Permanent Residency (Green Card) Through Marriage

This page is for University of Iowa international students and scholars who are planning to marry (or have already married) a United States citizen or a legal Permanent Resident and who want to become Permanent Residents of the U.S. on the basis of their marriage.   This is very basic information to alert you to issues you need to think about, and does not constitute legal advice.  International Student and Scholar Services cannot advise or assist anyone with more detailed green card information.

For more detailed information, you should consult the following U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sites:

Do I automatically become a Permanent Resident when I marry a U.S. citizen?

No.  If you get married in the United States, you must apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to adjust status in order to become a Permanent Resident.  If you get married outside the U.S. OR you leave the U.S. after your marriage but before applying to the USCIS to adjust status, there are some things you need to be aware of before you travel.

Why can’t I just leave the U.S. without applying for Permanent Residency, and get back in using my valid F or J visa?

By marrying a U.S. citizen, the U.S. government presumes you have the intention of applying for Permanent Residency.  Even if this really is not true, it is almost impossible to convince them otherwise.  Because they presume you intend to become a Permanent Resident of the U.S., they require that if getting married outside the U.S. or traveling outside the U.S. after marriage without having applied for Permanent Residency in advance, you MUST then apply for an immigrant visa at the nearest U.S. consulate.   If you got married but instead re-entered the U.S. using your non-immigrant F or J visa, you could be accused of making a fraudulent entry and not permitted access at the Port of Entry. 

So I could either get married in my home country, or get married in the U.S. and then travel outside the U.S. right away, and then visit a consulate to apply for an immigrant visa based on Permanent Residency so I can return to the U.S.?

You could, but you should be aware it can take months to be granted an immigrant visa based on a Permanent Residency application, in which case you would be stuck outside the U.S. until it is approved.

Can I leave the United States temporarily while I’m waiting for my interview or after the interview but before I get my “Green Card?”

Only if you apply for special permission, called “Advance Parole,” from the USCIS.  If you leave before applying, your application may be considered “abandoned” and you will have to start the process all over again from outside the United States.  You might not be able to return to the United States for many months.

Be aware that, at least in Iowa, it can take severak weeks to obtain Advance Parole (so if you want to leave the U.S. right after getting married, you should apply for Advance Parole immediately at the same time you file your Permanent Residency application).  But once you are granted Advance Parole, this means you do not need to obtain an immigrant visa, and would be able to legally re-enter the U.S. without delay.

What forms do I need to submit in order to adjust status?

Two of the forms you must submit are Form I-130 (Petition to Classify Status of Alien Relative for Issuance of Immigrant Visa) submitted by your spouse, and Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) submitted by you, along with required supporting documentation.

What supporting documentation is required?

Supporting documentation usually includes (1) the required fees, (2) your marriage certificate, (3) evidence of the termination of any previous marriages, (4) your and your spouse’s birth certificates, (5) several other USCIS forms and (6) photographs taken according to USCIS specifications.

Where can I obtain the necessary forms?

Documents may be found on the USCIS Forms site.  You may also go to the local offices of your U.S. Senator or Congress-person.

Can I submit the forms before I get married?

No.  You cannot apply to adjust status until after you are married.  But you can obtain the necessary forms and begin completing them.  You can also assemble the supporting documents that you will need.

Is it necessary for me to hire a lawyer?

Not necessarily, but you may wish to do so.    

How does the process actually work?

Forms I-130 and I-485 and all of the required supporting documents are filed with the USCIS, at which point you become an applicant for Adjustment of Status, which is a special “in-between status” between your non—immigrant F or J status and Permanent Residency.  The USCIS will review your application (this is the part that can take months or years) and then send you a notice telling you when you and your spouse are to appear for an interview.

At the interview, a USCIS officer will talk with both you and your spouse, perhaps separately.  The general purpose of the interview is to ascertain that you and your spouse have an actual marriage, based on the intention to spend a life together, rather than a marriage that was undertaken in order to “get a Green Card.”

Will I get my “Green Card” at the close of the interview?

No.  It will take the USCIS several more weeks (or longer) to produce your actual alien registration receipt card (“Green Card”).  But the USCIS will stamp your passport to show that your adjustment of status application has been approved and that you are, as of that day, a lawful Permanent Resident (or a conditional Permanent Resident, if you were married for less than two years at the time your application was submitted) of the United States.

Can I work while my application is being processed?

Only if you obtain USCIS authorization.  You may submit a Form I-765 along with your initial submission of your Forms I-130 and I-485, or at any time while your adjustment of status application is pending.  The ISSS strongly recommends you do so.  Once the USCIS sends you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), you are authorized to work in any position you can secure. 

How is my F or J Status Affected While I am in Adjustment of Status?

As an Adjustment Applicant, travel authorizations will be handled differently and no longer through ISSS (see the earlier section on leaving the U.S. temporarily and Advaned Parole).  Employment authorizations may be different and easier, if you apply for employment authorization based on your Permanent Residency application (this is why we strongly suggest filing the I-765 employment authorization request when you file all other application material).  Once you receive your employment authorization based on your Permanent Residency application, this will allow you to take any kind of employment in the U.S., and you are no longer restricted like other F or J non-immigrants who can only work with Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, or Academic Training authorizations based on area of study/internship.

However, the USCIS as well as ISSS strongly advises you, if still an F or J  student, to maintain full-time registration in your degree program up until you graduate or your Permanent Residency is approved, whichever comes first.  This is because, should your Permanent Residency application eventually be denied, you can still show that you were maintaining your non-immigrant status and would then be able to remain in the U.S. in non-immigrant status until completion of your academic program.  If you had not maintained full-time registration and were found to not be maintaining your F or J non-immigrant status, you could be determined to be out of status and have to leave the U.S. immediately.

Reporting to the University of Iowa:  Until your Permanent Residency is approved, if you are in F or J status you will continue to be reported by the University of Iowa in the SEVIS system.  In the meantime, the University requires that as soon as you file the I-485 and/or the I-765 employment authorization, and have received  the Notice of Action and/or employment authorization card, you must bring the documentation to International Student and Scholar Services so your status can be updated in the UI system.  Also bring notification once your Permanent Residency is approved.

A note to persons in J status who are subject to 212(e), the two-year home residency requirement:  Being subject to 212(e) means that you are NOT eligible to obtain an immigrant visa outside the U.S. based on a Permanent Resident application, or file for adjustment of status to Permanent Residency from within the U.S., until you have either been granted a waiver to be released from the 212(e) requirement or have fulfilled the terms of 212(e) by living in your home country for two years.  Please consult an ISSS advisor about your situation.