If you are marrying someone from the Dominican Republic, 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.
(Warning: This is a general overview of how the process works for most people. Your situation may 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, they 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 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 the Dominican Republic, you can, if you are a U.S. citizen, petition for him or her to enter the U.S. as a fiancé(e) in order to get married in the U.S.—and then your new spouse can apply for a green card, if desired. You can also choose to get married first in the Dominican Republic or 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 fiancé(e)'s entry to the United States.)
If you are a lawful permanent resident, your new spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category F2A, and can get an immigrant visa or green card only after space for a permanent resident in category F2A becomes available. Annual limits on the number of persons who can become permanent residents in each category and from each country create this wait, which fortunately, as of early 2016, is not that long for persons form the Dominican Republic. 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 may have more than one option as to where and how you apply, as described below.
If you 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 with which your fiancé(e) can enter the U.S. and 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 the I-129F, it will transfer the case to the National Visa Center (NVC), which then transfers the case to the U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo. 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 petitioner, are allowed to attend this 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.
If you and your husband or wife have already married, and your spouse is currently in the Dominican Republic, you would start the green-card application process by filing Form I-130 with USCIS, to prove you're really married and you're really a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. After USCIS approves the I-130, spouses of U.S. citizens can continue forward with visa processing, while spouses of permanent residents must wait to apply. As of early 2016, the wait is about eight months from the time you filed the I-130. The good news is that by the time you receive approval of the I-130, most, if not all, of the eight months will have passed. USCIS will forward your file to the NVC, which will tell you when it's time for you to apply.
Next, your spouse will go through consular processing for an immigrant visa. This means your spouse submits paperwork to the NVC, and attends an interview at, a U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo. (The U.S. petitioner may attend, but is not required to.)
Upon approval, your spouse enters the U.S. on an immigrant visa, at which time he or she becomes a lawful permanent resident.
The U.S. currently has only one consulate in the Dominican Republic, which is located in Santo Domingo. If you are applying for a fiancé visa, the consulate will process your case like you're applying for an immigrant visa, even though technically a fiancé visa is a nonimmigrant visa.
The NVC will let you know when your case file is transferred to Santo Domingo. The notice you get from the NVC will give you instructions on what to do next. Spouses can also find instructions on the embassy’s website; the embassy also has instructions for fiancé(e)s.
If your spouse happens to be living in a country other than the Dominican Republic, the consulate in that country would likely be the one to handle the case.
If your spouse initially came to the U.S. legally (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 may be able 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 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 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 your spouse qualifies 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 the Dominican Republic, you will first need to look into the Dominican Republic’s requirements for legal marriage.
According to information provided by the U.S. consulate, marriages in the Dominican Republic must be entered into of free will, between people who are legally eligible to marry, and who are at least age 16 if male and 15 if female.
You can have either a “civil” marriage, by a government official, or a religious ceremony. If the ceremony is performed by a Roman Catholic priest (a “canonical” marriage), the church will register the marriage with the appropriate Dominican government offices. However, if the ceremony is performed by a minister or officiant of some other denomination, the two of you will need to present yourselves at the governmental registrar’s office afterward, to legalize the marriage.
Procedurally, you (the U.S. citizen or resident) will need to publish notice of the intended marriage before the ceremony, arrange for two witnesses (not family), and gather the following documents:
For details, see the Legal Options for Marriage in the Dominican Republic page of the U.S. consulate’s website.
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, the Dominican Republic 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 the Dominican Republic it considers valid. (Choose Dominican Republic from the menu, then click on “Marriage, Divorce Certificates.”)
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.