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

Practices and procedures when planning to apply for U.S. permanent residence for a husband or wife from Haiti.

By , J.D.

If you are marrying someone from Haiti, and would like to sponsor your new husband or wife for a U.S. marriage-based green card (lawful permanent residence), keep reading, for some important legal and practical guidance.

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 immigration 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, the foreign national does not immediately or automatically receive the right to immigrate, nor U.S. citizenship.

If you are a U.S. citizen, 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 to a year or more.

If you are not yet married and your fiancé is still in Haiti, you can, if you are a U.S. citizen, petition for your fiancé 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.

You could also choose to get married first in Haiti or another country, and then apply for an immigrant visa with which to enter the United States (the equivalent of a green card).

If you are a lawful permanent resident, your new spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category F2A of the visa system. 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 foreign-born 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 there's been no wait at all recently (mid-2023).

Permanent residents cannot petition for foreign-born fiancés. You would have to get married first, and then apply for an immigrant visa.

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 sham to get a green card), and
  • that 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.)

Procedurally, there might exist 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 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 temporary (90-day) K-1 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 National Visa Center in New Hampshire, which eventually will send the case to the U.S. consulate in Port au Prince, Haiti. 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 United States, 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 USCIS office near your U.S. home. Upon approval, your spouse becomes a U.S. conditional resident, and should receive the actual green card by mail not long after. It will have a two-year expiration date, and you'll need to submit a joint petition to remove the conditions (Form I-751) soon before those two years expire.

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

If you and your husband or wife have already gotten married, and your spouse is currently in Haiti, 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 (around up to two years, in most cases, as of 2016) for a visa to become available in their category.

After paying various fees and submitting documents to the National Visa Center in New Hampshire, your spouse will next go through consular processing for an immigrant visa. This means your spouse submits additional paperwork to, and attends an interview at, a U.S. consulate in Port au Prince, Haiti. (The U.S. petitioner may attend, but is not required to.)

Upon approval, your spouse can enter the United States on an immigrant visa, becoming a lawful permanent resident at that time (or a lawful conditional resident, if your marriage is less than two years then). Assuming you've paid the immigrant fee to USCIS, the actual green card will arrive by mail several weeks later.

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

The U.S. currently has only one embassy in Haiti, which is located in Port au Prince 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 Port au Prince, and can also check the embassy's website for information.

If your spouse happens to be living in a different country, other than Haiti, 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 came to the U.S. legally (such as on a fiancé or student visa or as a tourist), your spouse might be eligible to apply to adjust status in the United States. The main form for this is USCIS Form 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, (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 you're a U.S. citizen, it doesn't matter if your spouse is in legal status in the U.S. when you apply to adjust status. But if you're a permanent resident, your spouse must be in legal status.

There is one other major consideration for spouses of permanent residents wishing to adjust status: before you can apply, you must reach the front of the waiting list we 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. But again, there was no wait as of mid-2023.

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 could 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 Haiti

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

According to information provided by the U.S. consulate, Haitian marriages require that you first visit the Civil Registrar in the area where you plan to hold the wedding, in order to present the appropriate documents and materials and make an appointment for the marriage ceremony. Each member of the couple will need to bring:

  • proof of identity, such as a passport or birth certificate
  • a list of at least two potential witnesses (who must also have identity cards or passports)
  • the results of a blood test performed at the "Institut du Bien Etre Social" (this is sometimes waived for U.S. citizens)
  • an "Acte de Marriage Civil," which you've bought from the Bureau des Contributions
  • your birth certificates
  • if either of you has been previously married, certified copies of the relevant divorce or death certificates.

The appointment for the marriage ceremony will be set within approximately 15 days (two Sundays must pass before the ceremony).

The Acte de Marriage Civil may be authenticated by the U.S. Consular Section after the civil ceremony for a fee. This will help make sure that USCIS accepts the document as genuine.

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, Haiti included, and will reject yours if it doesn't come from the proper source. Check the State Department's Civil and Reciprocity Documents by Country list to get further details on what documents from Haiti it considers valid.

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.

Getting Legal Help

You could make your life easier by hiring an experienced immigration attorney to handle your family 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.

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