If you are marrying someone from the Philippines, and plan to sponsor your new husband or wife for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), here is some important legal and practical information.
(Warning: This is a general overview of how the process works for most people. Your situation may involve complications or qualify for exceptions to the usual rules; see an attorney for a full analysis.)
Immigration Eligibility Based on Engagement or Marriage
First, a little background on U.S. immigration law. Marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident provides foreign-born persons a direct path to U.S. immigration. Contrary to popular rumor, however, they do not immediately or automatically receive green cards or U.S. citizenship.
If you are a U.S. citizen, your new spouse becomes what the law calls your "immediate relative," and may receive a green card as soon as the two of you successfully complete the application process. This can take many months.
If you are not yet married and your fiancé is still in the Philippines, 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 U.S. -- and then your new spouse can stay in the U.S. to apply for a green card, if desired. You can also choose to get married first in another country, and apply for an immigrant visa with which your new spouse can enter the U.S.– this visa being the equivalent of a green card. (The actual card will arrive some weeks after his or her entry to the United States.)
If you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident, your new spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category 2A, and can apply 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. Permanent residents cannot petition for fiancés.
Overview of Obtaining a Green Card Based on Marriage
The application process for a green card based on marriage involves multiple steps, such as submitting forms and documents and attending an interview with U.S. immigration authorities. The purpose of all this is to prove:
- the status of the U.S. petitioner (as a citizen or permanent resident)
- that a valid marriage has occurred (or will occur, in the case of a fiancé visa)
- that the marriage is bona fide (not a fake arrangement to get a green card), and
- that the immigrant is not inadmissible to the U.S. for medical, criminal, financial, terrorist, or other reasons. (See "Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out" for details.)
Procedurally, you may have more than one option as to where and 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 for him or her to 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 Manila, the Philippines. There, your fiancé will apply for a K-1 visa, which involves submitting forms and documents and attending an interview.
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 the Philippines on an Immigrant Visa
If you and your husband or wife have already married, and your spouse is currently in the Philippines, you would 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 forward with visa processing. Spouses of permanent residents, meanwhile, will hit a delay. They'll have to wait approximately two years (depending on level of demand in their category) for a visa to become available to them.
Next, your spouse will 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 Manila, The Philippines. (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 the Philippines the Interview Will Be Held
Although the U.S. has two consulates in the Philippines, only the one in Manila processes visas based on marriage. You will be given further instructions when you apply, or can check the website of the U.S. embassy in Manila at http://manila.usembassy.gov/.
If your spouse happens to be living in another country than the Philippines, 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. as a nonimmigrant (such as on a fiancé or student visa or as a tourist), and either you are a U.S. citizen or your spouse is still in valid status, he or she can 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 make 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 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 the Philippines
If you have married, or plan to get married in your fiancé or spouse’s home country, you will first need to look into the Philippines’s requirements for legal marriage.
According to information provided by the U.S. consulate, before you can obtain a marriage license to wed in the Philippines, you, the U.S. citizen or resident, must first submit a "Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage" from your embassy. Unfortunately, the U.S. embassy does not feel it can provide this exact document, and will instead give you an “Affidavit In Lieu of Certificate of Legal Capacity to Marry.” Some of the local registrars have been known to refuse to accept this affidavit; you will have to find one who does accept it. Instructions on how to make an appointment to obtain this Affidavit are given on the “U.S. Citizens Services” page of the embassy website.
At a minimum, the U.S. citizen will need to present the documents below – and additional items (such as baptismal and confirmation certificates) if it’s a church rather than a civil wedding:
- evidence that any of your past marriages have ended, such as a divorce decree or death certificate
- U.S. passport
- documentation regarding paternal consent or advice if you are under age 24 (as described below).
You can be legally married in front of a judge, minister, or other person authorized by the Philippines government. If either of you is between the ages of 18 and 21, you must provide written parental consent; and if either is between age 22 and 24, you must show that you have received parental advice. Philippine law does not allow marriages by anyone under 18.
You will need to plan ahead for a ten-day waiting period between the filing of your application for a marriage license and its issuance. The license is good for up to 120 days.
After the ceremony, you will need to wait another ten days before you can obtain a certificate of that marriage for purposes of U.S. immigration. The U.S. government keeps track of what documents are considered legally valid from each country, and will reject your marriage certificate if it doesn't come from the proper source. What the U.S. is currently looking for is a marriage certificate from the National Statistics Office (NSO) or the NSO’s website, www.ecensus.com.ph.
Check the State Department's "Country Reciprocity Schedule" to get further details on what documents from the Philippines it considers valid. (Choose Philippines from the menu, then scroll down the page to read about “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.