If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is marrying someone from Germany, and you would like to sponsor your German husband or wife for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence) based on that marriage, you will find important legal and practical guidance below, concerning both:
This is a general overview of how the U.S. immigration process works for most people. Your situation might present complications or qualify for exceptions; see an experienced attorney for a full analysis.
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 the right to immigrate, nor U.S. citizenship.
If you are a U.S. citizen and already married or soon to be, your new foreign-born spouse becomes your "immediate relative" in the language of U.S. immigration law. Your spouse may receive a green card as soon as the two of you successfully complete the application process; thought that can, by itself, take several months.
If you have not yet married and your fiancé is still living in Germany, you can, if you are a U.S. citizen, petition for your fiancé(e) to enter the U.S. on a K-1 visa in order to get married in the United States. After the wedding, your new spouse can apply for a green card.
Or, you can choose to get married first in Germany or in another country, and then apply for an immigrant visa with which your spouse will enter the U.S.: the equivalent of a green card.
If you are a lawful permanent resident, your new German spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category F2A. That means your spouse can obtain permanent residence in the U.S. only after a "visa number" (space for another permanent resident) has become available. At that time, your spouse can apply for an immigrant visa (and enter the United States). Because of annual limits on the number of people who can get permanent residence in category F2A, a waiting list often develops, based on one's "priority date." The wait often takes around two years; though recently (2023) there's been no wait at all.
U.S. permanent residents (green card holders) cannot petition for fiancés. You would have to get married first.
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 is to prove to the U.S. government that:
You and your German fiancé or spouse might, however, have more than one option as to where and exactly how to apply, as described below.
If you and your intended spouse (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 K-1 visa, which is a temporary (90-day) visa with which your fiancé can enter the U.S. in order to hold the wedding.
The U.S. citizen starts this process by filing a visa petition on on Form I-129F with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After USCIS approves the I-129F, it will transfer the case to a U.S. consulate in Germany. Your fiancé will apply for a K-1 visa there. 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.
If you and your loved one are already married, and your spouse is currently in Germany, you will start the green-card application process by filing Form I-130 with USCIS. (See Preparing an I-130 Visa Petition for the Immigrating Spouse of U.S. Citizen or Preparing an I-130 Visa Petition for the Immigrating Spouse of a U.S. Permanent Resident.)
After USCIS approves the I-130, what happens next depends on your, the petitioner's status. If you are a U.S. citizen, your German spouse can continue on with visa processing.
Spouses of permanent residents can obtain permanent residence in the U.S. only after space for a permanent resident in category F2A becomes available based on your spouse's "priority date." Fortunately, no waiting list has developed in recent years.
The next step is for your foreign-born 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 Germany. (The U.S. petitioner may attend, but is not required to.)
Upon approval, your spouse enters the U.S. on an immigrant visa, becoming a lawful permanent resident at that time. The actual green card will arrive by mail some weeks later.
Although the U.S. has various consulates and diplomatic missions in Germany, only the one in Frankfurt handles immigrant and fiancé (K-1) visas. You will be given instructions (and eventually, an appointment notice) when your case is transferred to the consulate in Germany.
If your spouse happens to be living in a country other than Germany, the consulate there would likely be the one to handle the case.
If your foreign-born spouse entered the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa (such as a K-1 fiancé, student, or tourist visa), and you are a U.S. citizen, your spouse 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.)
There is one other major consideration for spouses of permanent residents eligible to adjust status: before you can apply, you might need to be on the waiting list mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, the government might not tell you when your wait is over—you'll have to figure it out yourself. USCIS has a Web page that explains how.
If, however, your spouse entered the United States without inspection or by using a fake visa, or you are a U.S. permanent resident rather than a citizen, your situation is more complicated than this article can address. You could 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.
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.
If you have married, or plan to get married in Germany, you will first need to look into the country's requirements for legal marriage. Both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are allowed by German law.
According to information provided by the U.S. State Department, official evidence of a marriage that occurred in Germany must come from a local registrar's office called a Standesamt. You may, if you wish, also hold a religious ceremony, but you still need the marriage certificate from the Standesamt for U.S. immigration purposes.
Although the exact requirements for getting married in Germany are up to the local Standesamt, at a minimum you (and in some instances, your German fiancé) will likely need to prepare the following:
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, Germany included, and will reject yours if it doesn't come from the proper source. Check the State Department's Reciprocity and Civil Documents list to get further details on what documents from Germany it considers valid.
If you will hold your wedding in the U.S., you need to follow the laws of the state where you marry. You will need to obtain a marriage certificate from a local government office. A church certificate, for example, is not enough.
You could make your life easier by hiring an experienced immigration attorney to handle your marriage-based immigrant visa case. The attorney can analyze the facts of your case and spot any potential problems, prepare the paperwork, and monitor the progress toward approval.