You’ve fallen in love and married the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. They also happen to be a United States Citizen. Some people wrongly believe that marriage to a United States Citizen will be a quick fix to their immigration problems. While for many married couples, there is a path to permanent residency for the immigrant spouse, the reality is often a little more complicated. To begin with, let me ask you a few questions.
Did you enter the United States with a Visa?
If you entered the United States with a Visa, such as a Tourist Visa, Border Crossing Card, Student Visa, or a Work Visa, you may be able to apply for permanent residency from within the United States. This is called Adjustment of Status. Your Citizen spouse can petition for you and you can apply for Permanent Residency all in one-step.
Even if you have stayed much longer than your visa allowed, you can apply for your residency through your spouse. A few months after you submit your application, both of you will have an interview in Atlanta to make sure your marriage is valid. If all goes well, you will be approved soon afterwards.
Some people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may be eligible for this process if they first obtain permission to travel abroad and then return to the United States lawfully.
Do you have an approved petition filed you before May 1, 2001?
Some people who have an approved petition filed before this date are also eligible to adjust their status here in the United States, even though they entered illegally. Check with an immigration attorney to see if this option may be available to you.
Did you enter without inspection?
Many people are married to a United States Citizen, but entered the United States illegally. Their path to residency is more complicated. Their spouse first files a petition for them. They then have to return to their home country for an interview at a United States Consulate.
Before they leave, however, they should apply for a waiver (perdón) of their unlawful presence here in the United States. Without this waiver they would have to wait ten years outside of the United States. They must show in the waiver how their US Citizen would suffer extreme hardship without them here in the United States during that time.
This can be done by showing financial support given to your spouse, your spouse’s family ties here in the United States, or your spouse or children’s medical condition that requires you to be here. If the waiver is approved, you will still have to leave for a medical exam and interview at the Consulate in your home country. For people from Mexico, this usually takes place in Ciudad Juarez.
Preparing a waiver application can be a difficult process. Remember that every case is different, and a small detail could change the process. An experienced immigration lawyer can help.