Marriage-based visa applications may be processed through consular processing if the spouse lives outside the United States and is already married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This allows the foreign spouse to apply for a visa and then obtain a green card through the U.S. consulate or U.S. embassy in their country of origin. In this post, we will take a look at how to apply for a marriage green card outside the U.S.

applying for a marriage green card through consular processing

There are several steps required to apply for a marriage green card through consular processing. The steps are:

  • Determine Eligibility
  • Spouse Files Form I-130
  • Wait for your priority date to become current (if married to a permanent resident)
  • Approval is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC)
  • File Immigrant Visa Application, pay fees, and submit requested documents
  • Attend Medical Examination and Biometrics Appointment
  • Attend Consular Interview
  • Visa stamp placed in passport upon approval
  • Enter the U.S. and pay online card creation fee
  • Permanent resident card received by U.S. Mail

Note: applying for a marriage green card through adjustment of status is a different process. Visit our blog for more information on adjustment of status.

Who Is Eligible To Apply for A Marriage Green Card Outside the U.S.

Applicants who are eligible to apply for a green card through consular processing must be married to a U.S citizen or lawful permanent resident (a green card holder) and live outside the United States. The marriage must be a proven genuine marriage (bona fide) and not done for the purpose of obtaining a green card. It is also not allowed for either of you to be married to someone else.

Getting a green card via this process is the most common method if you live in your country of origin or are ineligible to adjust your status in the U.S. You will both also be required to provide proof that you have a bona fide marriage and were not married to other people at the time of your marriage. For more information, read the Bringing Spouses to Live in the United States as Permanent Residents on the USCIS website. 

We also have an article that can help you apply for a marriage green card from inside the U.S. if you are interested in learning about that specific process.

Step 1: Spouse Files Form I-130

The first step in this process is for your petitioner, the U.S. Citizen or LPR spouse, to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative with USCIS. Form I-130 proves your eligibility for a green card on the grounds that you are married to a U.S citizen or permanent resident of the United States. You will also need to file form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary, to provide additional information about the non-U.S. spouse. 

I-130 Supporting Documents Checklist for Spouses will include the following

  • Proof that the sponsor of the U.S. citizenship, such as birth certificate, passport, or certificate of naturalization or citizenship. 
  • If the sponsor is a U.S. green card holder, they are required to submit a copy of their U.S. green card (front and back) and passport. 
  • Marriage certificate
  • Any certified divorce decrees or death certificates for any previous marriages (if applicable) 
  • Foreign spouses passport 
  • Two Passport-style photos of the beneficiary and petitioner taken within the past six months
  • Filing Fees, made out to ‘U.S. Department of Homeland Security’ I-130 Fee: $675.00 ($620.00 online)

In addition, you will be required to provide Evidence of Bona Fide Marriage including: 

  • Birth certificates of any children born of the relationship
  • Joint bank accounts
  • Joint Tax Returns
  • Proof of shared residence
  • Photos
  • Statement from Petitioner or beneficiary describing how the relationship started, why you decided to get married, etc.
  • Statements from friends/family members
  •  Screenshots of messages showing frequent communication over time
  • Social media posts about your relationship
  • Phone records showing frequent communication over time (include date)
  • Receipts for gifts
  • Wedding invitations, receipts for wedding expenses
  • Any other evidence that demonstrates an ongoing marital relationship

Forms I-130 and I-130A must be filled out completely, along with their corresponding supporting documentation, before being filed with the USCIS.

You will receive an official receipt notification in the mail from USCIS in approximately 2-3 weeks, confirming your application was successfully submitted and the correct filing fee amounts were received. Additionally, the receipt will have a case number that you can use to check the status of your application on the USCIS website.

Note: USCIS will send you a "Request for Evidence" (RFE) if it requires further information or supporting documentation to process your application.

After receiving your Form I-130 successfully, USCIS will review your case and send you a decision; this usually takes anywhere from 7-10 months. 

A certified English translation must accompany all foreign-language documents. An immigration lawyer may determine that additional documents are required after a full review of the items submitted.

Step 2: National Visa Center (NVC) Immigrant Visa Application 

If an immigrant visa number is available, the NVC will begin the consular process. The U.S Department of State sets annual limits on the number of visas available. Generally, visas are available for spouses of U.S citizens right away, however, spouses for permanent residences may take several months or years to become available.. For more information on the availability of visa numbers, please refer to the U.S. Department of State visa bulletin.

Once your visa number is available, you can submit your immigrant visa application. The forms will include Form DS-260 and DS-261 along with supporting documents. 

Form DS-261, known as “Choice of Address and Agent” is how you want the U.S. Department of State to contact you regarding your green card application. There is no fee for this form. 

