The term green card refers to what is known officially as a permanent residence card. It is an identity document showing that the card’s named holder has been granted permanent residency in the United States. Those who hold green cards are known as lawful permanent residents. There are several ways in which a person may apply for a green card, such as through:
- A job offer;
- Refugee status;
- Asylum status; and/or
- A number of other specific provisions as outlined here.
A green card marriage refers to a marriage arrangement between a U.S. citizen and a non-citizen. The non-citizen may be granted a Conditional Permanent Resident status, which may later be dropped and replaced with Lawful Permanent Resident (“LPR”) status. LPR status allows a person to legally and permanently work and live in the United States.
This type of marriage may occur in the United States, or abroad. If the couple currently resides in the U.S., the citizen can apply for an Adjustment of Status for their spouse, with the USCIS. Generally, the couple must submit proof of the marriage. Additionally, they will need to provide proof showing that the marriage was not entered into fraudulently nor for the purpose of deceiving immigration officials. Finally, the non-citizen must have a clean criminal record, and be in the U.S. with a current and valid visa.
How Are Green Card Marriages Validated?
Green card marriages are closely related to marriage immigration. Marriage immigration occurs when a non-U.S. citizen marries an American citizen, who is living in the U.S. If the non-citizen spouse wishes to obtain a visa in order to live and work permanently in the States, they can apply to enter the country either on a fiancé or marriage visa. Doing so is a legal way to obtain a visa if the non-resident meets the eligibility requirements, and does not take actions that are viewed as marriage fraud.
Immigration laws are strict with the intention to prevent marriage fraud. As long as fraud is not an issue, the process is fairly streamlined. In order to immigrate to the United States through marriage and obtain a green card, a person will need to meet the following requirements and take these steps:
- Establish that the marriage is legitimate, as outlined below;
- Provide proof that one party is a U.S. citizen;
- Provide proof that the couple is not divorced;
- Pay the required filing fee;
- Establish independent eligibility for receiving a green card;
- Attend any interviews requested; and
- Await approval or denial for the green card.
For people applying for a marriage-based visa, they must be able to validate the marriage. The couple may be required to provide some of the following items as proof of their valid marriage:
- Shared bank account statements;
- Marriage certificate;
- Tax returns;
- Photographic and/or video evidence of the couple together;
- Travel documentation;
- Witness testimony regarding the couple’s marriage status; and/or
- Any other information that immigration services may request.
Before a non-citizen can be granted full permanent resident status, the marriage must be validated. Generally speaking, validation and issuance of LPR occurs two years after the individual entered the U.S. under their marriage-based visa. In the time leading up to two years, the person will be issued a conditional permanent resident status.
What if My Spouse is Only a Permanent Resident? Are There Quotas for Green Cards Issued Through Marriage?
Permanent residents are able to petition for a green card marriage. However, they may need to marry before becoming eligible for the visa. It is important to note that waiting lists are common with this type of arrangement. If the permanent resident entered the U.S. on a separate marriage visa, the new green card may be denied if the prior marriage occurred within the last five years. The exception to this would be if the marriage ended in death.
Yearly quotas for green cards through marriage do not exist. However, the timeline for green card approval varies for each case based on specific circumstances and other determining factors. Some cases may be processed in a matter of a few months, while others may take much longer to process.
What Types of Documents Must Be Submitted for Marriage Green Cards? What Happens After the Immigration Documents Are Filed?
Once a marriage certificate has been obtained, the following USCIS documents must be filed:
- Petition for Alien Relative, or Form I-130;
- Application to Register Permanent Residence, or Form I-485;
- Biographical Information, or Form G-325A;
- Affidavit of Support, or Form I-864;
- Results of Medical Examinations, or Form I-693; and
- Payment of filing fee as well as any other supporting documentation that has been requested of the couple.
Upon filing the aforementioned documents, the following steps must be completed before a non-citizen is granted Conditional Permanent Resident status:
- Fingerprinting and/or Biometrics;
- Issuing of work authorization and travel permits by USCIS, approximately ninety days post-filing;
- A marriage interview, which generally occurs within six to nine months after the initial filing;
- Upon successful completion of the interview, the non-resident spouse will be granted their Conditional Permanent Resident status; and
- Physical green cards are typically mailed 4-8 weeks after the successful marriage interview.
Conditional Permanent Resident status may be removed two years after it was granted. This is done by filing Form I-751, or, Removal of Conditional Status. This must be submitted within three months prior to the two year date.
What Is Green Card Marriage Fraud, and How Is Green Card Marriage Fraud Proven? Are There Any Legal Consequences for Violating Green Card Marriage Laws?
Green card marriage fraud occurs when a marriage is entered into for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card for the non-citizen. Generally speaking, marriage-based visas have a shorter wait period than other types of visas. Because of this, they are frequently entered into fraudulently.
Immigration authorities may use the following methods in order to detect green card marriage fraud:
- In-person interviews used to determine how familiar the couple is with one another;
- Documentation that the couple has spent time together, such as the previously discussed examples; and
- Witness testimony, in which the marriage will be debunked if the testimony contradicts any claims of the couple.
If any evidence was falsified specifically to deceive immigration personnel, legal consequences may follow. An example of this would be how a written contract may exist for some marriages that are arranged by a third party. This third party specializes in the arrangement of false marriages. Charges may be filed for everyone involved in defrauding the government, including that third party.
Green card marriage laws are extensive, and strictly enforced. Legal consequences can be severe, especially if the violation involves a fraudulent marriage. Some examples of such consequences may include:
- Revocation of green card;
- Denial of permanent resident status;
- Deportation to the non-resident’s country of origin;
- Temporary or permanent ban on re-entry into the United States; and/or
- The citizen spouse may face criminal charges for willful violations, especially if they are harboring a criminal immigrant.
In addition to the issue of fraudulent marriages, there is the matter of the children that may be involved. If the couple has children in another country, they could face additional immigration concerns. However, such concerns are generally not associated with the green card itself. If you have children or other relatives you wish to petition, you will need to contact an immigration lawyer.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Green Card Marriage Laws?
Green card marriage laws are strictly enforced, and require numerous legal documents and forms. Any mistakes made on such documents can result in permanent consequences. Consulting with a local immigration lawyer would be in your best interests, in order to prevent any suspicion of green card marriage fraud.
An experienced local immigration attorney can assist you in preparing for the interview process, as well as ensuring that you meet and fulfill all requirements related to immigration and green card marriages. Additionally, they will be able to represent you in court as needed to defend your legal rights, and provide you with any available and necessary defenses if any issues arise.