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.

If you are marrying someone from Indonesia, and plan to sponsor your new husband or wife for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), here is some legal and procedural information to help guide you.

This article provides a general overview of how the process works for most couples. Your situation may present legal complications or qualify for exceptions to the rules stated below; please consult an experienced immigration attorney for a full evaluation.

ALSO: Owing to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, U.S. consulates around the world are canceling or limiting visa appointments to emergency ones, and most offices of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the U.S. are closed for visits and interviews. Travel is also ill-advised at this time. The below describes how the process normally works; expect changes and delays.

Immigration Eligibility Based on Engagement or Marriage

Let's start with some 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 fiancé or spouse will not immediately or automatically receive a green card or 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 make it through the application process. This can take many months.

If you are not yet married and your fiancé is still in Indonesia, 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 apply for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence). You can also choose to get married first in Indonesia or another country, and then apply for an immigrant visa allowing your new spouse to enter the United States. Upon entry, he or she becomes a permanent resident, and will receive the actual green card soon after.

If you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident (not a citizen, but a green-card holder), your new spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category 2A of the visa preference system, 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 can create years-long waits. The waiting time changes periodically, which makes it difficult to predict just how long you will need to wait for your spouse to immigrate. The application process itself typically adds more months to the process. Permanent residents cannot petition for foreign-born fiancés to come to the United States.

Overview of Obtaining a Green Card Based on Marriage

The application process for a green card based on marriage involves a number of steps, including submitting forms and documents and attending an interview with U.S. immigration authorities. The underlying purpose is to prove:

  • the U.S. petitioner's status as either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident
  • that a legally valid marriage has taken place (or will, in the case of a fiancé visa)
  • that the marriage is bona fide (not just a sham or fraud 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.)

You may 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 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 Jakarta, Indonesia. Your fiancé will apply for a K-1 visa through the consulate. This involves submitting forms and documents and attending a visa interview with a 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 fiancé's entry to and your marriage in the U.S., your new spouse applies 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 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 with USCIS. After USCIS approves the I-130, spouses of U.S. citizens can move forward with visa processing. Spouses of U.S. permanent residents, however, will hit a delay; they will need to wait (an average of up to two years as of 2016) for a visa to become available in their category (2A).

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 for the visa, your spouse can enter the U.S. on an immigrant visa. Upon U.S. entry, he or she becomes a lawful permanent resident.

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 initially came to the U.S. on 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, (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 within the United States.

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 may not work for everyone. First, there is no option for a solely civil ceremony. Both spouses must share the same religion, either Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian. 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 "Affidavit of Eligibility for Marriage" from the U.S. embassy before the marriage. The purpose of this affidavit is to show that you aren't already married to someone else or otherwise legally disqualified from marrying. Obtaining the affidavit 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, be sure to 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 "Country Reciprocity Schedule" 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.

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