EP24: Can A Green Card Holder Get Visa For A Spouse?
Being in the United States without your spouse and children can be hard, really hard. So, if you are a permanent resident and your family still lives abroad, you should ask yourself “can a green card holder get a visa for a spouse?” 🤔
As a lawful permanent resident (or green card holder) you are eligible to sponsor your spouse and children. However, unlike a US citizen, you will need to wait for your priority date to become current before a visa is available.
We will go into detail about priority dates a little later.
So, let’s take a look at an example to help you understand the basic process:
Abdi is a green card holder who came to the US seeking asylum. Once he became a lawful permanent resident, he started looking into ways of bringing his wife and two children from Sudan. He quickly submitted the I-130 petition to USCIS with supporting evidence to prove he is eligible to sponsor his family.
The above scenario is common but how you became a lawful permanent resident can change. Whether you received your green card through your employer, family, or asylum… what matters is that you are a green card holder now.
Sponsoring Your Spouse As A Green Card Holder
Some immigrants don’t realize that they can sponsor their family members once they receive their green card.
Thankfully, you don’t need to wait until you are a US citizen to submit applications for your spouse and children. As soon as you have your green card in hand, you should begin the immigration process for your family.
The reason you want to do this quickly is because sponsoring family as a green card holder is much slower. I’m talking about years slower than a US citizen sponsoring their family members. 😩
Unfortunately, depending on the country, it can take several years for your priority date to become current and a visa available.
Let’s take a look at the steps involved in sponsoring your family members as a lawful permanent resident.
Step 1: US spouse submits I-130 to USCIS. (6 months to 2 years)
The first step of the process to sponsor your spouse is to complete and submit the I-130 petition to USCIS. You must include the filing fee and supporting evidence. This step can take a very long time so be patient. I’m talking several months before you hear back from USCIS.
Note: you may be required to attend a “fraud interview” with USCIS if they suspect that your marriage isn’t real. Be prepared for this by knowing your spouse well and answering questions truthfully.
Step 2: The I-130 petition is approved and forwarded to the National Visa Center. (1 to 2 years)
Next, you will be notified by USCIS that your petition has been approved and send to NVC. Once the National Visa Center receives your petition, your case will sit around until a visa becomes available. This is what is called “priority date” waiting period.
Basically, your family will be on a waitlist for a visa since there are limited number of visas available for non immediate relatives. An immediate relative is considered to be a spouse, child or parent of a US citizen.
Step 3: When a visa is about to become available, NVC will mail you instructions. (1 to 3 months)
Congrats!!! You’ve waited years for this day and it’s finally here. 😊 You will receive instructions on the steps of the process and the interview will be scheduled for you.
The next steps are usually the same as a US citizen sponsoring their spouse. You will need to complete the only forms DS-260, DS-2610 and complete the I-864 affidavit of support.
Additionally, you will need to pay the immigrant visa fee and the affidavit of support fee.
Step 4: You attend your interview at a US consulate or embassy. (2 to 3 months)
It’s now time to attend your visa interview! This can be really nerve-wrecking but don’t worry, as long as your marriage is real you shouldn’t have a problem passing the interview. 😉
As the foreign spouse, you will be asked several questions about your marriage and your intentions. You may also be asked questions about previous marriages, your children and your employment history.
Step 5: You present your visa at a US port of entry. (within 6 months of visa)
Lastly, once you have your visa stamped in your passport, you buy your ticket to America! 🇺🇸
Although you have your visa, it’s still no guarantee that you will be allowed to enter the US. Ultimately, it’s up to CBP to accept the visa and allow you entry.
But, if you are successful at the border, you will then become a lawful permanent resident. CBP will stamp your visa with I-551 and this will be your proof of green card status until your receive the physical card in the mail. This can take about two weeks.
What Are The Family-Based Preference Categories?
When it comes to sponsoring your spouse as a green card holder, it’s important to understand the preference categories. Basically, USCIS has created these categories to control the number of visas that are issued and when.
There are a lot of people who want to move to the US and get a green card. If you look at it from the point of view of supply and demand, there is way more demand than supply for green cards.
- First Preference: Unmarried sons or daughters of a U.S. citizen who are over 21 and are therefore no longer considered children. (If they were still considered children, they may be immediately eligible for visas.)
- Second Preference: This is where your spouse would fit. There are actually two subcategories under the 2nd preference:,
- 2A are spouses or unmarried sons or daughters under age 21 of a permanent resident (green card holder).
- 2B are the unmarried sons and daughters over age 21 of a permanent resident (the wait is longer than 2As).
- Third Preference: Married sons or daughters, any age, of a U.S. citizen.
- Fourth Preference: Brothers or sisters of a U.S. citizen. The citizen must be age 21 or older.
What Exactly Is A Priority Date?
If you’ve never heard of the priority date, you will now!
The visa waiting period can take a long time. There are no set periods of time for your priority date to become current. What this means is that every case is different so no one can predict when your priority date will become current.
But, there is a way to tell roughly how long you will be waiting. The process is all about supply and demand and has a lot to do with how quickly USCIS can get through applications. 🤔
On the other hand, you can use the general timeline in the above section as an estimate of how long you may be waiting for a visa.
How Long Will The Spouse Visa Take?
Each year, USCIS sets aside a certain number of visas to be available for each preference category. In contrast, for a US citizen sponsoring their immediate family (spouse, child or parent) there is no waiting period for a visa. There are unlimited visas available for immediate relatives of US citizens as long as they are eligible for one.
Unfortunately, you can’t just call up the government and ask them how much longer will it take for your green card. Instead, the State Department issues a monthly Visa Bulletin which shoes cutoff dates for people who are eligible to receive a green card.
Akio is a citizen of Japan and is married to his US permanent resident wife, Susie. His wife submits his I-130 petition on June 10th, 2018 so that is his priority date. When Akio looks at the Visa Bulletin, he notices that the cutoff date is February 18th, 2017.
Although Akio won’t know exactly when a green card will become available, it’s easy to tell that it won’t be anytime soon. Based on the info from the Visa Bulletin, he will be waiting for at least a year and a half. 😖
Becoming A US Citizen While Spouse Visa Pending
So, what happens when a green card holder becomes eligible to become a US citizen? Well, you family gets to skip ahead of the visa line! 👏
It’s important to notify USCIS about your change in status. When you become a US citizen, your spouse is recategorized as an immediate relative and no longer needs to wait for a visa to become available.
This is what’s called upgrading an I-130 petition.👍
Once the National Visa Center (NVC) is notified that you are a US citizen, they will immediately continue processing your application and send your spouse the instructions on how to apply for the visa and schedule the interview.
Now, things begin to move a lot more quickly! If possible, apply for US citizenship as soon as you are eligible. This can save you and your family months or years of waiting.
Conclusion: Green Card Holder Get A Visa For A Spouse?
Applying for a spouse as a green card holder is a little more difficult and longer than if you were a US citizen. But, don’t get discouraged! The sooner you apply for your spouse, the faster your priority date will become current.
Additionally, the spouse visa process is very similar whether you are waiting for a visa or not. It’s important that you submit enough evidence of bona fide marriage as possible.
The last thing you want is to wait 2 years for a visa and end up being delayed because there is missing documents.
Ayan is the founder of the Migrant Academy community, the My Path To Citizenship Blog and Podcast.
After successfully navigating the hurdles of US immigration. She now dedicates her time to helping other couples achieve their goals of starting their new life together in the US.