Do You Automatically Get A Green Card When You Marry A U.S. Citizen?

A man gently slides a ring onto a woman's finger, symbolizing a significant moment of commitment and love.
Picture of Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

Tying the knot with a U.S. citizen raises significant questions about residency rights. A common understanding suggests that marriage to a citizen means an instant green card, granting permanent residence in the blink of an eye.

This article will clarify a few misconceptions regarding marriage-based green cards. It will guide you through what’s involved in turning wedding vows into residency rights.

Keep reading – it’s simpler than you think!

Key Takeaways: Securing a Green Card Through Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

Embarking on the journey to U.S. permanent residency through marriage encompasses a detailed and scrutinized process by Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Understanding the nuances of this path can greatly aid applicants in navigating the system efficiently. Here are the crucial points to keep in mind:

  • No Automatic Green Card: Entering into marriage with a U.S. citizen is a significant commitment but does not automatically result in the issuance of a green card. Applicants must embark on a formal application process, demonstrating through ample evidence that their marriage is genuine and not solely for immigration purposes.

  • Application and Verification Process: The pathway to a green card involves compiling and submitting a comprehensive application, which includes various forms such as the Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) and Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485) if adjusting status within the United States. This process is accompanied by an in-person interview with immigration officials, designed to verify the authenticity of the marital relationship and the eligibility of the applicant for residency.

  • Conditional vs. Permanent Residency: Marriages younger than two years at the time of green card approval result in the issuance of a conditional green card, valid for two years. To transition to permanent residency, couples must jointly file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, within the 90 days before the conditional card expires, further proving the legitimacy of their marriage.

  • Financial Support Requirements: The U.S. citizen spouse (sponsor) must demonstrate the financial capability to support the immigrant spouse above a designated threshold to ensure the immigrant will not become a public charge. This often involves submitting an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864), which may also require the involvement of a co-sponsor if the primary sponsor does not meet the financial criteria.

  • Evidence of Bona Fide Marriage: To successfully navigate the green card process, couples must provide substantial evidence of their shared life, including joint bank accounts, lease agreements, birth certificates of children, photographs, and any other documents that substantiate their marriage as genuine and ongoing.

  • Legal and Procedural Guidance: Given the complexity of immigration laws and the high stakes involved in obtaining permanent residency, consulting with an experienced immigration attorney can provide invaluable guidance. An attorney can help ensure that applications are complete, comply with all legal requirements, and represent the couple during the application process, increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome.

  • Lawyers can help but aren’t required to apply for a green card through marriage.

Understanding the Marriage Green Card

A marriage green card gives the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident the right to live and work anywhere in America. It’s an immigration status that proves you are legally allowed to stay in the country.

You need this card if your better half is American or a legal permanent resident here of the U.S., and you want to make the United States your new home through an immigrant petition.

The process for this immigration status takes time, though. Applying for a marriage green card usually takes an extended time after submitting the requirements and forms.

If your marriage is to a U.S. citizen, or you are married to a green card holder and also the visas are immediately available, you can send in two forms simultaneously – Form I-130 and Form I-485 – which might speed things up.

These immigrant visa forms ask for details about your marriage and personal background so the citizenship and immigration services can check everything out and make sure this is a bona fide marriage.

Remember, if your marriage is less than two years old at the time of adjudication, your first green card is temporary and lasts only two years. You will then have to remove your green card’s conditional and temporary nature before these two years end or risk starting all over again.

But don’t worry; later on, you can apply to make it permanent so you can stay longer without restrictions!

heart, wedding, marriage

Is Automatic Green Card Granted After Marrying a U. S. Citizen?

Marrying a U.S. citizen doesn’t mean immediately becoming a green card holder. You need to apply for it and go through a process. The U.S. government must ensure your marriage is genuine and bona fide — not just done for the sake of having a green card.

After you apply, you will undergo an interview where they ask questions about your relationship, together with evidence that will show whether you actually reside together and have a real marriage.

