If you are marrying someone from Ukraine, 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 involve complications or qualify for exceptions to the usual rules; 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 several months.
If you are not yet married and your fiancé is still in Ukraine, 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 green card. You can also choose to get married first in Ukraine or 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 lawful permanent resident, 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 adds more months to the process. Permanent residents cannot petition for fiancés.
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 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 your fiancé can 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 National Visa Center in New Hampshire, which eventually will send the case to the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. Your fiancé 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 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 Ukraine, 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 may move forward with visa processing. Spouses of permanent residents, however, will currently (as of 2016) have to wait, up to around two years, for a visa to become available in their category.
After paying various fees and submitting documents to the National Visa Center in New Hampshire, the next step is for your spouse to go through consular processing for an immigrant visa. This means your spouse submits additional paperwork to, and attends an interview at, the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. (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 embassy in Ukraine, which is located in Kyiv and handles both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
You will be given instructions when your case is transferred to the embassy in Kyiv, and can also check the embassy’s website for information.
If your spouse happens to be living in another country than Ukraine, the consulate there would likely be the one to handle the case.
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, 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 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 have married, or plan to get married in your fiancé's or spouse’s home country, you will first need to look into Ukraine’s requirements for legal marriage.
According to information provided by the U.S. embassy, Ukrainian marriages may require the U.S. citizen to live in the country for a period of weeks or months first. You will also need to:
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, Ukraine included, and will reject your marriage certificate if it doesn't come from the proper source; namely from a district or regional ZAHS office or from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Check the State Department’s "Country Reciprocity Schedule" to get further details on what documents from Ukraine it considers valid. (Enter "Ukraine," then scroll down the page for the section on “Birth, Marriage, Divorce and Death 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.