Working in the United States without immigration authorization is illegal. In some cases, foreign nationals enter the United States as tourists, students, or non-immigrant workers and then overstay their legal immigration status. When their visa status expires, they simply remain in the United States and continue to work without authorization. In some cases, the foreign national marries a US citizen. We discuss the process of going from a visa overstay and unauthorized work to a green card through marriage here.
I worked illegally. Can I still get a green card through marriage to a US Citizen?
If you have been working inside the US without legal work authorization, you might be able to still get a green card through marriage to a US citizen if:
- Inspected by US Immigration – You must have entered the United States through legal inspection of your immigration documents by a US immigration officer.
- Admitted in Legal Status – You must have been admitted to the United States after an inspection in legal immigration status and have an I-94 record of your legal admission.
- Otherwise Admissible to the United States – You do not have any immigration violations or criminal history that would prevent you from becoming a US permanent resident.
- Married to a USC Citizen – If you are married to a US citizen and can prove the above, then it is possible to obtain a green card through marriage to your US citizen spouse. A visa overstay or unauthorized work is forgivable and will not prevent you from obtaining a green card.
What if my spouse is a US permanent resident?
Although your spouse can still sponsor you for a green card through USCIS Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, you are not able to file for adjustment of status through USCIS Form I-485 Adjustment of Status unless you have maintained your nonimmigrant visa status. If you overstay your visa for less than 180 days, you may leave the US and apply for a green card through consular processing. If your overstay is more than 180 days, your only option is for your spouse to file USCIS Form N-400 to become a US citizen. Once your spouse has obtained their US citizenship, you can then file USCIS Form I-485 Adjustment of Status while remaining inside the United States.
What if my overstay is for several years or more?
Even in cases where you have overstayed your visa by 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, or more, you are still able to file for a green card through marriage to a US citizen while remaining inside the United States. Your overstay and unauthorized work will be forgiven.
If you are married to a US citizen overstayed your non-immigrant visa and work unauthorizes, you should work with a qualified immigration lawyer. Even minor errors in the application process can have significant long-term immigration consequences. With proper legal advice, you can obtain a green card through marriage to your US citizen spouse without the need to depart the United States.
Immigrant & Non-immigrant Visa (NIV) Waivers
Additional Outside Resources
- USCIS Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
- USCIS Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
We Can Help!
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