If you are marrying someone from Poland, and plan to sponsor your new husband or wife for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), here is some important legal and practical information.
This article provides a general overview of how the process works for most couples. Your situation might present complications or qualify for exceptions to the rules stated here; see an experienced immigration attorney for a full evaluation.
ALSO: Owing to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, most forms of travel from Poland are impossible as of 2020. A presidential proclamation put Poland on the list of countries from which only U.S. citizens and returning green card holders will be allowed U.S. entry. What's more, U.S. consulates in Poland have cancelled all visa appointments for the moment, and most offices of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are closed for visits and interviews. The below describes how the process normally works; expect changes and delays.
First, 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, your 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 several months.
If you are not yet married and your fiancé is still in Poland, 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 Poland or another country, and then apply for an immigrant visa with which your new spouse can enter the U.S.--at which time he or she becomes a permanent resident.
If you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident (not a citizen), your new spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category 2A, 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.
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 underlying purpose is to prove:
Procedurally, you might have more than one option as to where and how you apply for the immigrant visa or green card, as described below.
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 Warsaw, Poland. 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.
After 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.
If you and your husband or wife have already married, and your spouse is currently in Poland, 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 (on average 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 Warsaw, Poland. (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, at which time he or she becomes a lawful permanent resident.
The U.S. currently has two embassies in Poland, located in Krakow and Warsaw. However, only the embassy in Warsaw handles immigrant visa applications.
You will be given instructions when your case is transferred to the embassy in Warsaw, and can also check the embassy’s website for information.
If your spouse happens to be living in another country than Poland, the consulate there would likely be the one to handle the case.
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, www.uscis.gov. (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 might 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 have married, or plan to get married in your fiancé or spouse’s home country, you will first need to look into Poland’s requirements for legal marriage.
According to information provided by the U.S. consulate, getting married in Poland can be procedurally complicated. At least four weeks before your wedding date, you will have to register at a place called the marriage office. But you will need to put in some advance work before going to register, because one of the documents you will be asked to provide is evidence that you are legally free to marry – and no such document is directly available from any official U.S. source. The U.S. consulate in Poland can, however, issue you a letter (in both English and Polish) explaining that fact. Such a letter will help you petition for a release from the requirement of presenting a certification of ability to marry, which you will need to do at the Regional Court in the area where your Polish fiancé(e) lives. Also be sure to take along any documents proving the termination of past marriages, such as U.S. death and divorce decrees. The court will demand a certified copy of the divorce decree along with the court statement that this is the final decision.
Scheduling your date before the Regional Court can take several weeks. The decision will be made on that date and become final after three weeks. (And then you’ve got to register, and wait another four weeks to marry.)
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, Poland 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 Poland it considers valid. (Enter "Poland," then scroll down the page to the sections on “Documents.”)
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.