We got a Marriage License…Now What?

Please Note: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Do not take this post as legal advice, as each case is unique. This post is a story about my experience with my spouse during the process of getting my husband’s marriage-based greencard in the US.

Now the fun begins! First, I am NOT an attorney, only the spouse of a foreigner. I can NOT give legal advice–only share with you my own experience. We did the immigration process several years ago, so you must double check all of the information below with USCIS to be sure it is current. At least these links give you a place to start! Here is the process we followed for legal immigration and work purposes:

  1. Check out the process for filing your paperwork. For some couples, it may be easier to get married outside of the US. For others, leaving the US could create serious problems until the foreign partner’s status changes.  How do you check? Start with immigration discussion boards to get advice from people who had a similar situation to yours. Or ask an online immigration lawyer to be sure you are getting accurate advice.
  2. Check scenarios that could prevent your spouse from getting a greencard. If he or she is under deportation or entered the US illegally, marrying a US citizen will not guarantee that he or she gets a greencard.
  3. If the foreign spouse overstayed a visa but entered the US legally, realize that you may have to avoid travel outside of the US for months or even years. We had this situation and waited until the process was complete and my husband had a greencard before leaving the US.
  4. Assuming marriage in the US is the way to go, then get married!!! For us, this was the case. Couples can have a big wedding in a church or other location. Or you can get married by a Justice of the Peace. (We did both, but Justice of the Peace first to submit our paperwork quickly.) The courthouse or city clerk where you apply for your marriage certificate can tell you where to find the closest Justice of the Peace.
  5. Get copies of your marriage certificate. (TIP: Get 5 certified copies. I did it, and have needed them many times.)
  6. Prepare your paperwork for USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services). There are many different immigration documents for various situations. To get information on your specific visa/greencard/immigration paperwork needs, I recommend this discussion board–see the section called Marriage-Based Greencards. There are three main situations–here are additional links:
    • You are in the US. Your fiance is in another country. You want him/her to come here so you can get married. Read about the forms you will need here.
    • You are in the US. Your spouse is in the US. You want to get married here. Read about forms you will need for USCIS here.
    • You and your spouse have already gotten married (or plan to) in a foreign country. Read more here (TIP: This one can cause problems if you need to come back to the US quickly because your spouse will need to wait in that country for paperwork before coming to the US–unless he/she already has a visa.)
  7. Shortly after you submit your paperwork for immigration, USCIS will send your new spouse an EAD card (Employment Authorization Document). With this, he or she can legally work!
  8. Once your spouse has the EAD card, he or she can apply for a social security number. Here is the link to the form, instructions, and addresses of local social security offices. (TIP: Your spouse should apply for a social security card as soon as possible, as a new employer cannot hire a person without one.)
  9. Before filling out any paperwork, call the USCIS to be absolutely sure that you have the right forms and that they have not expired!! Sometimes forms are available on the web, but they have expired–so call and ask before you take the trouble of filling out the forms. (Here is the 1800 number to USCIS.)

Immigration Tips Couples Need To Know

Please Note: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Do not take this post as legal advice, as each case is unique. This post is a story about my experience with my spouse during the process of getting my husband’s marriage-based greencard in the US.

Please note: The information below applies only to my own experience that took place before 9/11/2001, so many things may have changed. Any little detail can completely change a case, so check with an attorney or the USCIS to verify how your case should be handled. You will need to check the new processes, forms, and guidelines as they pertain to your and your spouse’s status and visa–each situation is different. There are several sticky situations in the immigration process, plus a few details that KEPT confusing me during the early stages of the process. Here are a few tips that may be helpful:

1) The spouse of a US citizen can apply for permanent residency in the US based on marriage to a US citizen. (The USCIS phrases this as applying for permanent residency through a “family member.”) When we were married, this was the rule: once the foreign spouse applies for residency, his/her status becomes “between statuses”–meaning not legal or illegal. In most situations, the alien spouse will be given permanent residency. If your spouse committed a crime in the US or entered the US illegally, there may be difficulties getting permanent residency–consult an immigration attorney. (If he/she entered legally but overstayed a visa, that is not generally a problem for changing status but can be an issue if he or she leaves the country before the status change is complete–but all situations differ slightly so ask a lawyer or USCIS if you are worried. Also see #3 about travel.)

2) In the permanent residency application process, some relatives such as brothers and sisters are placed on a waiting list and may wait a long time before their application is considered. This is not true for spouses. However, spouses will wait between the time they submit paperwork and the approval of the paperwork to get an interview–this is just processing time. (Relatives like brothers and sisters have the waiting list time + processing time).

3) After getting married and submitting paperwork, YOUR SPOUSE MUST BE VERY CAREFUL IF HE/SHE WANTS TO TRAVEL OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES–until receiving the greencard. When we processed our documents, after submitting the I-485 and I-130 paperwork, my spouse had NO STATUS until the process was complete–at that time, he was granted permanent resident status. To go outside the US and re-enter, he needed Advanced Parole (a piece of paper that gives official permission to travel from USCIS). Read about it on the USCIS website, but note the section called Caution. For a person who overstayed his or her visa, and applied for permanent residency, many people say it is best not to travel even WITH Advanced Parole. People who overstay visas and leave the US without official permission (given through Advanced Parole) are barred from re-entering the country for 3 or more years. If your spouse overstayed a visa, has Advanced Parole, and must travel, talk to an immigration attorney and USCIS first to be sure it’s okay.

4) You will hear repeatedly that a fiance “can NOT come to the US on any visa except a fiance visa to get married.” A fiance cannot travel on a student visa, travel visa, and so on IN ORDER to get married. However, in our case, my husband came on a B1 or B2 visa and DECIDED to get married while here; this was different from coming IN ORDER to get married. (My husband didn’t come here to get married to me, as we didn’t know each other prior to his arrival here.) It is possible that this rule could change over the years, so double check with USCIS or immigration boards.

5) Important documents to SAVE:

  • The I-94 Arrival/Departure record–a record that is received when a person enters the US. (My husband has needed this thing many times over the last 10 years.) This also has the Alien #–the foreign spouse will use it many times.
  • The receipt INS gives you that they received your documentation–ours was yellow, I’m not sure how you can recognize it. But KEEP it. It will give you a sense of peace while you are waiting for the interview.
  • Copies of everything you submit to the INS, plus copies of anything they give you just in case they are lost (receipt for I-485/I-130 paperwork, EAD card, passport stamp after your interview, and so on.

6) If you and your spouse are already in the US, the immigration process is sometimes faster and easier if you marry in the US, rather than going to a different country. But once you start the process here, as mentioned, leaving can be an issue until the process is complete, so check your options carefully. In the past, this was the only option if your spouse has overstayed a visa (see #3).  Of course, if there are deportation proceedings against your fiance or spouse, consult an immigration attorney before taking any steps. Also, if your spouse entered the US illegally, you could have issues–so speak with an attorney before getting married. (Finally note that for some couples, getting married in the US doesn’t make sense–especially for couples who plan to travel or stay in a foreign country soon after marriage. Once you are married in the US, it can be tricky to travel until the greencard is in hand.)

7) Many people often give completely INCORRECT immigration advice–so don’t listen to just anyone. Look for information on legal websites the USCIS site, and verify any critical information about your case with an attorney. The worst advice we got was that my husband and I should leave the US and go to his country to get married–due to his visa situation, this was completely INCORRECT. My husband’s visa had expired. Had he left the US on an expired visa, it would have taken months or years to straighten out the problems it caused! Plus we would have been separated (me in the US, he in his country) while USCIS sorted it all out.