Your foreign spouse requires a marriage (immigrant) visa to enter the United States. You know that s/he is eligible to apply but the process seems complicated. For your information, CLG has listed the steps in the process below.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
In order to initiate the process, the petitioner (U.S. citizen or permanent resident) files a Petition for Alien Relative (form I-130) on behalf of the beneficiary (foreign spouse) with the appropriate USCIS Service Center that has jurisdiction over where the petitioner resides. A separate petition must be filed on behalf of each child. After the marriage petition is filed, the USCIS will issue a receipt notice. After reviewing the marriage petition, the USCIS will issue an approval notice. The approved marriage petition is then forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC).
Timing: Currently, the Petition for Alien Relative is approved (on average) within 4 months of filing.
*20 Months (if petitioner is a permanent resident)
National Visa Center (NVC)
The NVC performs a background check of your foreign spouse and child(ren), collects immigrant visa and affidavit of support fees and documents, processes the immigrant visa application and provides instruction regarding the interview and the required medical examination. After processing is complete, the NVC schedules an interview and forwards the marriage petition, immigrant visa application and documents to the United States embassy or consulate nearest your foreign spouse’s residence.
Timing: Currently, the background check is completed and the marriage petition forwarded (on average) within 1-2 months of receipt from the USCIS.
United States Embassy or Consulate
At the interview, the consular officer will verify that all required documentation has been provided. Second, and more importantly, the consular officer will question your foreign spouse in detail with respect to the specifics of your marriage in order to determine its legitimacy.
Assuming that the consular officer is satisfied, the immigrant visa application is approved and an immigrant visa is placed in your foreign spouse’s passport. At that time, the United States embassy or consulate will also approve any minor children’s immigrant visa application and place an immigrant visa(s) in your foreign spouse’s minor children’s passport(s). The visas will be valid for 6 months. The United States embassy or consulate will also provide each immigrant with a sealed envelope that contains the approved petition, applications and documentation. Before departing for the United States, each person that received an immigrant visa must pay a USCIS Immigrant Fee online.
Timing: Currently, the interview is scheduled (on average) within 2-5 months of receipt of all requested material. Immigrant visas are issued within 7-10 days of approval.
Entering the United States
Upon issuance of the immigrant visas, your foreign spouse and any children must enter the United States within 6 months. Upon entry into the United States, your spouse and children will give the sealed envelope to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. The CBP officer will stamp each immigrant’s passport. This signifies entry as an immigrant.
Permanent Resident (‘Green Card’) Status
After entry as an immigrant, each person will receive a lawful permanent resident card. If you and your spouse have been married less than 2 years at the time of issuance of the immigrant visa, the permanent resident card will be valid for 2 years. This is referred to as a ‘conditional resident’ card. Please note that 90 days prior to the expiration of the permanent resident card, your spouse will be required to file a petition to remove the conditions on residence allowing for the issuance of a ‘new’ permanent resident card (valid for 10 years). If you and your spouse have been married 2 years or more at the time of issuance of the immigrant visa, the permanent resident card will be valid for 10 years.
If you have additional questions about the marriage (immigrant) visa process, you may wish to read our marriage visa FAQs.