Application Based on Marriage to a U.S. Citizen
The process of applying for permanent residence based on marriage is complicated. Many international faculty, staff, and visitors at Indiana University have questions about it.
We hope the information below helps you understand the general process, but it is not legal advice. You may wish to consult an immigration attorney.
The Status of Your Fiancé or Fiancée
What is a fiancé or fiancée visa?
The K visa enables you to enter the United States to get married. The U.S. citizen fiancé or fiancée must file a petition with USCIS. Processing takes approximately four to six months, and includes an interview with the fiancé or fiancée who is abroad.
My fiancé is American, but he doesn’t have a U.S. passport, only a green card.
He is not a U.S. citizen—he is a permanent resident. He can apply for you to become a permanent resident too, but because of the quota you will have a long wait before you can even apply for a green card.
If my fiancé, a permanent resident, applies for me to become a permanent resident after we get married, can I stay in the United States?
Only if you have a valid nonimmigrant visa for the entire waiting period (currently, about five years).
I heard that USCIS will ask my spouse to show that she will always support me. Why?
The immigration law of 1996 has very specific financial requirements for people who apply for the green card based on marriage. You must demonstrate income of at least 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For more detailed information, see the USCIS pages about Form I-864 and Form I-864P.
Work Authorization During Processing
Can I work while waiting to get my green card?
You can request work authorization when you apply for permanent residence.
If you marry a permanent resident and are not eligible to apply for the green card yet, you can only work if you have a nonimmigrant status that allows work authorization.
After You Receive Your Green Card
If I become a permanent resident, do I have to give up my passport?
No, because you will not be a U.S. citizen. Your citizenship doesn’t change. You can apply to become a U.S. citizen after you have had a green card and have been married to a U.S. citizen for three years.
I have heard that the green card is only temporary. Is that true?
In many cases, yes. Because marriage is a relatively easy route to permanent residence, USCIS grants conditional permanent residence for two years. After two years, you will need to file Form I-751 to remove the conditions of residence and to get a permanent green card.
If you have already been married for two years when you are interviewed for your initial green card, that card will be permanent.
Travel After Marriage
I have heard that it may be difficult to travel after I have married an American. Is that true?
Yes. It may not seem logical, but you have to be very careful about travel if you marry an American or green card holder.
If you are in F, J, or tourist status, you are expected to have a home abroad and the intent to return there. When you apply for a visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate, you have to prove ties to your home country. Marriage to a U.S. citizen makes proving these ties difficult, because the assumption is that you will want to immigrate to the United States. If you need a new visa stamp in order to return to the United States, the likelihood that your will visa will be denied is strong—even if you plan to continue as a full-time student.
What if I have a valid student visa still in my passport? Could I travel in that case?
As long as you have a valid visa stamp, will be continuing as a full-time student, and have your I-20 or DS-2019 signed for travel by OIS, you may be able to re-enter the United States even if you have married a U.S. citizen.
However, if you have married a U.S. citizen and filed an I-485 to become a permanent resident, you will likely be denied re-entry into the United States on your student visa status.
Can I travel to Canada since I do not need a new visa stamp to return?
You may have an easier time returning from Canada. If your spouse is with you, however, you may face questions about your plans to remain in the United States.
What if we want to honeymoon in my home country, or get married there?
Unfortunately, both situations have the same problem. Any return to the United States after marrying an American raises questions about your intent to eventually return to your home country. You may have difficulty re-entering the United States in a nonimmigrant status after marriage to a U.S. citizen.
Can I leave the United States at all after I get married?
After you marry a U.S. citizen, you can apply for a green card. While USCIS is processing your application, you can apply for “advance parole,” which gives you permission to travel. Unless you have an emergency situation, USCIS will take two to three months to process your parole. Then you will be able to leave and re-enter the United States without having to apply for a new visa.
If your spouse has a green card and therefore is not a U.S. citizen, you are not eligible for advance parole.
My friend was married at a courthouse in the United States and then went home for a big ceremony. How was she able to do that?
That’s a good question. The civil marriage is the official one in the United States. Someone who wishes to have a civil ceremony and a religious ceremony could have the civil one in the United States and apply for the green card. Then she could get advance parole, travel home for the religious service, and return to the United States.