Marrying a Citizen of Vietnam? How to Get a Green Card for Your New Spouse

Overview of the marriage-based green card process as applied to the Vietnamese spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is marrying someone from Vietnam, and you would like to sponsor your new husband or wife for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), you will find some important legal and practical guidance below.

(Warning: This is a general overview of how the U.S. immigration process works for most people. Your situation may present complications or qualify for exceptions; see an experienced attorney for a full analysis.)

Immigration Eligibility Based on Engagement or Marriage

Let’s start with a bit of background on U.S. immigration law. Marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident gives 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 and already married or about to be, your new spouse becomes your "immediate relative," and may receive a green card as soon as the two of you successfully complete the application process. This can take several months.

If you are not yet married and your fiancé is still in Vietnam, 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. Your new spouse could then apply for a green card, if desired.

Or, you can choose to get married first in Vietnam or another country, and then apply for an immigrant visa with which to enter the United States. This visa turns into U.S. residence upon U.S. entry. The actual green card will arrive some weeks after your then-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.

U.S. permanent residents cannot petition for fiancés.

Application Process for Getting a Green Card Based on Marriage

The application process for a marriage- based green card involves multiple steps, most notably submitting forms and documents and attending an interview with U.S. immigration authorities. The purpose of all this is to prove that:

  • the U.S. petitioner is a citizen or permanent resident
  • a valid marriage has occurred (or will occur, in the case of a fiancé visa)
  • the marriage is bona fide (not a sham to get a green card), and
  • the immigrant is not inadmissible to the U.S. for medical, criminal, financial, or other reasons. (See Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out for details.)

You may, however, have more than one option as to where and exactly how you apply, as described below.

Procedures When Applying for a K-1 Fiancé Visa

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 arrange to send the case to the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 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 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 USCIS office near your U.S. home.

Procedures for Your Spouse to Come From Vietnam on an Immigrant Visa

If you and your loved one are already married, and your spouse is currently in Vietnam, you would start the green-card application process by filing Form I-130 with USCIS. Its purpose is to prove you're really married, that it's a bona fide marriage (not a sham to get a green card) and that you're really a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. (See Preparing an I-130 Visa Petition for the Immigrating Spouse of U.S. Citizen or Preparing an I-130 Visa Petition for the Immigrating Spouse of a U.S. Permanent Resident.)

After USCIS approves the I-130, spouses of U.S. citizens can move 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.

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 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (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 fee to USCIS, the green card arrives in the mail several weeks later.

At Which U.S. Consulate in Vietnam the Interview Will Be Held

The U.S. currently has only one consulate in Vietnam, which is located in Ho Chi Minh City and handles immigrant visas. (Although there also is a U.S. embassy in Hanoi, it processes only nonimmigrant visas.)

You will be given instructions (and eventually, an appointment notice) when your case is transferred to the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, and can also check the consulate's website for information.

If your spouse happens to be living in a country other than Vietnam, the consulate there would likely be the one to handle the case.

Procedures If Your Spouse Is Already in the U.S.

If your spouse initially came to the U.S. on a nonimmigrant (such as on a fiancé, student, or tourist visa), and you are a U.S. citizen, he or she can most likely 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 be 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.)

There is one other major consideration for spouses of permanent residents wishing to adjust status: before you can apply, you must reach the front of the waiting list we mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, the government might not tell you when your wait is over—you'll have to figure it out yourself. USCIS has a web page that explains how.

If your spouse entered the U.S. without inspection or by using a fake visa, or you are a U.S. 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 necessarily impossible. See an immigration attorney for details or if you have any questions about whether you qualify to adjust status.

Entering Into a Legally Valid Marriage

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.

Obtaining Documentation of a Valid Marriage in Vietnam

If you have married, or plan to get married in your fiancé or spouse’s home country, you will first need to look into Vietnam’s requirements for legal marriage.

According to information provided by the U.S. consulate, Vietnamese marriages require that you, the U.S. citizen, prepare the following (with a certified translation into Vietnamese of any documents from the U.S., done by either the Vietnamese embassy in the U.S. or a Vietnamese notary public).

    • Marriage registration dossiers (from the Vietnamese District Justice Offices).
    • Certified copy of the U.S. citizen's passport.
    • Written certification granted by a Vietnamese or foreign competent health organization within six months to the date of the dossiers is submitted, certifying that you do not suffer from mental diseases that render you incapable of being aware of and controlling your actions. Contact the District Justice Offices for specific instructions.
    • Affidavit of Single Status. This can be obtained from your home state’s civil registry or created by completing a notarized affidavit at the U.S. Consulate (for a fee). It must be signed within six months of applying for a marriage certificate. If you’ve been married before, you’ll need to present an authenticated copy of the divorce decree or death certificate for your previous spouse.
    • A letter by your local vital statistics office certifying that you don’t have a marriage license or marriage certificate on file within the state where you live. The search period must cover all the time between your turning 18 and the date of issuance. If you were divorced, or your spouse died, you’ll need to obtain a certified photocopy of the divorce decree or death certificate. This requirement varies from province to province.
    • Processing fee.

    The time limit for marriage registration is 15 days from when the District Justice Office receives your dossiers. If police verification is required, it can take another ten days. After receiving the dossiers, the District Justice Office conducts in-person interviews to ensure the marriage is voluntary and that both parties can communicate with and understand each other. It’s recommended for the Vietnamese citizen to check with local authorities to be sure of requirements for the U.S. citizen.

    Obtaining a valid certificate of your marriage is critical for purposes of U.S. immigration. The U.S. government keeps track of what documents are considered legally valid from each country, Vietnam included, and will reject yours 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 Vietnam it considers valid.

    Obtaining Documentation of a Valid Marriage in the United States

    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.

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