skip to Main Content

Marriage visa / spouse visa.

It is very common for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (“U.S. spouse”) to initiate the immigration process for a foreign spouse living abroad.  This is commonly referred to in the immigration law community as “consular processing” or a “two-step,” for reasons apparent below. Many people refer to this as the marriage visa or spouse visa process.

The scenario is common when the couple initially met abroad, as where the U.S. spouse was performing work overseas or was stationed abroad with the armed services. Here is an overview of the process.

Marriage visa - spouse visa process

Step (1) – the I-130 petition

The marriage visa / spouse visa process begins when the U.S. spouse files a Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative.  The I-130 petition seeks to establish a bona fide marriage relationship for immigration law purposes – it is, in essence, an immigration invitation from the U.S. spouse.  The Department of State refers to this as establishing the classification of the foreign national.  Documentation requirements of the I-130 Petition include evidence demonstrating that the couple has a genuine and legal marriage.  In almost all scenarios the I-130 is filed domestically with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The spouse of a U.S. citizen is classified as an immediate relative. Unlike other family-based visa categories, there is no limit the number of immediate relative visas available each year.  When the Form I-130 is filed by a U.S. citizen, the timeline is governed only by the adjudication speed of the immigration agencies. At the time of writing, adjudication could be expected in four to six months, though in the recent past a wait of twelve months was common.

The availability of a marriage visa / spouse visa for spouses of U.S. lawful permanent residents (green card holders) is limited.  Such spouses must wait first for adjudication of their I-130 Petition, and then for a visa number to be available. The day on which such a petition is approved by USCIS establishes the priority date for the petition.  The priority date establishes the beneficiary’s place in the visa queue. At the time of writing this could be expected to add roughly an additional year to first step of processing.

If USCIS determines that the I-130 is improperly documented it will issue one or more Requests for Evidence (RFEs) to the petitioner.  An RFE will be issued, for example, to demonstrate that a prior marriage of the petitioner had been legally concluded. When USCIS has received all mandatory documents required for the I-130 Petition it will render a decision, at which point the case is transferred to the U.S. Department of State.

Step (2) – consular processing (National Visa Center and DS-260 application)

The second step of the process begins with the case file is transferred to the State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Now that the I-130 Petition – the invitation – has been approved, responsibility shifts to the foreign national spouse to accept that invitation by filing a DS-260 immigrant visa application.  This visa application is submitted online to the NVC and requires extensive background information about the foreign spouse.  Although documentation has already been provided for the I-130 Petition, the visa application has its own rigorous documentation requirements.  The NVC – more so than the USCIS – is extremely exacting in requiring that documentation requirements are precisely met. The author has met pro se applicants who received eight requests for evidence, resulting in additional delays far beyond a year, to meet basic documentation requirements at the NVC.

One document required at the NVC stage – critical for family law practitioners – is the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. As explained in detail elsewhere on our site, this document is filed by one or more U.S. sponsors to guarantee financial support of the foreign visa applicant. It is a binding contract that may be enforced by the foreign beneficiary. At the NVC the sponsor is required to submit a signed copy of the Form I-864, and the case will not progress until this is done.  In support of the form the sponsor is required to submit copies of his most recent federal tax returns, or tax transcript, and may elect to provide the two prior years as well. Sponsors who lack sufficient income may also report and document financial assets, which may be used to meet support requirements. In practice many sponsors report assets to the NVC even where their income is independently sufficient to meet documentation requirements.

After the NVC has received all required paperwork a case is considered to be documentarily qualified, at which point it will be transferred to the appropriate consular post. Generally speaking the case will be transferred to the main U.S. consulate in the country where the foreign spouse is residing. Once transferred, the case will be set for an in-person interview at the consulate. The applicant’s final preparation for the interview includes completing an immigration medical examination with a registered Panel Physician, to screen for physical and mental conditions that bar admission to the United States.

Only the foreign spouse is required to the consular visa interviews. The consulate has discretion to permit attendance by the U.S. spouse and/or counsel, and in practice neither typically attends. By contrast, where the immigration process is completed within the United States – as discussed below – the U.S. spouse is required to attend, and the parties have the right to be represented.

Visa interviews at consulates are brief, intense affairs. The process which has been the focus of the couple’s life for a year or more will culminate in an adjudication that may last five minutes. Interviews take place at interview booths similar to a teller’s window at a high-security bank. The interview will be conducted by Foreign Service officer, who typically have extraordinary qualifications and crushing adjudication loads. In rare instances the applicant may be given more lengthy attention in an isolated interview room, but typically the adjudication is made on the strength of the visa packet and a brief interaction with the applicant.

Applicants are often informed at the interview or very shortly thereafter if their visa has been approved. The applicant’s passport – which will have been collected at the interview – is then returned by courier with the visa stamp. The applicant will also receive a sealed packet which she is required to present to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the U.S. port of entry. The applicant’s admission to the U.S. commences her status as U.S. permanent resident, and the packet is taken by CBP in order to generate the applicants I-551 residency card (i.e., green card), which is typically mailed to the applicant within a month of arrival in the U.S.

