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December 16th 2019

Spouse visa guide: Living in the U.S. and married to a U.S. citizen

Start-to-finish guide to 'concurrent filing' — the fast track to a spousal green card when both spouses live in the U.S.

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The basics

This guide is for married couples where both spouses live in the United States and the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen.

Not sure if you’re eligible to apply for a green card for a spouse? You can check your eligibility through our partner Boundless, a service that helps immigrants and their families navigate the complex U.S. immigration process, without providing any personal information. When you’re ready to apply, Boundless can guide you through every milestone of the marriage-based green card process, starting with your Form I-130 all the way to the finish line. Learn more, or get started today.

Applying for citizenship or a marriage-based green card

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Step 1: Green Card Application

If you both live in the United States and the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen, you’re in luck! You can save time by combining two parts of the process in one “concurrent filing” that you send in a single package to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the government agency that handles these applications:

  1. Establishing the marriage relationship (Form I-130, officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”)

  2. Applying for the green card (Form I-485, officially called the “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”)

Getting a medical exam

Before completing and mailing the application package to USCIS (see below), the spouse seeking a green card must have a medical examination performed by a USCIS-approved doctor (officially known as a “civil surgeon”). You can find one in your area by using the USCIS “Find a Doctor” tool.

These medical exams typically cost $200, but prices vary by doctor. You will pay this fee directly to the doctor’s office, not to USCIS.

Once the exam is complete, the doctor will give you a sealed envelope containing the results (documented on Form I-693, officially called the “Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record”), which you must include in your application package.

Filing the application

Your complete spousal visa application package must include the following forms (and supporting documents), plus payment for the government fees:

Required government forms

The following forms are required as part of the full spousal green card application package (Boundless can help you complete them all):

Optional government forms

If the spouse seeking a visa (marriage-based green card) wants to work in the United States or travel internationally, the following additional forms can also be included in the full spouse visa application package (Boundless can help you complete these, too):

Mandatory government fees

All other forms — the work permit application, travel permit application, and financial support form — do not require additional government fees. And again, the medical exam fee is paid directly to the doctor.

Within about two weeks after mailing the complete application package to the appropriate USCIS address, you should receive official “receipt numbers” in the mail from USCIS (one each for the family sponsorship form, green card application, work permit application, and travel permit application).

Approval of the travel permit and work permit take around five months (longer in some cases).

Attending your biometrics appointment

You will then receive notice of a biometrics appointment, usually about one month after USCIS receives your application package. The appointment is typically scheduled at the USCIS field office closest to where you live and is usually low-stress — USCIS will simply take fingerprints and photographs of the spouse seeking a green card, in order to conduct background and security checks. The sponsoring spouse is not required to attend this appointment and often does not attend.

If USCIS needs more information or documents to process your application, they will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), typically within 2–3 months.

For the flat rate of $950, Boundless helps you complete your entire marriage-based green card (spousal visa) application, including all required forms and supporting documents, independent attorney review, and support from the moment your application is filed until you receive your green card. Learn more about what you get with Boundless, or start your application now.

Step 2: Interview and Approval

Attending your green card interview

Once USCIS has completed all the background processing of your visa application materials, your file is transferred to your nearest USCIS field office. This local office will then send you an appointment notice with the time, date, and location of an interview that both spouses must attend.

This interview is the last big step in the application process, and it’s normal to feel intimidated and stressed by this part — most couples do. But don’t worry! You can help reduce the stress by knowing what to expect and assembling an organized file to bring to your interview. Check out these resources for more details:

A USCIS officer will conduct the interview. If they’re sufficiently convinced that you and your spouse married “in good faith” — that is, your marriage is not fraudulent (see our guide to proving your marriage is authentic) — they may approve your spousal visa application on the spot. It’s important to understand all the possibilities, though.

Receiving your spousal visa (Green Card)

Your physical spouse visa (also called a “green card” because of its color) will arrive by mail, typically within two to three weeks of approval. The green card entitles you to work anywhere in the United States and take international trips without separate work and travel permits.

The type of green card you receive will depend on how long you and your spouse have been married at the time of visa approval:

If you've been married less than two years

Your green card will be marked “CR1” for “conditional green card.” This type of green card is valid for only two years, at which point you and your spouse must jointly file another form to “remove the conditions” — giving USCIS one more opportunity to make sure that the marriage is authentic — and then get a permanent green card.

If you've been married more than two years

Your green card will be marked “IR1” for “immediate relative green card.” This green card (also called a “permanent green card”) is valid for 10 years, and renewal is typically a simple process.

Boundless makes it easy to complete your green card application by turning all the required government forms into simple questions you can answer online — typically in under two hours, compared with days or weeks the traditional way. You’ll also get an independent immigration attorney who will review your entire application package and answer your questions — for no additional fee. Ready to start? Check your eligibility now.

The takeaway

While you wait to hear back about your spousal visa application, you can prepare for your new life in the U.S. There are many more important documents and steps to take before you’ll be ready to move to the country however. For example, did you know that your credit history doesn’t automatically transfer with you when you immigrate? That means that companies and financial institutions will have no record of your previous financial history. In turn, that can make it very difficult to secure loans, secure an apartment lease, mobile phone companies, and other service providers.  

Nova Credit's Credit Passport® technology helps people bring their credit history with them when they move to the U.S. While your credit history won’t be transferred to national bureau databases, Nova Credit partners with companies to include information from your Credit Passport® in applications to make it easier for newcomers to get approved for credit cards, loans and other products. Once you establish a U.S. credit account using the credit you’ve earned, you can start building a local credit history. Nova Credit currently connects to international credit bureaus in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Korea and the UK.

Use your foreign credit history to start your U.S credit history

New to the U.S.? Check if you can use your country's credit history in the U.S. to apply for credit cards and start your U.S credit history using Nova Credit. No SSN is needed to start your U.S credit history.

More from Nova Credit:

The ultimate guide to the F-1 visa

The ultimate guide to the H-1B visa

The ultimate guide to the J-1 visa

The ultimate guide to the L-1 visa

The ultimate guide to the O-1 visa

How to check your USCIS case status

How to read the Visa Bulletin

How to build credit after moving to the US

How to get a social security card

How to get an apartment with no credit history

No credit check cell phone plans

How to immigrate to the United States