When marrying a US citizen, there is often a misconception that you automatically have to apply for a green card, however, this is not necessarily the case. Let’s explore the U.S. process and what happens after you get married to a U.S. citizen within the United States either on a valid visa or an ESTA. We always advise speaking to your attorney at the beginning of this journey, to help understand any restrictions or challenges you may face during this process.
When you marry a U.S. citizen you are not required to apply for a green card, a green card meaning permanent residency. If you’re residing in the United States for just a few years, or you happen to be on an E-3 Visa you already have a visa to work. In this case, if you plan to stay for a longer period of time you can consider a green card, however, it is to be looked at case by case, largely due to it being a lengthy and often expensive procedure.
In the situation we outline above, if you marry a U.S. citizen and are either on a valid visitor visa, or an ESTA, you can apply for an Adjustment of Status. An Adjustment of Status has several steps, requiring a great deal of information, so consulting an attorney at the beginning of the process is recommended.
The first step of this process is having your U.S. citizen spouse file an I-130 petition. This petition asks the U.S. government, the USCIS particularly, to allow them to bring their foreign spouse to the United States to stay permanently, as a permanent resident. If you are already within the United States, you then don’t need to go abroad to apply for a visa to reenter as an immigrant, you continue the Adjustment of Status by completing an I-485 form, adjusting whichever status of visa you already possess to a permanent resident.
This process is called a one-step, meaning that the entire process is compiled into one application. This includes the I-130 petition, as well as your request in the I-485 form, your financial documents, sponsorship documents, evidence of your marriage, and your valid stay, everything put together for the application. This is the most common way to adjust your status in the United States.
It’s important to consider any conditions or limitations that may affect your ability to obtain an Adjustment of Status when beginning this process. First and foremost, this includes being in the U.S. on a valid status, and for the most part, maintaining that status.
The next thing to consider is if you have overstayed your status. For example, if you’re on an ESTA, became married, and stayed for several months, at that point it can be unclear what to do. In this case, you do not need to leave and reenter on a valid visa. This would need to be investigated throughout your application process with your attorney to discuss your particular situation, however for the most part you will be allowed to stay and adjust your visa. You generally can’t overstay an ESTA or change to another visa, so this is a unique situation.
Another key thing to note when going through this process is that there will be a medical exam. Talk to your attorney first to determine whether or not you should include this immediately, given wait times with the USCIS it needs to be determined case by case when the suitable time for your medical exam will be. This is a great time to also cover any questions about vaccinations in your application. Currently, there is still a Covid vaccination requirement to adjust your status, become a permanent resident and obtain your green card. If that is something you are concerned about, make sure to address it at the beginning of your journey.
The next consideration that should be taken when applying for an Adjustment of Status is whether or not you have any convictions. Whether they’re minor possession, drug charges, traffic violations, assault violations, or any convictions in your past need to be considered and discussed upfront with your attorney. This is to limit any surprises or disappointment that may come from finding out halfway through your process that they will be a roadblock to your application. Ensuring you’ve done your research upfront will allow for a smoother process.
Any other questions or concerns you have are best to be spoken about as soon as possible with your attorney. In some cases applying for joint sponsorship is an option, if your sponsor (spouse) isn’t in the financial position to support the application alone. Things such as filing their taxes consistently, maintaining an inflow of income, or a certain level of salary all play a factor in being a financial sponsor to their spouse.
This process is a lot of documentation, however, once it’s completed and filed there is nothing to do after but wait for a notification from USCIS. This will lead to fingerprinting, and an appointment with the USCIS, answering questions about your application and your relationship. While some of these interviews can be waived, it is always best to be mentally prepared to attend one. We can help prepare you for that interview with extensive pre-interview briefings, as these interviews are crucial to the decision of your application.
While it is a process, the Adjustment of Status could be an easier, more concise choice than applying for a green card if suitable to your situation. Feel free to contact us here at Worldwide Migration Partners with any further questions, we’re more than happy to help answer questions and help you decide what is the best plan of action for your lifestyle.