Dear Sophie: Tips for filing for a green card for my soon-to-be spouse

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie:

My fiancé is in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, which is set to expire in about a year and a half.

We were originally planning to marry last year, but both he and I want to have a ceremony and party with our families and friends, so we decided to hold off until the pandemic ends. I’m a U.S. citizen and plan to sponsor my fiancé for a green card.

How long does it typically take to get a green card for a spouse? Any tips you can share?

— Sweetheart in San Francisco

Dear Sweetheart:

Congratulations! It’s so wonderful to hear you’re planning to take the next step with your beloved. I understand wanting to wait to have a big wedding and party. However, to avoid the risk that your husband-to-be will have to leave the U.S., I recommend that you get married in a civil ceremony as soon as possible and immediately file for a green card.

Be sure to check out the podcast that my law partner, Anita Koumriqian and I posted on the ins and outs of applying for a fiancé visa (if your fiancé is living outside of the U.S.) or a marriage-based green card.

If your husband has already been sponsored for a green card by his employer and he’s only waiting for his priority date to become current, his employer might be able to renew his H-1B visa beyond six years, which would mean he won’t have to leave the U.S. while he waits for either green card to come through. Keep in mind that due to COVID-19 restrictions and an increase in filings, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is facing significant delays in processing all immigration cases. Currently, USCIS may take more than a year to process marriage-based green card petitions.

To answer your second question, here are my tips for getting a marriage-based green card for your soon-to-be husband:

Ask for employer support

Given that your fiancé’s employer could benefit by retaining him without going through (or needing to complete) the lengthier and more costly process for an employer-sponsored green card, your fiancé should ask his company to cover the legal and filing costs for the marriage-based green card. Your fiancé’s employer will also probably still have to submit an H-1B visa renewal on his behalf.

For a good-faith marriage, marriage-based green cards generally are quicker, less document-intensive and less expensive than getting an employer-sponsored green card. If your fiancé is from India or China, he would face a substantially longer wait for an employee-based green card due to the annual numerical and per-country caps.

There are no numerical or per-country caps on marriage-based green cards for immediate relatives. Because of this, you will be able to file Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), which establishes your relationship to your spouse, and Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) for the green card at the same time (concurrent filing).

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Hire an immigration attorney

Filing a petition to sponsor a spouse for a green card sounds straightforward, but it requires more than just filling out the appropriate forms. Many couples come to us after going it alone and running into problems or getting denied.

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