Obtaining a green card after marriage is not something that happens overnight; the current average wait time is roughly 16.5 months.
A green card, or Permanent Resident Card, is a legal document that grants immigrants the right to live and work permanently in the United States.
While there are various paths to a green card, one of the most common is marriage.
In total, from start to finish, the process for a green card after marriage could take anywhere from about 11 to 40 months1, depending on various factors, including the applicant’s location, any potential complications or issues with the application, and the specific service center or embassy handling the process.
- Marriage: Ensure your marriage is valid and recognized in the state or country where it occurred.
- File I-130 Petition: The U.S. citizen or green card holder spouse files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, to establish the qualifying relationship. This comes with a filing fee.
- Wait for Decision: USCIS reviews the petition. If approved, foreign spouses inside the U.S. proceed to step 4; those outside the U.S. go to step 5.
- Adjustment of Status (If in the U.S.): File Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. During this time, you can also apply for work and travel permits. You’ll eventually need to attend an interview as well, after which a decision is made on your green card.
- Consular Processing (If outside the U.S.): After I-130 approval, the case is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC). The foreign spouse will need to file Form DS-260 (“Immigrant Visa Application”), then attend a visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their country. If granted a visa, they can enter the U.S. and become a permanent resident.
- Biometrics Appointment: Fingerprints, photo, and signature are taken for security checks and the green card.
- Interview: Both spouses attend an interview at a USCIS office or a U.S. consulate (only foreign spouse will need to attend if abroad and not together). Questions aim to determine the authenticity of the marriage.
- Green Card Issuance: If all goes well, the foreign spouse will become a conditional permanent resident (if married for less than 2 years) or a permanent resident (if married for 2 years or more). Conditional residents must file Form I-751 to remove conditions 2 years later.
Marriage-Based Green Card Average Processing Time: 4 Scenarios
The average processing time for a marriage-based green card will depend on which of the following situations you fall in:
- Living in the US and married to a US citizen.
- Outside the US and married to a US citizen.
- Lving in the US and married to a US green card holder.
- Outside the US and married to a US green card holder.
Each scenario will have a different average processing time.
Below is a general breakdown of the processes and the potential time frames based on the four situations.
1. Immigrant Spouse Living in U.S. married to U.S. citizen: 12.5-20.5 months
After marriage, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse needs to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)2. The I-130 form processing time could range from several months to over a year, depending on where it’s being processed and the applicant’s specific circumstances. The spouse who is a legal U.S. citizen will need to provide the following documents:
- Proof of U.S. citizenship.
- Marriage certificate that shows the names of both spouses, the location of the marriage, and the date.
- Divorce decree if either spouse was previously married.
- Documents that support the validity of the marriage, such as joint bank account statements, joint leases, and pictures that prove the relationship is real.
- Both parties of marriage are at least 18 years old.
Mail in the application to the proper office; you will receive a confirmation receipt within about 2 weeks. The average wait time for processing Form I-130 is about 11.9 months for a U.S. citizen sponsor.
If the foreign spouse is already in the U.S. on a valid visa, they can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, after the I-130 is approved. This is the application for the green card itself. The average wait time to process Form I-485 is 11.5 months, but can be anywhere from 13-40 months.
The applicant may also file for work and travel authorization using Form I-765 and Form I-131, respectively, while the I-485 is pending. The process will typically involve a biometrics appointment and an interview at a USCIS field office.
After the adjustment of status interview in the United States, the USCIS will mail the green card to the applicant. If you have been married for two years or less, the immigrant spouse will receive a conditional marriage green card. After two years, you can apply for a permanent marriage green card3.
Time Frame: 12.5-20 months
2. Immigrant Spouse Living Abroad Married to U.S. Citizen: 14-15 months
First, applicants must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The average wait time for processing Form I-130 is about 11.9 months for a U.S. citizen sponsor.
If the foreign spouse is outside the U.S., they must go through consular processing. This means waiting for the approved I-130 to be sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) and subsequently to the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. The National Visa Center (NVC) must verify documents, which adds 1-2 months.
Next, you need to file Form DS-260. The U.S. Department of State uses this form to review immigrant visa applicants, including those applying for a marriage-based green card. This application process adds another 1-3 months.
The last step of the process takes the longest. The entire consular processing can take several months. Once approved, the foreign spouse will attend an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate. If all goes well, they’ll be granted an immigrant visa to enter the U.S. and then receive their green card after entry. It can range from 13-46 months for the entire process.
Time Frame: 14-15 months
3. Immigrant Spouse In the U.S. Married to Green Card Holder: 12.5-20.5 months
First, applicants must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
If the foreign spouse is already in the U.S. (typically on a valid visa), they can file for Adjustment of Status using Form I-485 after the I-130 is approved4. This process, which culminates in an interview, currently takes an average of 20 months, but this varies depending on the USCIS office handling the applicant, among other circumstances. Once your application is approved, you will receive your green card in 2-3 weeks.
Time Frame: 12.5 – 20.5 months
4. Immigrant Spouse Living Abroad Married to Green Card Holder: 28-40 months
File Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The average wait time for processing Form I-130 is about 25 months when the sponsor is a Green Card holder. If the foreign spouse is outside the U.S., they’ll need to go through consular processing. This means waiting for the approved I-130 to be sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) and subsequently to the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. Approval for Form DS-60 is about 2-3 months.
The entire consular processing can take several months. Once approved, the foreign spouse will attend an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate. If all goes well, they’ll be granted an immigrant visa to enter the U.S. and then receive their green card after entry.
Time Frame: 28-40 months
Factors That Can Delay Green Card
- Whether your spouse holds U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residence.
- Where you are applying for the green card. If abroad, certain countries may have delays.
- If the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asks you to provide additional evidence to verify your marriage or application.
- Filing forms incorrectly.
Summary of Marriage Green Card Processing Times
|US Citizen Sponsor||Green Card Holder Sponsor|
|Within U.S.: 12.5 to 20.5 months||Within U.S.: 12.5 to 20.5 months|
|Abroad: 14 to 15 months||Abroad: 28 to 40 months|
Marriage Processing Time Examples from People on Reddit
The subreddit USCIS is a great place for discussions about the green card process. People often share their timelines from start to finish, so you can see how long it’s taking others in your situation.
Here are a few examples:
First, Applicants must file Form I-130 with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) service center. Next, they will file either Form I-485 or Form DS-260.
The price depends on certain factors, including if the application is filed in the United States or abroad. As of late 2023, the application fee for a marriage green card is $1,760 for an applicant who lives in the United States. For applicants abroad, the price is $1,200.
Applicants must prove that the marriage is legitimate and meets the eligibility requirements. Some requirements include that the applicant must be married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, must be at least 18 years old, and not have a criminal history.
Some possible reasons for delay include problems with verifying the legitimacy of the marriage or other requirements. Errors in the application can also cause delays.
You are not required to have an attorney, but hiring one can increase your chance of success.
If you live in the United States when applying for a green card, you might be eligible for a work visa or work permit. If you filed your green card application from abroad, you are not eligible to work until you receive your green card and reside in the United States.
Learn more about Green Card Processing Times for Various Pathways