Undocumented Immigrant Married to a Citizen
Are you married to someone who lacks a valid immigration status? Did you enter the U.S. without authorization and need some help gaining legal permanent residency or another immigration benefit? Learn about how as an undocumented immigrant married to a U.S. citizen you can obtain permanent residency. Call now or complete the contact form below to protect your legal interests.
What Is an Undocumented Immigrant Married to a Citizen?
U.S. immigration law prioritizes family unification. If a person immigrates to the country, this concept ensures family members stay together. It also allows U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who are already in the country to sponsor close family relatives for permanent residency.
Sometimes, though, individuals enter the U.S. without authorization or overstay a temporary visa. If either happens, these individuals are undocumented, as they lack the official paperwork necessary to live and work in the country.
If you are undocumented and married to a U.S. citizen, you may have a path toward becoming a legal permanent resident. Two years later, you may even be eligible to apply to become a U.S. citizen. Before you can seek permanent residency or citizenship, though, you must address your undocumented status.
Unfortunately, entering the U.S. without authorization and remaining in the country illegally both have some immigration consequences. Nevertheless, if you are undocumented and married to a citizen, you may be eligible to apply for an unauthorized presence waiver.
Eligibility for Legal Permanent Residency
Individuals who marry U.S. citizens are automatically eligible to apply for legal permanent residency, sometimes called a green card. With few restrictions, permanent residents may live anywhere in the U.S. and work for any employer they choose.
Furthermore, those with valid marriages to citizens do not have to wait for a visa number to become available. Rather, these individuals are immediate relatives under U.S. immigration law. Provided you meet the eligibility requirements, you should be eligible to apply for legal permanent residency immediately after your marriage.
If you have fewer than two years of marriage when the federal government approves your marriage-based permanent residency application, you should receive a conditional green card. At the end of two years, you must apply to have the conditions removed. On the other hand, if your marriage is older than two years when you receive your permanent residency, you are likely to have a green card that expires in 10 years.
Either way, the process of applying for legal permanent residency inside the U.S. is called adjustment of status. If you must apply outside the country for some reason, the process is consular processing. While the end result is the same, the steps you must take are vastly different between the two procedures.
The Problem With Illegal Entry as an Undocumented Immigrant Married to a Citizen
To apply for adjustment of status and receive your green card from inside the U.S., you likely must have entered the country legally. This means each of the following is true:
- You possessed a valid visa or had some other type of permission to enter the country legally.
- An immigration officer inspected you and granted your admission.
Usually, individuals who enter the country legally receive an I-94 form, which is an admission and departure record. Immigration officials also typically place a stamp in the passports of individuals who enter the U.S. lawfully. You can use your I-94 card and your passport stamp as proof of your lawful arrival.
If you entered the U.S. illegally, you are probably not eligible for adjustment of status. That is, you likely cannot receive a green card without first departing the U.S. There is an important exception to the lawful entry requirement, though.
If you had a permanent labor certification or family-based immigrant visa petition filed on your behalf on or before April 30, 2001, you might be eligible to apply for a green card without departing the country. This exclusive benefit stems from a provision of a federal law known as the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act.
The Process of Filing for Adjustment of Status
If you enter the U.S. legally, you may still be an undocumented immigrant. That is, your visa status may have expired, causing you to be present without authorization.
Still, as an undocumented immigrant, as long as you entered the country legally or qualified for the LIFE Act, you can probably apply for adjustment of status without leaving the country if you are married to a citizen.
To do so, your husband or wife must file an immigrant visa petition on your behalf. At the same time, you can likely file an adjustment of status application. You may also be eligible for a work permit or travel document while your green card application is pending.
After filing the immigration packet with federal immigration officials, you may have to provide fingerprints and other biometric information. You and your spouse may also have to attend an interview with immigration officials.
The Application via Consular Processing
If you are ineligible for adjustment of status because of your undocumented status or for another reason, you may have to consular process your green card application. This means you must depart the U.S. and attend a visa interview at a U.S. consulate in your home country.
This is not without risk.
If you have been present in the U.S. without authorization for between 180 and 365 days, you may have a 3-year bar to reentering the country. Accumulating more than a year of unauthorized presence typically triggers a 10-year reentry bar.
Fortunately, these bars are sometimes waivable. If you can convince a consular officer that your being outside the U.S. puts undue hardship on your U.S. citizen spouse or children, he or she may waive the reentry bar.
Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer
U.S. immigration law is incredibly complex. Even worse, individuals who violate the law often face serious immigration or criminal consequences. Accordingly, if you lack immigration status, you likely need legal counsel before filing any immigration application or seeking any type of immigration-related benefit.
An experienced attorney can help you understand your legal options as an undocumented immigrant married to a citizen. He or she can also prepare the forms necessary to secure your legal permanent residence, whether through adjustment of status or consular processing. If you need an unlawful presence waiver, your lawyer can assist with that too.
Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!