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Step-by-Step Guide on How to File for a IR-1 / CR-1 Visa for a Foreign Spouse
These are the basic steps required by the US Citizen. These steps should be followed as a guideline and not as specific requirements for any given case. Every case is unique and this does not address that uniqueness.



What is a IR-1 / CR-1 Visa?

IR-1 / CR-1 Visas are immigrant visas issued to foreign spouses of US Citizens. After the US citizen spouse files (and has approved) the proper petition with the USCIS, the foreign spouse will complete the visa process completely outside the US. Upon approval and once issued, the foreign spouse may enter the US with their visa and pass through the arrival Port of Entry, where they will become a Permanent Resident immediately. They will receive a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) in the mail at their US Address within a few weeks.

Note to K3 Applicants: This process also applies to K3 Visa applicants whom have had their I-130 approved prior to their I-129f. In this case you may chose to persue the I-130 path as opposed the the K3. This will allow the immigrating relative to enter as a permanent resident as opposed to having to file for adjustment once here. If the I-129f is later approved and forwarded to the embassy then you can write them to request the approved I-130 be acted on and the K-3 process abandoned.

Who is Eligible to File?

U.S. citizens legally married to a foreign national may petition for a IR-1 / CR-1 visa. If the marriage is less than two years old, the consulate will issue a CR-1 Visa (and if longer than two years it will issue a IR-1 Visa). The primary difference between these two visas is that a CR-1 Visa will result in Conditional Permanent Residency (requiring a petition to be filed later to lift this conditional status) versus a IR-1 Visa resulting in full Permanent Residency upon arrival in the US by the foreign spouse.

Forms Needed to File for a IR-1 / CR-1 Visa:

1. I-130
2. G-325a

3. G-1145 (optional)

The above forms can be filled out on your computer and printed. Make sure you sign and date them as required. Anything you cannot fit by typing, you can handwrite (very neatly) in black ink in the blank instead. You should always verify the current forms at www.uscis.gov.


Assembling the I-130 Package: Checklist
Forms and Documents (follow these assembly instructions. All supporting documents must be in English or be translated as noted here.)
:
1. Payment as required by USCIS. Use a personal check so you can track the payment. Money Orders are also accepted. Read the Guide to Paying USCIS Immigration Fees.
2. Cover Letter. Should include a description of what your are petitioning for (I-130), a table of contents (list everything in the packet). If you need additional room to explain your case, attach a separate sheet (list the attachment on the cover sheet). Make sure to sign and date the cover sheet.
3. Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative
4. Copy of the full Birth certificate (front and back) for the US Citizen or a copy of ALL pages of the US Citizen's passport. This is used to establish citizenship.
5. A copy of petitioner's proof of naturalization. (If applicable)
6. A copy of petitioner's proof of permanent residency. (If applicable)
7. A copy of the intending immigrant's birth certificate and/or passport along with English translation. (If in any language other than English) (no longer needed)
8. A copy of your marriage certificate (If not inEnglish then again get a translation)
9. If either you or your spouse were previously married, submit copies of documents showing that all prior marriages were legally terminated (court certified copies of the petitioner's and/or intending immigrant's divorce documents).
10. A copy of a prior spouse's death certificate. (If one or both of you were married before, and the prior spouse died)
11. G-325A filled out by the US Citizen, signed and dated.
12. One passport-type photo (see specification) of the petitioner. Write the full name on the back. Place in a plastic bag and label the bag "Photo of <Insert Name>". Attach the bag to a sheet of paper and place behind the corresponding G-325a.
13. G-325A filled out by the non-US Citzen spouse signed and dated.
14. One passport-type photo (see specification) of the non-US Citzen spouse. Write the full name of the beneficiary on the back. Place in a plastic bag and label the bag "Photo of (insert name) ". Attach the bag to a sheet of paper and place behind the corresponding G-325a.
15. Evidence of a bonafide marriage (see note below for what to include)

