Spousal Immigration to the US
If you live in the United States as a citizen or a legal permanent resident, you are entitled to some immigration benefits. This includes being able to sponsor your foreign spouse and children for a green card. So if you plan on living in the United States permanently with them, you need to follow the required immigration process.
However, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) gets thousands of spousal visa applications yearly. Therefore, you might wonder how long it would take before you finally get to be with your spouse.
The precise amount of time depends on your immigration status, that is, whether you are a citizen or have permanent resident status, the accuracy of your spousal immigration application, and the inner workings of the USCIS.
Spousal Immigration: Green Card Categories
Spouses of US citizens fall under the IR1 visa category as immediate relatives of the citizen. Of all family-based petitions, this is the most prioritized; visas are always available, and the processing typically takes a shorter time than other categories.
On the other hand, a foreign spouse to a green cardholder falls under the F2A visa category. This is a family preference visa category reserved for immediate family members of green card holders, including their spouses and minor children. These visas are not always available, so applying for them typically takes longer than the IR1 visa.
What Is the Application Process for a Citizen Sponsored Spousal Green Card?
If you have citizenship status, you’ll need to follow the following steps to get your spouse an immigrant visa and green card:
- You’ll need to file forms I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and I-130A (Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary) with the USCIS. In addition to these, you may need to provide additional documentation, and you’ll need to pay the appropriate filing fee. You can do the filing via the USCIS website.
- After the petition is approved, the USCIS will forward the case to the National Visa Center (NVC).
- The NVC will contact you to let you know they have received the application and will inform you if you need to provide any additional information to complete your application. Then they will forward the immigrant visa petition for consular processing to an embassy or consulate in the country where your foreign spouse resides.
- The consulate will schedule your foreign spouse for an interview and contact them to inform them of the date and necessary documents to bring. The most common ones are their birth certificate and civil marriage certificate.
- If the interview is satisfactory, your spouse will be issued an immigration visa with which they can enter the US within six months.
- A few weeks after they arrive in the US, the USCIS will send their green card via mail. However, the type of card they receive will depend on how long both partners have been married. If you have been married for less than two years, your spouse will receive a conditional green card that expires after two years. They will need to petition the USCIS for a permanent resident card within 90 days of its expiration date to become a permanent resident.
What Is the Application Process for a Lawful Permanent Resident Sponsored Spousal Green Card?
The process for lawful permanent residents is almost the same as for a citizen-sponsored spousal green card. The difference is that there is a waiting period after the USCIS approves the initial petition of the green card holder (sponsor). At this point, they forward the immigrant visa application to the NVC, and the immigrant spouse joins a waiting list.
How soon their visa application can move forward will depend on the number of green cards available per year to people from your spouse’s home country, the petition’s priority date, and the number of people waiting for a visa in that category.
Your (spouse’s) petition’s priority date refers to its initial filing date. The US Department of State releases a monthly visa bulletin that contains up-to-date information on the current priority dates being processed by the National Visa Center. You can monitor the bulletin to know when they have reached your priority date. Most likely, however, they will contact you when that happens.
Then you can complete the visa application on their site, after which they will forward the immigration case to the consulate of your spouse’s country. From here on, the process becomes identical to that for the spouse of a US citizen.
USCIS Timelines for Processing Spousal Green Card Applications
To help applicants manage their expectations, the USCIS has estimated timelines within which spousal immigration applications via Form I-130 are completed. The time frame depends on several factors, including the visa application center and the visa or immigration category under which the application falls. Below is a list of the current average processing period in the various immigration service centers:
California Service Center
- Spouse of US citizen – 10.5 months
- Spouse of permanent resident – 25.5 months.
Nebraska Service Center
- Spouse of US citizen – 10.5 months
- Spouse of permanent resident – 10.5 months.
Texas Service Center
- Spouse of US citizen – 11.5 months
- Spouse of permanent resident – 20 months.
Potomac Service Center
- Spouse of US citizen – 12 month
- Spouse of permanent resident – 29 months.
Vermont Service Center
- Spouse of US citizen – 16 months
- Spouse of permanent resident – 30 months.
If your application is pending, you can check the USCIS website periodically to know what to expect.
From the estimated timelines above, it is evident that the process is a lot longer for spouses of permanent residents than for their counterparts who are married to citizens. For this reason, permanent residents, especially those eligible for United States citizenship, should consider applying for citizenship and complete the process before bringing their spouses over, as that can significantly reduce the processing time.
How Can a Lawyer Help?
Making a mistake in your application could lead to your petition being denied. You would then have to rectify the issues and reapply.
Also, any complication could come up during the rigorous process of application. In such a situation, a competent US immigration attorney may be able to help you resolve the issue.
Therefore, it may be in your best interest to hire an immigration lawyer to help you with your spousal immigration visa.
If you have further questions on bringing your spouse to the US or need a Texas immigration attorney for your case, contact Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law. Let us help you reunite with your loved one.