Additionally, if you are in the U.S. and filed for adjustment of status, some questions at the interview will concentrate on you alone to make sure you are “admissible” and not barred by law from obtaining permanent residency.

The Process of Getting a Green Card Through Marriage

Obtaining a green card through marriage is a complex process involving several steps. It requires careful attention to detail and adherence to immigration regulations.

One of the most important things you need to remember is the urgency to apply for an adjustment of status at the same time if your circumstances allow for it. It is a common mistake among those who file by themselves without the use of a qualified lawyer to file only an I-130 and do not avail themselves of the ability to adjust their status and obtain a work permit while they wait for the interview.

Adjusting your status is the legal term used, which simply means you are going from someone who does not enjoy permanent residency status in the U.S., to someone who is allowed to remain here permanently and eventually apply for citizenship. Green card holders who obtained their green card through marriage may, under certain circumstances, obtain their green card in three years instead of the usual five.

Establish the marriage relationship (Petition for Alien Relative or Form I-130)

Filing Form I-130 is your first critical step to prove your marriage is genuine. The U.S. citizen spouse has to show that your union is legitimate, not just to get a green card. If you are maintaining your nonimmigrant status or arrived in the U.S. with a visa but have overstayed, you may also be eligible to obtain your permanent resident status by also filing form I-485.

This form asks for proof of a bona fide marriage, like shared joint bank account statements or children’s birth certificates.

Include photos and details about how you live as a couple in the application. Immigration officials look for evidence showing that you live like any other couple who have intertwined their lives financially, emotionally, and socially.

Apply for the green card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)

You must complete the proper forms to get a green card through marriage. If you’re already in the U.S., you must fill out Form I-485 to undergo an adjustment of status.

This lets you become a lawful permanent residence resident without leaving the country.

But if you or your spouse live outside the U.S., it’s Form DS-260 that needs to be filled out.

After sending in your form, wait for instructions on what to do next. USCIS and the National Visa Center (NVC) will tell you when and where your green card interview will be. It’s essential to go to this interview with all the proper documents and answers ready for any questions they might ask about your marriage. One note of warning here: your U.S. Citizen or resident spouse must show domicile in the U.S. or you will not be eligible for an immigrant visa.

After you attend the green card interview, you must await approval.

After the interview, more often than not, the consular officer will let you know that you will shortly receive the decision and, if so, will also receive instructions on what to do to have the full visa stamp affixed to your passport.

Requirements for a Marriage Green Card

Requirements for the Petitioner (Sponsorship Requirements)

The U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents sponsoring their spouse must prove they are legally married and live in the United States or intend to do so once the visa has been approved. They must promise to support their partner financially during the application process.

Affidavit of Support Requirements

This means showing they make enough money or have enough assets to take care of them. It’s essential because the government wants to ensure no one becomes a public charge once they become a green card holder. In order to see if your income is adequate, you can consult the Poverty Guidelines for Affidavit of Support, which is put out by USCIS each year.

A sponsor also needs to fill out legal forms starting with Form I-864. This form is an agreement that remains in effect for 10 years, so it is very important that you read and understand it fully. In some jurisdictions in the U.S., this has been deemed to survive a divorce, which may mean that even if you are no longer married, you may be obliged by this agreement for the remaining period of ten years.

If Petitioner does not have enough income

If the petitioner does not have enough income, a joint sponsor may step in. This joint sponsor can be anyone who has adequate income and can undertake the financial requirement. In order to see if our co-sponsor meets the financial requirement, you must once again look at the Poverty Guidelines and see what income is required if you include all the sponsor’s household size plus the person being sponsored. It is very important to comply with the requirements of the form I-864 and have the requisite documents filed with it, or you will be issued a Request for Evidecne, which will add time to an already slow process, or even worse, you will receive a denial because you were not in compliance with the requirements.

