Should I get a green card through marriage or employment?

From time to time I encounter a client reluctant to apply for a green card through marriage because he does not want his girlfriend to feel that he is marrying her for a green card.  I also encounter clients who are married and not sure whether to get a green card through their spouses or through employment instead.  So the client asks “Should I get a green card through marriage or employment?”  Or, “Should I try to come back on another visa or marry this year instead of next so that we can be together?”


In the first scenario, the foreign national may be here in student status or another type of nonimmigrant status.  He may be very serious about marrying his girlfriend.  The couple has usually been talking about marriage for a while and there is no doubt that they will marry, however, the foreign national’s immigration status is expiring.  The most obvious solution is to marry and apply for a marriage-based green card.  A lot of times, the foreign national is hesitant to do so because he is worried that his girlfriend/fiancee and her family may think that he is using her.  He may also feel too proud to do it, and would rather try to get immigrant status on his own.


In the second, the foreign national may already have been petitioned by an employer and may be waiting for a visa number to become current.  She may have to wait several years, or may have already waited several years to be able to apply for residence through her employment.  She and her boyfriend or fiance have discussed marriage or she has already married and they are wondering what to do.


The law says that it is your intent at the time that you marry that matters.  You should be marrying because you intend to spend the rest of your lives together.  You should not be marrying primarily to get a green card.


As a practical matter, it is much simpler to apply for permanent residence through marriage rather than through employment.  One may granted residence through marriage in a few months rather than several years through employment.  That is also assuming that you already have an employer petitioning you for both immigrant status and nonimmigrant status while you wait for a visa number.


Additionally, if you are work authorized through a marriage-based adjustment of status application, or can receive your residence faster through marriage, then you will have universal work authorization.  That means that you will not be tied to your employer and can work anywhere you please or start your own business.


The bottom line is that you have to do what makes you and your fiancee feel comfortable.  You should marry for love and should not feel rushed.  You must also weigh the pros and cons of being separated if the foreign national has to leave the country because his or her status has ended, or the stress of feeling tied to an employer because your employer has petitioned you.  Also realize that if your fiance(e) really loves you, he or she will be more than happy for you to get your green card through marriage rather than struggling to get it on your own.  I have seen this firsthand.


Also, having practiced for many years, those are the couples that stay together.

Images by Grace Alano.

Grace Alano is the Principal Attorney at The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano in San Francisco, CA.  Find Grace on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.


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