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Can an Undocumented Immigrant Get a Green Card Through Marriage to US Citizen or Resident?

By Natalia Riveros-Jacobsen

Green cards can be difficult to acquire. The waiting period is extremely long. 

Because only so many people can be granted visas each year, many undocumented but legally applying residents end up waiting many dangerous years for their turn.

However, there are a few ways for people who are stuck infinitely waiting for green cards to get one almost instantly and marriage is one of them. If an undocumented immigrant is lucky enough to fall in love with and marry a US citizen, their path to a green card just opened up massively because they are now close family to the citizen.

How Do Immediate Relative Visas Work?

In order to promote family unity and avoid disasters like one-parent deportations, the US immigration laws allow qualified close family member of US citizens to apply for an immediate relative visa.

These green cards are different from the standard kind because there is no quota, meaning an infinite number of them can be distributed each year and the immigrant spouse will not end up on a waiting list. If they pass the background check, the visa will be promptly approved and they will have successfully started the path to full citizenship.

Applying for a Visa While in the USA

Where you apply for the green card doesn't change the result, but it does affect the process. When you apply within the US, you are facing a streamlined and prepared system in which your immigration lawyer can be present for all official appointments and proceedings. That said, you still need to properly handle the paperwork.

According to the USCIS, the first step is for the US citizen half of your couple will to file an I-130 which registers their new spouse as an immediate relative. When the confirmation for this form arrives as an I-797 Notice of Action, you can then send in the I-485 application for permanent residency along with a copy of the I-797. When the I-485 has been approved, you have achieved permanent resident status and will soon be holding a green card.

Applying for a Visa While Abroad

While applying for a green card abroad is not the recommended method, there are often a really good set of reasons why the couple cannot get into the US together before marrying. When you apply for a green card abroad you enter "Consular Processing" which means that the US Embassy or Consulate will pass on your paperwork and wait a really long time to get it back. Many people wait a year to 18 months to complete the process and you will still need to visit the US at least once for the final step. Once you have your green card in hand, you can travel safely with it but will you cannot become an official permanent resident until you land at the US port of entry.

Can You Get a Green Card Through Marriage?

Can you get a green card through marriage? Absolutely, but you have to go through the process. If the non-citizen member of the couple has a clean background, there is very little else that could possibly stand in their way once they've been approved as an immediate relative and permanent resident.

It's important to remember that the process is not automatic and it can take four to five times as long abroad as within US border. Have patience and ready the paperwork. If all goes well, you will soon be living safely together in legal marital bliss. For more legal advice about undocumented immigration, contact us today!