Without a green card, a person from outside the U.S. who is married to an American citizen may find himself separated from his spouse because he is unable to stay within the country under immigration law. Fortunately, an unlimited number of visas are available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including for wives and husbands. There are two different processes for gaining a green card, depending on whether you are living inside or outside of the U.S. on application.
Getting a Green Card While Inside the U.S. Through Concurrent Filing
Visit the website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and download forms I-130 and I-485 --- a Petition for an Alien Relative and an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status respectively (see Resources).
Fill out form I-485 and ask your husband or wife to fill out form I-130. Make sure you fill these documents out carefully in black or blue ink and double check they are the most up-to-date versions of the form.
Put the forms in the same envelope alongside the filing fee and any separate evidence or documents as applicable. As of March 2011, the fee for filing an I-130 form was $420, while applying for permanent resident status with an I-486 form costs $985 plus a biometric fee of $85 applicable for most applicants, although there are some exceptions to these payments if the applicant is over 75 or has been permitted entry to the U.S. as a refugee.
Send the forms together in the same envelope to the USCIS. This is called concurrent filing. Forms should go to The USCIS Chicago Lockbox (see Resources). A green card will be made available following the filing and approval of the forms.
Getting a Green Card While Inside the U.S. Following the Filing of the I-130 Form
Fill out and form I-485 (see Resources) following the receipt of the I-797 Notice of Action, which is evidence that the I-130 petition from your U.S. citizen spouse (see Resources) is either pending or approved. If the I-130 has been denied, you may not apply for a green card.
Put the I-485 and I-797 forms as a filing fee together in an envelope alongside any extra documentation needed, according to the instructions on the form.
Send the envelope to the USCIS Chicago Lockbox at the same address as you would with a concurrent filing.
Getting a Green Card while Outside the U.S.
Ask your spouse, who should be a U.S. citizen, to file an I-130 Petition for An Alien Relative on your behalf (see Resources).
Await approval. Your spouse will hear from the USCIS on whether her petition has been approved or denied. If it has been denied, you may have a case to appeal, information about which will be made available to your spouse. If it is approved, the USCIS will send the petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center.
Attend an interview with the consular office. Once the NVC has contacted you to say your petition has been approved and an immigrant visa number is available, you will be invited to attend an appointment. Through this interview, the consular office will decide if you are eligible for an immigrant visa.
Travel to the U.S. If your application for a green card is approved, a consular officer will give you a Visa Packet, which you must take with you to the U.S. Do not open the packet, but give it to a Customs and Border Protection officer when you arrive on American soil. The official will check this information and, if satisfied, will allow you into the U.S. as a permanent resident. Your green card will then be mailed to you.