More resources

Advising LPRs on foreign travel

Whew – your client has finally made it through the lengthy immigrant visa process. Or she’s nailed the adjustment interview and at long last has her green card in hand. What’s the first thing the client wants to do? Often, they want to pack their bags and go on a trip.How should you advise your clients? How should you advise…

read more

Green card

Green card. It's a term that is used often. But people don't use the term very carefully. What does "green card" actually mean under the United State's Immigration and Nationality Act? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. "Green card" simply has no legal meaning whatsoever. Instead, it's basically immigration slang. The problem is that people use it to refer to at least three…

read more

Understanding “administrative processing”

The following materials are provided from a webinar hosted March 29, 2017 featuring guest speaker, Jay Gairson. Jay is an immigration and national security attorney in Seattle, Washington.  His clients are primarily from the Middle East, East Africa, and South Asia.  He regularly handles cases that receive additional fraud detection and national security review.  He uses systems thinking to evaluate…

read more

May I visit the U.S. on a B-1/B-2 (or ESTA) after filing an I-130 or I-129F?

It's just a fact - marriage and fiancé(e) visas take a long time. The process starts when the U.S. petitioner files an I-130 (marriage) or I-129F (fiancé(e)) petition. After the petition is filed, all you can do is wait for its approval. Recently, processing times have been between two and six months for the initial approval. For this reason, it's…

read more

Ink signatures no longer required on I-864s for NVC

The Department of State announced yesterday that original ink signatures are no longer required on I-864 series forms. Instead, applicants may provide photocopies of the the form, rather than the original. This new policy will make it easier for applicants to comply with standards at the National Visa Center (NVC). The policy takes effect on January 1, 2017. The new…

read more

Understanding immigrant intent

A U.S. immigration officer presumes that all persons travelling to the U.S. have “immigrant intent.” Immigrant intent means the person has the intention to stay permanently in the U.S.. If you are traveling to the U.S. on a temporary visa, you are required to prove that you do not plan to remain in the U.S. But the concept of immigrant…

read more

Advanced I-864 issues (webinar material)

The material listed accompanies our August 31, 2016 webinar, Advanced I-864 Issues. The material in the body of this post was drafted along with Heather L. Poole and Ann Robertson for a panel at AILA National 2015 entitled Complicated Affidavit of Support Issues. Assume that any good material came from Heather and Ann, and any errors my own. Note that FAM references are…

read more

What forms/documents do I file for a marriage-based adjustment of status?

There are a lot of items that go into a marriage-based adjustment of status application - also called a green card application. If you are handling the process yourself it can be very stressful to ensure that you are including all of the required items. We have created the instructions on this page based on the protocol we follow at…

read more

Can I enter on a visitor’s visa (B-2) and then adjust status to permanent resident?

Several time per week I get a question that comes something like this: I'm a U.S. citizen and my wife is from China [or insert any other country. She has a visitor's visa and is planning to come to the U.S. later this month. Will we be able to adjust status so she can get a green card? Or here…

read more

I got my greencard – now what?

Congratulations! You've been through the long process, and now you finally have your greencard. You're a lawful permanent resident... but now what? This post describes some important information you need to understand about your new legal status. Conditional residence. (2-year card). Look at your greencard. Is it valid for two years or for ten? If the answer is two then…

read more

Proving a bona fide (valid) marriage

In important part of the marriage-based immigration process is proving that you are in a genuine relationship. What sort of evidence should you submit? How much should you submit? These are questions that almost everyone has. The bottom line that I always tell my clients is this: if you are in a genuine, committed relationship don't worry - we will…

read more

Marriage visa (IR-1/CR-1) versus fiancé(e) visa (K-1)

It is common to have the choice of pursuing either a marriage-based visa or fiancé(e) (I-129F, K-1) visa. Let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of each. But first we'll start with an overview of what the two processes look like, since they're importantly different from each other. Marriage-based visa process Let's start with some terminology. Once you start doing…

read more

How do I file an I-751 waiver?

If your U.S. citizen/resident spouse will not cooperate with your I-751 petition, you need to seek a waiver of the joint-filing requirement. There are three waiver possible strategies available. You are allowed to pursue one or more than of these strategies simultaneously. 1. Marriage termination + good-faith marriage. An I-751 waiver may be approved on the basis that the marriage…

read more

How can I report marriage immigration fraud?

There are two main ways to file a report of marriage immigration fraud: Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE is the enforcement arm of the immigration agencies - think of them as the immigration police. Their investigations office, HIS, has a marriage fraud tip line: 1-866-347-2423. The primary focus of their marriage fraud investigations…

read more

May 2016 Visa Bulletin – Family Preference

In this post you can find: The current Visa Bulletin's Chart A. The current Visa Bulletin's Chart B. Understanding the Visa Bulletin. Chart A The following are the Application Final Action Dates for Family-Sponsored Preference Cases , also called Chart A. Note: For May, F2A numbers Exempt from per-country limit are authorized for issuance to applicants from all countries with priority dates earlier than…

read more

How does divorce impact my immigration status?

