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

A young couple smiling and forming a heart shape with their hands, symbolizing love and affection.
Picture of Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

Marrying a U.S. citizen is often seen as a straightforward route to permanent residency in the United States. However, the reality is that marriage does not automatically grant you a green card. This article will dispel common misconceptions and provide a clear roadmap for navigating the marriage-based green card process.

Key Points on Securing a Green Card Through Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

Embarking on the journey to U.S. permanent residency through marriage involves a thorough and detailed process managed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Here’s what you need to know:

1. No Automatic Green Card

Marrying a U.S. citizen does not automatically grant you a green card. Instead, it initiates a formal application process where you must prove the authenticity of your marriage.

2. Application and Verification Process

The green card application process requires submitting several forms, including the Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) and the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485) if applying from within the U.S. This process includes an in-person interview to verify your marital relationship and eligibility for residency.

3. Conditional vs. Permanent Residency

If your marriage is less than two years old at the time of green card approval, you will receive a conditional green card valid for two years. To transition to permanent residency, you must file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, within 90 days before the conditional card expires.

4. Financial Support Requirements

The U.S. citizen spouse must prove their financial ability to support the immigrant spouse to prevent them from becoming a public charge. This is typically done by submitting an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864).

5. Evidence of Bona Fide Marriage

You must provide substantial evidence of your life together, such as joint bank accounts, lease agreements, children’s birth certificates, and photographs, to prove your marriage is genuine.

6. Legal and Procedural Guidance

Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney can help ensure your application is complete and complies with legal requirements, increasing your chances of a successful outcome.

Understanding the Marriage Green Card

marriage green card allows the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to live and work in the U.S. It proves you are legally permitted to stay in the country. The application process can be time-consuming, but certain steps can speed it up, such as filing Form I-130 and Form I-485 simultaneously if the immigrant is already in the U.S.

Marriage Based Green Cards

The Green Card Process

Establishing the Marriage Relationship (Form I-130)

Filing Form I-130 is the first step. This form proves your marriage is legitimate. If you are maintaining nonimmigrant status or have overstayed a visa, you may be eligible to adjust your status with Form I-485.

Applying for the Green Card (Form I-485 or Form DS-260)

If you are in the U.S., you need to file Form I-485 to adjust your status. If you or your spouse is outside the U.S., you must file Form DS-260. After submitting the form, you will receive instructions for your green card interview, where you must provide all necessary documents and answer questions about your marriage.

Requirements for a Marriage Green Card

Sponsorship Requirements

The U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsor must prove they can financially support their spouse. This often requires submitting Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, and meeting income requirements set by USCIS.

Documentation Needed

You will need:

  • A valid marriage certificate
  • Photos from your wedding and other events
  • Joint bank accounts, leases, or property documents
  • Passport-style photos
  • Government IDs, birth certificates, and passports
  • Divorce decrees if applicable
  • Police clearances or criminal records if requested
  • Medical examination results (Form I-693)

The Marriage Interview

During the interview, immigration officers will ask questions to determine the genuineness of your marriage. They might ask about how you met, your daily life, and future plans. Bring photos, messages, and other evidence of your relationship.

What Happens Next?

Conditional Green Card for Marriages Less Than Two Years

If your marriage is less than two years old, you will receive a conditional green card valid for two years. You must file Form I-751 to remove the conditions before it expires.

Do You Need a Lawyer?

While hiring a lawyer is not required, it can help navigate the complex process and avoid mistakes. An experienced immigration attorney can provide valuable guidance and ensure all forms are correctly completed.


Marrying a U.S. citizen is a significant step towards permanent residency but requires navigating a detailed legal process. By understanding the requirements and seeking appropriate legal guidance, you can successfully obtain a green card and build your life in the United States.

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