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Married to a Green Card Holder and Living in the United States – Checklist and Processing Time

Married to a green card holder and living in the U.S.

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Last updated: April 1, 2024.

By Asel Williams, Esq. · Columbia Law School · Licensed immigration attorney

Married to a green card holder and living in the U.S.?

In this guide you will get the checklist of all required immigration forms, the application steps and the processing timeline.

It can take anywhere from about 21 months to 36 months to receive a marriage based green card.

In this guide, we will help you understand the processing time of a marriage based green card for a spouse of a green card holder, living in the U.S.

The issuance of a permanent residence card requires processing by USCIS.

USCIS processing times can vary depending upon where the petitioner and foreign spouse live in the United States.

We have created a detailed guide, discussing the total processing time you can expect when filing a marriage based green card. You can check it out here.

The total processing time for obtaining a marriage based green card when one spouse is a permanent resident and the other is a foreign national seeking a green card, both living in the U.S., ranges from 21 months to 36 months:

Estimated timeline

Application stepsEstimated Timeline
Step 1. USCIS processing of Form I-13012 months from the date of filing
Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice issued2 weeks from the date of filing
Step 3. Visa number availability (F2A category)Varies (check the latest Visa Bulletin)
Step 4. Form I-485 processing12-13 months
Step 5. Biometrics Appointment3-5 weeks or about 1 month from the date of filing the I-485 application package
Step 6. EAD (Employment Authorization Card) and Travel Document (Optional)
  • EAD – 2 months to 12 months after filing the application.
  • Travel document – up to 12 months after filing the application.
Step 7. Green card interview4-12 months after filing the adjustment of status application
Step 8. Green Card Arrival2-3 weeks after the interview

You can also check out the detailed timeline for each of the USCIS application centers here.

Step 1: Filing the I-130 Package, Immigrant Petition

If you’re the spouse applying for a marriage based green card and living in the U.S. while your spouse is a lawful permanent resident, then you can apply through a USCIS procedure called “Adjustment of Status“.

In order to initiate the process of applying for a marriage-based green card, the petitioner (green card holder) first needs to file a marriage petition for the foreign spouse.

This constitutes the first step, i.e. the filing of Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

The petitioner (green card holder) must submit Form I-130 package, to establish a valid marriage relationship between the spouse.

The I-130 package includes these 2 forms, along with their supporting documents:

After submitting Form I-130 and Form I-130A to USCIS (hard copy or online), USCIS will approve or deny your petition within 12 months.

Note: As a spouse of a lawful permanent resident seeking a green card, you are required to continuously maintain another lawful nonimmigrant status, throughout the processing period of the Form I-130, until you finally get the green card.

Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice (I-797C)

Once you have completed filling out forms I-130 and I-130A and gather supporting documents, you will mail this to the appropriate USCIS office.

You can also file your I-130 and I-130A forms online.

Typically within a period of about 2 weeks, you will receive an official ‘receipt notice’ from USCIS, in the mail. 

This receipt notice confirms that USCIS has successfully received your application.

It also contains a set of case numbers (“receipt number”), which you can use to track your case status on the USCIS website.

If USCIS needs more information or document(s) to process your application, it will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), typically within 6-10 months after receiving your application.

Estimated timeline:

  • Receipt notice (I-797C) issued around 2 weeks after mailing the application to USCIS.

Step 3: Visa number availability (F2A category)

Technically, once the spouse receives the official receipt notice from the USCIS, the next step in the application process will be to file the Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

However, since the sponsoring spouse is a green card holder and not a U.S. citizen, there might be a waiting period for the availability of a green card.

The spouses of green card holders cannot apply for Form I-485, until the U.S. State Department ensures the availability of a green card.

This means that once Form I-130 is filed with USCIS and before filing Form I-485, the spouse seeking the green card must need to wait until the visa number for category F2A becomes available.

This wait time varies upon the foreign spouse’s country of residence and current Visa Bulletin schedule.

To check the current visa number availability, check the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin.

Learn more: How to Read the Visa Bulletin for Family-Based Immigrants

The Visa Bulletin is updated every month, so always check the latest bulletin.

When the visa number in category F2A is current (“C” means current), you can either:

Estimated timeline:

  • The visa number for F2A category varies, check the latest Visa Bulletin.

