If you are marrying someone from Mexico, and plan to sponsor your new husband or wife for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence) based on that marriage, here is some important legal and practical information.
Warning: This is a general overview of how the process works for most people. Your situation might present complications or qualify for exceptions; see an attorney for a full analysis.
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, these persons do not immediately or automatically receive green cards or U.S. citizenship.
If you are a U.S. citizen, your new spouse becomes your "immediate relative," and may apply for and receive a green card as soon as the two of you make it through the application process. This can take six months to a year, or even longer.
If you are not yet married and your fiancé(e) is still in Mexico, you can, if you are a U.S. citizen, petition for your intended to enter the U.S. on a K-1 fiancé(e) visa in order to get married in the U.S.—and then your new spouse can apply for a green card, if desired. (Or, you can choose to get married first in another country, and then apply for an immigrant visa with which to enter the U.S.—the equivalent of a green card.)
If you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident, your new spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category F2A of the visa allotment system. That means your spouse can get a visa (and enter the U.S.) only after the visa has become available. Annual limits on the number of visas given out in category F2A sometimes create years-long waits, based on the person's "priority date." (In recent years the wait has been less, however, and there was no wait at all for all of 2022.)
The application process itself adds more months to the process.
Permanent residents cannot petition for fiancé(e)s.
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:
Procedurally, you might have more than one option as to where and how you apply, as described below.
If you (a U.S. citizen) and your intended (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 to 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 a U.S. consulate in Mexico. There, your fiancé(e) will apply for a K-1 visa, which involves submitting forms and documents, having a medical exam done, and attending an interview.
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 main form for which is the I-485). The two of you will attend a green card interview at a local USCIS office.
If you and your husband or wife have already married, you would 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, spouses of U.S. citizens can continue forward with visa processing, while spouses of permanent residents might need to wait until USCIS and the State Department say (based on your priority date) that the immigrant can start the visa application process. The wait is often about two years for an available visa, though there was no wait as of late 2022.
Once the priority date is current, your spouse will 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 the appropriate city in Mexico. (The U.S. petitioner might be able to attend, but is not required to.) Upon approval, your spouse enters the U.S. on an immigrant visa and becomes a lawful permanent resident. The actual green card will be sent by mail soon after.
Although the U.S. has consulates in several cities in Mexico, not all of them process immigrant visas based on marriage. In fact, in 2022, only the consulate in Ciudad Juarez is handling immigrant visas, while the consulate in Mexico City handles K-1 visas.
If your spouse happens to be living in another country than Mexico, the consulate there would likely be the one to handle the case.
If your spouse initially came to the U.S. legally (such as on a fiancé(e) visa or a student or tourist visa), and either you are a U.S. citizen or your spouse is still in valid visa status, your spouse can potentially apply to adjust status in the United States, and avoid having to schedule an interview at a U.S. consulate in Mexico. 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 your spouse entered the U.S. without inspection, or you are a permanent resident rather whose spouse is no longer in legal status or has worked illegally in the U.S., 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.
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 plan to get married in Mexico, you will need to make sure the marriage will be recognized as valid. As in the United States, each state in Mexico determines its marriage procedures. Contact the office of the Registro Civil in the jurisdiction where you plan to get married for complete information about the requirements.
You will have to obtain a certificate of your marriage. The U.S. government keeps track of what documents are considered legally valid from each country, and will reject your marriage certificate if it doesn't come from the proper source. Check the State Department's reciprocity schedule to find out what documents from Mexico 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.
An experienced immigration attorney can help you evaluate your eligibility and deal with any barriers to eligibility, strategize the best application procedure, and prepare the paperwork. See Choosing, Hiring, or Firing an Immigration Attorney for tips.
Need a lawyer? Start here.