   Many individuals get their immigration status in the U.S. through marriage. What happens if such a person gets divorced from their spouse? The consequences depend on the situation.   What happens if I get divorced when my spouse is petitioning for my permanent residence?  If parties divorce during the immigration process this will generally prevent the foreign spouse from becoming…

read more

My petition was approved by USCIS – how long does it take to transfer to the NVC?

After a petition (I-129F or I-130) is approved by USCIS it will then be transferred to the National Visa Center (NVC). (For an overview of the process, follow this link). But how long does that take? Historically we've seen this process take between 30 and 60 days. But recently we've seen delays of up to five months! This can happen for…

read more

I haven’t filed last year’s taxes – what income do I report on the I-864?

Tax season makes filing out the I-864 even more complicated. Here's a common situation that we see often. It's February or March. You haven't yet filed last year's income taxes. But you also got a bit of a raise, so your "current income" is different than previous tax years. As required, you report the past three years of income tax…

read more

How to prepare for a visa interview at a consulate

The day has finally come. It's been months and months since you filed the original petition. You've been through more paperwork than you can remember. Now, finally, it's time for your visa interview at the consulate. What can you do to maximize your chances of success? There are no secrets to a visa interview. But there are common sense steps…

read more

Tips for Preparing for a I-751 Application to Remove Conditions on Your Green Card

If you get a green card through marriage to a US citizen or legal permanent resident, and you have been married for less than two years, then you will be issued a conditional green card. A conditional green card expires two years after it is issued. In the 90 days before its expiration you need to file an application to…

read more

What is the permanent bar under Section 212(a)(9)(C)(i)?

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) there is a long list of grounds of inadmissibility. Basically, these are things about you, or about your circumstances, that would prevent you from being allowed into the U.S. They can also prevent you from successfully adjusting status to a green card holder even if you are already in the U.S. The so-called…

read more

What is the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support?

U.S. immigration law is an invitation-based system. For someone wishing to move permanently to the country there is no general “line” to get in. Rather, the path to permanent residency (a “green card”) usually begins with a U.S. business or individual petitioning for the foreign national – think of this as a type of invitation from the U.S. entity or…

read more

Op-ed: Fiancé visa disruption would impact Americans

In this piece in the Tacoma News Tribune I argue that Americans will be hurt if the fiancé visa program becomes more difficult. Following the violence in San Bernardino there has been talk of ratcheting down on fiancé(e) visas, but behind every fiancé(e) visa is a U.S. citizen longing to be united with a loved one.

read more

Immigration interviews in Seattle

Going for your interview at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is usually a stressful experience. If nothing else, you have probably never been through an immigration interview before, so it is hard to know what to expect. To reduce the stress of the event, here is a general description of what to expect at the Seattle Field Office. In…

read more

5 fun ways to ruin a marriage-based visa case

There is a lot of guidance on the Internet – some good, lots bad – about how to apply for and acquire a marriage-based green card. But rather than repeat what’s been said before, let’s talk about what you can do to completely screw up your marriage-based immigration case, cause delays and possibly get your spouse barred from the U.S.…

read more

I got an invoice from the National Visa Center (NVC), what do I do next?

The National Visa Center (NVC) is where immigration cases can start to get really, really complicated. This post walks you through how to take care of paying your visa fee once you receive an invoice from the NVC.  We assume you're working on a family-based case for this discussion. Before you begin make sure you have (1) your NVC invoice…

read more

How do I check USCIS processing times?

How long will it take for USCIS to decide a case? There is no simple way to find the answer to this. That is, you can't just go to a USCIS webpage that will give you a definitive answer for a particular case type. With that caveat, though, there are some tools available to help you get an idea of…

read more

How do I check my USCIS case status?

You've filed your immigration case... but nothing has happened. Is there a problem? Did the case fall through the cracks? It is easy (and free) to check the status of your USCIS case online. First, navigate to the official USCIS online case status system at Here's what the webpage looks like as of the time of writing: You'll see…

read more

I came to the U.S. on ESTA/VWP – can I adjust status?

Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) nationals of certain "low risk" countries are allowed to travel to the U.S. without a visa. These individuals register with the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before traveling to the U.S. Most people use the terms ESTA and VWP interchangeably. When someone comes to the U.S. through ESTA, are they allowed to…

read more

Understanding marriage-related immigration

There are five basic ways in which marriage may facilitate a foreign national’s immigration to the United States. The first three are strategies available to a U.S. petitioner  who wishes to gain legal status for his spouse or fiancé(e). The fourth is available to a foreign spouse who finds herself in an abusive relationship with a U.S. citizen or resident.…

read more

How to Complete the Form I-864

Download this free Guide in .pdf format here   This Guide has been prepared for the purpose of providing general instructions for completing the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. By using this Guide you agree that no attorney-client relationship exists between you and Sound Immigration nor any of its attorneys. This Guide is made available at no cost and may…

read more
Back To Top