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I am a US citizen living in the EU. Last year I got married in the EU to an EU citizen. At the moment I have not informed the US of our marriage and at the moment we are not planning on moving to the US. However, if those plans change what paperwork do I need to file so that me and my spouse could move to the US?

I guess I would need to apply for a spouse visa. Is it the I-130 that I would need to complete?

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You are correct. You should file the I-130. See the USCIS page Bringing Spouses to Live in the United States as Permanent Residents. (Note, lower on the page, that special conditions may apply if you are a member of the US military.)

After the I-130 petition is approved, your spouse will generally apply for an immigrant visa using form DS-260. There are other steps as well, so you may want to refer to the flow chart on the State Department's page The Immigrant Visa Process.

(If you search on the internet, you will also find information on the K-3 visa, which would allow your spouse to travel to the US and then apply for adjustment of status to that of a permanent resident. Apparently, K-3 processing takes around the same amount of time as immigrant visa processing, so it is not advised to pursue that route.)

Note that the immigrant visa application isn't strictly an application for a green card (I-551). The way it works is that the immigrant gets an immigrant visa in his or her passport, which becomes a temporary I-551, valid for one year, as soon as the immigrant is lawfully admitted to the US. At that point, the immigrant is a "lawful permanent resident" of the US. The actual green card arrives in the mail some weeks later.

  • if I have no plan to return to the US at the moment can I still file for the I-130? Or should we file for a K-3 if we ever decide to move to the US? Also, if I want help with this would I just look up an immigration lawyer? – lambda Apr 26 '17 at 6:07
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    @lambda what would be the point of filling the I-130 now? It's a $420 expenditure you might never benefit from. You should file it when you decide to move to the US. As noted in the answer, there's not much point in doing the K-3 route because immigrant visa processing does not take significantly longer. And yes, an immigration lawyer can handle this for you. Many people do it themselves, however; unless there is some specific complication or other reason for wanting help, you may also prefer to do that. – phoog Apr 26 '17 at 14:15
  • I just wanted to have something ready so that we could move to the US quickly if we decided to. I just thought it would be possible to prepare something ahead of time in case we ever had to move. – lambda Apr 29 '17 at 10:56
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    @lambda a bit of web searching suggests that an approved I-130 does not expire, but can be terminated. The usual trigger for termination appears to be 12 months of inactivity; it seems that as long as you get in touch with them more frequently than once a year they'll keep the file open. It doesn't seem possible to get a definite commitment about this from the government, however. Presumably, different people will ascribe different weight to the relative value of (1) the chance of wanting to move to the US on short notice, (2) the chance of successfully keeping the case active, and (3) $420. – phoog Apr 29 '17 at 11:14

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