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If you’re married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder, and you’re looking to obtain a marriage-based green card while living abroad, you’ll need to apply at your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This process — called “consular processing” — allows you to obtain either a CR1 visa or IR1 visa, both of which will allow you to live and work in the United States, albeit on slightly different terms. We’ll cover the differences between the two below.
In this guide, we’ll go over the process for obtaining a CR1 or IR1 visa:
Interested in applying for a marriage-based green card? Boundless takes all the required government forms and turns them into simple questions you can answer online — typically in under 2 hours. Learn more, or check your eligibility without providing any personal or financial information. With Boundless, your satisfaction is 100% guaranteed. See how we help you.
While CR1 and IR1 visas provide similar rights and privileges to beneficiaries, they both follow different timelines.
CR1 (or Conditional Resident) visas are given to applicants who, when arriving in the United States with their green card, have been married for less than 2 years. These visas are granted on a “conditional” basis. Two years after their arrival in the United States, the beneficiary and their U.S. citizen spouse must apply to remove the conditions from the green card, at which point they will receive an updated 10-year permanent resident card.
IR1 (or Immediate Relative) visas, on the other hand, are given to beneficiaries who have been married for more than 2 years when their green card is approved. In this case, the IR1 holder doesn’t need to remove conditions (as there are none), and will have 10 years before they need to renew their permanent resident card.
Note: Investor visas, such as the EB5, are also considered Conditional Resident visas and thus will need to be updated after 2 years. That being said, for our purposes, the term, CR1, generally refers to conditional, 2-year, marriage-based green card.
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To obtain a CR1/IR1 visa, you need to apply via a process known as “consular processing.” Here are the visa types that use consular processing:
A CR1/IR1 visa allows a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident (green card holder) to sponsor their foreign spouse to come to the United States.
Specific requirements include:
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Whether you’re applying for an IR1 or a CR1, the cost for obtaining a marriage-based green card can be broken down into 4 basic categories:
For those with a CR1 visa: when the time comes to apply for the removal of conditions, you will eventually need to pay a $595 filing fee (for Form I-751) and an $85 biometrics fee.
It’s generally a good idea to collect a list of all the anticipated expenses ahead of time. This will help ensure that you have the money on hand when you need it.
Not sure what costs to expect? Boundless’ USCIS fee calculator can help determine the exact government fees for your CR-1 application. We also help you pay your costs in installments, so you can get started now and pay later. Create a free account to use our fee calculator and explore your payment options.
The processing time for I-130 will vary greatly depending on the service center. As of March, 2022, it could take anywhere from 4 months (at the Nebraska Service Center) to over 4 years (at the Texas Service Center) to process Form I-130. For an up-to-date look at processing time estimates, you can use this USCIS tool.
Following the approval of I-130, the timeline for obtaining a CR1 or IR1 visa is approximately 4 to 6 months. If you’re not married to a U.S. citizen, you may have to wait a while before a visa becomes available. You can check the Visa Bulletin to get a sense of wait times.
No one likes doing paperwork alone. That’s why Boundless connects you with an experienced, independent immigration attorney to answer your questions and help you complete all the required forms. Learn more, or find out if you’re eligible.
To apply for a CR1 or IR1 visa, you’ll need to go through consular processing, which means you’ll need to apply and interview at your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In this section, we’ll provide a step-by-step summary of the CR1/IR1 visa application process.
Step 1: Make sure you’re actually eligible to receive a green card. Most importantly, you’ll need to be able to show that you’re in an authentic marriage. Your spouse also should be 18 years or older and “domiciled” in the United States.
Step 2: The U.S. citizen sponsor — your spouse — will need to complete and file Form I-130 (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”).
Step 3: You’ll then need to wait anywhere from a couple months to over a year for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process the form. If I-130 is approved, you can proceed to the next step.
Step 4: If approved, you can check the Visa Bulletin to see whether a green card is available. You can skip this step if you’re married to a U.S. citizen, but otherwise you may need to wait in “line.” This can take a long time depending on where you live.
