Student visa holder married green card holder, what can she do?
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Question: Dear Guru,
My sister is a F1–name removed–currently maintaining status. She married a Green Card Holder (DV) in April 2009. They have not filed any petition yet as she wanted to continue studies as a F-1. They have been living together.
She is going to graduate in May 2010. Now she wants to file family petition and remain in the US with her husband.
(1) Do we file I-130, I-485, I-765, I-131 together at the same time?
(2) Can she remain in the US until there is a decision on her I-130 OR will she have to continue going to school?
Answer: The husband is a legal permanent resident (LPR or green-card holder) and can only file an I-130 for your sister. The I-485 application to adjust status to permanent residence CANNOT and must not be filed together with the I-130 or it will be rejected because the husband only has a green card and not a U.S. citizen yet. The I-485 can ONLY be filed once a visa number is available for your sister as the wife of an LPR. That’s because the immigrant who marries an LPR has to proceed one step or stage at a time, and the first step that must be taken is filing the I-130 and wait until it is approved by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).
The I-130 is approved relatively fast but it does not grant your sister the right to file the I-485 until a visa number is available in her appropriate category of relatives. As the wife of an LPR, she is in the F2A category of relatives, which is running about 4 years behind in visa numbers, more or less. She’ll have to maintain lawful status in this country (continuing going to school, change to H-1B, E-1 visa, or whatever other nonimmigrant visa she qualifies for independently), while waiting in the 4 years or else she will jeopardize her chance of filing an I-485 in the future due to being out-of-status. Not until there is a visa number available for the F2A category will the I-485 finally allowed to be filed. And as stated, no visa numbers are available for a few years in that category if an I-130 is filed today. To understand this issue read the article “I-130 Approval Is Not Green Card!” as a whole, with particular attention to what we have called the “Stage 1″ and “Stage 2″ waits in that article.
So, in essence, marrying an LPR is less “advantageous” than marrying a U.S. citizen, because an immigrant who marries a citizen can file an I-130 together with the adjustment of status (the I-485) and work permit and all that quickly since there is no wait for a visa number. This is obviously the scenario described in our article “It’s Easy for Me to get a Green Card by Marrying My U.S. Citizen Boyfriend or Girlfriend, Right?” However, if one is in love with an LPR, then that’s who one is in love with!
Also, many immigrants continually make the mistake of thinking that as soon as their LPR spouses file the I-130 for them, that they can stay in this country regardless if their nonimmigrant visa (the student visa in this case) is out-of-status. No! The I-130, even if it is approved, does NOT grant any right to a person to be in this country or to get a work permit or a driver’s license whatsoever. A person who is out-of-status on their nonimmigrant visa is subjected to removal (deportation) proceedings at any time. Whether they will actually be served papers to go to court for those proceedings is another story due to lack of resources on the part of Immigration & Customs Enforcement. But understand if a person is out-of-status, this could happen any time. Jan. 19, 2010 update: For example, see the comment of another reader whose brother overstayed a tourist visa for two years and thought he could continue to stay here until one day the police or immigration agents came to his house to put him into deportation.
The way to get out of this quandary is if the husband files for citizenship and gets approved in the meantime. That will reduce your sister’s wait and make things easier. Of course, saying that the husband could file for citizenship does not mean that it’s a done deal. He will have to wait until he’s been an LPR for 5 years, then go through the actual process of applying, and then he may or may not get approved, depending on his behavior and records since he became an LPR.