If you marry a U.S. Citizen you are eligible to apply immediately for Permanent Residency (Green Card), unless you are on J-1 visa with a two-year home residency requirement which has not been fulfilled or waived. There are several issues related to travel and timing of an application which need to be considered carefully.
Frequently Asked Questions about Marriage to a U.S. Citizen
Do I get to be a permanent resident just by marrying an American?
No, you must file an application with USCIS including an affidavit of support, certified medical examination, and other documentation as outlined below in our "Documentation for Application Based on Marriage to a U.S. Citizen" section.
Can I apply before we get married?
No, USCIS needs proof that you are married. You can, however, prepare your application prior to marriage.
What is a fiancé(e) visa?
A visa that allows a fiancé(e) outside the United States to enter the U.S. in order to get married. The U.S. citizen fiancé(e) has to file a petition with the USCIS in the U.S. The approved petition will be forwarded to the Consulate, which will contact the applicant and eventually schedule an interview. Processing will probably take about 4 months before the fiancé(e) visa is issued.
My fiancé(e) is American, but he/she doesn't have a U.S. passport, only a green card.
If your fiancé(e) has a green card, he/she is NOT a citizen but a permanent resident. He/she can petition for you to become a permanent resident, but because of the quota there is a long wait before you can even apply for the green card. The waiting period is currently 5 years.
If my permanent resident fiancé(e) applies for me once we're married, can I stay in the U.S.?
Not unless you have a valid non-immigrant visa throughout the waiting period (about 5 years!).
Can I work while waiting to get my green card?
When you apply for permanent residency (I-485, application, affidavit, medical exam, photos, etc.), you can also request work authorization to cover employment while your application is being processed. If you marry a permanent resident and are not able to file for green card yet, you can only work if you have a valid non-immigrant visa which allows you to work.
Once I've filed the application with USCIS how long does it take?
It varies at different USCIS offices and can take up to 12 - 18 months to process. You should check with the office where you will be filing.
After the interview, do I get my green card?
Your passport will be stamped as proof of permanent residency for travel, work, etc. The actual laminated "Permanent Resident" green card will be issued separately, but your permanent residency starts as of the original approval date.
I've heard that both my spouse and I have to be interviewed -- is that true? What will USCIS ask us?
Yes, both husband and wife will be interviewed. The purpose of the interview is to determine that the marriage was entered into in good faith and that all USCIS forms have been correctly completed.
I've heard that the green card is only temporary, is that true?
Yes, because marriage is a relatively easy route to permanent residency, there is a second check on the marriage after 2 years. USCIS will grant conditional permanent residency for 2 years, after which you'll need to file another form to get an unconditional green card. (If you've already been married 2 years by the time you apply, the green card will be permanent.)
If I become a permanent resident, do I have to give up my passport?
No. A permanent resident is NOT a citizen. Your citizenship doesn't change. In fact, you can only apply to become a U.S. citizen after having a green card and being married to a U.S. citizen for 3 years.
What are the benefits of permanent residency?
You may be eligible for in-state tuition at University of Cincinnati, will qualify for most student financial aid, will not have restrictions on working, and can return to the U.S. freely after short trips abroad.
What are the conditions of permanent residency?
You must not leave the U.S. for more than a year without advance permission -- if you're planning to be abroad for extended periods of time you risk losing your permanent residency. Additionally, you will not qualify for some types of Federal Aid, such as Food Stamps.
What forms do I need, and where can I get them?
See the "Documentation for Application Based on Marriage to a U.S. Citizen" section.
I understand USCIS will ask my spouse to show that he/she will always support me. What is that regulation?
With the passage of the immigration law of 1996, there are quite specific financial requirement for people applying for the green card based on marriage. See the page titled Affidavit of Support.
Will UC International Services help me process my application for permanent residence based on marriage to a U.S. citizen?
No, UC International Services will not assist you with filing your application for permanent residence based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. We have developed these instructions to assist you in the process.