Chart: What to Expect When Sponsoring a Fiancé or Spouse for a Green Card

Find out how long it takes to get a fiancé or spouse visa -- and how to do it.

Related Ads

Need Professional Help? Talk to a Lawyer

Enter Your Zip Code to Connect with a Lawyer Serving Your Area

searchbox small

If you are a U.S. citizen who has married or plans to marry someone from another country, there's no easy answer to the question of, "What will happen and by when will this process be done? A great deal depends on both your and your spouse's place of current residence, immigration status or history, and more. This article will break down the various possibilities and summarize what to expect for each.

Caution Be warned. The time averages mentioned below can change dramatically, based on factors both within and outside your control.

Scenario #1: Immigrant is living overseas and engaged to be married: U.S. fiancé is a U.S. citizen living in the United States.

Average time -- Four months to get the fiancé visa; another year to get the U.S. green card.
Summary of the Process -- The U.S. citizen starts the process by mailing a Form I-129F visa petition (Petition for Alien Fiancé) to the nearest USCIS Service Center. After the petition is approved, the immigrant submits various forms to a local U.S. consulate and attends an interview, soon after which he or she may be approved for a fiancé visa to enter the United States. The immigrant will have 90 days in the U.S. in which to get married and apply for a green card at a local USCIS office. Months later, the immigrant will be called in for fingerprinting, then to an interview at which the green card should be approved.

Scenario #2: Immigrant is living overseas and married: U.S. spouse is a U.S. citizen living in the United States.

Average time -- You'll need to choose between a marriage visa and the new fiancé visa option:

  • Marriage visa option. It takes several months to get the I-130 approved, and up to another year for approval of the immigrant visa.
  • Fiancé visa option. It takes about four months to get the fiancé visa approved and to enter the U.S., and up to another year for green card approval.

Summary of the Process -- You'll need to choose between a marriage visa and the new fiancé visa procedure for spouses:

  • Marriage visa option. The U.S. citizen starts the process by filing a Form I-130 visa petition (Petition for Alien Relative) with a USCIS Service Center. Once it's approved, the immigrant submits various forms to a local U.S. consulate and attends an interview, soon after which he or she should be approved for an immigrant visa (green card).
  • Fiancé visa option. The U.S. citizen starts the process by mailing a Form I-129F visa petition (Petition for Alien Fiancé) to a special USCIS office. The citizen must also mail a Form I-130 visa petition (Petition for Alien Relative) to the nearest USCIS Service Center. After an interview and approval by the immigrant's local U.S. consulate, he or she enters the U.S. on a fiancé visa. Then the immigrant can apply for Adjustment of Status (a green card) by mailing an application to a special USCIS lockbox. Months after applying, he or she will be fingerprinted, then later called in for an interview at a local USCIS office, at which the green card should be approved.

Scenario #3: Immigrant is living overseas and married: U.S. spouse is a U.S. citizen living overseas with the immigrant.

Average time -- Two months.
Summary of the Process -- Check with your local consulate -- it may allow the entire immigrant visa application process to be done through its office.

Scenario #4: Immigrant is living overseas and married: U.S. spouse is a lawful permanent U.S. resident living in the United States.

Average time -- At least one year for approval of Form I-130; average five years on the waiting list; another year to get the immigrant visa (green card).
Summary of the Process -- The U.S. permanent resident starts the process by mailing a Form I-130 visa petition (Petition for Alien Relative) to the nearest USCIS Service Center. After the petition is approved, the immigrant is placed on a waiting list. When the wait is over, the immigrant will submit various forms to apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate overseas, and eventually attend an interview at which an immigrant visa (green card) should be approved.

Scenario #5: Immigrant is living in the U.S. and married: U.S. spouse is a lawful permanent U.S. resident living in the United States.

Average time -- At least one year to get the Form I-130 approved; average five years on the waiting list, and the rest depending on various complicated circumstances.
Summary of the Process -- The U.S. permanent resident starts the process by filing a Form I-130 visa petition (Petition for Alien Relative) with the nearest USCIS Service Center. After the petition is approved, the immigrant is placed on a waiting list. This situation may require an attorney's help, however, because unless the immigrant has a separate, unexpired visa or other status, he or she cannot legally wait in the United States. Even after the wait, he or she may be unable to apply for the green card without leaving the United States -- which would expose the immigrant to penalties preventing return for several years.

Scenario #6: Immigrant is Living in the United States after a legal entry (a visa or visa waiver, regardless of whether the expiration has passed), and married: U.S. spouse is a U.S. citizen living in the United States.

Average time -- One year.
Summary of the Process -- The U.S. citizen and immigrant prepare a packet of documents, including a Form I-130 visa petition (Petition for Alien Relative) and an "Adjustment of Status" packet, and submit it all at once to an office called the "Chicago lockbox." Months later, the immigrant will be called in to a local USCIS office for fingerprinting, and later for an interview, at which the green card should be approved. See the caution below, however.

Scenario #7: Living in the United States after an illegal entry, and married: U.S. spouse is a U.S. citizen living in the United States.

Average time -- Up to one year for approval of the Form I-130, and additional time depending on individual circumstances.
Summary of the Process -- The U.S. citizen starts the process by filing a Form I-130 visa petition (Petition for Alien Relative) with the nearest USCIS Service Center. However, you'll probably need to see a lawyer, because the immigrant may be unable to apply for the green card without leaving the United States -- which would expose the immigrant to penalties preventing return for several years.

by: , J.D.

Talk to an Immigration Attorney

Start here to find immigration lawyers near you.
HOW IT WORKS
how it works 1
Briefly tell us about your case
how it works 2
Provide your contact information
how it works 1
Choose attorneys to contact you
LA-NOLO4:DRU.1.6.1.20140626.27175