An affidavit of support is crucial in a marriage-based green card application for several key reasons, acting as a binding legal document that the U.S. government requires to ensure the immigrant spouse will not become a public charge, or financially dependent on government assistance. Here’s why it’s so important:

1. Legal Requirement: It’s a mandatory document for family-based immigration processes, including marriage-based green card applications. Without it, the application is incomplete, and the green card cannot be issued.

2. Financial Responsibility: The affidavit of support, typically filed by the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, is a pledge to the U.S. government that they have the financial means to support the immigrant spouse. This includes a promise to maintain the supported immigrant at an income that is at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.

3. Prevention of Public Charge: The U.S. aims to ensure that new immigrants are not likely to rely on public welfare programs. By requiring a sponsor to sign an affidavit of support, the government seeks to prevent the immigrant from becoming a financial burden on society.

4. Reassurance of Support: It provides a form of reassurance that the immigrant spouse will have financial support as they adjust to life in the U.S., including until they are able to work legally (if they aren’t already).

5. Enforceability: The affidavit of support is not just a promise; it’s legally enforceable. If the immigrant spouse does end up needing to use certain types of public benefits, the government can require the sponsor to repay the cost of those benefits. This legal obligation can last until the immigrant spouse becomes a U.S. citizen, can be credited with 40 quarters of work (usually 10 years), dies, or permanently leaves the United States.

6. Assessment of Sponsor’s Financial Stability: Through this affidavit, the U.S. government assesses whether the sponsoring spouse has stable financial resources. This involves scrutinizing their income, assets, employment, and tax returns to ensure they can support the immigrant spouse.

7. Building a Stronger Case: A properly executed affidavit of support can strengthen the overall marriage-based green card application, demonstrating that the couple has considered and planned for the financial aspects of their life together in the United States.

In summary, the affidavit of support is a critical component of a marriage-based green card application, serving as a pledge of financial responsibility for the immigrant spouse and ensuring they will not need to rely on public funds. It embodies both a financial commitment and a legal obligation, underscoring the seriousness of the sponsorship process.

A man and woman exchanging wedding rings while holding hands during a marriage ceremony

Documentation Needed for a Marriage Green Card

You need the proper papers to get a marriage green card. Your application must show your valid marriage, and that you are eligible.

  • File Form I – 130 with proof of your marriage’s validity, like a marriage certificate. ( remember all foreign documents like a marriage certificate must be properly translated and meet the requirements of the law )

  • Include photos from your wedding and other events showing you together.

  • Show joint bank accounts, leases, or property to prove you share life.

  • Add passport-style photos of both partners for identity verification.

  • Provide government IDs, birth certificates, and passports for records.

  • If applicable, include divorce decrees from previous marriages for both spouses.

  • Present police clearances or criminal records if requested by immigration authorities.

  • Fill out an affidavit of support (Form I – 864) to show financial stability.

  • Attach medical examination results using Form I – 693 following guidelines.

Marriage Green Card

The Marriage Interview: What Questions May Arise?

At the marriage interview, officers will ask questions to check if your relationship is real. They might ask how you met or why you decided to get married. They may want to know about your daily life together and future plans.

It would be best if you answered all their questions honestly.

Officers can ask anything that helps them understand your marriage. This could include questions about holidays you’ve spent together or who does the chores at home. They’ll look for details proving you’re a genuine couple living together.

Bring photos, messages, and other proof to show them your bond is genuine.

What Happens Next?

After navigating the intricate process of securing a marriage-based green card, what follows is a crucial phase where your future in the United States begins to take shape — stay tuned to uncover what unfolds after you tie the knot.

If You Have Been Married for Less Than Two Years

You will get a conditional green card if your marriage is less than two years old. This temporary visa card is good for just two years. To keep living in the U.S., you and your spouse must apply with Form I-751 to remove the conditions.

You can do this starting 90 days before the card’s expiration date, but no later than the expiration.

Sometimes, marriages end early. If yours does, you might still be able to stay in America by applying for a waiver of the joint filing requirement on Form I-751, if one of the conditions that make this possible applies to you. For example, you can do this if you are no longer married, but the marriage was entered into for bona fide reasons or if your spouse abused you.

