Getting a Green Card: Marriage vs. Employment

You have a handful of choices when seeking permanent residence in the United States. Most people usually choose between getting a green card through family, particularly marriage, or looking at employment visas. There are varying waiting times for many immigrants in different relative classifications, from siblings of citizens to the adult children of green card holders as well as a host of employment options.

  • There are a few options if you are looking at work-based immigration.  You may be able to come in under the newly expanded entrepreneur category by starting your own business; also there are a number of employment categories through skilled jobs in the US.
  • Even better, of course, would be if you have extraordinary ability in a certain field — you can get a visa in as little as 15 days — but we are talking unique, top tier qualifications like Nobel, Pulitzer, Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, or Olympic.  With most work-based immigration the wait times are often as lengthy as certain family-based immigration.  We have consulted on green cards for jobs ranging from architect through zookeeper, and given the best counsel available. However, these cases do take time.
  • The above information is not meant to discourage you. All good things in all good time. . .
  • The process of applying for a green card through marriage to a United States citizen may be the best option for millions of people. It can be the simplest route, and doesn’t normally depend on a third party (like an employer), only your spouse. However, even though the process can be “simpler” it is still not easy by any standards.

If you are interested in applying for a green card through marriage or family read these warnings first:

  1. Please do not enter into a fake marriage. I don’t care how desperate you are. Or how many people you know who “got away with it.” Phony marriages are illegal and a good way to get deported.
  2. Another caution- please do not file for a green card through marriage by yourself. The paperwork may be deceptively easy looking to some, but to do it properly requires an expert. Even if you know folks who “did it themselves,” that does not mean that you will have a smooth sail.
  3. Expect change. The forms change. The rules change. The system changes. Some immigration officers can be intimidating. In the past year alone we have seen systems like DACA be dismantled, and changes in US immigration are nonstop.
  4. Even simpler — Immigration is NOT simple. When applying for green card through marriage, there are tax issues, medical examinations, proofs of living together, a background check, and many other matters to consider carefully. Do not do it yourself.
  5. EXAMPLE:  We just had a green card through marriage case that was very strong. The interview lasted 70 minutes. One question was repeated 4 times in more than an hour. Even with a veteran immigration attorney present, the immigrant and United States citizen spouses were thoroughly interrogated. The case was approved but only after a pretty tough experience.
  6. Do not hire a lawyer who takes on immigration cases along with real estate and divorce and wills and other areas of law.
  7. Focus on locating the best immigration law firm with a team of attorneys exclusively practicing in cases involving green cards, visas, and citizenship. 


I often remind people that this process should not be treated in the same manner as automobile shopping, although respectfully, we sometimes receive emails and calls from folks who act as if applying for a green card is like a trip to their local car dealer.


Remember: you can always choose a product such as a vehicle or a pair of shoes after comparison shopping. But with a life-changing procedure such as filing for a green card through marriage, you must put your faith in an expert who knows the system and the forms and the law.


For more information on Green Cards through Marriage read this blog.

For more information on Same Sex Marriage read this blog.



Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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