An Illustrative Example
Because the laws and procedures in obtaining permanent residency for your family members are so complex, I think it may be very helpful to you if I illustrate the process by way examples. Please note that these are only a couple of examples of a variety of different ways on how a spouse can immigrate to the USA.
Disclaimer. The following is intended only to give you a general idea of the topic. It is NOT intended to be legal advice. Everyone’s goals and situations are unique. Please consult an attorney to determine which method is best for your specific goals.
Example 1: U.S. Citizen Petitions Spouse Living in the Philippines
Anna, a U.S. citizen, and Jeff, a Filipino citizen, were recently married in Angeles City, Philippines. Upon her return to the states, Anna contacted Attorney Avelino for guidance on how to bring her Filipino husband to the USA. Attorney Avelino explained that the obtaining permanent residency for Jeff could be described as a three step process.
Step 1: Anna must file the Petition for Foreign Relative with USCIS
The first step is to prepare and file Anna's petition on behalf of her husband Jeff to USCIS. In the petition, Anna must prove she is a US citizen and that she is in a bona fide lawful marriage with her husband Jeff. In addition, if either was previously married, they must prove that all prior marriages have been lawfully terminated.
Step 2: Anna and Jeff must submit the immigrant visa application to NVC
Once the petition is approved, it is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC). Once the NVC receives the case, Anna will need to pay the immigrant and affidavit of support fees. Once those fees are paid, we can prepare and file Jeff's immigrant visa application as well as Anna's Affidavit of Support documentation. The affidavit of support is used to prove Anna has the financial ability to support her husband.
Step 3: Jeff must prepare and attend his immigrant visa interview at the US Embassy, Manila
Once the NVC has received the application and all necessary supporting documents, they will the schedule Jeff for her immigrant visa appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines.
Once his appointment is scheduled, Jeff must obtain a medical exam at St. Luke's Medical Center in Ermita, Manila, Philippines. He should obtain his medical exam at least 2 weeks prior to his appointment to help ensure it is completed. For applicants that live farther away from Manila in places like Mindanao or the Visayas, this is something to consider when planning for your appointments. Many applicants will remain in Manila until their visa appointment after obtaining their medical exams.
On the day of his appointment, Jeff had to wait a couple of hours in the waiting room before he was seen by an officer. The actual interview only took about 15 minutes. After reviewing his file and Jeff's documents, Jeff was asked basic questions about his identity as well as questions about his relationship with Anna and why he decided to marry her. Since his relationship with Anna is bona fide, it was easy for him to answer the questions being asked by the consular officer.
The officer then congratulated Jeff and told him that he should receive his visa within a couple of weeks. Once Jeff enters the USA with his immigrant visa, he is already a permanent resident and his green card will be mailed to him in a couple of months. While waiting for the green card, Jeff can use the stamp in his passport as proof he is a lawful permanent resident.
Because Jeff had been married to Anna for less than 2 years at the time his green card was granted, he was only granted conditional residence. Although he is a bona fide permanent resident of the USA, his initial green card will only be valid for 2 years. Therefore, Anna and Jeff must file a petition to remove his conditional residence within the 90 day window before his green card expires. For more details on removing conditional residence see "Remove Conditional Residence".
Example 2: U.S. Citizen Petitions Spouse Already in the USA
Christian, a U.S. citizen, recently married his wife Amy. While courting Amy, Christian learned that Amy had entered the United States several years ago on a tourist visa and was now out of status (TNT).
Attorney Avelino explained to them that although overstaying a tourist visa is never encouraged and illegal, the immigration laws will still allow Amy to adjust her status to a lawful permanent resident based on her marriage to a U.S. citizen as an Immediate Relative as long as she is otherwise admissible.
With the help of Attorney Avelino, they file the spousal petition and application to adjust status for Amy. At the same time, they also file an application for employment authorization (work permit) for Amy. The work permit is usually issued a few months before the green card. This way, Amy can begin legally working even before her green card is issued. In addition, Attorney Avelino prepares Christian's Affidavit of Support proving he has the financial ability to support his wife.
A few weeks after filing the package, they receive receipt notices for the petition and applications from USCIS. Once Amy receive the receipt notice for application to adjust status, she will be in "authorized stay" pending the outcome of her adjustment application.
In around one month after filing, Amy was scheduled for a biometrics appointment where they took her fingerprints and picture to conduct a background check.
Several months later, the couple was scheduled to appear at the adjustment interview at their local USCIS office. Attorney Avelino prepares them for the interview and they pass the interview without any problems and the officer informs them he is approving their case.
Within a few weeks, Amy receives her green card in the mail.
Because Amy had been married to Christian for less than 2 years at the time her green card was granted, she was only granted conditional residence. Although she is a bona fide permanent resident of the USA, her initial green card will only be valid for 2 years. Therefore, Amy and Christian must file a petition to remove her conditional residence within the 90 day window before her green card expires. For more details on removing conditional residence see "Remove Conditional Residence".