Planning a wedding, big or small, can be stressful (venues and photos and vows, oh my!). Want to complicate matters? Throw in the concurrent planning and filing of your future spouse’s green card application! In addition to writing your vows and selecting rings, you also have to prove to the government that you are in a bona fide relationship and marriage.
In order to help others going through a similar green card application process, we are documenting our personal experience. While we certainly are in no position to advise couples on their application, we found the following information helpful to assist us with the process. Our approach was to submit a well-organized application, with as much supporting documentation as possible to demonstrate our relationship is genuine and legitimate. By submitting a complete application upfront, you can avoid future requests for information and therefore unnecessary delays in an already lengthy process.
Timing of Submission
It was important for us to submit our application as soon as possible after we married. The sooner you submit the application, the sooner your spouse will be on the road to citizenship. We married on a Saturday in June and submitted the completed green card application materials on the following Monday. We permitted time to include a few pictures from our wedding and a copy of our marriage certificate. This urgency added stress to our engagement, as we not only had to plan an (amazing) elopement, but also work on the application. In many ways, the application was more stressful and time consuming than the wedding planning! In the end, we were confident in the application we submitted and were happy to initiate the process as we started our lives together as husband and wife.
Circumstances Are Unique
Every application is unique depending on the circumstances of the couple. Your spouse may work in the US, live in another country, or even have children to sponsor. That being said, the information shared in this post reflects our personal experience only.
My husband and I met in the US, as he has been working here for nearly 3 years on an H1b visa sponsored by his employer. He had to make a decision as to whether he would renew his H1b visa (expiring in September), or if he could rely on his adjustment of status (AOS) being processed in a timely manner to support his right to continue working in the US. Timing was a very important consideration, as his H1b expiration date is September 30th and our application was filed in early June. The adjustment of status usually takes 3 months to process, which put him potentially right at the end of September. Why is this important? If he decided not to renew his H1b with his employer, he would need the AOS to continue working in the US after September 30th. Any delay in obtaining the AOS would put him at risk, as he cannot work without it.
To renew, or not to renew, that is the question. The final decision was to renew the H1b and concurrently file for the green card and adjustment of status. This alleviates any worry we have about a potential gap in employment, and will likely show good faith that he is sponsored by an employer to work (not relying on marriage to remain in the US).
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website contains all forms and information on the green card application process. For our application, we downloaded and completed the following forms:
I-130: Petition for Alien Relative (for alien relatives, including spouses, who wish to immigrate to the US)
I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (to adjust your status to that of a permanent resident)
I-864: Affidavit of Support (for US spouse to show they have adequate means to support their family member)
In addition to the application forms, there are instructions provided for each form to clarify definitions and in some cases provide step by step directions. To save time and confusion, we highly recommend you download and read the instructions prior to completing the forms.
Speak with an Expert
While we did our research to understand the application and forms required, we decided to speak with an immigration attorney. The attorney confirmed the forms we needed to complete, the steps to submit the application, and provided estimated timelines. We also sought his opinion on the concurrent filing with an H1b visa, as well as travel restrictions while processing the Adjustment of Status. We felt confident we could complete the filing on our own, and therefore did not contract the attorney to complete and submit the forms on our behalf.
If you have the means to consult with an expert about the process (even one phone call), we recommend you contact an immigration attorney. Review the forms and instructions prior to speaking with the attorney to address any specific questions you may have. At the very least, we felt we did our due diligence to ensure we were not overlooking any items.
Completing the Application Forms
All necessary forms are available on the USCIS website. Initially we printed the forms and started to fill them in by hand. However, we made several mistakes and read in other forums that typed applications are favored. Once you download the PDF document, you can edit and save the form electronically as you go, which is how we proceeded. We found it beneficial to have the instructions for each form available as we went along.
A few tips and reminders:
- Pay careful attention to the definitions (petitioner vs. beneficiary) on the forms. You do not want to fill in your spouse’s information when they are requesting information from you (or vice versa).
- If you are filling out the forms while engaged, indicate that you are “married” on the application, as you will be married when you submit the forms.
- Have as much information ready in advance of completing the application: social security numbers, arrival/departure records, income tax information, etc. In our experience, it was beneficial to review the form prior to filling it out to understand what supporting information we needed. When you have to continuously stop what you are doing to find a piece of information it can be stressful and hinder both your motivation and your patience. Disclaimer, I cursed the forms several times, largely in part to my poor planning.
- Check, double-check, then check again. If you’re anything like us, as you near submission you will feel as though you have reviewed each form a hundred times. I filled the forms out, reviewed thoroughly (multiple times), and had my spouse review as well. Despite all of this, we still found boxes to be checked and incomplete data fields as we put the final product together to mail. Seriously, how does this happen? Do not underestimate the necessity to triple check your application.
