A lot of people think that getting a green card or even US citizenship is practically automatic for spouses of US citizens. Let me tell you, my friends, it is not! The process to obtain a green card to legally live and work in the US is prioritized for spouses of US citizens, but it still takes about 18 months, a lot of paperwork, and several fees to complete.
It’s a lengthy process, so I would encourage you to start as soon as you can, even if you are not 100% sure you want to move quite yet. Planning is tricky since there is little transparency and no way of knowing when you will move on to the next step. To complicate things further, once your spouse has the immigrant visa allowing him/her to get a green card, you only have a 5-6-month window to enter the US. Otherwise your spouse’s visa will expire, and you will have to start all over to get a new one.
Here is a breakdown of all the administrative steps to take in order for your spouse to get a green card.
Step 1: Fill out and send form I-130 to USCIS, the United States Citizenship and Immigration
Services (Petition for Alien Relative). This is by far both the easiest and longest step in the process (in terms of response time). You will also have to pay a fee of $550.
Step 2: Wait 6-10 months for a response by email (ours came after 10 months)
This email will confirm that your case has been sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) and invite you to create an account to upload more documents such as affidavit of support, tax records, birth certificates, judicial records etc.
Step 3: Submit documents to the National Visa Center and pay another fee
The part was the most difficult to prepare since documents had to be gathered from different sources (i.e. my husband’s birth certificate from his hometown mairie, his criminal record from the Justice Ministry, etc.). You will also have to prove that you earn enough to sponsor your spouse (or else find a co-sponsor and submit tax documents of behalf of that person). I recommend requesting an “acte de naissance plurilingue” (multilingual birth certificate) so you don’t have to pay to have it translated to English.
Step 4: Wait 3 months for a response
The NVC will get back to you by email regarding all of the documents you uploaded to your account.
Step 5: Possibly submit new documents if asked
We were asked to submit documents proving my domiciliation in the US as I am my husband’s sponsor, and the sponsor must be US-based. Well I live in France, so this was a bit complicated. I wrote a letter explaining that I would be moving with my husband once his visa was approved and then provided all kinds of documents showing that I still had ties with the US (my driver’s license, voter ID card, magazine subscriptions that I still receive at my parents’ address, US bank statements…basically anything I could think of that would show I was always planning on moving back at some point). I had no idea if this would work, but it did!
Step 6: Wait another 3 months for a response
I had hoped that uploading new documents wouldn’t send our case back to the beginning of the line waiting for responses from the NVC, but apparently it did. It took another three months to hear from them.
Step 7: Get approved for an interview at the Embassy
The NVC accepted our documents and told us my husband was approved for an interview at the embassy…but we would have to wait an unspecified amount of time to hear from the embassy to find out when that appointment would be.
Step 8: Wait up to 3 months for that interview to be scheduled
We got lucky. My husband’s interview was scheduled within 2 months.
Step 9: Make an appointment with one of only TWO approved doctors in France for a physical examination, blood work, and chest x-rays….and pay 400€
You can only make this appointment once your interview has been scheduled, but you have to see the doctor BEFORE the interview. I recommend making sure your spouse is up-to-date on required vaccines before this appointment. The doctor may give you a sealed envelope to bring to the interview at the embassy (don’t open it).
Step 10: Go to your interview appointment at the Embassy and hopefully get approved for an immigrant visa
Bring ALL the original documents that you uploaded in steps 3 and 5 plus any documents the doctor may have given you plus updated tax forms. You’ll also need to bring US passport size photos that are less than six months old (they made my husband retake his photo because the photo we had uploaded initially to the NVC was over six months old, so yes, they actually check this!)
Step 11: Wait a week or two for the Embassy to contact you saying your visa is ready for pick up and pay yet another fee…$220 this time
YES! You finally have that immigrant visa and are ready to pack your bags and buy that plane ticket!
Step 12: MOVE TO THE US
You must move within 6 months of the date of the medical exam (when your visa to enter the US as an immigrant expires).
Step 13: Receive your green card at the US permanent address you provided
The total time from sending in the initial form to receiving the immigrant visa for us was 20 months! We started the process in October 2020 and received the visa in June 2022.
Apparently, the process used to be much faster, but the system got heavily bogged down because of COVID and may take a couple years to get back on track. Also note that we did not need to apply for visas for our children because they have dual citizenship. If your children do not have US citizenship, you would need to apply for visas for them as well.
Have you moved with your spouse of a different nationality? Any tips you are willing to share with the Message Community?
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message. Message cannot be held responsible for any information contained in or omitted from this article.