Step 5: Your petition will then be processed by the U.S. Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC), where your case will be formally entered into the system.
Step 6: The NVC will notify you about any necessary fees and paperwork to be submitted as part of the application process. They will also instruct you to complete Form DS-260 (officially called the “Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration”) — this is the actual green card application, where you will answer questions about yourself, including your work and education history.
Step 7: After receiving your paperwork from the NVC, your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate should send you a letter telling you when and where the interview will be conducted.
Step 8: You’ll need to get a medical exam with an Embassy-approved physician before attending your interview. You can check the Embassy’s website to find a list of acceptable doctors.
Step 9: You’ll need to have all the relevant documentation and your passport when you arrive at your interview. You can contact the Embassy to get a precise list of what you’ll need. You will be expected to answer questions — under oath — about your application.
Step 10: If no further inquiries are required, you can expect to hear back either immediately or within about a week of your interview. If approved, you should receive a visa — placed inside your passport — and a sealed envelope with your documents. Do not unseal this envelope. The immigration officer at the border should be the only one who opens it.
Step 11: The visa provided by the consular officer will remain valid for 6 months following your medical exam. Once the U.S. border official admits you into the United States — and returns your documents — your visa will be valid for 12 months, allowing you to travel freely in and out of the country. You can expect to receive your final green card during that 12-month period.
Note: The CR1 and IR1 visas are acquired via consular processing. If you currently reside in the United States, you’ll need to go through the Adjustment of Status (AOS) process, which has its own set of requirements and paperwork.
Consular processing can seem complicated. That’s why Boundless takes all the required government forms and turns them into simple questions you can answer online — typically in under two hours. Learn more, or check your eligibility now!
Once you’ve successfully completed the green card application process, you may receive either a CR1 or IR1 visa, depending on how long you’ve been married at the time of your admission into the United States. If you have an IR1 visa, you’ll simply need to renew your green card 10 years after receiving it. But if you’ve been issued a CR1 visa, you’ll need to apply to remove the conditions from your green card within 90 days of the 2-year anniversary of your arrival in the United States. Below, we’ll briefly discuss the process for removing conditions from a permanent resident card.
To begin with, both spouses will need to complete and submit Form I-751 (officially called the “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence”). It’s very important that you submit your application within the 90-day period leading up to the expiration date of the CR1 green card. If submitted too early, USCIS will simply return the form, and if submitted too late (without explanation), your application could be denied altogether.
As part of the application, you will need to submit proof that you are in an authentic marriage. USCIS will want to see evidence — similar to the kind used for the initial green card application — that your marriage has continued for the past two years. Evidence might include:
In addition to paying the appropriate fees (see the “Cost” section for a breakdown), you’ll need to provide a copy of your Conditional Residence green card (both front and back).
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When completing the online immigrant visa application, you can opt to receive a Social Security card after your arrival in the United States. In this case, you would most likely receive the card within 6 weeks of your admission into the country. If, for whatever reason, you haven’t elected to receive a Social Security card, you will have to apply for one with the Social Security Administration.
Yes, absolutely. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor v. United States, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was deemed unconstitutional. As a result, all marriage-based visa applications are to be assessed in exactly the same way, regardless of sexual orientation.
No, not technically. They need to meet the “domicile” requirement, which is possible even if they live abroad. The easiest way to meet this requirement is to live in the United States or one of its territories. Failing that, they can provide documentation showing one of the following:
In this case, they will need to upgrade their petition by submitting the following evidence to the NVC:
The answer to this question will vary depending on the country where you’re applying, but in general you will need:
Make Boundless your trusted partner as you begin your application, and you’ll get an independent lawyer who’ll review your papers and help spot potential problems. Learn more about how Boundless can help you avoid pitfalls, or check your eligibility for a green card.
The Green Card Renewal Process
Applying for the Removal of Conditions
Marriage-Based Green Cards: a Primer
The Fiancé(e) Visa and the Spouse Visa: A Comparison
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