U.S. Green Card Visas for Spouses of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents: Requirements, Qualification
This provides a high-level summary of visa options for married couples and those engaged to be married. Other parts of this website describe the specific qualifications, processes and procedures for each category.
Review our Family-based Green Card page for more specific information on any topics below. You will also find informative FAQs at the bottom of this page.
U.S. Citizen Married to Alien Living in the U.S.: U.S. Citizens married to aliens who are already in the U.S. on an unexpired visa may apply directly for a green card, work authorization, and travel document (advance parole) by submitting an immediate relative and adjustment of status petitions with USCIS. This also applies to citizens married to aliens who entered with a visa but whose visas have expired. However, those aliens with expired visas may not qualify for a travel document and must remain in the U.S. until the processing is complete.
In both instances however, the aliens may remain and work in the U.S. with an EAD card until the green card process is complete. The advantage of this option is that the couple remain together in the US with work authorization during the entire application process.
Illegal Aliens: Those married to illegal aliens who entered without proper papers (EWIs) should review Citizens - Married to Illegal Alien.
U.S. Citizen Married to Alien Living Abroad: There are three main options to follow here. First, is to submit the K-3 Visa option which is much like a K-1 Fiancé visa. The K-3 visa permits a spouse to enter the U.S. on a visa and complete the green card process here. This option permits the alien to enter the U.S. faster without having to wait until the green card process is completed. Even so, this process can take several months to complete.
The second option is to file an alien relative petition at a USCIS Service Center. Upon approval, complete the National Visa Center paperwork and fees, and have the alien spouse attend a scheduled green card interview at a U.S. consulate in his/her country. Upon approval, the alien spouse will enter the U.S. with a green card. The drawback here is that processing times for the alien relative petition and NVC paperwork can be lengthy.
Third is consular processing. Under this option, the couple may apply directly at the embassy in the foreign country where the alien spouse resides. With this method, the entire application process and interview are handled by the U.S. consulate in the alien spouse’s country. Upon completion of the paperwork and interview, the alien may enter with a green card. Those considering this option should check directly with the U.S. consulate for processing times, procedures and rules as they differ by consulate. Under this option, careful consideration should be given to the interview process and whether the citizen spouse should also attend to eliminate any language, communication and cultural differences that may affect the alien’s interview performance.
U.S. Citizen Engaged to be Married to an Alien Abroad (Fiancé Visa): Those couples that are not yet married may pursue the K-1 fiancé visa option. Upon entering the U.S. on a K-1 visa, the couple must marry within 90 days. The alien may apply for work authorization and complete the green card process while residing and working in the U.S. in the time being. The fiancé visa application process can take up to several months to complete.
U.S. Permanent Resident Married to Alien Living in the U.S. Permanent residents may sponsor their spouses for a green card under the Family-based Preference 2A. However, couples in this situation must wait until a visa becomes available in order to file for Adjustment of Status. Unfortunately, while waiting, the alien spouse is neither authorized to remain or work in the U.S. unless he/she is on another valid non-immigration visa that permits her to stay or work.
Aliens in the category should review the Visa Bulletin monthly to determine when a visa becomes available. Those who are waiting for a visa number but remain in the U.S. without authorization may accrue additional unlawful presence that could result in the application of the 3/10 year bar.
Alien spouses and dependents that have waited for a visa number for three (3) or more years (in another lawful status) may qualify to remain in the U.S. on the [V visa] to complete the wait and green card process.
U.S. Permanent Resident Married to Alien Living Abroad: Permanent residents may sponsor their spouses for a green card under Family-based Preference 2A. However, couples in this situation must wait until a visa becomes available in order to complete the green card process. Unfortunately, while waiting, the alien spouse is not authorized to enter or work in the U.S. unless he/she is on another valid non-immigration visa that permits her to stay or work. Aliens in the category should review the Visa Bulletin monthly to determine when a visa becomes available.
Alien spouses and dependents that have waited for a visa for three (3) or more years may qualify to enter the U.S. on the V visa to complete the wait and green card processing.
FAQS-Marriage Visas, Fiancé (K-1) Visas/Spousal (K-3) Visas and Family Visas