Marriage Green Card Timing and Budget

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When a bride or bridegroom marries someone from another country and they want to live together in America, the American government has procedures to approve the new husband or wife's legal status. The process can either take place while the foreigner is outside the USA, or inside the USA, depending on the circumstances.

The easiest way to explain two of the different marriage green card processing options is to describe real life stories:

Veronica from Peru - Processing Marriage Green Card Inside the U.S.

Veronica, a Peruvian citizen, was already in the United States attending a 4 year university in Dallas when she met her fiance, James, who was a U.S. citizen. Veronica was in the U.S. legally on an F-1 student visa. They dated for about a year, and then James proposed to Veronica.  They started plannning one wedding in Texas with James' family and another ceremony in Peru with Veronica's family (who couldn't travel to the U.S.).

In order to coordinate Veronica's switch from an F-1 Student Visa to a Marriage Green Card, James and Veronica retained an immigration attorney with years of experience.  The immigration attorney charged $2,500 in legal fees and the government fees were $1,500. The other fees associated with a marriage green card application are the cost of a medical exam (normally $100-$200) by a special government approved doctor and the cost of 4 passport photographs (normally $20). 

With the help of their immigration attorney, James and Veronica developed the following timeline:

  1. About one month before the wedding, Veronica and James retained the services of an immigration attorney, who began filling out government forms and collecting their documents (such as birth certificates, etc.).
  2. Veronica and James' real wedding was held in Dallas, Texas
  3. One week later, the government in Dallas released their official marriage certificate.
  4. After receiving the marriage certificate, the marriage green card paperwork was filed by the immigration attorney.  Veronica was now legally no longer in the USA on her F-1 Student Visa and was considered an "adjustee."  Therefore, Veronica could not travel outside the USA for 4 months because she did not have permission to travel abroad as an "adjustee."  
  5. Veronica was required to go to a special government office in Dallas to provide her fingerprints and have her photograph taken.
  6. Veronica received a special combination travel/work permit that was good for one year.  She is now allowed to travel outside the USA.
  7. Veronica and James flew to Peru for their second wedding celebration and honeymoon. They told the officiant that they were already married, so that they would conduct the ceremony so that they were not getting married twice.
  8. After Veronica and James returned to the U.S. using her special travel permit, they attended the marriage green card interview in Dallas.  Their immigration attorney had prepared them so they knew the questions, answers, and what documents to bring.  Veronica's green card was received in the mail after 2 weeks, which allowed her to work and travel abroad. 

There are some variations for this timeline, but it provides a general idea of how the marriage green card processing occurs for someone already inside the U.S. In general the entire process takes 4-6 months.

Trinh from Vietnam - Processing Marriage Green Card Outside the U.S.

Joseph is an American engineer whose company periodically sends him to work in Vietnam. Over the course of a couple years, Joseph started dating Trinh when he was in Vietnam, and calling her through Skype when he was back in Los Angeles, CA.  They also constantly emailed and texted each other.  On Joseph's last assignment in Vietnam he proposed to Trinh and she said yes, she wanted to marry him and live in America. Trinh could not get any type of visa to visit the United States.

In order to coordinate Trinh's arrival in America, Joseph retained an immigration attorney to help him with the marriage green card paperwork.  The immigration attorney charged $2,500 in legal fees and the government fees were about $1,200.  The other fees were for a medical exam ($100 - 200) in Vietnam and 4 passport photographs ($20).  

With the help of their immigration attorney, Joseph and Trinh developed the following timeline:

  1. About one month before the wedding, Joseph and Trinh retained the services of an immigration attorney who began filling out government forms and collecting their documents (birth certificates, etc.).
  2. Trinh and Joseph's real wedding was in Vietnam. Joseph had to fulfill the requirements for an American citizen to marry a Vietnamese citizen.  After a brief honeymoon in Thailand (where Trinh was allowed to travel) Joseph flew back to Los Angeles, Ca.
  3. After receiving the official marriage certificate issued by the Vietnamese government, the immigration attorney filed the marriage green card applications with the American government.
  4. For 6 - 12 months, Joseph and Trinh worked with their immigration attorney to file more documents with the American government. For example, when a marriage green card application is done outside of the U.S., the applicant must submit a police certificate showing they committed no crimes.  Joseph visited Trinh twice more in Vietnam while waiting for the marriage green card process to be finished.
  5. 6-12 months after the immigration attorney filed the paperwork, the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam interviewed Trinh and gave her permission to enter the U.S. and live with Joseph.  Her green card was mailed to their American address about a month after she entered the U.S.

There are some variations to this timeline, but in general the marriage green card processing takes 6-12 months after the wedding for someone waiting outside the U.S.

Published: 10/03/2012 by Danielle Nelisse

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