If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is marrying someone from Italy, and you would like to sponsor your Italian husband or wife for a marriage-based U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), you will find important legal and practical guidance below.
This provides a general overview of how the U.S. immigration process works for most people. Your situation might, however, present complications or qualify for exceptions; see an experienced immigration 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 people a direct path to a U.S. green card. Contrary to popular belief, however, the foreign national does not immediately or automatically receive U.S. citizenship, or even the right to immigrate.
If you are a U.S. citizen and are already married or soon will be, your new spouse will become your "immediate relative" in the lingo of U.S. immigration law. Your spouse may receive a green card as soon as the two of you successfully complete the application process; though that can, by itself, take several months.
If you have not yet married and your fiancé is still living in Italy, 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, if desired, apply for a green card using a procedure known as "adjustment of status" (using Form I-485). Alternatively, you can choose to get married first in Italy or another country, 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 new spouse's entry into the United States.)
If you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident, your spouse is categorized as a "preference relative," and can obtain permanent residence in the U.S. only after space for a permanent resident in category F2A becomes available based on "priority date." Annual limits on the number of persons who can become permanent residents in each category and from each country often create a wait, due to high demand. Although the wait is often about two years, there was no wait at all in mid-2023.
U.S. permanent residents (green card holders) cannot petition for fiancés. You would need to marry first, then apply for an immigrant visa.
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 Italian 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 (who lives outside the U.S.) have not yet married—or even if you've held an informal ceremony that did not count as a legal 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 petition on Form I-129F with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After USCIS approves this petition, it will arrange to transfer the case to the U.S. consulate in Naples, Italy. Your fiancé(e) 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 U.S. citizen petitioner, are allowed to attend this visa 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. Upon approval, your spouse would become a U.S. lawful conditional resident, on the way to permanent residence.
If you and your loved one are already married, and your spouse is currently in Italy, 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. Spouses of U.S. permanent residents could hit a delay at this point. Depending on visa availability, they might have to wait for a current priority date. USCIS will next forward your file to the NVC, which will tell you when it's time for you to apply and connect you to the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). (For details, see What Happens Between I-130 Approval and Consular Interview.)
Next, your foreign-born spouse will go through consular processing for an immigrant visa. This means your spouse submits paperwork to, and attends an interview at, the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy. (The U.S. petitioning spouse may attend, but is not required to.)
Upon approval, your Italian spouse enters the U.S. on an immigrant visa, at that time becoming a lawful resident (conditional or permanent, depending on how long you've been married).
If your spouse entered the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa (such as a fiancé, student, or tourist visa), and you are a U.S. citizen, your spouse is likely eligible to 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.)
If, however, your spouse entered the United States 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, and will likely involve applying for a waiver of unlawful presence. You might 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 Italy, you will first need to look into the Italian requirements for legal marriage, both nationally and locally. Get ready for a lot of paperwork and visits to government offices! You might encounter particular delays in getting the various required appointments during the peak marriage season, May through September.
According to information provided by the U.S. consulate there, some advance planning will be required. For starters, you'll need to post what are called "Civil Banns" (public announcement of the intended marriage, called "pubblicazioni" in Italian) at a Town Hall for two weeks including two Sundays before getting married.
At a minimum, you (and in some instances, your Italian fiancé) will likely be asked to prepare or bring the following to a local Ufficio Matrimoni, or Marriage Office:
Unless you are getting married in the Roman Catholic Church, you will need to hold a civil ceremony before any religious ceremony. (After a religious ceremony performed in the Roman Catholic Church, the priest will register the marriage with the civil authorities.) The civil ceremony is performed by a mayor or mayor's deputy. You will need two witnesses, and an interpreter if you don't speak Italian.
If you plan to hold a religious ceremony, check separately with the church or other house of worship for its document and other requirements. The Roman Catholic Church asks for baptismal and confirmation certificates.
After the wedding, in order for your marriage to be recognized in the U.S., you will need to take the certificate of marriage to the Prefettura, Ufficio Legalizzazioni in the city where the marriage took place, and get an Apostille on the certificate. 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, Italy included, and will reject yours if it doesn't come from the proper source.
Check the State Department's Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country page to get further details on what documents from Italy 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.
Although hiring an immigration attorney to help with your visa or green card application is not required, it can make your life much easier. Even in a straightforward case, the paperwork and bureaucracy can be daunting. And if you have any complications in your case, or worry that you should hide certain information from U.S. immigration authorities, consulting an attorney will be essential. See How Expensive Is an Immigration Lawyer?