Once you submit form DS-260, “Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration” application, you will need to pay the following fees for the national visa. 

  • Affidavit of Support Fee: $120.00
  • Immigrant Visa Processing Fee: $325.00
  • Immigrant Fee: $220.00

The application and payments can be completed on, visit the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website. Fees are set by the U.S. government and are subject to change prior to case filing.

Additionally, to file both forms, you and your spouse are required to include other documents. 

The beneficiary (foreign spouse) will need to provide the following: 

  • Proof of your U.S citizenship (a copy of your birth certificate and passport).
  • A copy of your marriage certificate. (Divorce decrees if applicable) 
  • Police certificate and clearance

The petitioner (U.S. citizen spouse/LPR) will need: 

  • Affidavit of Support (Form I-864)
  • Divorce decrees or death certificate (if previously married) 
  • Proof of address or a state-issued ID.

If the Petitioner is not currently living in the U.S., they will need to provide evidence that they intend to return to the United States. 

Attend A Medical Examination

Before attending your interview, you will need to have a medical examination completed by an approved doctor. Generally, the U.S. consulate will give you a list of approved doctors in the processing package along with instructions on how to make an appointment. 

The medical examination is an out of pocket expense and the cost varies by location and the services required. Once your examination is completed, the doctor will hand you an envelope with medical results and vaccinations which you will bring with you to the interview. In some locations, the doctor will forward the results directly to the Consulate.

Attend The Biometrics Appointment

Before attending your interview, you will also need to schedule and attend a biometrics appointment. At this appointment, you will give your fingerprints and photograph. The Consulate will use your biometrics to conduct a background check. At some Consulates, your biometrics will be taken on the day of your interview.

Interview at U.S Consulate or Embassy 

Once you have attended the biometrics appointment and the medical examination, the U.S consulate or embassy will conduct an interview of the foreign spouse. Your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse will not be present for this interview.  

Before you attend your interview, it is best to prepare. Gather all the required documents and review them to the best of your ability. The key is to be honest and open about your bona fide marriage and any other questions that you are asked. If you can convince the consular officer that your relationship is in fact genuine, your green card may be approved on-site. If approved, you will receive a U.S. visa stamp in your passport and you can travel to the U.S. At some Consular locations, however, issuance of a visa stamp may take a few days or more.

Timeline and Cost For A Marriage-Based Green Card Outside The U.S.

The marriage-based green card through consular processing can, on average, take anywhere from 17-46 months in total. The processing time can vary as some cases may take less or more time.  The total cost for filing can also be anywhere around $1,400+, this does not include any attorney fees, medical examination, etc. 

For best results, it's beneficial to hire a trusted and knowledgeable attorney to help throughout your application process. We’d love to help you.Contact us or visit our website. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Apply for a Marriage Green Card from Abroad?

You can apply for a marriage green card through consular processing. Your petitioner will begin Form I-130 application for you and once approved you will file immigrant visa application forms Form DS-260 and DS-261. You will then attend a medical exam and biometrics appointment and lastly, an interview at a U.S embassy or consulate in your country of residence or a country designated by the U.S. government.  

What is Consular Processing for A Green Card?

A foreign spouse (living abroad) of an American citizen or lawful permanent resident can apply for permanent residency (green card) via consular processing.

What is the Difference Between Adjustment of Status and Consular Processing?

Adjustment of status only applies for qualified spouses who are currently residing in the U.S., while consular processing is for spouses who are abroad and want to enter the United States as a lawful permanent resident. 

How Fast is Consular Processing?

Consular processing can take anywhere between 6 to 12 months after the approval of Form I-130. Once the Form I-130 is approved, you can apply for an immigrant visa which allows you to travel to the U.S.  When you enter the United States, you will be considered a lawful permanent resident.

Wrapping Up

Applying for a marriage green card through consular processing requires careful preparation and a strong understanding of the required steps. From filing the initial I-130 form to attending the consular interview, each step plays an important role in the success of your application.

Remember, the process can vary in duration and complexity based on individual circumstances and the current administrative processing times.

We strongly recommend consulting with an experienced immigration attorney who can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation, help streamline the process, and increase your chances of approval. This guidance can be invaluable, especially in navigating complex legal requirements and ensuring that all documentation is correctly submitted.

For those living outside the United States and dreaming of starting their new life with their spouse in the U.S., understanding and preparing for this process is the first step towards making that dream a reality. If you need assistance or have any questions about your own consular processing application, do not hesitate to reach out for professional advice.

Visit our website or contact us directly for more information and personalized assistance. We are here to help you through every step of your journey to becoming a U.S. permanent resident.