Supporting Information for Forms
By far, the most cumbersome aspect of the application process is compiling all of the supporting information for each application. The information you choose to include is dependent on your relationship and what resources you have available. While we felt it was rather evident our relationship is genuine, we provided several types of documentation as evidence of the legitimacy of our love and marriage.
The form I-130 required the most supporting information from us. First, there is the standard request for: marriage certificate, birth certificates, passport style photos, and biographic information. Additionally, the application requires further proof of your legitimate relationship such as: shared property, joint tenancy, co-mingling of finances, and affidavits from a third party. Again, this supporting documentation will be different for each couple.
We submitted the following items as evidence of a bona fide marriage/relationship:
- Copy of lease showing joint tenancy (both names on the lease)
- Copy of an envelope addressed to both of us at our joint residency (thanks Grandma!)
- Copy of joint bank account statement (co-mingling of financial resources)
- Copy of employer benefits listing my spouse as the beneficiary to assets (co-mingling of financial resources)
- Copy of marriage ceremony contract signed by both parties (co-mingling of financial resources)
- Copy of wedding videographer contract signed by both parties (co-mingling of financial resources)
- Affidavits sworn by my father and stepfather (personal knowledge of our marital relationship)
- Written summary of relationship and timeline (validate relationship)
- Selection of pictures that document the relationship and marriage (validate relationship)
- Script from our wedding ceremony written by both parties (validate marriage)
Below are templates that we modified or created for our application:
SAMPLE AFFIDAVIT Sample_Third Party Affadavit of Bona Fide Relationship
SAMPLE PICTURE PAGE (add your own photos, titles, and text!) Sample_Picture Page
Is this all necessary? Probably not. Do we feel we provided as much information as we could to validate our marriage? Absolutely. While this may have been overkill, we have not received any requests for additional information to-date. Plus, it was fun to put together the story of our relationship in pictures. Not to mention, the affidavits written by my father and stepfather were absolutely wonderful and heartwarming.
For the form I-485, Jimmy had to submit many of the same supporting documents. However, it is worth noting a medical examination report must be completed, sealed, and included with the application. Your foreign spouse must make arrangements to have this completed at an approved location.
Tip: Some forms require the same supporting information. For example, my husband had to submit a total of 3 passport style photos (two for the I-485 and one for the I-130). Do not overlook that you may need multiple copies to support each form.
How to Package the Application
We initially gave little thought to the look and structure of our final product until we stumbled across the VisaJourney forum. Do yourself a favor and read through the suggestions and considerations others have posted. This forum is chock-full of topics and answers that covers the spectrum of the visa process (not just the green card application).
We modified a template we found on VisaJourney to fit our needs. Below is a copy of the cover letter we submitted with our application.
We printed documents one-sided and placed them in a two prong portfolio. The portfolio contained dividers, so we secured each form and supporting documentation in its own section. It was unclear to us if there is a preference from USCIS to have application forms together or separate. Right or wrong, we figured the dividers would make it convenient to display each form.
Reminder: Include the checks and/or money orders for each form in the application. We placed our money orders immediately behind the cover letter so they were not overlooked.
Mailing Your Application
The instruction sheet for each form should address a mailing location based on which state you live in. For example, if you live in Arizona, you mail the I-130 form to the Phoenix lockbox. If you live in New York, you mail the I-130 form to the Chicago lockbox.
Tip: Read the fine print. You may need to send your forms to a different location if you are filing multiple forms concurrently. After the locations are provided on the instructions for the I-130 form, there is a section that states the following:
If the beneficiary resides in the United States and is filing Form 1-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status along with Form I-130, submit both forms with the fee in the same envelope to the USCIS Chicago Lockbox facility.
Given we submitted both the I-485 and the I-130, we sent our items to the Chicago Lockbox facility instead of Phoenix. If we mistakenly sent our applications to the wrong location, it would have added more time to process the documents.
At the post office, we chose to mail the application via priority mail. We put a lot of time and effort into the application and were willing to pay $20 to track the envelope and ensure it arrived within 1-2 business days.
How much will this cost?
The cost of the application will vary for each couple, as it depends on which forms you file and how you are filing (yourself or an attorney). Our application costs to-date have been approximately $1600. The form I-485 fee was $1070 (including biometrics) and form I-130 fee was $420. Additionally, there was a cost for passport photos which were taken at WalgreenS ($36), mailing the application ($20), and the medical examination appointment which my husband paid in cash to the physician ($60).
It took approximately 3 weeks for us to receive notification that the application was received. Our most recent status, 4 months after submission, states our interview is pending. At this point it is the waiting game.
After USCIS receives the application. your spouse will receive a scheduled biometrics appointment at a predetermined location. Jimmy’s biometric appointment was scheduled approximately one month after we submitted the application.
WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
What did you do to make your application process efficient and stress free?