- What is a Spouse?
A spouse is a legally wedded husband or wife.
- Merely living together does not qualify a marriage for immigration.
- Common-law spouses may qualify as spouses for immigration purposes depending on the laws of the country where the common-law marriage occurs.
- In cases of polygamy, only the first spouse may qualify as a spouse for immigration.
- Same-sex marriages are not recognized by immigration law for the purpose of immigrating to the U.S.
- The First Step toward an Immigrant Visa: Filing the Petition
The first step is to file a Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130, with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for your spouse (husband or wife) to immigrate to the United States.
In certain circumstances, a U.S. citizen living abroad can file an immigrant visa petition at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate (post). To find out whether you can file a petition at a specific post abroad, you must contact that post.
- U.S. Sponsor Minimum Age Requirement
There is no minimum age for a U.S. sponsor (petitioner) to file a petition for a family based immigrant visa. However, you must be at least 18 years of age and have a residence (domicile) in the U.S. before you can sign the Affidavit of Support (Form I-864 or I-864EZ) This form is required for immigrant visas for spouses and other relatives of U.S. sponsors.
- Is Residence in the U.S. Required for the U.S. Sponsor?
Yes. As a U.S. sponsor/petitioner, you must maintain your principal residence (also called domicile) in the U.S., which is where you plan to live for the foreseeable future. Living in the U.S. is required for a U.S. sponsor to file the Affidavit of Support, with few exceptions.
- If You Were an LPR and are now a U.S. Citizen: Upgrading a Petition
If you filed a petition for your spouse when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR), and you are now a U.S. citizen, you must upgrade the petition from family second preference (F2) to immediate relative (IR). You can do this by sending proof of your citizenship to the National Visa Center (NVC). To prove that you are a U.S. citizen, you can send:
- A copy of the biodata page of your U.S. passport; or
- A copy of your certificate of naturalization
Important Notice: If you are now a U.S. citizen, you must file separate immigrant visa petitions for each of your children. If you upgrade a family second preference (F2) petition for your spouse and you did not file separate petitions for your children when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR), you must do so now. A child does not receive derivative status in an immediate relative (IR) petition. This is different from the family second preference (F2) petition where a child is included in his/her parent’s F2 petition. A child is not included as a derivative in his/her parent’s IR petition.
Children born abroad after you became a U.S. citizen may qualify for U.S. citizenship. They should apply for U.S. passports. The consular officer will determine whether your child is a U.S. citizen and can have a passport. If the consular officer determines your child is not U.S. citizen, the child must apply for an immigrant visa if he/she wants to live in the U.S.
- Next Steps - Fees, Affidavit of Support, and Visa Application
After USCIS has approved the petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). Once received, the NVC will assign a case number for the petition. NVC will begin processing the applicant’s case by contacting the applicant and petitioner with instructions for submitting the appropriate fees. After the appropriate fees have been paid, the NVC will again contact the applicant and petitioner to request that the necessary immigrant visa documentation be submitted to the NVC, including the Affidavit of Support, application forms, civil documents, and more.
- What Fees Can I Expect?
- Which relatives may I petition for?
Fees are charged for the following services:
- Filing an immigrant Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130
- Processing an immigrant visa application, Form DS-230
- Reviewing an I-864, Affidavit of Support (for petitions filed in the United States)
- Medical examination (costs vary from place to place)
- Fingerprinting fees, if applicable
- Other costs may include: translations; photocopying charges; fees for obtaining the documents you need for the immigrant visa application (such as passport, police certificates, birth certificates, etc.); and travel expenses to go to the embassy or consulate for the interview. Costs vary from country to country and case to case.
- Required Documentation
In general, the following documents are required:
- Passport(s) valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the U.S.
- Affidavit of Support (I-864, I-864 EZ or I-864W, as appropriate) from the petitioner/U.S. sponsor.
- Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, Form DS-230, both Part I and Part II
- Three passport style photographs.
- Civil Documents for the applicant (and petitioner in IR-5 and F4 cases). The consular officer may ask for more information. Take clear, legible photocopies of civil documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, and any required translations to the immigrant visa interview. Original documents can then be returned to you.
- Completed Medical Examination Forms – These are provided by the panel physician after you have successfully completed your medical examination and vaccinations.
- Visa Interview
Once the NVC determines the file is complete with all the required documents, they schedule the applicant’s interview appointment. NVC then sends the file, containing the applicant’s petition and the documents listed above, to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the applicant will be interviewed for a visa. The applicant, petitioner, attorney, and third-party agent, if applicable, will receive appointment emails, or letters (if no email address if available), containing the date and time of the applicant’s visa interview along with instructions, including guidance for obtaining a medical examination.
Applicants should bring their valid passports, as well as any other documentation above not already provided to NVC, to their visa interviews. During the interview process, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken. Applicants will receive their original civil documents and original translations back at the time of interview.
- Medical Examination and Vaccinations
Important Notice: In preparing for your interview, you will need to schedule and complete your medical examination and any required vaccinations before your visa interview. Before an immigrant visa can be issued, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination which must be performed by an authorized panel physician. Applicants are provided instructions by NVC regarding medical examinations, including information on authorized panel physicians.
- Vaccination Requirements
U.S. immigration law requires immigrant visa applicants to obtain certain vaccinations prior to the issuance of immigrant visas.
- What Is Conditional Residence?
If you have been married for less than two years when your spouse enters the United States on an immigrant visa, the permanent resident status is considered “conditional.” The immigrant visa is a conditional resident (CR) visa, not an immediate relative (IR) visa.
You and your spouse must apply together to USCIS to remove the conditional status within the ninety days before the two year anniversary of your spouse’s entry into the United States on his or her immigrant visa. The two-year anniversary date of entry is the date of expiration on the alien registration card (green card).
- How Long Does It Take?
The length of time varies from case to case according to its circumstances and cannot be predicted for individual cases with any accuracy. Some cases are delayed because applicants do not follow instructions carefully. Sometimes the U.S. sponsor, or petitioner, cannot meet Affidavit of Support requirements. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a Consular Officer.
- Ineligibilities for Visas - What If the Applicant Is Ineligible for a Visa?
- Which relatives may I petition for?
Certain conditions and activities may make an applicant ineligible for a visa. Examples of these ineligibilities include: drug trafficking; overstaying a previous visa; and submitting fraudulent documents. If you are ineligible for a visa, you will be informed by the consular officer and advised whether there is a waiver of the ineligibility and what the waiver process is.
- When You Have Your Visa - What You Should Know
If you are issued an immigrant visa, the consular officer will give you your passport containing the immigrant visas and a sealed packet containing the documents which you provided. It is important that you do not open the sealed packet. Only the DHS immigration official should open this packet when you enter the U.S. You are required to enter the U.S. before the expiration date printed on your visa. When traveling, the primary (or principal) applicant must enter the U.S. before or at the same time as family members holding visas.
- Entering the U.S. - Port of Entry
A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the U.S. port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. The DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the U.S.
- How to Apply for a Social Security Number Card
Before your spouse arrives in the United States, you can help him or her learn how to apply for a social security number card. To learn more about this process, visit the website for the Social Security Administration.
All the information provided on this website is for informational purposes only, and only provides an overview of the immigration topics discussed. None of the information contained herein is intended to serve as legal advice. For the most current information regarding immigration matters, please contact a licensed immigration attorney, or refer to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) website: www.uscis.gov.