Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Seattle Immigration Lawyer | The Marriage Route to Getting a Green Card Continued – Living Abroad and Married to U.S. LPR

As any decent immigration lawyer will tell you, it’s easier to get your green card if you are married to a U.S. citizen rather than a U.S. lawful permanent resident. But, in writing my immigration lawyer posts on obtaining a green card, I want to cover as many options as possible. So, in the case of an immigrant living outside of the U.S. who is married to a U.S. lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse, as usual, the U.S. spouse starts the process by mailing the visa petition (I-130) to USCIS.

Now, here comes the bad part. A visa petition from a U.S. LPR spouse goes into the USCIS so-called “lockbox”, which will eventually pass it along to the USCIS office for the U.S. LPR’s location. But the petition will stay “locked up” until close to the date that the immigrant spouse’s priority date is current.

So, what’s a priority date? Well, a priority date is the date that your relative, in this case, your loving spouse, started your immigrant process by filing a petition on your behalf. (As with any time you submit immigration documents to the federal government, you should ALWAYS send them registered mail return receipt requested, or express mail or similar with receipt confirmation. The date on the confirmation receipt is the priority date!)

To determine when your priority date is current you, or your immigration attorney, will have to look at and keep checking on the infamous Visa Bulletins, which are published every month by the State Department, and are available online. The bulletins state the immigrant visa cutoff date for each visa preference. Spouses of U.S. LPRs are 2nd preference (2A). The cutoff dates simply indicate which priority dates in each preference category are being processed by the State Dept. since immigrants with those dates are now eligible for an immigrant visa. For example, for Sept. 2010, for preference 2A, the cutoff date is 1/1/2010. That means that if your priority date is before 1/1/2010 than you will receive an appointment in the next few months if you are an immigrant living abroad, or if you’re in the U.S., you’ll be able to submit the next part of your application. If your priority date is, for example, 2/1/2010, then you will have to keep waiting.

Now, back to the petition being “locked up”. Hopefully, USCIS will approve the visa petition. Only when the petition is approved and the priority date is current can the immigrant spouse apply for lawful permanent residence through the consular processing system. At the consulate interview, with any luck, the immigrant visa will be approved and the immigrant spouse must go to the U.S. and claim permanent residence within six months. Unfortunately, the immigrant spouse has to wait outside of the U.S. until the consular processing is through. That means waiting until the priority date is current and you have your interview. That could take years depending on the backlog. As always, you should consult with an experienced immigration attorney for details on your specific circumstances.

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