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Married to a U.S. Citizen and Living Abroad – Checklist and Processing Times

Married to a US citizen and living abroad

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Last updated: April 1, 2024.

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

Married to a U.S. citizen and living abroad? In this guide you will the list of all required immigration forms, the application steps and processing time for a spouse seeking a green card.

The total processing time for obtaining a marriage based green card when one spouse is a U.S. citizen and the other is a foreign national seeking a green card, living abroad, ranges from 15 to 18 months:

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

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.

Estimated timeline

Applicant Steps (in order)Estimated Timeline
Step 1. USCIS processing of Form I-13012 months
Step 2. USCIS Receipt Notice issued
  • 2 weeks from the date of filing
  • Notice of Approval received in the next 12 months.
Step 3. National Visa Center Processing2 weeks to 3 months
Step 4. Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate email notification1-2 months
Step 5. Immigrant Visa Interview1 month after receiving the interview notice
Step 6. Green Card Arrival by mail6 months after arrival in the U.S.

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

Step 1: Filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

The first step in the marriage green card application is filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

If you’re the spouse seeking the marriage based green card and living outside the U.S., while your spouse is a U.S. citizen, then you’ll apply through a USCIS procedure called “Consular Processing“. 

The petitioner spouse (U.S. citizen) must submit the Form I-130 package, to establish a valid marriage relationship between spouses.

The I-130 package includes these 2 forms, which must be submitted along with their supporting documents to the USCIS:

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

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

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

Typically within a period of about 2-3 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 2–3 months after receiving your application.

After successfully receiving your Form I-130, USCIS will then make a decision on your case and send you a Notice of Approval within 12 months.

Estimated timeline: 

  • Receipt notice (I-797C) issued around 2 weeks after mailing the application to USCIS.
  • USCIS sends a Notice of Approval in the next 12 months.

Step 3. National Visa Center Processing

After Form I-130 is approved, USCIS transfers the case to the National Visa Center (NVC).

The NVC is responsible for making sure all the necessary forms and documents have been properly delivered and the spouse is ready for an interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

After receiving your case from USCIS, NVC assigns you a unique case number and invoice ID number, which then represents your case from that point onwards.

The NVC starts processing your case and about 2 weeks to 3 months later, forwards it to the U.S. embassy or the consulate in the applicant spouse’s country of residence.

Estimated timeline: 

  • 2 weeks to 3 months after processing your case, the NVC sends it to the US Embassy or consulate of your residing country.

Step 4. Immigrant Visa Application

Once you have successfully received a confirmation letter and email from NVC, you must then:

After you complete the form DS-260 online, make sure to print the confirmation page, as you will need it in your visa interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

Step 5: Affidavit of Support, Filing Form I-864

On receiving the receipt of your DS-260, the applicant and the sponsor will then need to complete the following three items and submit them to the NVC.

These include:

Once again, if NVC finds any document(s) missing in the package provided by you, it will send you a message and/or email, typically within 2 weeks to 2 months.

Once NVC receives the complete application, the decision will be made within 2 weeks3 months. If you receive a message from NVC saying that your case is “documentarily qualified”, it means your case is ready to be forwarded for visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in your home country.

Estimated Timeline: 

  • NVC makes a decision on your case within 2 weeks – 3 months after accepting all your forms.

Step 6: Pre-Interview Requirements

Once NVC completes processing your application, it will transfer your file to the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your home country.

About 1-2 months later, you will receive an Interview Appointment Letter, which will contain all the details of your appointment: date, time and location.

However, there are a few prerequisites which the applicant spouse must follow, before attending the green card interview. Some of them are:

  • The applicant must schedule a medical appointment with a State Department authorized doctor in the country where the applicant is to be interviewed.
  • Your interview appointment letter will contain information on how to find an approved doctor.
  • The interview appointment letter you receive will provide information on how to find an approved doctor.
  • Once your medical exam is completed, the doctor will give you your exam results and vaccination record, which you must carry with you to the interview.
  • Before the interview, the spouse seeking a green card must sign up online and provide his or her address.
  • This is the address to which the passport can be returned after an approved visa stamp is placed in the passport.
  • To get the full embassy/consulate specific requirements, use the NVC Pre-Interview Checklist.

Step 7: Immigrant Visa Interview

About 1 month after receiving the interview letter, the applicant attends the interview. 

The exact time, date and location of the interview will be mentioned in the appointment notice.

The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.

If a consular officer approves your immigrant visa application, you will be issued an immigrant visa, which will allow you to enter the U.S. within 6 months.

Estimated timeline:

  • Interview date is scheduled for about 1 month after receiving the interview letter.

Step 8: Green Card Arrival

If the interview goes well and the consular officer determines your marriage is bona fide, and you otherwise admissible to the U.S. as an immigrant, your immigrant visa might be issued the same day.

But typically a few weeks later, the spouse will receive a visa stamp in their passport, allowing travel to the United States.

After attending the interview, the spouse gets an immigrant visa and they have 6 months to enter the U.S. 

Only after arriving in the U.S., will the USCIS mail the green card to the U.S. address indicated on Form DS-260.

Note that the visa will be valid for only 6 months and you must enter the U.S. only in this time window. 

Next, you will need to pay an USCIS Immigrant Fee of $235, which can be paid online here. 

Estimated timeline: 

  • Typically, it takes up about 3 months to receive the green card in mail, after the applicant spouse arrives in the United States. It takes longer in some cases.

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-130, Petition for Alien Relative

Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary

Form I-864, Affidavit of Support

DS-260 Form – Step-By-Step Guide

Civil Documents Checklist for Immigrant Visa Application