So, after me and Ruby were married on May 28, 2016 in Sarasota, Florida (which you can read about in three parts here: Part 1, Part 2: Ceremony, Part 3: Party, with bonus photo galleries too), the next step is to apply for a Green Card for Ruby. The Green Card is really a permanent residency – it gives you the legal right to live and work in the U.S. for 10 years before you’d have to renew it. This process is not simple, because it involves a lot of forms that need to be prepared, and a lot of documents scanned and printed out. The purpose of this post is to easily explain what types of documents you need, which forms you need to fill out, and how much it will cost you (hint: it is not cheap).
Please note that our application was for a legal U.S. work visa holder who lives in the United States. If you do not fit those criteria, then this will still be useful, but the process for non-work visa holders or those who live abroad is different. Ruby was already living in the United States legally on a dual-intent visa for nearly three years when we submitted her forms.
You also don’t need to hire a lawyer, you can fill out the forms yourself, but you just need extra time and effort reviewing them and making sure you are giving complete and accurate information. You don’t want your paperwork to be delayed, right? This will save you a few dollars by doing it yourself. All of the below can be sent as one complete application, to reduce headaches for you and USCIS (US Immigration Office).
How to Apply for a Green Card: Required Forms that you will send to the USCIS
I will explain every one of these individually and also let you know which forms you will need to attach to each form:
I-864 – Affidavit of Support
Since you are petitioning for your spouse/relative to live in the U.S. with you, you have to show that you can financially support them. Even if you make a million dollars a year or even if your spouse makes more money than you, you still have to fill this form out to prove that your income level can support an extra person in your household.
If you don’t think your income will be enough, you can also include other assets in your net worth, but it’s up to the immigration officer to accept this as a supplement to your income.
3 most recent W-2 tax transcripts
Filing Fee: $0
I-485 – Your Relative/Spouse is petitioning to USCIS
This should be filled out by your relative/spouse, since this document is their own petition to USCIS to let them live in the U.S. full-time and without any restrictions (except a right to vote).
- Copy of your relative/spouse’s Birth Certificate
- Copy of your relative/spouse’s main passport page
- Copy of the page in your relative/spouse’s passport showing any U.S. Visa that they obtained
- Form I-94, which shows your arrival/departure history in the U.S.
- 2 identical passport-style color photographs of your relative/spouse only
Filing Fee: $1,070
This fee includes $985 for the form itself + $85 for biometrics for anyone aged 14 to 78 (which is most people).
I-130 – You are petitioning for your Relative/Spouse
This should be filled out by either an existing U.S. Citizen or permanent resident (Green Card holder), to prove that you are related to the relative/spouse who wishes to apply for the Green Card.
- Copy of your Birth Certificate (if you were born in U.S.) or a copy of your naturalization certificate
- Copy of your main passport page
- Copy of your permanent resident card (only if you’re a permanent resident and not a U.S. citizen)
- Copy of Marriage Certificate (if your application is for a spouse, obviously)
- Passport-style color photo of yourself and your relative/spouse
- Photographs of you and your relative/spouse, from different time periods
- Joint bank accounts
- Lease showing that you both live together
Filing Fee: $420
G325A – Biographic information of your Relative/Spouse
One-page form with basic information, such as country of birth, previous residences, employment history, etc.
Documents Required: None
Filing Fee: $0
G325A – Your own biographic information
Same form as the one for your relative/spouse, only with your own information.
Filing Fee: $0
I-693 – Your Relative/Spouse’s Medical Examination
Your relative/spouse will have to undergo an official medical examination with a certified “civil surgeon” who is approved to perform immigration medical exams. So, please don’t just go to your doctor and do a regular physical. Go here: https://my.uscis.gov/findadoctor, put in your zip code, and you will find a list of approved doctors nearest you.
The doctor will ask your relative/spouse to bring in any vaccination records you have. They are looking for MMR (measles/mumps), Varicella, and Tetanus. If you don’t have them, they will give your relative/spouse the vaccines in the hospital. They are not cheap, however (all together cost between $250-300).
The most important thing to remember about this form is that the civil doctor has to fill out most of it. Your relative/spouse only fills out Part 1, which is just information about themselves, and the doctor will fill out the rest. After your relative/spouse signs the form, the doctor will seal the form and give it to them. Do NOT open the form after it’s given to your relative/spouse by the doctor. Just attach it to your application.
- Vaccination Records for MMR, Varicella, Tetanus
- Any important medical history items
Filing Fee: $0
There is no filing fee for the form, but, of course, you will pay a few hundred dollars in doctor’s fees.
I-765 – Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
This form is optional, but if you submit it and it gets approved, you will have the right to work part or full-time for any employer in the U.S. If you hold an L-1 or H1-B visa, you are essentially tied to your sponsoring employer. If you get the EAD, you will be able to work for anyone without the need to be sponsored. Needless to say, it’s a very useful form.
Filing Fee: $0*
*The EAD actually costs $380, but if you file and pay for the I-485 form (which you will, since it’s required for your application), then the fee for I-765 is waived.
- Send application to USCIS (September 7, 2016)
- USCIS receives the application and officially files it. (September 12, 16, and 26 – why a lot of dates? The first two were acceptance of the forms, the last one is the official mail we got from the USCIS, I-797)
- USCIS mails you an appointment for fingerprinting. Note: Do not try to reschedule the appointment if you can! Your papers may be delayed! (September 30, 2016)
- Fingerprinting (October 12, 2016)
- USCIS schedules an interview for yourself and your husband/wife who petitioned you.
- Interview with USCIS.
- EAD will be mailed out if approved.
- USCIS approves or declines your green card application.
- If approved, green card will be mailed out.
The main thing to remember with this is to include as much information as possible. If you’re married and have pictures of your wedding, send them to USCIS. If you have pictures of you both having dinner at Olive Garden 5 years ago, send those too. Don’t think, “Well, if I just give them this, it will be enough.” Send it all, to prove without a doubt that you have a valid relationship to the relative/spouse that you are sponsoring.
Good luck and if you have any questions, let us know by the comments below or emailing us and we’ll be happy to answer them!