Married to a U.S. Green Card Holder, Shall I File a Marriage Green Card in the U.S. or outside the U.S.?

When married to a U.S. Green Card holder, it becomes eligible to apply for the marriage Green Card. Depending on where the Green Card applicant resides, the Green Card application can be processed by adjustment of status within the U.S. or by consular processing (cases handled by NVC and overseas U.S. consulate offices). The general process is similar but the detailed rules and guidelines are different. Check this article for the details!


I. What is the general process to apply for a marriage Green Card when married to a U.S. Green Card holder?

Applicants Living in the U.S.Applicants Living Abroad
ProcessAdjustment of Status: first applying for Form I-130 and then filing Form I-485 after the wait period.Consular Processing
Required DocumentsI-130 (Petition for Alien Relative)
I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status)
I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative)
DS-260 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration)
DS-261 (Online Choice of Address and agent)
General ProcessSince the applicant is residing within the U.S., the marriage Green Card applicant and the main sponsor will first file Form I-130. After waiting for USCIS to approve Form I-130, then the marriage Green Card applicant is able to file Form I-485. After taking additional necessary steps for processing, the marriage Green Card applicant and the main sponsor spouse, will attend the Green Card interview. Then after final approval, depending on the years of marriage, the marriage Green Card applicant will either receive a CR1 (conditional residence) Green Card, or an IR1 (immediate relative) Green Card.Since the applicant is not residing within the U.S., the marriage Green Card applicant must have the main sponsor spouse first file Form I-130, along with supporting documents, and submit it to the USCIS. Because the main sponsor spouse is a U.S. Green Card holder, there will be an additional waiting period until the U.S. Department of State determines the availability of Green Cards to specific categories of eligibility.

After the approval of Form I-130, being provided a case number through the National Visa Center (NVC), and finally receiving the availability of a Green Card, then the next steps will begin in applying for the marriage Green Card by filing Form DS-260. Unlike applicants living within the U.S., the marriage Green Card applicant can not file Form I-485 for adjustment of status, but will instead file Form DS-260 using consular processing with the NVC. After taking additional necessary steps for processing, the marriage Green Card applicant, and possibly the main sponsor spouse, will attend the Green Card interview. Then after final approval, depending on the years of marriage, the marriage Green Card applicant will either receive a CR1 Green Card, or an IR1 Green Card.
Estimated Processing TimeWhen applying for a marriage Green Card applicant when married to a U.S. Green Card holder, the whole process can take anywhere from twenty-nine to thirty-eight (29-38) months for the complete process. The processing of the Form I-130 can take approximately eleven to fifteen (11-15) months, the general waiting period for the availability of a Green Card can take approximately eight to ten (8-10) months, the marriage green, the processing time for Form I-485 can take approximately nine to eleven (9-11) months, and the marriage Green Card interview process can take another one to two (1-2) months for additional scheduling.

