Green Card Checklist

Preparation Is Key

To increase your chances of a successful green card petition, it’s a good idea to start preparing as soon as possible. For this reason, you may want to compile a to-do list to help maintain some semblance of organization throughout the green card process.

In this post, we’ll go over what you can expect in terms of the timeline. We’ll also include a complete checklist for most of the relevant forms:

  1. Timeline
  2. I-130
  3. I-485
  4. DS-260
  5. I-864
  6. I-765
  7. I-131   


The amount of time it takes to apply for a green card will depend on a few different factors. The process can range from 10 to 38 months. If the petitioner is applying from within the United States, and their spouse or immediate relative is a U.S. citizen, then they will likely have to wait a (relatively) short 13 months. But if their spouse is a green card holder — and they’re currently residing in the United States — the process can be as long as 2 years or more.

If the applicant is going through consular processing — that is, if they’re applying from outside the country — then the process will likely be on the shorter side: anywhere from 4 to 6 months. The timeline can vary greatly depending on their situation, and with the recent delays caused by the coronavirus, it’s safe to say that they might end up having to wait longer than anticipated. To check on the current estimated processing time for any given form, you can use the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) tool, or you can call USCIS directly at 1-800-375-5283. If calling from outside the United States, you can call 212-620-3418.

If you’re unable to get a hold of a representative — or if you’re generally frustrated with the immigration system — there are services that can answer your questions and guide you through the process, like Boundless.

Form I-130 Checklist

For the purposes of this article, we’ll stick primarily to the documents required for a marriage-based green card.

Form I-130, known as “Petition for Alien Relative”, is filed by the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative — in this case, the spouse — and its primary purpose is to establish the validity of their relationship to the applicant. Once this form is approved, the foreign-born spouse may begin the application process. In general, the sponsoring spouse will need to provide the following:

  • Documentation proving legal name change, if necessary
  • Evidence of marriage — namely, the marriage certificate
  • Proof that the marriage is authentic — this could include the following:
    • Evidence of joint ownership, such as a deed with both names listed
    • Birth certificates of any children
    • Financial statements showing joint accounts
    • Statements written by friends and family attesting to the authenticity of the relationship
  • Proof of applicant’s citizenship, national status, or lawful permanent residence — this might include:
    • A copy of the petitioner’s unexpired passport
    • A copy of their birth certificate
    • A copy of their naturalization certificate
  • 2 passport-style photos

Again, once this form is completed and approved, the non-U.S. citizen can begin the application process.

Form I-485 Checklist

Note that you only need to submit this form if you are applying from within the United States

Once the I-130 is approved, the spouse seeking a green card will complete and submit Form I-485, officially called the “Application for Adjustment of Status”. They will need to include the following supporting documents with their application:

  • Copy of government-issued ID (with photograph)
  • 2 photos, formatted in the same way as passport photos
  • Copy of birth certificate — or where that isn’t possible, other evidence of birth, such as medical, school, or church records
  • Proof that you’ve been admitted or paroled into the United States — include the following if possible:
    • Stamped passport page
    • Nonimmigrant visa
    • Form I-94, known as the Arrival-Departure Record
  • Documentation showing your immigrant category — this might be Form I-797, which is a receipt notice you would have received after submitting another immigrant application
  • Proof of relationship — this is generally your marriage certificate
  • Proof of continual lawful status during your stay in the United States — this might include the following:
    • Form I-797 for any extensions you’ve applied for
    • Form I-94
    • Stamped passport page
  • Form I-864, or Affidavit of Support, showing that you will be financially supported
  • Medical exam and record of vaccines
  • Any documentation of arrests, criminal charges, or convictions (if applicable)

These are the primary documents you’ll need to file form I-485. For a more thorough breakdown of the required documents, you can read the USCIS instructions (starting on page 9).

Form DS-260 Checklist

If applying from abroad, the spouse seeking a green card will need to submit Form DS-260, otherwise known as Online Immigrant Visa Application Form. The following are the primary documents required for that form:

  • Evidence of applicant’s nationality — this might include:
    • Birth certificate
    • Passport
  • Proof of authentic marriage — this is usually the marriage certificate
  • Evidence that previous marriages have officially ended — this might include:
    • Divorce decree
    • Annulment certificate
    • Death certificates for previous spouses
  • Records of any immigration violations, if applicable
  • Police records, if applicable
  • Documentation of military service — this might include:
    • Form DD-214, for those who have served in the U.S. military
    • Service records from country of origin
    • Any other military service documentation

After the petitioner's DS-260 is approved, they should receive a letter notifying them of their upcoming interview.

Form I-864 Checklist

In order to show that the spouse seeking a green card will be financially supported, the sponsoring partner will need to submit Form I-864, otherwise known as the “Affidavit of Support”. In general, the following documents are required when completing this form:

  • Financial records indicating the sponsor’s ability to support their spouse — this might include:
    • Copy of federal tax return for most recent year
    • Copies of federal tax returns for 3 years prior (if possible)
    • Letter written by the applicant’s employer, stating that the petitioner is indeed employed
    • Pay stubs showing at least 6 months of income
  • Evidence of total value of assets (if applicable) — this might include:
    • Documentation of any stocks and bonds owned by the applicant
    • The title or deed to applicant’s home
    • Documents proving ownership of a 2nd vehicle

Form I-765 Checklist

If the non-U.S. citizen spouse is applying from within the United States, and they want to seek out employment as soon as possible, they will need to file Form I-765, known as the Application for Employment Authorization Document.

  • Proof of lawful entry — this might include:
    • Form I-94
    • Unexpired U.S. visa
    • Passport
  • Evidence that the applicant has already submitted their green card application — this is usually Form I-797C
  • Any previous work permits authorizing the applicant to work in the United States
  • 2 passport-style photos
  • Evidence of nationality — this could include:
    • Birth certificate with photo ID
    • Other identification issued by the applicant’s country of origin

The petitioner may not need to submit all of the above. They may, for instance, bypass the 2 passport-style photos if they’ve already submitted photos for their green card application and their travel permit application.

Form I-131 Checklist

If the spouse seeking a green card is applying from within the United States, and they would like to travel while their Form I-485 is pending, they will need to file Form I-131, known as the “Application for Travel Document”. The following documents are required for this petition:

  • Form of identification, showing name, photo, and date of birth — this might include:
    • Passport
    • Work permit
    • Driver’s license
  • Evidence that the marriage-based green card application has been submitted — this is usually Form I-797C
  • 2 passport-style photos
  • Evidence of lawful immigration status — this might include:
    • Unexpired U.S. visa
    • Any official documentation given to the applicant by USCIS indicating their current status

As with the work permit application, the petitioner may not need to submit 2 passport photos, if they have already done so for two other applications.

Need more help? At Boundless, you’ll get an experienced immigration attorney to review your green card application and answer all of your questions — for no extra cost. Get started on your application on Boundless today!

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