Marriage is not only a joining of two families, a declaration of love, and a life-changing decision. It is also a change of legal status – one that has important ramifications for the immigration process. US citizenship and marriage are two closely intertwined subjects. Married couples can sponsor each other, so that if one spouse is a US citizen or permanent resident, he or she can sponsor their husband or wife to enter the US legally and can even help secure a green card for their spouse.
If you are married to a US citizen, you may be able to apply for a green card and receive permanent residency much sooner than someone who does not have the spouse advantage. However, while some people think that marrying a US citizen is enough to ensure a quick green card, this is not the case. You cannot simply marry a US citizen and get a green card. You also cannot marry someone in order to get a green card.
If you are married to a US citizen, you must still apply for a green card and provide evidence of your marriage. As well, you may be required to prove that you did not undertake your marriage in order to secure a green card. This is considered an offense and therefore immigration officials may investigate your marriage if the timing of the event seems suspicious. You and your spouse may be asked individually about your courtship and marriage and may investigate your marriage and living arrangements. Immigration officials may also speak to your friends and family to determine whether the marriage is legitimate. A marriage undertaken just to secure a green card is not considered legitimate and usually will result in a denial of a green card application, even if one of the partners is a US citizen. If an investigation by US immigration authorities determines that you have married a US citizen in order to gain a green card, this is considered fraud and in some cases deportation proceedings may be begun. To learn more about immigration fraud through marriage, attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Jeff L. Khurgel have a useful guide on the topic.
If a non US citizen becomes engaged to be married to a US citizen, it is advisable that the couple fill out either applications for a Fiancee Visa (K-1 Visa) or an Immigrant Visa (Green Card). The K-1 Visa is a temporary visa which allows you to bring your future spouse legally to the US in order to wed. Once you have married and are residing in the US, you may then take further steps to apply for a green card. Applying for a green rather than a Finacee Visa is a good idea if you will not be marrying in the US.
If you are a green card holder and want to marry someone who is not a US citizen, you are not eligible for the K-1 Visa. However, after your wedding you may apply for a green card for your spouse.
In every case, when you apply for a green card for your spouse, be advised that the permanent residency for your spouse will be conditional for two years. Within 90 days of your second wedding anniversary, you and your spouse must apply to the USCIS to have the permanent residency become permanent.
If you need further information, Lawcom has a useful guide to the major definitions and procedures of getting US immigration status through marriage.