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Marriage Green Cards, Explained

Marriage Green Cards, Explained

Green Card

Congratulations on your marriage!

If you and your spouse plan to live permanently together in the United States, the next big thing on your mind may be applying for a marriage green card.

What is a marriage green card?

A marriage green card allows the spouse of a U.S. citizen or green card holder to live and work anywhere in the United States. A green card holder will have “permanent resident” status until they decide — if they wish — to apply for U.S. citizenship, for which they become eligible after three years.

How do I get a marriage green card?

Getting a green card through marriage is generally a three-step process:

  1. Establish the marriage relationship (Form I-130)
  2. Apply for the green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)
  3. Attend the green card interview and await approval

This guide will walk you through each step, with links to more detailed information along the way. (For even more details specific to your own situation, check out these start-to-finish marriage green card guides from Boundless. You can also view the types of questions that you’re likely to encounter on a marriage green card application.)

Boundless makes it easy to complete your marriage green card application. With our online tool, all the required forms for your situation become simple questions you can answer in a short amount of time — typically under two hours. Learn more, or get started now!

Step 1:

Establishing the marriage relationship (Form I-130)

The first step in the process of getting a green card through marriage is to submit Form I-130 (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The main purpose of the I-130 form, along with supporting documents, is to establish that a valid marriage exists.

The spouse filing the I-130 is called the “petitioner” or “sponsor.” This is the spouse who is a U.S. citizen or current green card holder. The spouse seeking a green card is called the “beneficiary” or “green card applicant.”

Critical elements of a complete I-130 filing package include:

  • Government filing fee of $535
  • Proof that the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen (copy of the sponsor’s birth certificatenaturalization certificate, or valid U.S. passport photo page, for example) or permanent resident (copy of the sponsor’s green card, for example)
  • Proof that a legally valid marriage exists (for example, a marriage certificate showing the names of both spouses, as well as the place and date of the marriage)
  • Proof that the marriage is not fraudulent (for example, a joint lease, joint bank account statements, and pictures together)
  • Proof that any previous marriage of either spouse has been terminated (typically, a divorce document)

Once the I-130 filing package is complete, it must be mailed to the appropriate USCIS address. USCIS will then send the sponsoring spouse an official acknowledgement (or “receipt notice”) in the mail, typically within two weeks.

If USCIS needs more information or documents to process the filing package, they will send the sponsoring spouse a Request for Evidence (RFE) within 2–3 months. Once USCIS has everything they need, they will typically make a decision on the I-130 application within 7–15 months, depending on the couple’s situation.

After receiving notice that the I-130 form has been approved, the next step will be to determine whether the spouse seeking a green card is eligible for one.

With Boundless, you get the confidence of an independent immigration attorney who will review all of your materials and answer any questions you have — for no additional fee. Learn more about how we can help you, or get started now!

Step 2:

Establishing the spouse’s eligibility for a green card

The U.S. government follows two different processes to determine a spouse’s eligibility for a marriage-based green card. The right process depends on where that spouse currently lives:


If the spouse seeking a green card physically lives in the United States, the next step is to file Form I-485 (officially called the “Adjustment of Status” application). The I-485 is filed with USCIS, and its primary purpose is to establish that the spouse is eligible for a green card.

Critical elements of an I-485 filing package include:

  • Government filing fees of $1,225 (including $1,140 for the green card application and $85 for biometrics)
  • Proof of nationality of the spouse seeking a green card (copy of birth certificate and passport photo page)
  • Proof of lawful entry to the United States by the spouse seeking a green card (copy of I-94 travel record and prior U.S. visa)
  • Medical examination performed by a USCIS-approved doctor
  • Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support the spouse seeking a green card (including Form I-864, or “Affidavit of Support,” and evidence such as tax returns and pay stubs)

For spouses of U.S. citizens, this I-485 filing package can usually be combined with the I-130 form and supporting documents described in Step 1 above (a process known as “concurrent filing”). USCIS typically processes this concurrent filing within 9–11 months.

For spouses of U.S. green card holders, however, the I-485 filing package cannot be submitted until the U.S. Department of State determines that a green card is available in the visa bulletin, given various annual caps. The wait time is currently about one and a half years, but this can vary by a few months, depending on the home country of the spouse seeking a green card. Once the I-485 filing package is submitted, USCIS will typically process it within 9–11 months.

Boundless prints out all your forms and documents, assembled precisely how the government prefers. We mail the whole package to your doorstep, ready for you to sign and send to the correct government address. We even provide the envelope and cover the shipping fee. Ready to start?


There is a different process to sponsor a green card for a spouse living abroad. The next step is to file an application package with the National Visa Center (NVC), which is run by the State Department. The NVC gathers the necessary forms and documents and decides whether the spouse is ready for an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad (a procedure known as “consular processing”).

Critical elements of an NVC filing package include:

  • Government filing fees of $445 (including $120 for the financial support form and $325 for the State Department processing fee)
  • Form DS-260 (green card application filed online)
  • Proof of nationality of the spouse seeking a green card (copy of birth certificate and passport photo page)
  • Copy of a police clearance certificate for the spouse seeking a green card (showing previous interactions with law enforcement, if any)
  • Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support the spouse seeking a green card (including Form I-864, or “Affidavit of Support,” and evidence such as tax returns and pay stubs)

The NVC typically processes an application package within 3–5 months, and then forwards it to a U.S. embassy or consulate in the home country of the spouse seeking a green card. Boundless can help guide you through the entire marriage green card process. Read more about what you get with Boundless, or get started today.

Step 3:

Attending the green card interview and awaiting approval

The final step in the marriage-based green card process is the green card interview. The interviewing officer’s primary goal is to assess the authenticity of the marriage. Questions can focus on the couple’s relationship history, as well as their daily activities and future plans together. If the interviewing officer is sufficiently convinced that the marriage is not fraudulent, they will approve the spouse for a green card.

The location of the interview — in addition to whether the sponsoring spouse must also attend — depends on where the spouse seeking a green card currently lives:


A spouse applying for a green card from within the United States will attend their interview with the sponsoring spouse at their local USCIS office. The physical green card will typically arrive by mail within 2-3 weeks of case approval.


A spouse applying for a green card from abroad will attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.

The spouse seeking a green card will then receive a visa stamp in their passport, allowing for travel to the United States. The USCIS Immigrant Fee ($220) must be paid online before a physical green card can be issued. (USCIS recommends paying this fee before the spouse leaves for the United States.) The green card is typically mailed to the couple’s U.S. address within 2-3 weeks of the spouse’s arrival.

Boundless can help you stay on top of interview preparation and every other important milestone in the green card process. Let’s go!

What's next?

What happens next depends on the length of the marriage at the time of green card approval:

Have you been married for less than two years?

The spouse will receive a CR1 (or “conditional”) green card. Conditional green cards are valid for only two years. Couples together must file Form I-751 (officially called the “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence”) during the 90-day period immediately before the expiration of the conditional green card in order to “remove the conditions” and obtain a permanent green card. Upon receiving this form, USCIS will re-evaluate the couple’s marriage to make sure it is authentic and that the couple did not marry only for immigration purposes.

Have you been married for more than two years?

The spouse will receive an IR1 (or “immediate relative”) green card — a “permanent” green card that is valid for 10 years. In most cases, renewing this 10-year green card is a simple process and does not require the couple to prove the authenticity of their marriage again.

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