Step 4: Adjustment of Status, Filing Form I-485

Once F2A visa number is available, you will need to file the second set of official USCIS forms, along with their supporting documents, as a part of the complete green card application package.

This includes:

You can apply for adjustment of status in the U.S. only if you meet all the requirements mentioned below:

  • Form I-130 is approved (or file I-130 + I-485 if F2A category is current);
  • Beneficiary has complied with the 90-Day Rule (if applicable);
  • Visa number for your category F2A is current;
  • You are in a lawful nonimmigrant status when you file Form I-485.

Estimated timeline:

  • 12 months (Form I-485 processing).

Step 5: Biometrics Appointment

About 3-5 weeks (roughly a month) after USCIS receives your I-485 application package, it will issue a biometrics appointment notice for the foreign spouse.

Such an appointment is usually scheduled at USCIS field office, nearest to your physical address. 

The biometrics is approximately a 20-mins procedure where USCIS takes the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and/or signature.

Using these information, the government agency performs a detailed background check of the foreign applicant, confirming their identity.

The applicant’s appointment notice includes the date, time and location for the appointment. 

The applicant needs to show the biometrics appointment notice and an official government ID (passport, driver license or other government-issued ID).

The sponsoring spouse is not required to attend this biometrics appointment.

Once again, if USCIS will need more information or document(s) to process your application, you will receive in mail a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), typically within 6-10 months.

Once the I-485 filing package (along with all the required documents) is successfully submitted, USCIS takes another 12 months to process it.

Estimated timeline:

  • Biometrics Appointment Notice received about a month after USCIS receives your I-485 application.

Step 6:  EAD Card and Travel Document (Optional)

If the applicant had filed the applications for Travel and Work Permits (Forms I-765 and I-131), to work in the U.S. and travel internationally, then the applicant receives

  • an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card anywhere between 2 months to 12 months after the filing date, and
  • a travel document (“Advance Parole“) anywhere between 10 to 12 months after the filing date.

With an EAD card, the applicant can work in the U.S. 

Travel documents allow you to travel outside the U.S. while your Adjustment of Status application is pending.

Estimated Time: 

  • EAD Card arrives 2-12 months after filing the application.
  • Travel document arrives 10-12 months after filing the application.

Step 7: Green Card Interview

After completing all background checks and reviewing your application, USCIS forwards your case file to the nearest USCIS office.

This local office then schedules an in-person interview and mails an interview notice 1-1.5 months before the interview date.

This interview notice contains the time, date, and location of the interview.

Both, the applicant spouse as well as the sponsor spouse, are required to attend the visa interview.

Estimated timeline:

  • About 4-12 months after filing the adjustment of status, USCIS sends you an interview notice.

Step 8: Green Card Arrival

If the interview goes well and the USCIS officer determines your marriage is bona fide, the application for permanent residence will be approved.

The foreign spouse will receive a lawful permanent resident card by mail in approximately 2-3 weeks after the interview.

Step 9: Conditional Green Card

The type of green card you receive will depend on how long you and your spouse have been married on the day you were given permanent residence.

If You’ve Been Married for Less than 2 Years

If you and your foreign spouse have been married for less than 2 years at the time of issuance of a green card, the permanent resident card issued to your immigrant spouse will be valid for a period of 2 years

This temporary green card is called a ‘Conditional resident green card’ or CR-1.

To obtain an “unconditional” 10-years green card you and your spouse must file jointly Form I-751.

This process is called “removing conditions on residence”.

After successfully removing conditions on residence, you will receive a permanent resident card, valid for 10 years.

Form I-751 must be filed 90 days prior to the expiration of the permanent resident card (of 2 years validity).

While reviewing your I-751 application, USCIS will have one more opportunity to determine if the marriage is authentic.

If You’ve Been Married for Over 2 Years

If you and your foreign spouse have been married for 2 years or more on the day you were given permanent residence, you will receive a green card valid for 10 years. 

You don’t need to remove conditions on your permanent residence if you received a 10-years green card.

Related links:

Form I-485 Processing Time

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary

Form I-864, Affidavit of Support

Form I-765, Employment Authorization Document

Form I-131, Travel Document

Form I-693, Medical Examination

USCIS Marriage Interview, What to Expect and How to Prepare