If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who is marrying someone from the Philippines, and you 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 will acquaint you with:
Warning: This is a general overview of how the process works for most couples. Your situation could involve complications or qualify for exceptions to the usual rules. See an experienced immigration 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 what the law calls your "immediate relative," and may receive a green card as soon as the two of you successfully complete the application process. This can take many months.
If you are not yet married and your fiancé is still in the Philippines, 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 U.S.—and then your new spouse can stay in the U.S. to apply for a green card, if desired.
You can also choose to get married first in another country, and then apply for an immigrant visa with which your new spouse can enter the U.S.—this visa being the equivalent of a green card. (The actual card will arrive some weeks after your foreign-born spouse's entry to the United States.)
If you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident, your new spouse becomes a "preference relative," in category 2A of the visa preference system, and can apply for a green card (and enter the U.S.) only after a visa number has become available, as indicated by the "Priority Date" USCIS assigns your petition. Annual limits on the number of visas given out in category 2A sometimes create years-long waits. The application process itself adds more months to the process.
Permanent residents cannot petition for fiancés. They will have to marry before pursuing a U.S. green card.
The application process for a U.S. 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 for that person to 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 U.S. consulate in Manila, the Philippines. There, your fiancé will apply for a K-1 visa, which involves submitting forms and documents 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 primary form for which is the I-485). The two of you will attend a green card interview at a local USCIS office. There, your spouse will hopefully be approved for U.S. conditional residence.
If you and your husband or wife have already married, and your spouse is currently in the Philippines, you would start the green-card application process by filing Form I-130 with USCIS. (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, meanwhile, might hit a delay. They will likely have to wait (depending on level of demand in their category) for a visa to become available to them (when they have a current priority date). Often the wait is between two and five years.
Next, 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 Manila, The Philippines. (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 they become a lawful resident (either conditional or permanent, depending upon how long you were married when your spouse entered the United States).
If your spouse initially came to the U.S. as 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, your spouse can apply to adjust status in the United States. The main form for this is an I-485. (See articles on Adjustment of Status Procedures.)
The two of you will attend an in-person interview at one of USCIS's field offices.
Information about USCIS locations or service centers can be found at 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 if you are a permanent resident rather than a citizen, your situation is more complicated than this article can address. You will face legal and procedural hurdles and could 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 the Philippines's requirements for legal marriage and to make sure you will be given the right documents afterward.
Check the State Department's Country Reciprocity Schedule to find out what documents from the Philippines it considers valid. (Choose Philippines from the menu, then scroll down the page to read about "Marriage Certificates.")
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.
A lawyer is not required in order to submit this application; but hiring one can make your life much easier. The lawyer can analyze your foreign-born spouse's eligibility, help spot and deal with trouble areas, prepare the paperwork, and (if you'll be adjusting status in the U.S.) attend the interview with you. See How to Find a Good Immigration Lawyer For Your Case.