For Fiscal Year 2020, which ended on September 31, 2020, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) accepted 7.47 million immigration applications, with another 1.12 million either pending or denied. In the same period, 712,044 petitions for family-based green cards were received, and 15 percent in the family relative category were rejected, along with another 12 percent of relatives in other categories.
In other words, if FY 2020 is any barometer, for every ten immigration applications approved, just one green card petition – at best – is approved each year. Obtaining lawful permanent resident (LPR) status is thus a much more difficult challenge than being allowed to immigrate, and many petitioners face quotas and other obstacles when they apply.
Fortunately, for U.S. citizens who have married foreign nationals, there is a process known as adjustment of status (AOS) that they can use to petition the USCIS for LPR status for their spouse. Barring marriage fraud or other complications, the process should go forward and be completed in a year or so, sometimes less.
If you are a citizen who wishes to adjust the status of your foreign-born spouse, and you’re located in or around Providence, Rhode Island, or anywhere in the state for that matter, contact the Law Office of Layne C. Savage. Attorney Savage is an experienced and compassionate immigration attorney who can guide you through the process and help you overcome any hurdles as they appear. Her firm also helps clients located in or around Boston, Massachusetts.
A foreign national who marries a U.S. citizen achieves what is called “immediate family” status, which means that there are no quotas for obtaining a green card. For other types of relatives (known as “preference relatives”), there can be quotas and the wait for a green card can stretch out into years, not just months.
This is not to say that marriage itself is a guaranteed gateway to achieving LPR status and the accompanying right to legally work in the United States.
The first hurdle is proving you entered the United States legally. Entering legally means that you came to the U.S. on a visa (B-2 tourist visa, F-1 student visa, H-1B temporary worker visa, or K-1 fiancé, for example). Other legal methods of entry include using a border crossing card, which is a special pass allowing regular entries, or using the Visa Waiver Program, which allows entry to the U.S. without first obtaining a visa.
The other legal hurdle is satisfying USCIS authorities that your marriage is legitimate. It’s preferable to show that you met your spouse after arriving in the U.S. and that your marriage wasn’t sudden, pre-arranged, or concocted just to get a green card. Generally, if you tie the knot within the first 90 days of being in the country, the USCIS will likely consider that a red flag for what might be marriage fraud.
Your U.S. citizen spouse will have to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and you will have to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Both forms can be filed at the same time, but they must be accompanied by supporting documents, including a marriage certificate and other relevant instruments satisfying your legal entry into the U.S.
The U.S. spouse must also file Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, along with tax returns and proof of income. Form I-864 is used to determine that the immigrant spouse will not become dependent on government aid and will be financially supported by the U.S. spouse.
The qualifying income must be 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines for the family size in question. For just a U.S. spouse and an immigrant spouse, the annual sum is $21,775, but somewhat higher in Alaska and lower in Hawaii.
The immigrant spouse will also be required to undergo a medical exam by a physician approved by USCIS. This will be used to show you are up to date on your vaccinations and are free of tuberculosis and other medical conditions that may delay or bar permanent residency. The exam will be recorded on Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record.
The last step before a green card is granted is an interview with the spouses at a USCIS location. This is where any questions regarding the legality of your marriage will arise.
Agents have been known to ask questions of each spouse about the other spouse – separately – to see if they intimately know one another. If answers differ, the agents will get suspicious.
They could also ask questions regarding the residence you two reportedly share. If the answers differ, red flags may likewise be raised.
It’s best to come equipped with supporting evidence. Bring joint bank account statements or leases you’ve signed together. Wedding photos are also good.
After successful completion of the interview, the immigrant spouse will be issued a temporary green card, with a permanent one to arrive in the mail sometime later.
The best route to ensuring a smooth application process is to provide correctly completed forms, as described above, and to supply adequate supporting documentation. An experienced immigration attorney can help you prepare a powerful application package that will eliminate or reduce any USCIS delays. If you’re in Rhode Island or anywhere around Boston, Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Layne C. Savage to assist you with your adjustment of status petition. Schedule a consultation today.