained the right to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status in the U.S.; this means they have the right to live and work in the U.S. for the indeterminate future.
However, being a permanent resident is not the same as having U.S. citizenship! Both imply residence, employment, and certain rights and benefits, amongst others; but U.S. citizens have the right to vote and cannot have their citizenship taken from them (except in highly exceptional cases which we will disregard here). LPR status holders, in contrast, do still need to keep in line with certain conditions - particularly when traveling abroad.
A Green Card is obtained by successfully applying for and obtaining an immigrant-type visa, with the intention of establishing permanent residence in the U.S.
The most commonly issued immigrant-type visas are family- or employment-based; the path is simply easier if you already have some established ties with the U.S., whether through family or because you have already secured a job.
In addition, each year a certain amount of Green Cards are issued for those applying under the “Diversity Lottery”, wherein people of certain nationalities are able to try their luck with somewhat more relaxed application requirements. Of course, since it’s a lottery, there is no guarantee whatsoever that you will be successful.
As an LPR status holder, you are allowed to live in the U.S., seek employment, receive education, and/or apply for certain benefits that visitors or temporary workers do not qualify for. You can also leave the U.S. for up to 6 months and return without having to apply for an immigrant visa again.
Traveling abroad for longer than 6 months as a Green Card holder is something to be avoided - unless you have taken specific measures to inform authorities and receive permission, your Green Card might get canceled and you may thus lose your LPR status if you remain outside the U.S. for longer periods of time.
Depending on your personal situation and the conditions under which you received permanent resident status, you will be able to apply for U.S. citizenship after either 3 or 5 years of holding your Green Card and living in the U.S.
You can see the LPR status as a type of “probationary period” for prospective new Americans - at least this is somewhat the intention of the program, even though you are in no way obliged to become a U.S. citizen. As long as you don’t leave the U.S. unannounced for long periods of time, and do not commit any felonies that may make you deportable, naturalization is the expected next step for recent immigrants.