It is not uncommon for U.S citizens to want to marry a person from another country. These couples have the choice of staying in the foreign country or starting the process of immigrating and moving permanently to the U.S. In this case, the spouse who is from the foreign country will need to obtain a Green Card or a permanent immigrant visa.
There are various types of immigrant visas, but the main categories include:
- Immediate Relative Visas
- Family Based Immigrant Visas
- Employment Based Immigrant Visas
- Diversity Visa
- Returning Resident Visa
The visas within the Family Based category represent those that can be obtained by people who are the immediate family of a U.S citizen or U.S Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). Immediate family includes the spouse, child, parent, or sibling, but does not include more distant relatives such as your grandparents or cousins.
For the foreign spouse to be able to get a Green Card through marriage and immigrate to the U.S they need a spouse visa. This article will go through the spouse visa, what it is, what its requirements are, how to apply for it, and other relevant details.
What is a Spouse Green Card?
The Spouse Green Card allows the person from a foreign country who is married to a U.S citizen to move to the U.S and live there permanently. This includes allowing them to go to school in the U.S as well as work there. This immigrant visa gives the opportunity to the couple to be united and live in the same country. They can move anywhere within the U.S and start a life there.
The foreign spouse is allowed to obtain U.S documents, travel in and out of the U.S for specific periods of time, get a driver’s license, open bank accounts and so on. After a certain time period has passed and the foreign spouse has complied with all the requirements of their Green Card, they are also eligible to apply for a U.S citizenship. Additionally, if the couple has a child, the child will automatically be a U.S citizen.
What are the types of Marriage Green Cards?
Since many people want to move to the U.S permanently for employment reasons, there are marriages that happens to only get immigrant status within the country. These Green Card marriages are not allowed and are discouraged by the U.S government. However, to be able to prevent couples from marrying only for one person to get a Green Card, the U.S government has come up with two types of marriage Green Cards:
- Conditional Resident Spouse Visa (CR-1)
- Immediate Relative Spouse Visa (IR-1)
If the couple has just been married and the foreign spouse is applying for a spouse Green Card, then they will have to apply for the Conditional Resident Spouse Visa or CR-1. This visa allows the foreign spouse to move to the U.S on an immigrant status with a Green Card on the condition that the couple stays married for at least 2 years.
After 2 years of marriage, the foreign spouse can then transition to an Immediate Relative Spouse Visa or IR-1 which then gives them a more permanent status and does not have a validity period of only 2 years. If the couple gets a divorce or breaks up before the 2 years on the CR-1 visa are completed, then the foreign spouse will be returned to their home country since their status will not be valid anymore.
Since the application procedures for the CR-1 visa and IR-1 visa are similar, the article will focus more on describing the process for the IR-1 visa.
What are the requirements for the IR-1 visa?
There are various requirements for the couple who are looking into applying for the IR-1 visa. The main one is that the couple must be legally married. They must possess a certificate which proves it as well as other supporting documents such as wedding albums, honeymoon destinations, receipts from their wedding party and organization and so on. This proof is required so that fake marriages just for purposes of getting a Green Card are not allowed to get an IR-1 visa. Additionally, if the couple is only living together, then it is not considered a marriage under U.S laws and regulations.
The other requirement is that one of the spouses must be a U.S citizen who has a valid address within the U.S and can support the spouse from a foreign country until both of them have financial means to support themselves.
Without meeting these requirements, the spouse from a foreign country will not be allowed to apply for an IR-1 visa.
How to apply for an IR-1 visa?
The application process for the IR-1 visa follows similar patterns to other types of family-based visas. It is divided in two parts:
- The U.S citizen petitions for their spouse to U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- When the petition is approved, the spouse must apply to a U.S Embassy or Consulate in their home country
This shows that the application procedure must start within the U.S, with the U.S citizen petitioning to the authorities. The petition must be approved, otherwise, the spouse cannot begin applying to the U.S Embassy for their visa.
Filing the Petition
The petition can be done by filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relatives. This petition must be filled by the U.S citizen in all the necessary sections and then submitted to USCIS. There is also a fee which the U.S citizen must pay in order to process the petition.
The petition will then go through the Department of Homeland Security and processed within a few months. The U.S citizen will be notified about the status when the processing is complete. If the petition is denied, USCIS will let you know what the reasons were for the denial. If the petition is approved, it will then go to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will then be your main contact for the IR-1 visa.
The NVC will send a package with information and instructions to the applicant in the foreign country. The package will also include the case number and invoice ID number which will be used to start the application from the U.S Embassy or Consulate in the foreign country.
Applying for the IR-1 visa
Since the Immediate Relative Visas do not have a cap on the number issued each year, applicants do not need to wait for their priority dates to become current. Immediately after the petition is approved by USCIS, the applicant in the foreign country can begin their application. This is done at a U.S Embassy or Consulate.
File Form DS-260
Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Electronic Application is the form which all applicants for immigrant visas must submit. The application can be accessed by using the NVC case number which links it to your case and the approved petition. The IR-1 visa applicant or someone helping them must fill out all the necessary sections, which will have questions related to the applicant’s information, background, and purpose of immigrating to the U.S. When you submit the DS-260 form, you will get a confirmation page and number which you must attach to your supporting documents.
Complete medical examination and vaccination
The U.S has certain medical and vaccination requirements which its citizens and immigrants must fulfill. Anyone who wants to immigrate to the U.S must get the necessary medical check-ups and vaccines. The NVC package which the applicant received after the approval of the petition will specify what medical procedures the applicant must complete and the vaccines they need to get. The documents and the check-ups must be completed by a licensed doctor who will sign them. These documents will be attached to your supporting file which you will then send to the NVC.
Compile documents file
Besides the application form, you must also attach various supporting documents to give NVC a better reason as to why you should be allowed to immigrate to the U.S with an IR-1 visa. The supporting documents must be sent to the NVC and the file must contain the following:
- Your valid passport for more than 6 months after your planned entry into the U.S
- A signed Form I-864, Affidavit of Support from the U.S petitioner (applicant’s spouse)
- Form DS-260 confirmation page
- Medical examination and vaccination documents
- Proof of marriage documents
- Two photographs per individual according to the Photo Requirements
- Court and criminal records and/or police certificate
- If you served in the military, you must bring your military records
Every immigrant applicant for the U.S must attend an interview at the U.S Embassy or Consulate where they are applying. The NVC will first make sure that you have submitted all the necessary documents and then will schedule the interview.
Receive NVC packet and travel to the U.S.
If the IR-1 visa is approved, the spouse from the foreign country can travel to the U.S freely. The visa will be stamped on their passport and the Embassy will give them a package which they must bring to the U.S when they first enter the country. This package must not be opened under any circumstances. Only the U.S immigrant officials at any U.S point of entry are allowed to open it and decide whether the applicant is allowed to enter the country or not.
What are the IR-1 visa fees?
The fees that the IR-1 applicant must pay are as follows:
- The fees for the petition
- The fees for the visa application (Form DS-260 fees)
- The fees for the supporting documents and translation
How long is the IR-1 visa processing time?
Since the IR-1 visa does not have annual caps, the processing times are also much shorter than the Family Preference Visas. In total, the processing time can take from 8 to 10 months, depending on the individual circumstances.
How to get a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status?
The next step after you have gotten your IR-1 visa is to become a Lawful Permanent Resident of the U.S. This is usually known as getting the Green Card. To change your status from your immigrant visa to an LPR, you must first have an approved petition from USCIS and the visa, as well as live in the U.S.
Afterwards, you must file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status to USCIS. This form will be processed and if approved you will get your Green Card in the mail after a few weeks.