Obtaining a green card through marriage to a United States citizen is generally the quickest way to earn permanent residency. However, where the green card marriage occurs outside the US, the procedure may result in the spouses being separated for one year or more.
Certain people have the eligibility to apply for permanent residence by obtaining their green card while they are physically present in the United States. Their eligibility is proved through a relationship that qualifies as an “immediate relative” under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
A green card marriage to a citizen of the United States where the marriage takes place outside the US qualifies the foreign-born spouse to immigrate to the US as an immediate relative. Evidence is required to prove that it is a valid marriage and that the marriage was not entered into simply to obtain a green card. This applies to both heterosexual and homosexual marriages.
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When living abroad, the immediate relative is expected to apply for a green card from outside of the United States. The United States citizen petitioner must file Form I-130 (Petition of Alien Relative). The form attachments are examined by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to determine whether the marital relationship is bona fide. It is wise to attach evidence of joint property, photos of the marriage ceremony which include parents and relatives or both parties and affidavits.
Once the Form I-130 is approved, the case will be transferred to the National Visa Center which request numerous documents from the foreign-born beneficiary of the petition. Once these documents are received, the case will be transferred to a US Embassy or Consulate in the beneficiary’s home country for an interview. This process is known as “consular processing”.
Once the interview takes place and the application is approved, the immediate relative can lawfully enter the United States and upon entry will officially become a permanent resident.
(For more information on green cards through marriage , see our “Green Card Through Marriage” page).
Green Card Marriage Outside U.S. – Resources
- Green Card for an Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen
- Applying for a Green Card Based on Marriage to a U.S. Permanent Resident
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening a firm specializing exclusively in US immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.