Marriage to a U.S. Citizen is one of the quickest ways towards lawful permanent residence. Marriage alone will not change one’s immigration status and in some cases, marriage to a U.S. Citizen might not lead a green card. However, for foreign nationals who are in the U.S. on student, work or tourist visas, it may be possible to seek an adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident based on a bona fide marriage to a U.S. Citizen. ( As of May 2013, same-sex marriages do not qualify for adjustment of status. This may change in the future. Read my previous blog on the end of DOMA for more information. )
1. How long does the process take?
The adjustment of status process varies depending on where the case is filed and the particulars of each individual case. Generally, one can expect the entire process to take about 4-6 months.
2. Can I travel abroad during the process?
Whether one can travel abroad during the green card process depends on their immigration status prior to and during the adjustment process. Individuals who are in a non-immigrant status that does not allow for dual-intent need first to apply for advanced parole so that the adjustment application is not deemed abandoned. Advanced parole will not cure any unlawful presence earned by overstaying or violating an immigration status so it is important not to leave the country if one was previously out of status before seeking adjustment.
3. Can I get a work permit while I wait for the green card?
Yes. Adjustment of status applicants is eligible to apply for employment authorization while the application is pending. Generally, the I-765 application for employment authorization is filed at the same time as the adjustment application and takes about 3 months to be processed and approved. The employment authorization document or EAD will allow you to obtain a social security number but will only be valid until the adjustment application is decided. If the green card is granted an EAD is not necessary.
4. What do I need to show that our marriage is bona fide?
It is not enough to be married to a U.S. Citizen. The marriage must be bona fide which means it must be a genuine marriage not done merely for immigration purposes. In order to prove this couples can provide evidence that they are living like any other married couple. They can show documents such as joint bank statements, joint mortgage or lease agreements, photos, holiday cards and affidavits from friends and family. If the couple has children together than birth certificates of children will also be helpful. See my guide on proving a bona fide marriage.
5. I am an international student; do I have to stay in school?
It is a good idea to stay in student status whenever possible. However, if one drops out of school and falls out of status prior to or after the adjustment of status application is filed they will still be allowed to remain in the country while the application is pending and they will not be penalized for being out of status. Nevertheless, it is important to first speak with an attorney before deciding whether or not to leave school while your application is pending.