A green card gives your spouse or fiancé the right to permanently reside in the United States, and opens the door for this person to apply for citizenship. This makes it different from a visa, because a visa only allows a temporary stay in the country.
Your Spouse Is Your Relative
Under immigration law, your spouse is your immediate relative. This is important, because immediate relatives are exempt from immigration quotas set by the U.S. government and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The quotas, called "numerical quota limitations" restrict the number of green cards issued each year, but they don't apply to immediate relatives. Your spouse can't be denied a green card just because too many have already been issued during the year.
Your Marriage Must Be Real
The USCIS is a little suspicious of green card applications for new spouses. Therefore, your marriage can't be phony, taken only for the sake of immigration. The USCIS will look for factors like whether you live as husband and wife, co-own property, or have children together.
Visas First, Then Green Cards
The process of getting a green card usually involves getting a visa first. If you're already married and you want to bring your spouse to the United States, you would request a K3 visa. If you want to bring your fiance to the United States so you can marry in this country, this requires a K1 visa. You can then file a petition with the USCIS for a green card on your loved one's behalf. You can do this whether you're a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident with a green card of your own.
The USCIS wants to know that you can support your spouse or fiancé. You must file an affidavit of support with your petition for a green card, stating assets you own, or stating or that you earn 125 percent of the federal poverty level for the year in which you apply. If you have no assets and you don't earn this much, you can ask someone else who does meet the requirements to sponsor your spouse or fiancé on your behalf.
A Green Card Might Expire
A green card isn't automatically permanent. In some cases, you might have to take an additional step. If you apply for a green card for your fiancé, or for your spouse before you've been married for two years, the green card is good for only two years. Three months before the expiration date, you and your spouse together must file a second petition to make the green card permanent.
An Immigration Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding marriage and green cards is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an immigration lawyer.