Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed January 18, 2018
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Each year, thousands of people emigrate to the United States, leaving loved ones behind with the hope that they will be someday be reunited. Fortunately, under U.S. immigration laws, spouses and other immediate relatives of lawful residents are given fairly high priority in the issuance of immigrant visas. Under U.S. immigration laws, the term "spouse" is meant to refer to a husband or wife whom is in a legally recognized marital relationship.
You will be able to file an immigrant visa petition to bring your spouse to the United States only if you are a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident (meaning you have your green card).
Overview of Spouse Immigration Process
There is a three-step process for your spouse to become a legal immigrant:
- You must file an immigrant visa petition (Form I-130) and pay the filing fee for your spouse.
- If you are a U.S. citizen petitioning for your spouse, they will not be placed on a waiting list. The law gives special consideration to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. The U.S. Department of State will invite your spouse to apply for an immigrant visa as soon as USCIS approves your Form I-130 petition.
- If you are a permanent resident, your spouse will be placed on a waiting list to receive an immigrant visa number. Due to the high volume of applicants and immigration restrictions, wait times are often two or more years. If your spouse is not here legally, they may need to leave the United States to avoid accruing unlawful presence because this could affect their eligibility to receive an immigrant visa number. Check the State Department Visa Bulletin to determine current wait times for when an immigrant visa number will be available for your spouse.
- If your spouse is outside the United States when your visa petition is approved and when an immigrant visa number (if required) becomes available, your spouse will be notified to go to the local U.S. consulate to complete the processing for an immigrant visa. If your spouse is legally inside the U.S. when your visa petition is approved and when an immigrant visa number (if required) becomes available, he or she may use the Form I-485 to adjust his or her status to that of a lawful permanent resident. Spouses of U.S. citizens who are legally inside the U.S. may file their Form I-130 petition AND Form I-485 to adjust status at the same time.
Important Considerations for Spouses with Conditional Residence
If you have been married less than two years when your spouse is granted lawful permanent resident status, your spouse will receive permanent resident status on a “conditional” or temporary basis. You and your spouse must apply together using Form I-751 to remove the conditional status.
Important: You must apply to remove conditional status within the 90 day period before the expiration date on your spouse's conditional permanent resident card. If you fail to file during this time, your spouse’s legal resident status will terminate and they may be deported.
Can My Spouse Come to the U.S. to Live While their Visa Petition Is Pending?
If you are a U.S. citizen, once you file Form I-130, your spouse is eligible to apply for a nonimmigrant K-3 visa. This entitles him or her to come to the United States to live and work while the visa petition is pending. If you are a legal permanent resident your spouse cannot come to the United States. to live or work while their visa petition is pending.
Need Help Bringing Your Spouse to the U.S.? Eliminate the Guesswork and Call a Lawyer
It takes a lot of effort and time -- clearing hurdles and filing paperwork -- in order to adjust your status and become a permanent legal resident of the United States. This is also true with respect to bringing family members into the country. If you need help with a petition for your spouse, a local immigration attorney will be able to provide the best solutions.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with visa procedures.