Note: Evidence of a Bonifide Marriage
The USCIS now requires that when filing an I-130 for a spouse that you include evidence of a bonifide marriage. They list examples of acceptable evidence as:
1. Documentation showing joint ownership or property; or
2. A lease showing joint tenancy of a common residence; or
3. Documentation showing co-mingling of financialresources; or
4. Birth certificate(s) of child(ren) born to you, thepetitioner, and your spouse together; or
5. Affidavits sworn to or affirmed by third parties havingpersonal knowledge of the bona fides of the maritalrelationship (Each affidavit must contain the full nameand address, date and place of birth of the person makingthe affidavit, his or her relationship to the petitioner ofbeneficiary, if any, and complete information and detailsexplaining how the person acquired his or herknowledge of your marriage); or
6. Any other relevant documentation to establish that thereis an ongoing marital union.

Attach "E-Notification" Form (Optional)

Clip a completed G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance, to the first page of your application (on top of the cover page). By completing this form and attaching it, USCIS will send you an email and/or text message to alert you when your application was received.

Mail the I-130 Package to the USCIS

You should mail the completed form(s) to the proper USCIS Lockbox (Note the location & PO Box address for your filing type: stand alone). Mail the package with return receipt requested / delivery confirmation. Send via USPS.


IMPORTANT!
Make TWO copies of the entire package before you send it in. This includes the money orders too. You want to have a perfect replica of the package you are sending in. All Forms that you submit must be originals with original signatures. Supporting Evidence that you submit may be photocopies. Retain ALL original supporting Evidence since the USCIS has the right to check them by issuing an RFE (Request For Evidence). If you receive an RFE, follow the direction exactly, and make two copies of what you sent back. During any future interviews the USCIS may also want to examine the original supporting evidence.



Create a VJ Timeline

Estimate processing time and approval date: Creating a VJ Timeline will allow you to track your case and will generate an estimated approval date for your petition. You can always gain access to many other tools to help you plan how long your Visa Journey will take!


What Happens After You Mail the I-130 Out?


A few weeks after you have sent your petition to the USCIS you will receive a Notice of Action (aka NOA) letter indicating that they have begun processing your I-130 application. You can check the status of your application as well as other processing time information here.


When your I-130 petition is finally approved, the service center that processed your petition, will send you another Notice of Action letter indicating your approval, and the forwarding of your approved petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, along with a phone number to contact the NVC with. Your case will now only be dealt with by the NVC. The service center that you filed with, will have no more knowledge on the status of your petition or case.


A few weeks after you have received your last Notice of Action indicating the approval and forwarding of your I-130 application to the NVC, the NVC will send your relative a packet of forms that you and your relative must fill out before your relative can be given an interview date with a consulate abroad. The packet will likely contain an Of-169 form, and an Of-230 part one and two forms that must be filled out by the intending immigrant. An I-864 form is also included that must be filled out by the petitioner (living in the US). The I-864 is the Affidavit of Support form that requires copies of the petitioners past 3 U.S tax returns (or tax transcripts which are free from the IRS) as well as any bank or financial records available (see the I-864 for exact requirements based on your case). The petitioner must make at least 125% above the U.S federal poverty to indicate to the U.S government that the intending immigrant will not become a federal charge to the government when he/she arrives in the U.S.. If the petitioner cannot meet these requirements, then he/she must still file an I-864, and find a joint sponsor who can meet the requirements on his/her own. When a joint sponsor is needed ,proof of their U.S citizenship or permanent residency is required. (i.e. copy of birth certificate, immigration status etc). The joint sponsor must be residing in the U.S, and he/she must also submit his/her past 3 years U.S tax returns along with bank or any other financial records available. The joint sponsor must submit his/her own I-864 form to accompany the petitioner's I-864 form.


