If you are marrying a US citizen as a foreigner one of the major potential benefits is being able to get permanent residency and a Green Card. However this process is not automatic, nor is it quick and it is certainly not cheap.
We will outline the process, timeline, documents, fees, interview, etc. for the foreigner and the US citizen spouse assuming that the foreigner is currently legally in the US as a tourist or another non-immigrant visa. It is certainly possible to do this without a lawyer, particularly if your case is completely normal with no anomalies in the background of the foreigner or the US citizen and no questions about the bona fide nature of the marriage. This can save you many thousands of dollars in legal fees.
If you are illegally in the US as a foreigner, essentially the process is the same in theory however you may face additional hurdles, background checks, financial audits and interview steps to end up being successful. Remember this is different to the K-1 visa and K-3 visa which are meant for foreigners who are fiancees and wives of US citizens who are currently outside the US and get those visas from a US Consulate. Also since the Supreme Court ruling last Summer, legally married gay couples also are eligible for this process.
Ultimately the benefit to obtaining a Green Card as a foreigner is to freely travel in and out of the US without restriction, freely move from employer to employer and/or hold multiple jobs in any capacity, choose not to work and not have to be tied to any employer, have access to some social service benefits and generally enjoy most of the benefits of a US citizen outside of voting and serving in some Government roles.
- Obtain a marriage license (cost varies by state/city between about $10-$115)
- Get legally married (cost varies wildly depending on civil vs. wedding)
- Get medical exam from approved USCIS doctor (est. $100-$500)
- Collate and fill official documents including; I-130, G-325a, I-485, I-131 (optional), I-765 (optional), I-693, I-864, I-485a (optional), I-601 (optional), G-1145 (optional)
- Collate proof and required documents including; Cover Letter, I-94, Passport Photos, Marriage License, Passport ID Page copy for both, Passport Visa Page copies, Copies of DS-2019 if applicable, Official IRS Tax Return Summaries for both, Bank Statements, Travel Tickets, Photos, Lease Copies, Payslip copies for both, Any series of documents showing period of cohabitation (i.e. monthly bank statements), Birth Certificate copies for both, Affidavit Letters copies signed by 3rd party people proving marriage validity, Any other documents and history showing joint life
- Write checks for I-130 ($420) and I-485 ($1,070 includes $85 biometric fee). If forms I-131 for advanced parole for travel and I-765 for employment authorization are filed at same time as I-485 no additional fees are required
- Put together package and send to USCIS Chicago Lockbox
- Receive notification of biometrics assessment and foreigner attends nominated facility
- Receive Employment Authorization card, along with Advance Parole approval
- Receive notification of interview date and couple to attend USCIS interview at nominated location (in some cases a second interview may be required)
- Received approval notification and Green Card in the mail
(A great guide for putting together your packages can be found here and a step by step help for filling out all the different forms is here. The USCIS official guides themselves on each form’s page are pretty good as well)
Now all going well that process can take 3-4 months from beginning to end if you are diligent at each point of the process and your case presents no red flags or missing information. However this whole process can take many years as well and of course they could be denials at any point in the process for any reason. Some may be able to overcome like paying back taxes and applicable penalties owed to the IRS but others like the marriage not deemed to be legitimate may not be able to reversed.
Often the process is determined by the caseload of USCIS workers at the time or the individual assessing your case or conducting your interviews at each stage. If in doubt give more proof documents as you would for any other non-immigrant visa US Consulate interview. Sometimes it can be a month or two between updates at each stage but you can receive updates online at USCIS at sign up free for text message notifications as well.
- Get your medical exam done as early as possible
- Find out the marriage license rules in your state as might be a waiting period between getting license and being allowed to get married
- Include as many proof documents as possible including pictures of the two of you together (ideally in different cities and times), pictures with friends and family, boarding passes, every financial document, postcards, IRS summaries going back 5yrs, etc.
- In your interview be natural and answer questions about your life in a future context and not as if you have memorized for a test. It’s ok to laugh and talk about your life together, engagement, honeymoon and plans for future!
- Often you might be able to go do your biometrics exam before the nominated date on your sheet. Search google for experiences in your city and the best times to go for less volume
- Sign up for email and text notifications at USCIS for your case numbers
- Do NOT travel outside the US during this time unless you have received Advanced Parole authorization
- Make copies of your entire package before sending in case anything goes missing and you can bring this just in case to your USCIS interview
In the midst of US Congress dysfunction and a US Government shutdown, the Diversity Visa Lottery 2015 (DV-2015) or as it’s unofficially known, the Green Card Lottery began yesterday. In short the Green Card Lottery is an annual lottery run by the US State Department as designated by US Immigration law that is FREE to enter with the end result being Permanent Residency for 55,000 lucky winners around the world.
The lottery entry period begins on October 1, 2013 and concludes on November 2, 2013 so be sure you enter during this period as no exceptions are made and the last couple of days because of load there may be computer glitches. At the end of completing your online form, you will be given a confirmation number which you should record as that is how you can check if you won online around April/May 2014 when they announce the results. You will be officially notified by mail if you win.
It is called DV-2015 because the winners would get a Green Card commencing at the beginning of the US Immigration fiscal year 2015 which begins on October 1, 2014. Now while the lottery is FREE to enter (so don’t fall for all the various scams that try and charge you to enter as it is fully run on the US Government website) and it is only 10 basic personal questions to answer online along with uploading a passport size style photo, there are some important criteria to note which could disqualify your entry and/or make you ineligible to enter at all.
