Marrying a Citizen of Kenya? How to Get a Green Card for Your New Spouse

Practical and procedural guidance regarding obtaining U.S. residence for the spouse of a U.S. citizen or resident

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If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is marrying someone from Kenya, and you would like to sponsor your new husband or wife for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), you will find some important legal and practical guidance below.

(Warning: This is a general overview of how the U.S. immigration process works for most people. Your situation may present complications or qualify for exceptions; see an experienced attorney for a full analysis.)

Immigration Eligibility Based on Engagement or Marriage

Let’s start with a bit of background on U.S. immigration law. Marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident gives foreign-born persons a direct path to U.S. immigration. Contrary to popular rumor, however, the foreign national does not immediately or automatically receive a green card or U.S. citizenship.

If you are a U.S. citizen and already married or about to be, your new spouse becomes your "immediate relative," and may receive a green card as soon as the two of you successfully complete the application process. This can take several months.

If you are not yet married and your fiancé is still in Kenya, you can, if you are a U.S. citizen, petition for him or her to enter the U.S. as a fiancé in order to get married in the United States. After the wedding, your new spouse can apply for a green card, if desired. You can also choose to get married first in Kenya or another country, and then apply for an immigrant visa with which to enter the U.S. – which is the equivalent of a green card.

If you are a lawful permanent resident, your foreign-born spouse is considered a "preference relative," in category 2A of the visa preference system. Your spouse can complete the process of applying for a green card (and enter the U.S.) only after a visa number has become available. Annual limits on the number of visas given out in category 2A create years-long waits. The application process itself adds more months to the process.

U.S. permanent residents cannot petition for fiancés.

Application Process for Getting a Green Card Based on Marriage

The application process for a marriage- based green card involves multiple steps, most notably submitting forms and documents and attending an interview with U.S. immigration authorities. The purpose of all this is to prove that:

  • the U.S. petitioner is a citizen or permanent resident
  • a valid marriage has occurred (or will occur, in the case of a fiancé visa)
  • the marriage is bona fide (not a sham to get a green card), and
  • the immigrant is not inadmissible to the U.S. for medical, criminal, financial, or other reasons. (See "Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out" for details.)

You may, however, have more than one option as to where and exactly how you apply, as described below.

Procedures When Applying for a K-1 Fiancé Visa

If you and your intended (who lives outside the U.S.) have not yet married -- or have held an informal ceremony that does not count as an official marriage in the location where it was held -- you can apply for a temporary (90-day) visa with which your fiancé can enter the U.S. and hold the wedding.

The U.S. citizen starts this process by filing a visa petition on Form I-129F with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After USCIS approves the I-129F, it will transfer the case to the U.S. consulate in Nairobi, Kenya. Your fiancé will apply for a K-1 visa through the consulate. This involves submitting forms and documents and attending an interview with a consular official. You, the petitioner, are allowed to attend this interview, though it is not required.

After your marriage in the U.S., your new spouse can apply to USCIS for a green card, through a process called adjustment of status. The two of you will attend a green card interview at a local USCIS office.

Procedures for Your Spouse to Come From Kenya on an Immigrant Visa

If you and your loved one are already married, and your spouse is currently in Kenya, you will start the green-card application process by filing Form I-130 with USCIS. After USCIS approves the I-130, spouses of U.S. citizens can continue on with visa processing, while spouses of permanent residents must wait (an average of two years) until a visa is available in category 2A.

The next step is for your spouse to go through consular processing for an immigrant visa. This means your spouse submits paperwork to, and attends an interview at, a U.S. consulate in Nairobi, Kenya. (The U.S. petitioner may attend, but is not required to.)

Upon approval, your spouse enters the U.S. on an immigrant visa, at which time he or she becomes a lawful permanent resident.

At Which U.S. Consulate in Kenya the Interview Will Be Held

The U.S. currently has one embassy in Kenya, which is located in Nairobi and handles both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.

You will be given instructions (and eventually, an appointment notice) when your case is transferred to the embassy in Nairobi, and can also check the embassy’s website for information.

If your spouse happens to be living in a country other than Kenya, the consulate there would likely be the one to handle the case.

Procedures If Your Spouse Is Already in the U.S.

If your spouse initially came to the U.S. on a nonimmigrant (such as on a fiancé, student, or tourist visa), and either you are a U.S. citizen, he or she can most likely apply to adjust status in the United States. The main form for this is an I-485. The two of you will attend an interview at one of USCIS’s field offices.

Information about USCIS locations or service centers can be found at its website, www.uscis.gov.

Just be sure your spouse didn’t commit visa fraud by using the nonimmigrant visa specifically to enter the U.S. and apply for a green card – see “Risks of Entering the U.S. as a Tourist, Then Applying for Marriage- Based Green Card” for details.)

If, however, your spouse entered the U.S. without inspection or by using a fake visa, or you are a permanent resident rather than a citizen, your situation is more complicated than this article can address. You may have difficulty obtaining a green card for your spouse, though it is not necessarily impossible. See an immigration attorney for details or if you have any questions about whether you qualify to adjust status.

Entering Into a Legally Valid Marriage

No matter where you marry, you will need to obtain a certificate that convinces the U.S. immigration authorities that it was legally recognized in the state or country where it took place. Below are some tips on doing that.

Obtaining Documentation of a Valid Marriage in Kenya

If you have married, or plan to get married in your fiancé or spouse’s home country, you will first need to look into Kenya’s requirements for legal marriage.

According to information provided by the U.S. consulate, Kenyan marriages require that you both be at least 18 years old and that you prepare or do the following:

  • Bring your U.S. passport.
  • If either of you has been previously married, prepare evidence that these marriages were terminated (such as death or divorce certificates).
  • File a “Notice of Marriage” with the Registrar General’s office and pay a fee. (This notice gives people an opportunity to object to the marriage.)
  • After 21 days has passed since filing the Notice of Marriage, complete an affidavit to satisfy section 11 of the Marriage Act, and get it commissioned by the Registrar. (Alternatively, you can ask that the 21-day waiting period be waived, by applying for a Special License and giving an explanation of why you need an exception to be made in your case.)
  • Complete a Marriage Certificate Form, pay a fee, and book a date for the marriage (assuming no one objected to it). That date must be within three months from the date you filed the Notice of Marriage.
  • On the scheduled marriage date, go to the Registrar’s Office with two witnesses and get married. There, you will be given a Marriage Certificate. Or, you can get married in a church, though you will have to pay an extra fee.

Obtaining a valid certificate of your marriage is critical for purposes of U.S. immigration. The U.S. government keeps track of what documents are considered legally valid from each country, Kenya included, and will reject yours if it doesn't come from the proper source. Check the State Department’s "Country Reciprocity Schedule" to get further details on what documents from Kenya it considers valid. (Choose Kenya from the menu, then scroll down the page to the section on “Marriage Certificates.”)

Obtaining Documentation of a Valid Marriage in the United States

If you will hold your wedding in the U.S., you need to follow the laws of the state where you marry. For a summary, see “Marriage Laws in Your State.” You will need to obtain a marriage certificate from a local government office. A church certificate, for example, is not enough.

by: , J.D.

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