Even if you are eligible for a visa or green card through marriage, you might be curious about whether there are alternate ways of getting a visa or green card.
There are dozens of categories of visas and other immigration benefits for people wanting to visit or live in the United States. But none of them will get you a green card overnight or without significant effort. In fact, most experts would agree that if you are already engaged or married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, immigrating based on this marriage is likely to be your best bet. The eligibility criteria are reasonably straightforward and the waiting periods are generally better, or at least no worse, than for most other types of visas.
If you are married to a U.S. citizen, there is no waiting period or quota to delay your entry into the United States. You will be subject to the usual time period it takes to process your paperwork and for the government to make sure you are not excludable for any reason, such as criminal past or health problems. (See Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out for more on inadmissibility.)
Unfortunately, marriages to U.S. permanent residents don’t result in such smooth sailing, immigration-wise. Spouses of permanent residents will probably have to spend a few years on a waiting list before their visa or green card becomes available to them. However, spouses of permanent residents wait less time than relatives in many other family immigration categories. Their wait averages around four or five years. If, for example, the spouse also had a brother who was a U.S. citizen, he or she could also apply for a visa based on that sibling relationship, but the waiting period for that category is typically ten to 25 years.
The only categories of people who avoid the visa waiting list are those defined as immediate relatives, which include the spouses of U.S. citizens, the unmarried children of U.S. citizens, and the parents of an adult U.S. citizen (over 21). If you don’t happen to be an immediate relative, then your potential green card through marriage to a lawful permanent resident is a fine option to have.
The spouse of a permanent resident might obtain a visa more quickly than waiting for a marriage-based visa if, for example, they:
• have a potential employer in the United States
• have parents or adult children who are U.S. citizens
• would be willing to invest $500,000 or more in a U.S. business
• have lived in the United States continuously since January 1, 1972
• come from a country from which they can apply for the Diversity Visa (known as the visa lottery), or
• fear persecution in their home country.
Any of these categories might get a person permission to enter or stay in the United States more quickly than they could as the spouse of a permanent resident. But none of them is an instant answer.
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