- You can only enter once for yourself (although you can enter once and your spouse could enter once and if either of you won, the other could be eligible as a spouse of a winner)
- Participants born in the following countries are NOT eligible to enter this year’s lottery. (the reason why they are ineligible is because the US Goverment has determined there were already enough people who became Permanent Residents of the US from these nations through other avenues as this lottery is intended to be about greater diversity for the US)
- In Central & South America whose natives are not eligible for this year’s diversity program:
Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Jamaica and Peru.
- In North America, natives of Canada and Mexico are not eligible this year
- In Europe, native from these countries are not eligible for this year’s DV program: Great Britain
(United Kingdom). Great Britain (United Kingdom) includes the following dependent areas: Anguilla,
Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St. Helena,
and Turks and Caicos Islands. Note that for purposes of the diversity program only, Northern Ireland is
treated separately; Northern Ireland does qualify and is listed among the qualifying areas. Macau S.A.R. does qualify and is listed above.
- In Asia these countries are not eligible for this year’s diversity program: Bangladesh, China (mainland-born), India, Pakistan, South Korea, Philippines, and Vietnam. Hong Kong S.A.R. (Asia region), Macau S.A.R. (Europe region), and Taiwan (Asia region) do qualify and are listed here
- In Africa, natives of Nigeria are not eligible for this year
- There are a couple of exceptions to the above if you were born in a non-eligible country this year. This includes;
- Was your spouse born in a country whose natives are eligible? If yes, you can claim your spouse’s country of birth provided that both you and your spouse are named on the selected entry, are issued diversity visas, and enter the United States simultaneously
- Were you born in a country whose natives are ineligible, but in which neither of your parent was born or legally resident at the time of your birth? If yes, you may claim nativity in one of our parents’ countries of birth if it is a country whose natives are eligible for the DV-2015 program
- The primary entrant must have completed a high school level education (i.e. 12 years of schooling) OR have two years of work experience in the past 5 years where at least 2 years of experience or training was required to perform the job
- If you are qualifying under the work requirement go to O*Net Online, you need to have a job that classified as Job Zone 4 or 5 with a rating of 7.0 or higher.1. Under “Find Occupations” select “Job Family” from the pull down;
2. Browse by “Job Family”, make your selection, and click “GO”;
3. Click on the link for your specific occupation.
4. Select the tab “Job Zone” to find the designated Job Zone number and Specific Vocational Preparation
(SVP) rating range
- For the online form itself the following information is required;
- 1. Name – last/family name, first name, middle name – exactly as on your passport
- Birth date – day, month, year.
- Gender – male or female.
- City where you were born.
- Country where you were born – Use the name of the country currently used for the place where you were born
- Country of eligibility for the DV Program – Your country of eligibility will normally be the same as your country of birth. Your country of eligibility is not related to where you live. If you were born in a country that is not eligible then check the above comments about country eligibility to see if another method may apply
- Entrant photograph(s) – Recent photographs of yourself, your spouse and all your children listed. You do not need to include a photograph for a spouse or child who is already a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident, but you will not be penalized if you do. Group photographs will not be accepted; you must submit a photograph for each individual. Your entry may be disqualified or visa refused if the photographs are not recent, have been manipulated in any way, or do not meet the specifications required
- Mailing Address – this is where your winner notification and instructions will be sent so ensure it is correct
- Country where you live today
- Phone number (optional)
- E-mail address
- Highest level of education you have achieved, as of today: (1) Primary school only, (2) Some high school, no diploma, (3) High school diploma, (4) Vocational school, (5) Some university courses, (6) University degree, (7) Some graduate-level courses, (8) Master’s degree, (9) Some doctoral – level courses, and (10) Doctorate
- Current marital status – Unmarried, married, divorced, widowed, or legally separated. Enter the name, date of birth, gender, city/town of birth, country of birth of your spouse, and a photograph of your spouse meeting the same technical specifications as your photo
- Number of children – List the Name, date of birth, gender, city/town of birth, and country of birth for all living unmarried children under 21 years of age, regardless of whether or not they are living with you or intend to accompany or follow to join you should you immigrate to the United States. Submit individual photographs of each of your children using the same technical specifications as your own photo. Be sure to include; all living natural children, all living children legally adopted by you and, all living step-children who are unmarried and under the age of 21 on the date of your electronic entry, even if you are no longer legally married to the child’s parent, and even if the child does not currently reside with you and/or will not immigrate with you. (Married children and children over the age of 21 are not eligible for the DV. However, the Child Status Protection Act protects children from “aging out” in certain circumstances. If your DV entry is made before your unmarried child turns 21, and the child turns 21 before visa issuance, he/she may be treated as though he/she were under 21 for visa-processing purposes)
The official Green Card Lottery complete instructions are as per this US State Department link and may be worth reading if you are unsure of anything and to help ensure you don’t do things that would compromise your online entry.
Another tip I would give all readers is to do the application in Internet Explorer or Firefox as browsers as it tends to work best without errors. Also remember to save a copy of your confirmation page which you will give you a confirmation number to check your results later.
To get an idea of how many people from each country applied in past years you can look at official country statistics from the US Government here for the DV-2013 Green Card Lottery which ran in 2011 with winners announced in 2012.
Because of current proposed US Immigration reform 2013, which has already passed the US Senate, and has general acceptance on both sides, this may be the LAST EVER GREEN CARD LOTTERY. Although if no immigration reform is passed the Green Card Lottery will remain in future years.