Please know this is my experience, and how this works is not the case with everyone – and I am no professional on this subject.
This is our journey of applying for Permanent Residency (aka Green Card), from him already having a Student Visa (F-1) for attending an university in the United States. In our case, Husband was applying for Permanent Residency through a family member (Me, his spouse).
*In order to go through this process (and to not get you in big trouble) the marriage has to be a real one, not one that you got for the purpose of getting a green card.*
Husband is Japanese. He and I met while we were attending college in Idaho, where we dated for a while. About a year later while I was visiting Japan, we decided to get engaged. Six months later we got married. All during this process, we were attending college, and he was on an F-1 Student Visa.
Husband, if he had never met me, was happy to have lived his life in Japan (we often talk of just moving, because we both love it, and a lot of his family is still there). Neither of us had ever thought of marrying foreigners before, so this came as a pleasant surprise to both of us. Years later, however, we joke often about him “just marrying me to get a green card” although that is in no way true.
So to go this route, your marriage has to be:
- A real marriage (with a marriage certificate that you can pick up from the courthouse), not just for getting permanent residency in the United States.
- Still ongoing (not divorced, still living together, etc)
*Also, it is important that after your marriage, and before getting Permanent Residency in the U.S, that you do not leave the country. Traveling can cause big problems, unless you are part way through the application, decided to complete form I-131, and received your travel document. *
To apply for Permanent Residency, it costs about $1,600 total.
At the time we were poor college students with no jobs, and he, because of his Student Visa was only able to get a job on the college campus (only allowed to work no more than 15 hours/week). So coming up with the money took some time, while also taking 18 credits each.
Our school was a huge help with the application process. I am not sure if all schools are this way, but ours has an office specifically for the use of International Students. We went in there and asked what we should do to get started, and they handed us a magical paper with the whole process on it. Sadly, we no longer have this paper… but this schools International Services website has a page pretty darn close. https://internationalservices.byu.edu/content/f-1-pr
Like it says on that page, the forms/documents needed for applying are:
- I-130 – Petition for Alien Relative (for this one, you need to send $420 with it)
- I-131 – Application for Travel Document (optional, but nice to have in case there is some sort of emergency and you have to go out of country)
- G-325A – Biographic Information (one is for you, and the other is for your spouse) (has lots of information like your previous residences, income, etc)
- I-485 – Adjustment of Status Application (this is the pricey one – you send $1,070 with this one…)
- I-693 – Medical Examination Form
- I-765 – Application for Employment Authorization (also optional – but like the Travel Document – it gets sent to you before the application is complete, so it allows you to work outside of the University Campus without an actual Green Card. This was nice for us because he could get a more full-time job while on Spring/Summer break)
- I-864 Affidavit of Support (with this you need to include a copy of the latest tax return, along with previous year’s W-2s)
In addition to these documents, you basically have to make copies of your existence (you and your spouse). You need:
- Birth Certificates (I believe you need them for whoever completes your affidavit of support as well)
- If there are any foreign Birth Certificates, you need to get a certified translation (this we did through our school’s International Office, because there was one kind gentleman who knew Japanese and was certified to do so)
- Your U.S. Citizen spouse needs to provide proof of citizenship
- We provided my birth certificate, but you can also bring Naturalization documents, Citizenship Certificate, or a Green Card if you have those instead.
- Marriage License (we easily got this through our local courthouse where we applied for the Marriage License in the first place)
- Proof of legal entry into the U.S. (Passport, Visa..)
Also, the money needs to be sent in check or money order form. And do not group the amounts into one check.
*Make sure you do not send originals of anything. Always copies.* (the immigration official at our interview told us this)
We completed all of this really quickly and sent it in, and it did not take long after for them to contact husband through mail asking him to complete the biometrics (fingerprinting, photo, etc). So he went to the location at the time given and completed that.
Not to long after completing that, we received an appointment for an interview at an immigration office a few hours away (we also were living in Idaho, so if you live in a city, yours will probably be a lot closer). They asked us to bring all the proof of our marriage (rental agreements, car insurance papers in both of our names, pictures showing the legitimacy of our marriage – just everything you can think of that proves your marriage, to cover all your bases). And we drove to the location at the time they appointed.
The gentleman at the interview was kind, he looked through the photos I brought, and took a few that he thought fit what he needed (I brought a humongous stack of photos). He also took the copies of our rental documents, bills, marriage certificate, and everything else he thought he needed. He asked us just polite conversation questions (maybe part of the interview, but it was smooth enough that it sounded like a normal conversation). It wasn’t at all a scary “The Proposal” type interview from the movie.
After the interview, I would say it took a month or two to get the Green Card in the mail. Funny thing for us is three letters came from USCIS at the same time – the Green Card, the Travel Document, and the Employment Authorization… so taking the time to apply for those didn’t do us much good. But at least we got the Green Card quickly, so it didn’t matter.
A few things that I found helpful:
- Getting a portable file folder thing (around $2 at WalMart)
- In this, I created different sections: Proof of Marriage, My documents, Husbands documents, sponsors documents, as well as sections for each form. In the back, where there were a couple empty pockets, I used it to store the papers we received from USCIS during the application process.
- Taking advantage of Snapfish, and Shutterfly’s free photo deals.
- On both of their websites, they have a deal that when you sign up you get 100, or 50 free photos. This came in handy when I needed all of the photos printed up to provide proof of our marriage (and the leftovers went into scrapbooks).
- Keep the papers that the USCIS send you along with the green card.
- It says on the paper, but they can help with your next application, so it goes a little smoother. With a long and kinda scary process of applying for a Green Card, it is nice to have anything to make it a little easier.
This only gets you a Green Card that is good for 2 years (just so they can make sure the marriage is real, and not just made so the immigrant and get a Green Card), and then you need to reapply. That is another story, for another post…
Here are some websites that may also help you with this process:
USCIS (The Obvious – They give super in-depth instructions, but sometimes are so complex that they are hard to understand): https://www.uscis.gov/family/family-us-citizens/spouse/bringing-spouses-live-united-states-permanent-residents
BYU International Services (where I got most of my resources from, in addition to my own experience): https://internationalservices.byu.edu/content/f-1-pr
There are also sooooo many forums out there on this topic. I scanned these a ton whenever I had some confusions. It was helpful to have real – life responses to my concerns and questions.
I Married an Alien – This blog has lots of little resources and tips from her and her husband’s story: http://www.imarriedanalien.com/?paged=2 (also just has tons of information on an international/intercultural marriage as well – and all the hassles and questions you may run into)
I hope this helps! Please ask any questions you may have, and I maaaay be able to answer, and if not, at least point you in the right direction. (USCIS is probably the best place to go because they are the ones deciding your fate)