There are different steps that need to be accomplished after the initial approval or the marriage Green Card application. Depending on the time the marriage Green Card applicant finalizes their medical evaluation, and the fingerprinting appointment, there can be additional delays for the marriage Green Card interview.
There are several factors to consider when determining the I-130 processing time. If the initial filing for Form I-130 and its supporting documents are deemed insufficient by the USCIS, it requires a Request for Evidence (RFE) as an intermediate step. This RFE is typically sent out within two to three (2-3) months after the initial submission of Form I-130. Once the marriage Green Card application is deemed complete, the I-130 processing time can take anywhere between eleven to fifteen (11-15) months. However, due to the additional wait time to determine the availability of the Green Cards, there is an additional wait time of eight to ten (8-10) extra months for an approval of a marriage Green Card after the approval of Form I-130.
Waiting PeriodThis waiting period can take an extra eight to ten (8-10) months after the approval of Form I-130. The U.S. Department of State publishes a monthly bulletin that shows the availability of Green Cards. These allotments of Green Cards can vary depending on the home country of the marriage Green Card applicant. Due to the wait time, it is imperative that the marriage Green Card applicant maintain their nonimmigration status during the waiting period, in order to not face denial of their application.If the applicant is married to a U.S. Green Card holder, there is a waiting period. Once Form I-130 is approved, the NVC will assign a case number for the application moving forward for consular processing after the determination of availability of Green Cards. It is needed to view the monthly visa bulletin published monthly by the U.S. Department of State.
Will I have to attend my Green Card interview with my sponsor spouse?The main sponsor spouse will be required to attend the Green Card interview, since the marriage Green Card applicant lives within the United States. The interviews are generally held at the nearest USCIS field office.The main sponsor spouse will not be required to attend the Green Card interview, since the marriage Green Card applicant lives outside of the United States. These interviews are generally held at the U.S. embassy or consulate office in the home country of the marriage Green Card applicant spouse.
FingerprintingThe marriage Green Card applicant must schedule for a fingerprinting appointment at a provided fingerprinting location, generally at the local Application Support Center (ASC) nearby USCIS field office. This step is relatively straightforward and does not require the marriage Green Card applicant to answer any questions. However, it is crucial that this be completed timely before the Green Card interview. General notices for a fingerprinting appointment will be mailed out one (1) month after receiving the marriage Green Card application package.The marriage Green Card applicant must schedule for a fingerprinting appointment at a fingerprinting location provided by the U.S. consulate’s office. This step is relatively straightforward and does not require the marriage Green Card applicant to answer any questions.
Medical ExaminationPrior to the marriage Green Card interview, the applicant must undergo a medical examination. This medical examination must be performed by a civil surgeon that has been approved by the USCIS. A list of approved doctors will be provided by the USCIS. Upon completion, the marriage Green Card applicant must either file the medical examination document with the marriage Green Card application or bring the sealed records, along with any vaccination records, and provide it during the marriage Green Card interview.Prior to the marriage Green Card interview, the applicant must undergo a medical examination. This medical examination must be performed by a medical doctor that has been approved by the U.S. State Department. A list of approved doctors will be provided by the U.S. consulate office along with the notice of your marriage Green Card interview. Upon completion, the marriage Green Card applicant must bring the sealed records, along with any vaccination records, and provide it during the marriage Green Card interview.
Both Applicants Living in the U.S. and Applicants Living Abroad
What determines whether I receive a CR1 or IR1?Regardless of the application process, when the marriage Green Card applicant spouse and his or her sponsor spouse have been married for less than two (2) years, the applicant spouse will receive a CR1 (conditional residence) Green Card. If the marriage Green Card applicant spouse and his or her sponsor spouse have been married for more than two (2) years, the applicant spouse will receive an IR1 (immediate relative) Green Card.
Same-sex MarriageSame-sex marriages are valid for a marriage Green Card application as long as the marriage was legally valid where the marriage occurred. The same-sex couple will need to officially get married where same-sex marriage is deemed legally valid before applying for a marriage Green Card application.

II. Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who else is eligible for consular processing?

In general, anyone applying for a marriage Green Card application while living outside of the United States is eligible for consular processing. This includes any nonimmigrants with temporary visas. Because these applicants don’t have the status that can be adjusted to permanent residence by I-485 adjustment of status process, at times, the marriage Green Card applicants are required to return to their home country for completing their marriage Green Card application process.

2. What is conditional Green Card (CR1)? And what is IR1 visa?

The CR1 Green Cards are valid only for two (2) years, and require a filing of Form I-751 (Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence) during the 90 days before expiration of the CR1. This will allow the conditions to be removed and allow the applicant to receive a permanent Green Card.

The IR1 is a Green Card which has a validity period of ten (10) years. Typically, six (6) months before the expiration of the Green Card, the Green Card holder is encouraged to renew this Green Card through a relatively simple process with yet another filing. However, this renewal process is fairly straightforward and does not require documents and proof of re-stablishing the bona fide marital relationship.

3. What is Form DS-261 (Electronic Choice of Address and Agent) ?

After receiving your NVC case number, the marriage Green Card applicant must file Form DS-261. This will provide information to the U.S. State Department on how to communicate with the marriage Green Card applicant during the consular processing. The U.S. State Department sets annual caps for Green Cards, and publishes a visa bulletin on their website indicating eligibility and availability for Green Card applications depending on your specified category. Once it is determined that the marriage Green Card applicant can file their Green Card application, the applicant may move forward.

4. What is Form DS-260 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration)?

After the U.S. Department of State’s determination of availability of a Green Card, and the U.S. State Department fees for application processing and financial support forms are paid, and processed, the marriage Green Card applicant may move forward with filing Form DS-260, along with supporting documents. Once this form is completed, a confirmation page will be provided to the marriage Green Card applicant, and it must be printed and brought to your Green Card interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate office.

5. What is Form I-130A?

I-130A may sound familiar because the title is similar to Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative, aka Family Green Card application). However Form I-130A is a different form referred to as the “Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary”. It is an additional document when you apply for a marriage Green Card for your spouse.

6. What is a passport forwarding address used for?

When the marriage Green Card application process is successfully finalized, the applicant’s passport will be returned to the marriage Green Card applicant with an approval visa stamp. In order to properly receive this passport, the marriage Green Card applicant must register online to provide a proper return address. These forms and resources can be generally found on the U.S. consulate’s website. It is crucial to fill the forms correctly in order to shorten the processing time until receiving your Green Card.