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Spouses of US Citizens and Permanent Residents

Spouses of US Citizens and Permanent Residents

A US citizen or lawful permanent resident (greencard holder) can sponsor a spouse living in another country to be admitted to the United States and be granted permanent residence. To understand how the process works, you first should have a general sense of how the U.S. immigration system works.

The Process

We will begin by assuming that the spouse is outside the United States.  In that case, the process is as follows:

  • The US citizen petitions the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to “label” the spouse as a “Spouse” (as defined by immigration law). The petition is a Form I-130.  It must be accompanied by documentation confirming the identity of both the US citizen and the foreign spouse, as well as detailed documentation showing that the relationship is real.  Right now, the USCIS takes about 6 months to decide these.
  • The USCIS approves the petition. The spouse then applies for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate in his/her country of residence.  Depending on the consulate and the overall circumstances of the marriage, this can take anywhere from 3 months to 9 months.
  • Once the U.S. Consulate issues the Immigrant visa, the foreign spouse may seek admission[1] to the U.S. Most immigrant visas are valid for a limited amount of time – a year or less, depending on circumstances.
  • At the moment the foreign spouse is admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant, s/he is granted permanent resident status. This automatically triggers the production of the greencard within the U.S. immigration systems.  The greencard usually is delivered to the address provided by the foreign spouse in her immigrant visa application within about 3 – 6 months.
  • In the meantime, the foreign spouse may use the immigrant visa to obtain employment, or if s/he travels abroad and needs re-admission back into the United States.

This again is not a tremendously speedy process overall.  For most couples, it can take  9 months, and often takes longer. This is the least expensive option for most couples, too.  The USCIS has a list of current filing fees on its website, but at the time this writing, the following were the fees required:

  • Form I-130: $420
  • Visa application: at least $325 and possibly more depending on per-country reciprocity rules

Next: Permanent Residence for Spouses Inside the United States

[1] As described in my previous post, “seeking admission” is the formal process that occurs during travel to the U.S., when a foreign national meets with a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at a land-border post or an airport. The CBP officer asks questions about what the foreign national will be doing in the U.S., looks at the person’s passport and visa, and otherwise confirms eligibility to enter the U.S.  This is called “inspection” and usually lasts only a few minutes.  Once inspected, the CBP officer either approves admission, and grants the requested status, or refuses admission and send the foreign national home.

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