Immigration from Within the U.S. Based on Marriage to a United States Citizen

Immigration to the United States can be a very stressful and confusing procedure. There are countless forms to fill out and information that must be compiled. While U.S. Immigration law is certainly complicated, a lawyer is not always necessary to complete this process. The following information has been compiled through extensive research and personal experience to assist you in your journey through the U.S. Immigration system, and will hopefully save you the cost of hiring a lawyer. Please note that I am NOT a lawyer. Everything written here is my personal opinion based on information I have learned through research and personal experience.

Marriage to a United States citizen qualifies you to file for a family-based green card. Please understand that marrying a U.S. citizen does not automatically make you a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. There are very specific steps that should be taken once you become married. In this article, I will be focusing specifically on immigrating from within the United States.

If you are in the country and you marry a U.S. citizen, you may continue to reside in the country, with certain restrictions. After your marriage, pay a visit to your local United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office to obtain the package of forms you need to file and to ask any questions you may have. These forms may also be downloaded at http://www.uscis.gov.

The forms you will need to file based on marriage to a U.S. citizen from within the United States are the I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative, I-485 Request to Adjust Status (from visitor, student, etc. to permanent resident), I-765 Petition for Employment Authorization and the I-131 Request for Advance Parole (also known as a “travel document,” which allows you to leave and return to the U.S. while you are adjusting status), if applicable.

Once you file these forms, under no circumstance should you leave the United States, unless you have Advance Parole. Leaving the U.S. while your case is pending constitutes abandonment of your applications and your case will be denied. It is essential to apply for Advance Parole if you need to leave on an emergency basis. Please also be advised that USCIS does not guarantee Advance Parole to everyone. These documents are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

In some cases, leaving the U.S. with these applications pending and then attempting to re-enter the United States can trigger a 3-10 year bar from entering the country. For example, if you entered the United States as a visitor and overstayed your visa or stayed in the country more than 180 days from the day you entered, you are considered “out of status” and you are risking deportation. Additionally, you are subject to the 3-10 year bar if you leave the U.S. and then attempt to re-enter. If you have become out of status, do not even bother applying for Advance Parole. Even with this document you will most likely be denied entry into the U.S. upon your return.

When filing your paperwork, use the checklists that come with the downloadable version of the form. Make sure you have every piece of evidence requested, and have filled the form out completely. If you do not submit your forms properly, your case could be denied or you will be asked to submit the missing information, which will delay processing. One thing I would advise leaving out, however, is the USCIS medical exam.

You are required to undergo a medical exam regardless of what country you are immigrating from. This physical must be carried out by a doctor who is registered with USCIS. Your medical exam is only valid for one year, therefore it is my suggestion that you wait to receive the letter from USCIS requesting the exam, so there is less of a chance that it will expire. The medical exams are in no way painful, but they can be expensive. Waiting until USCIS requests that you have the exam can save you time and expense.

After you file your papers, you can expect to receive a notice from USCIS that they have been received. The notice will have a case number at the top of the page and you may use this number to check the status of your case online at http://www.uscis.gov. Once you get your notice of receipt, you can expect to receive another letter from USCIS requesting you make an appointment to have your biometrics and fingerprinting done. Be sure to make your appointment as soon as you can to avoid delays.

Most likely, you will receive your Employment Authorization Document (I-766) from USCIS within a few weeks or months after having your biometrics and fingerprinting appointment. The I-766 is a card, much like a driver’s license that you can present to prospective employers. This card is also evidence of your status in the United States. You should not work in the U.S. without this document. To do so would be illegal.

Once you have your Employment Authorization Document you can apply for a social security card for work purposes only. Your card will be clearly stamped as such. You are also eligible to get a state driver’s license. A driver’s license is often required to obtain a credit card, so you will want to have one so you can begin to build your credit in the U.S., as your credit from your home country will most likely not transfer when you immigrate.

When the applications with all the required evidence are filed and received, and your biometrics, fingerprints, and physical exam have been submitted, you can expect to receive an appointment for your interview. The interview letter will tell you exactly where and when your interview will take place. You are required to attend this interview. Failure to do so will result in the denial of your case. Only in serious emergencies can interviews be rescheduled.

The interview letter will also contain a checklist of items you will need to bring to your appointment. One of the things USCIS requires is evidence that you and your spouse have a real relationship and have been residing together and have co-mingled assets. Here is a list of things you can bring to give you an idea of what they are looking for:

* Personal letters you and your spouse exchanged
* Photos of you and your spouse together on vacations, holidays or other special occasions
* Greeting cards addressed to both of you from friends and family
* Junk mail addressed to the non-U.S. citizen at the address in which you both live
* Other pieces of mail for both of you proving that you live at the same residence
* Life insurance policies listing your spouse as a beneficiary
* Your spouses name listed on your car insurance
* A joint checking or savings account
* Credit cards in both your names
* An apartment lease you have both signed
* Telephone records that show the non-U.S. citizen has placed phone calls to their home country from your telephone
* Phone cards that have been used to communicate with one another
* Notarized letters from people in the community stating they know you and your spouse to be a married couple
* Notarized letters from friends or family stating they know you and your spouse to be a married couple
* If you live with friends or family and do not pay rent, a notarized letter from the owner of the house/apartment stating you live there

Make sure you have everything you need before you arrive at your interview. I highly recommend investing in a small filing box or binder you can store your documents in. The officer conducting your interview will appreciate organization. It is also a good idea to make copies of absolutely every document you submit, otherwise your original documents may be kept. Also plan to leave two or three photographs of you and your spouse there for their records.

For your interview, dress appropriately in business attire to make a good impression. Be polite and answer questions that are posed to you honestly and as succinctly as possible. This is not a time to file complaints. Answering only what you are asked will also keep the length of your interview at a minimum. Most of all, don’t be nervous. The interview can be very intimidating, but as long as you have your documents in order, you should be fine. I will also note that being “out of status” is forgiven at the time of the interview.

If the officer approves your case at the interview, you may receive a stamp in your passport that serves as your proof of status and legal ability to work in the United States until you receive your actual green card in the mail. Times between approvals and the actual receipt of the green card vary, but the average wait is about a week. Depending on how long you have been married, your green card will be valid for several years and you will not have to worry about filing any more papers until the date of expiration approaches. The officer at your interview will tell you how many years you will have to wait to apply for citizenship, if you so desire. Good luck!

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