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  • Permanent Residence via Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

    Filing from within the U.S.

    Please check the USCIS web site for the most up-to-date filing procedures.

    Important Note: This information is provided as general information only and does NOT constitute legal advice, which should only be obtained from an attorney.

    If you are a US citizen and are planning to marry a citizen of another country (a foreign national), or are from another country and are planning to marry a US citizen, the procedure to obtain permanent residency in the US for the international spouse is described below. Foreign students and scholars are welcomed and encouraged to consult with ISSO staff about the steps and timing of this procedure.

    In our local area, the procedure can take 6 - 12 months from the time the petition is filed until the international spouse becomes a permanent resident of the U.S.. Once he or she becomes a U.S. permanent resident, s/he will continue to travel on his/her home country passport, so it is important that the name on the passport and the final I-551 permanent residency card be identical.

    Note: This process is called "adjustment of status to permanent resident," and is not the process for becoming a US citizen; that process is called "naturalization." If you are married to a US citizen, you are eligible to go through the naturalization process after you have been a permanent resident for three years. You are not required to go through the naturalization process; few occupations require US citizenship. However, as a citizen you have the right to vote and to hold public office.

    Procedure to Obtain Permanent Residency through Immediate Relative Petition:

    1. Download the application materials from the USCIS web site. Forms and FAQs are also available at this web site:
      USCIS Legal Permanent Residence web page

    2. After marrying, the US citizen completes Form I-130 and the foreign citizen spouse completes the rest of the application materials. As of July 2006, the adjustment application must be sent to an address in Chicago, listed on the USCIS web site. The packet will be reviewed at that time.
    3. It will be necessary for the foreign spouse to have a medical examination between filing the petition and having the interview. This will include an AIDS test. The examination must be conducted by a USCIS-approved physician. A list of approved physicians and Medical Examination form I-693 should be included in your "adjustment packet."

    4. After filing the application, the next step is to wait for the interview which will be conducted at the nearest USCIS district office. It will probably be at least three or four months before the couple will be called in for an interview. During this waiting period, the foreign spouse may not travel outside the US unless approval for Advanced Parole (applied for on Form I-131) is granted. It is important to keep this in mind when making travel plans.

    5. You will be notified of a date and time for the interview with an officer at USCIS. At the interview, the USCIS will stamp the passport of the foreign national spouse with an I-551 stamp, indicating the completion of the permanent residency application process. At that time travel abroad will be allowed.

    6. A few months after the interview, the permanent residency or "green card" (Form I-551) will arrive in the mail!

    7. NOTE: This may be "conditional permanent residence": if the couple had not been married for at least two years at the time the adjustment to permanent resident is approved, then the spouse will receive conditional permanent residence. This conditional status is equal to permanent residency in all respects and benefits except that it is subject to termination within two years.

      Termination could come as a result of an annulment or divorce or by the determination of the USCIS that the marriage was a "sham", i.e., merely a means for the alien spouse to obtain permanent residency. Additionally, the permanent resident status could also be revoked if the couple fails to apply for the removal of the conditionality during the 90 day period prior to the two year anniversary of the conferral of resident status. To remove the conditionality the couple must jointly file Form I-751 during that 90-day period.

    8. After the approval of the I-751 (and a possible second interview) to remove the conditionality, the permanent green card will be issued.

    NOTE: U.S. permanent residents may not remain outside of the US for longer than 12 months at a time without special permission from the USCIS, or they may lose their status as permanent residents. They must maintain a residence in the US at all times.