Forms that may be either sent back (or requested to be gathered and kept for the interview) to the NVC or the consulate abroad (depending upon which consulate you are going through) before an interview date with a consulate abroad can be scheduled are as follows:


Pre-Interview Forms / Items:
1. Completed and signed OF-169.
2. Completed and signed Of-230 Part 1 and 2 forms.
3. I-864 Affidavit of Support Form along with past 3 year U.S tax returns (or transcripts) and any other financial documents required.
4. A copy of intending immigrants biographic page of passport(s) including expiration date.
5. Original or certified "long" birth certificate. *
6. Original adoption decree. (if applicable)
7. Marriage certificate. (if applicable)
8. Divorce decree(s) or death certificate(s) (if applicable)
9. Police certificate(s) **
10. Court and prison records.(if applicable)
11. Custody records. (if applicable)
12. Military records (if applicable)

* Per the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), they may also be unavailable. Or certain countries don't have individual birth certificates as understood in the US, but the FAM will describe the suitable document. The consulate can explain the alternate requirements to the beneficiary in detail.

** On police clearances, as per the FAM, they may be unavailable. Or with some countries [Korea comes to mind], they will be sent directly to the consulate from the involved government. The consulate can explain the alternate requirements to the beneficiary in detail.

After the NVC or Consulate Abroad receives the above forms and supporting documents (which may not all be required to mail back at that time), an interview date will be scheduled for the intending immigrant at a consulate abroad. The NVC or the consulate abroad will send your relative a letter indicating at what time and day the interview is scheduled for, and of required forms that must be brought to the interview. Make two copies of each original document or piece of evidence below and bring them with you. Documents needed are:


Interview Forms / Items:
1. Valid Passport.
2. Original or certified "long" birth certificate. *
3. Original adoption decree. (if applicable)
4. Original or certified copy of the marriage certificate. (if applicable)
5. Original death certificate. (if applicable)
6. Original divorce decree. (if applicable)
7. Police certificate. **
8. Court record(s) (if applicable).
9. I-864 Affidavit of Support Form along with past 3 year U.S tax returns (or transcripts) and any other financial documents required. (see poverty limits here)
10. Court and prison records.(if applicable)
11. Medical examination information
12. Two passport-type photos (see specification) of the spouse or benefitiary

* You should have the originals on hand at this point for the Final Interview. Per the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), they may also be unavailable. Or certain countries don't have individual birth certificates as understood in the US, but the FAM will describe the suitable document. The consulate can explain the alternate requirements to the beneficiary in detail.

** On police clearances, as per the FAM, they may be unavailable. Or with some countries [Korea comes to mind], they will be sent directly to the consulate from the involved government. The consulate can explain the alternate requirements to the beneficiary in detail.

On The day of your relatives (or spouses) interview, he/she must bring EVERY document listed above that applies to your case, and should be prepared for a long wait. There may be additional forms required. The interview appointment sheet will contain a list of everything you must bring. It will also tell you the payment amount due and the forms of payment accepted.


The interview can last for as littles as 10 minutes or up to an hour depending upon your specific case. You relative will take an oath under US law to tell the truth, and it is very important that your relative answer every question as truthfully as possible. In general, it is a good idea that your relative bring documentation to prove strong ties and a relationship with you, the petitioner. (i.e. phone bills, letters etc.) If the consulate officer approves your relative's immigrant visa application, your relative will be issued an immigrant visa that allows your relative to become a US permanent resident. Your relative will become a U.S permanent resident only when he/she enters the U.S at a port of entry, until this time, he/she only has an immigrant visa that is valid up to 6 months from the interview date. If your relative cannot immigrate to the U.S within the 6 month allotted time, then his/her immigrant visa will expire, and the I-130 process must start all over again.

At the bottom of either a CR-1 visa or IR-1 visa is the following sentence, "Upon Endorsement Serves As Temporary I-551 Valid For One Year." The endorsement is a standard CBP admission stamp with applicable information written in by the officer. This allows the visa itself to act as a temporary green card before the actual green card arrives in the mail. Additionally, if your relative is a CR-1 visa holder, the green card will only be valid for two years. Within ninety days before the green card expires, you will have to file an I-751 form to remove it's conditional status.


As a general note, please see the I-130 FAQs here.