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

Overview of rules and procedures for obtaining permanent residence for a husband or wife from Indonesia.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

If you are marrying someone from Indonesia, and plan to sponsor your new husband or wife for a U.S. marriage-based green card (lawful permanent residence), you will find important legal and practical guidance below, including:

  • basic eligibility to immigrate based on marriage, and
  • application procedures, whether the immigrant lives in the United States or overseas.

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.

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 the right to immigrate, nor U.S. citizenship.

If you are a U.S. citizen and already married or soon to be, your new spouse becomes your "immediate relative" in the language of U.S. immigration law. Your spouse may thereby receive a green card as soon as the two of you successfully complete the application process; which can take several months.

If you have not yet married and your fiancé is still living in Indonesia, 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. Your new spouse could then apply for a green card, if desired, through a process known as adjustment of status. Upon approval, your spouse would become a lawful conditional resident, on the way to permanent residence.

You can also choose to get married first in Indonesia or in another country, and then apply for an immigrant visa with which to enter the United States. This visa is the equivalent of a green card. The actual card will arrive some weeks after your then-spouse's entry to the United States.

If you are a lawful permanent resident, your new spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category F2A. That means your Indonesian spouse can obtain permanent residence in the U.S. 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 to five years.

U.S. permanent residents cannot petition for fiancés. You would need to marry first, then apply for an immigrant visa.

Overview of Obtaining a Green Card Based on a Planned or Existing 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 is to prove that:

  • the U.S. petitioner is a citizen or permanent resident
  • you have entered into a valid marriage (or will, if you're applying for a K-1 fiancé visa)
  • the marriage is bona fide (the real thing; not a fraud or 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 a full explanation.)

You might have more than one option as to where and how you apply for the immigrant visa or green card, 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) visa with which the foreign-born fiancé can enter the U.S. in order to hold the wedding.

The U.S. citizen must start this process. To do so, you would file a visa petition on Form I-129F, plus supporting documents and a fee, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After USCIS approves the I-129F, it will transfer the case to the National Visa Center (NVC) in New Hampshire, which eventually will send the case to the U.S. consulate in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Your fiancé will apply for a K-1 visa through the consulate. This involves submitting forms, documents, and a fee to, and attending a visa interview with, a U.S. consular official. You, the U.S. petitioner, are allowed to attend this interview, though it is not required. If you do attend, you may nevertheless be asked to step out for a portion of the interview.

After your marriage in the U.S., your new spouse applies to USCIS for a green card, through a process called adjustment of status (which involves submitting USCIS Form I-485 as well as additional forms, documents, and fees). The two of you will attend a green card interview at a local USCIS office. Then your spouse will receive lawful conditional residence (not permanent residence quite yet, because your marriage is less than two years old at this time; but it can be converted to permanent residence two years later).

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

If you and your husband or wife have already married, and your spouse is currently in Indonesia, you would start the green-card application process by filing Form I-130 (and supporting documents and fee) with USCIS. Its purpose is to prove you're really married, that it's a bona fide marriage (not a sham to get a green card) and that you're really a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. (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, spouses of U.S. citizens can move forward 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." The good news is that by the time you receive approval of the I-130, some, if not all, of the wait time will have passed.

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 Jakarta, Indonesia. (As the U.S. petitioner, you may attend, but are not required to.)

Upon approval, your spouse enters the U.S. on an immigrant visa, instantly becoming a lawful permanent resident (or a lawful conditional resident, if your marriage is less than two years old at that time). Assuming you've paid the immigrant fee to USCIS, the green card arrives in the mail several weeks later.

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

The U.S. currently has three embassies in Indonesia, located in Jakarta, Surabaya, and Medan. However, only the embassy in Jakarta handles both immigrant and fiancé visa applications.

You will be given instructions when your case is transferred to the embassy in Jakarta, and can also check the embassy's website for information.

If your spouse happens to be living in another country than Indonesia, 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, but other forms, documents, and fees must also be submitted. 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 United States when you apply to adjust status. But if you're a permanent resident, your spouse must be in legal status.

There is one other possible 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 U.S. 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 your spouse entered the U.S. without inspection or by using a fake visa, or has ever been deported from the U.S., 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 Indonesia

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

According to information provided by the U.S. State Department, getting married in Indonesia might not work for everyone. First, there is no option for a solely civil ceremony. Both spouses must share the same religion, either Islam, Catholic, Protestant Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. They must hold a religious ceremony, and meet various requirements depending on which religion it is and which district of the country the wedding is held in.

The U.S. half of the couple will need to get what's called an "Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage" from the U.S. embassy before the marriage. Its purpose is to show that you aren't already married to someone else or otherwise legally disqualified from marrying. Obtaining the will require a personal visit to the embassy, at which you will sign a statement before a Consular Officer. Take your U.S. passport and the latest notary fee. If you have been previously married, bring proof that the marriage legally ended, such as a divorce or annulment decree or a death certificate.

After the marriage ceremony, you will need to 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, Indonesia included, and will reject your marriage certificate if it doesn't come from the proper source. Check the State Department's list of Civil Documents by Country to get further details on what documents from Indonesia it considers valid. (Enter "Indonesia," then scroll down the page.) You'll notice that in Indonesia, the proper source depends again on what religious institution your marriage took place in.

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 much easier by hiring an experienced immigration attorney to handle your marriage-based 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 for a K-1 visa or U.S. green card.

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