First, if it’s a bona fide marriage then congratulations! So, you get a green card no matter what right?! Though that seems to be a common belief it’s untrue.
An immigrant who marries a US citizen might be able to get a green card but there are a variety of conditions that must be met before an intending immigrant can be the beneficiary of an immigrant petition filed by a US citizen.
Generally speaking two things have to be true.
1. The marriage must be real and not entered in to for the purpose of evading immigration laws or solely for the purpose of gaining immigration benefits.
How do you prove that? Well basically the USCIS looks to evidence of a shared life together. They look for shared assets and liabilities and also that you held yourself out to the public as a real couple. The USCIS likes to see joint bank accounts, insurance, utilities, cars, houses, life insurance, credit cards, etc.. They also like to see evidence of travel and evidence that you spent time together with family or friends. Pictures are very useful to show travel and time spent with others. A couple of selfies at a location a few blocks from the immigration office aren’t going to be sufficient. Though there is no exact test of how much you need, more is better. Err on the side of bringing everything you have rather than too little. You have 30 minutes to convince a random USCIS officer who sees dozens of cases a day that you’re a real couple or they’ll devastate your life by trying to remove you after they deny your case.
2. The immigrant must also be “admissible”.
Even if the relationship is real, if you’re not admissible then you’ll get denied. A lot of things can render you inadmissible.
In no particular order here what I’ve found to be the most common problems.
A. Criminal offenses. Call a lawyer. Seriously. If you have criminal issues call a lawyer before you ever file anything.
B. Entered without inspection or overstaying a visa. A very common problem. Generally, if you entered without inspection you are unable to file for a green card even if you have a bona fide marriage to a US citizen. There is 1 exception. If you were here before December 2000 AND someone filed an I-130 for you (or an employer filed a labor certification for you) before April 30, 2001 AND it was approvable when filed (even if later denied) you can pay a $1000.00 penalty fee and still get a green card.
Everyone else is out of luck unless Congress gets their act together and passes immigration reform.
If you entered without inspection call a lawyer before you file anything.
If you entered on a visa (other than a J or crew visa) you will likely be able to get your green card as you were inspected by immigration when you arrived.
Again, call a lawyer.
C. US citizen doesn’t make a lot of money. Check the I-864P for the exact amount that the petitioner has to make. You can get a joint sponsor if the petitioner doesn’t make enough. It has to be a citizen or permanent resident and you’ll need their taxes and proof of status. You need to get this squared away before you file or you risk a denial.
D. Exit or removal and then reentry without inspection.
You could be barred from becoming a resident forever and risk prison. Call a lawyer.
There are a variety of other issues that could lead to denial. The inadmissibility grounds are found in section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act if you want to take a look. I always advise leaving it to the professionals though.
In other words, call a lawyer.