How Long Does it Take to Bring
a Spouse to the USA?

How Long Does it Take to Bring a Spouse to the USA?

When an American citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States marries someone from another country, one question is on their mind: how long does it take to bring my spouse to the USA?

Most people know that a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident (“green card holder”) can bring a spouse to the United States, and sponsor the spouse’s green card. As for how long the process takes, this can vary depending on your circumstances, which we will explain in detail on this page.

Here we will give you an overview of the process, including the steps involved, the forms you will need to complete, and how long each phase of the process usually takes. Be aware, however, that processing times can vary depending on policy changes, staffing levels, and priorities in the various agencies involved.

Note: the information on this page is for anyone who is:

  • A United States citizen or legal permanent resident
  • Currently in the United States
  • Already married to their spouse, who is not yet in the United States.

There are possible ways for holders of some other types of visas and work permits to bring a spouse to the United States, but only a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can obtain a green card for their spouse.

If you are currently engaged but not yet married, or married but residing outside the United States, the process is different than what’s explained below. If your spouse is already in the U.S. with you, you will need to apply for a change of status in addition to filing the forms explained here.

If you are uncertain of how to proceed, you should book a consultation with an immigration attorney.

Do You Have Questions about Bringing a Spouse to the USA?

Steps In Applying for Green Card for Spouse

Although the United States government has worked hard to streamline it, the immigration process still involves multiple forms and several phases. The keys are patience, persistence, and following instructions exactly. An experienced immigration attorney can help ensure your case proceeds as smoothly and swiftly as possible.

In this discussion, and in all immigration forms you will complete, the spouse who is the United States citizen or green card holder is called the petitioner. The spouse who will be emigrating and who will be getting their own green card is the beneficiary.

The steps in applying for an immigrant visa and green card differ somewhat, depending on whether the petitioner is a citizen or a lawful permanent resident.

U.S. Citizen Applying for Spouse Green Card

If you are a United States citizen, these are the steps you will follow:

  1. Complete Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and Form I-130A (Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary), and send the forms, with supporting documentation and filing fee, to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  2. Once the form is approved, submit a visa application for your spouse to the National Visa Center (NVC).
  3. The NVC will process and forward your file to the embassy or consulate nearest to your spouse, which will schedule an interview with your spouse.
  4. At the interview, your spouse answers questions and provides documentation for review. If approved, the embassy or consulate issues an immigration visa.
  5. Your spouse has six months to travel to the United States. On arrival, they present their documents and visa at the port of entry, and can enter the country and join you.
  6. Your spouse’s green card arrives in the mail several weeks later.

If you have been married less than two years, your spouse’s green card is conditional and expires after two years. They will have to file a petition for a permanent green card during the 90-day period before the conditional card expires.

Permanent Resident Applying Process for US Green Card for Foreign Spouse

If you are a United States legal permanent resident, these are the steps:

  1. Complete Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and Form I-130A (Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary), and send the forms, with supporting documentation and filing fee, to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  2. Once the petition is approved, the spouse is entered on the waiting list for an immigration visa. The original filing date of the petition becomes their priority date for a visa. The visa application cannot be submitted until the priority date becomes current. (The U.S. State Department Visa Bulletin is issued monthly, and shows the current priority dates for that month.)
  3. When the priority date becomes current, submit a visa application to the National Visa Center (NVC).
  4. The NVC will process and forward your file to the embassy or consulate nearest to your spouse, which will schedule an interview with your spouse.
  5. At the interview, your spouse answers questions and provides documentation for review. If approved, the embassy or consulate issues an immigration visa.
  6. Your spouse has six months to travel to the United States. On arrival, they present their documents and visa at the port of entry, and can enter the country and join you.
  7. Your spouse’s green card arrives in the mail several weeks later.

If you have been married less than two years, your spouse’s green card is conditional and expires after two years. They will have to file a petition for a permanent green card during the 90-day period before the conditional card expires.

If you are a current green card holder and are already eligible for U.S. citizenship, completing the citizenship process can make your spouse’s immigration process faster, as your spouse will not have to wait for a visa to become available. An immigration attorney Atlanta can advise you on this process.

Form I-130 Instructions and Checklist

Completing USCIS Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, is the first and most important step in the process of bringing your spouse to the United States. To avoid delays in processing, you MUST:

  • Exactly follow the instructions for filling out the form
  • Provide complete, truthful information
  • Include all required supporting documentation

You can find the I-130 form on the USCIS website, along with instructions for completing it. You can have your immigration attorney or other knowledgeable person fill out the I-130 for you, and you can also have a translator help you with the form, but you have to include their information in the appropriate parts of the form.

The sections of the I-130 form are:

  1. Relationship – how the beneficiary is related to you

  2. Information About You – your name, addresses where you have lived, information about your parents, any previous marriages, and your employment

  3. Biographic Information – your physical description

  4. Information about Beneficiary – your spouse’s full name, address, family members, employment history, previous marriages, and any previous time spent in the United States

  5. Other Information – any previous immigration petitions filed for this spouse or any other person

  6. Petitioner’s Statement, Contact Information, Declaration and Signature – whether anyone helped you fill out the form, your contact information, and signature

  7. Information about Interpreter – completed by interpreter, if you have one

  8. Information about Person Completing the Form – completed by any person who completes the form on your behalf

  9. Additional Information – extra space for any additional information from the previous sections. You can add more copies of this page if you need more room.

