From a non-professional's perspective, I can see how the thought of bringing your spouseto America from abroad may seem daunting. How does a foreigner enter the U.S. anyway? Do you just need a passport? An airline ticket? A second form of a picture ID? Well, not exactly.
For a foreigner to come to America, he/she needs a visa. A visa is like a ticket that gets pasted on to the person's passport that allows the foreigner to enter the U.S. from an airport or other borders. With the exception of nationals from certain countries not needing a visa for a short, usually 90-day temporary visits, everyone must obtain a visa from the U.S. embassy in their home country in order to enter the U.S. (For a complete list of countries not needing a visa for temporary visits to the U.S., please see US Department of State).
But your spouse is going to need to stay in the U.S. for more than 90 days or a temporary period, right? You are looking to bring your spouse to the U.S. to live here permanently. For this, your spouse needs an immigrant visa as opposed to a non-immigrant visa. Immigrant Visa is needed to bring your spouse to America. There are three steps to bring your spouse to the U.S. Remember, this is for your spouse who is currently not in the U.S. If your spouse is already in the U.S. and needs to apply for something to stay here permanently or does not have legal documents to continue to stay in the U.S., there are different procedures.
Three Steps to Bring Your Spouse to America
1. Apply for an Immigrant Petition in the U.S.: To bring spouse to the U.S., your spouse needs to obtain an Immigrant Visa to enter the U.S., you (the U.S. Citizen or U.S. Legal Permanent Resident spouse) must petition for your spouse by submitting a form, I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"). Along with this form, you will need to submit the requisite supporting documents such as the marriage certificate, birth certificate, etc. This form is submitted inside the U.S. while your spouse is still abroad. Your spouse does not have to be in the U.S. to submit this form. This is your petition that requires your signature. Once the form is submitted, it takes about 4-5 months for USCIS to approve the petition.
2. National Visa Center Processing: Once I-130 is approved by USCIS, your case gets transferred to National Visa Center ("NVC") located at Porsmouth, New Hampshire. Again, this process takes place inside the U.S. This is a pre-processing stage for your spouse's Immigrant Visa. There are certain documents that must be submitted to NVC such as Affidavit of Support, copy of the passport, etc. NVC gathers all the requisite documents and sends them to the U.S. embassy in the country where your spouse resides.
3. Applying for Immigrant Visa at the U.S. Embassy: Once NVC completes processing your case and forwards everything to the U.S. Embassy in the country where your spouse resides, your spouse's Immigrant Visa interview can be scheduled. This is the stage where the action finally takes place outside the U.S. where your spouse resides. Your spouse will attend the Immigrant Visa interview and once approved, she/he will receive the Immigrant Visa. Then, she/he is ready to come to the U.S. to start a beautiful life with you.
People often ask if they can do everything on their own without an attorney. Of course you can. But with a caveat. You've heard what our great president, Abraham Lincoln has said: "He who represents himself has a fool for a client." There is a reason why even lawyers hire other lawyers to to represent their interests in legal matters. One missing document, one incorrect information on forms can mean months or even years of delay. Even if you feel that you got it, you are smart enough, or here's a good one, "I can speak English," please see an attorney for at least a consultation. Sometimes, a peace of mind is worth paying for.