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.
This is an 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.
ALSO: Owing to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, U.S. consulates around the world have limited 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.
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, the foreign national does not immediately or automatically receive the right to immigrate, nor 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 your fiancé(e) 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 apply for a green card, if desired.
Or, you can 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 new spouse's entry to the United States.)
If you are a lawful permanent resident, your new spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category F2A. That means your spouse can obtain permanent residence in the U.S. only after a "visa number" (space for another permanent resident) has become available. At that time, he or she can apply for an immigrant visa and enter the United States. Because of annual limits on the number of people who can get permanent residence in category F2A, a waiting list has developed, based on one's "priority date." The wait often takes around two years, though has recently been shorter.
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 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, getting a medical exam, 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. (See Preparing an I-130 Petition for the Immigrating Spouse of U.S. Citizen or Preparing an I-130 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.
Spouses of permanent residents can obtain permanent residence in the U.S. only after space for a permanent resident in category F2A becomes available based on your spouse's "priority date." The good news is that by the time you receive approval of the I-130, some, if not all, of the wait time 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, gets a medical exam, 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. Assuming you've paid the immigrant visa (green card production) fee to USCIS, the green card should arrive in the mail several weeks later.
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.
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 might be able to apply to adjust status in the United States. The main form for this is an I-485, and the immigrant will need to arrange for a medical exam by a USCIS-approved physician in the United States. 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 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 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:
You will also need to arrange for two witnesses to the marriage who are not members of your family.
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 Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country list to get further details on what documents from the Dominican Republic 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.