Do You Need a Lawyer to Apply for a Marriage Green Card?

You don’t have to hire a lawyer to apply for a marriage green card. But the process can be complex. Forms like I-130 and I-485 or DS-260 must be filled out correctly. A lawyer knows the immigration laws and could help avoid mistakes.

Some people feel more confident with legal advice, especially if they are unsure about the jargon of consular processing.

Comprehensive Conclusion: Navigating the Path to Permanent Residency Through Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

Marrying a U.S. citizen is a significant milestone that opens a new chapter, not just in your personal life but also in your journey within the U.S. immigration system. However, the transition from being a foreign national to a green card holder, and eventually a lawful permanent resident, is not automatic upon saying “I do.” It requires navigating a structured legal process, understanding the complexities of immigration law, and fulfilling stringent requirements set forth by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The pathway to obtaining a green card through marriage is multifaceted. It begins with establishing the authenticity of your marital relationship through Form I-130, progresses through adjusting your status or consular processing, and in certain cases, involves transitioning from a conditional permanent residence to permanent residency. Each step is designed to ensure that marriages are genuine and not solely for the purpose of immigration benefits. This thorough scrutiny reflects the balance the immigration system seeks to maintain between openness to international spouses and vigilance against potential misuse.

Applicants must remember that marriage to a U.S. citizen, while a valid avenue to permanent residency, comes with its set of challenges and responsibilities. From the initial application to the final interview and beyond, proving the bona fide nature of your marriage is paramount. This includes sharing joint financial responsibilities, cohabitating, and intertwining your lives in a manner that reflects a genuine marital relationship.

For those navigating this journey, the role of experienced immigration attorneys cannot be overstated. Legal professionals provide invaluable guidance, helping to avoid common pitfalls and ensuring that all paperwork is correctly filed. They can offer personalized advice tailored to your unique circumstances, especially in cases involving prior marriages, the need for waivers, or complications arising from extended stays outside the United States.

Ultimately, achieving permanent residency through marriage is a testament to your commitment not just to your spouse but also to building a life together in the U.S. It’s a journey that demands patience, meticulous attention to detail, and a deep understanding of legal obligations and rights. While the path may seem daunting, the reward—a life shared with your loved one in the United States, with all the rights and responsibilities of a lawful permanent resident—makes the effort worthwhile.

In conclusion, marrying a U.S. citizen can set you on the path to a green card and permanent residency, but it’s a path that requires careful navigation personal knowledge through the U.S. immigration landscape. Armed with the correct information, preparedness for the legal process, and perhaps the support of an immigration attorney, you can successfully transition from being a spouse of a U.S. citizen to a cherished member of the American community, fully embracing the rights and opportunities that come with permanent residency.

FAQs provided in this article aim to clarify common queries and shed light on the nuanced process, offering a roadmap for those embarking on this life-changing journey. Remember, every couple’s story is unique, and the immigration process is just one part of your larger journey together.


1. If I marry a U.S. citizen, do I get a green card immediately?

No, marrying a U.S. citizen does not mean you automatically get a green card. You must apply for one and go through the legal process.

2. What steps should I take to become a permanent resident after getting married?

First, your spouse should file Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). If you are in the U.S. and are not legally barred, u can also file to adjust your status. If you are overseas, then you must undergo consular processing.

3. Can an immigration lawyer help me with my green card application?

Yes, an experienced immigration attorney who can offer legal services and guide you through the complex process of obtaining permanent U.S. residence and becoming a green card holder.

4. Will my first green card be permanent if I'm married to a U.S. citizen?

Not always; you may first be granted conditional permanent resident status if your marriage is less than two years old.

5. Can same-sex marriages qualify for green cards too?

Yes, as long as they are legally recognized in the place where the marriage occurred, same-sex marriages are treated equally under U.S. law.

6. Is work allowed while waiting for the approval of my green card application?

You may work if you have applied for an Employment Authorization Document (Form I-765) and received it from Customs and Border Protection.

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