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When you are married to a foreign national, the process to bring them to the United States is lengthy. First, a visa petition (form I-130) must be filed with USCIS or the US Embassy in your spouse’s country of residence.
Wait times are typically two years or more. During this time, it is important that your spouse remains outside the country to avoid violating their immigration status.
Getting married can be the first step toward becoming a United States citizen and bring your spouse to the United States to join you. A marriage provides federal benefits, protections and responsibilities that civil unions do not.
Some citizens and permanent residents want to bring their foreign spouses into the United States on an immigrant visa (IR1 or CR1). To do so, the petitioner must complete a Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative.
After USCIS processes the Form I-130, it hands the case over to the National Visa Center (NVC). NVC gathers all of the required documents and then schedules an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the foreign spouse’s home country.
The NVC’s processing times can vary. Currently, it takes an average of 2 months for NVC to make a decision. NVC also charges fees for its services. The fees can add up quickly.
When a petition is filed, the government will begin to review it. It will check to make sure that all required forms, fees and initial supporting documentation are included. If they are not, the petition will be returned to the petitioner.
USCIS will also examine any relevant primary and secondary evidence submitted with the petition. However, the decision maker may decide not to consider any specific item of evidence if it is deemed irrelevant or unavailable.
The legal status of the abused spouse at the time that the petition is filed will determine whether it can be approved. If the abused spouse legally ends the marriage through annulment, divorce or death before the petition is filed with USCIS, it must be denied.
If the petition is not approved, the petitioner will be given the option to file a motion to reopen/reconsider or appeal the decision. The petitioner can also submit a brief in support of the request to reopen/reconsider or appeal.
US Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents are eligible to sponsor their spouses for green cards. This process is called “adjustment of status.” In most cases, the foreign spouse can work while the application is pending. However, it is important that they do not travel outside of the United States without first obtaining advance parole. Doing so may trigger a 3- or 10-year bar, which can delay or even deny their permanent residency.
Spouses of US citizens and green card holders are classified as immediate family members and have the highest immigration priority. This means visas are always available and the process is typically faster than other categories of immigrants. The petitioning process for family preference immigrants, however, can take a long time. To avoid this wait, it is sometimes beneficial for a U.S citizen or green-card holder to marry their foreign spouse outside the United States and then file for a nonimmigrant K-3 visa.
Once the National Visa Center (NVC) or USCIS has received all the necessary forms and payments, your spouse will need to go through a visa interview. This interview is conducted by a consular officer at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your spouse’s country, or sometimes at a USCIS field office in your home country.
These interviews are meant to verify that you and your spouse are in fact married and that your relationship is genuine. For this reason, they often ask personal questions about your marriage. This can include details like how many times a week you and your spouse eat out, or what your favorite hobbies are.
It is important to prepare for this interview, as it can be a stressful process. You and your spouse should discuss the interview questions ahead of time, especially if either of you tends to forget things easily. This way, you can iron out any inconsistencies in your memories and avoid any confusion during the interview.