I-130 Checklist for Spouse

To complete Form I-130, you will have to gather the following information about yourself and your spouse:

  • Address information for the previous 5 years
  • Employment information for the previous 5 years
  • Dates any previous marriages ended
  • Information on any petition you have previously filed for this spouse or any other foreign national
  • Any previous immigration proceedings for a beneficiary spouse

I-130 Supporting Documents for Spouse

When you submit the I-130 and I-130A forms, you must also include evidence for your answers on the forms. Do not submit originals unless specifically requested; make photocopies of your documents or scan and print them. If any documents are in a language other than English, you need to include an English translation, along with certification from the translator that the translation is complete and accurate, and that they are competent to provide the correct translation.

You will need to include:

  • Proof of your status as United States citizen (copy of birth certificate, passport, naturalization papers, or consular certificate of birth abroad) or lawful permanent resident (copy of both sides of green card).
  • Copy of civil marriage certificate.
  • If either spouse was previously married, a copy of proof that previous marriage has ended (divorce or annulment decree, death certificate).
  • Evidence of name changes (court decree, adoption paperwork, marriage certificate, divorce decree, etc.) for either spouse.
  • Evidence to show that you have a bona fide marriage relationship. This can include proof of combined finances, proof of living together and having children together, and proof of ongoing relationship such as photographs, correspondence, travel together, etc.

Form I-130A

Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary, provides detailed information about the beneficiary spouse. If the spouse completes the form, they must sign it. If the spouse is in their home country, the petitioning spouse can complete the form for them and they do not have to sign it.

The sections of the I-130A form are:

  1. Information about You (Spouse Beneficiary) – full name, address information for last 5 years, parents’ names and information
  2. Information about Your Employment – employment history inside and outside the United States
  3. Information about Your Employment Outside the United States – information on your last job outside the United States, if not included in section 2
  4. Petitioner’s Statement, Contact Information, Declaration, and Signature – whether anyone helped you fill out the form, your contact information, and signature
  5. Information about Interpreter – completed by an interpreter, if you have one
  6. Information about Person Completing the Form – completed by any person who completes the form on your behalf
  7. Additional Information – extra space for any additional information from the previous sections. You can add additional copies of this page if you need more room.

I-130 Processing Time for Spouse 2018

There are different estimated times for each stage of the process after filing the I-130. Keep in mind that these are only estimates and can vary greatly depending on the complexity of your case and USCIS workload.

Once you have completed the I-130 and I-130A and gathered all supporting documentation, you will need to enclose a check or money order for the $535 filing fee, payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The entire package is sent to a lockbox receiving facility via U.S. mail or a delivery service like UPS or FedEx. This page shows you where to send your package, based on your location.

Processing time for the I-130 depends on whether the petitioner is a United States citizen or a permanent resident. Because there are no limits on visa numbers for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, these applications have priority and are usually processed within 5-12 months.

If there is no backlog at USCIS, applications where the petitioner is a legal permanent resident can be completed within the same time period. However, USCIS is usually backlogged, and when that happens, they prioritize the applications from American citizens. The typical time for I-30 processing for legal residents is therefore 6-24 months.

However, because the filing date of your application determines the “place in line” for the immigration visa, the processing time for the I-130 does not affect the wait for the visa. It only determines when the I-130 processing occurs during that wait.

Spouse Visa Processing Time

If you are a U.S. citizen petitioner, as soon as the I-130 is approved by USCIS, you can apply for a visa through the State Department Visa Service Center. Visa processing usually takes around 3-5 months.

If you are a permanent resident, you must wait for a visa to become available for your spouse, based on their priority date. This can vary depending on the spouse’s home country, but the typical time is around 24 months. Once the priority date is current, you can apply for the visa through the VSC, and it will take 3-5 months to process.

Green Card for Spouse Processing Time

After the VSC approves the visa, the file is forwarded to embassy or consulate in the country where your spouse currently lives. Processing there usually takes 2-3 months, then your spouse will be contacted for an appointment to come into the embassy or consulate for their interview.

When the interview is successfully completed, an immigrant visa is issued, valid for 6 months. The spouse must arrive at a United States port of entry and present their documents within that time period.

Once your spouse has successfully arrived in the United States, they will receive their permanent residency card (green card) by mail at their U.S. address within about a month

Total Processing Time for Spouse Green Card

In a case with no complicating factors::

  • U.S. Citizen Spouse Green Card processing time currently averages around 12-18 months.
  • Green Card Holder Spouse Green Card processing time currently averages around 24-36 months.

     

This time is from the date of the I-130 filing to the date when the spouse is in the United States and has their green card. Remember that these are estimates only, and waiting periods can vary widely depending on circumstances in your individual case, as well as changes in policies and procedures in the overall immigration process.

Keep in mind that any irregularities in your case can cause long delays and make your case more complicated. These can include any incorrect or missing information in any of the forms you need to file, or any previous immigration issues involving you or your spouse.

Embarking on your new life with your new spouse should be a hopeful and happy time. Make sure the process of bringing your spouse to the United States goes as quickly and smoothly as possible by working with an expert immigration lawyer. Make an appointment for a consultation with Manji Law today!

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