Couple getting married

What Are the Consequences of Marrying an Undocumented Immigrant?

Did you know there are about 1.2 million undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens? A U.S. citizen being married to an undocumented immigrant is a more common scenario than you might imagine. If you or your spouse is an undocumented immigrant, and you are looking to obtain a Green Card, this blog post is for you. In it, we will cover what happens if you marry a non-U.S. citizen and how to sponsor your undocumented spouse if you want them to obtain their Green Card. 

Can an Undocumented Immigrant Become Legal by Marrying a Citizen? 

You should be aware that marrying an undocumented or illegal immigrant does not automatically resolve their immigration issues. There are a few solutions, but the solution your spouse can take will depend heavily on how the partner that is an immigrant entered the country. Some people may be able to adjust their status from within the United States, while others may need to leave the U.S. and apply for their Green Card through consular processing.

How to Sponsor your Undocumented Immigrant Spouse for a Green Card 

So, what happens if you marry a non-U.S. citizen? As mentioned above, marrying an illegal immigrant does not instantly grant that person a U.S. Green Card. Below we have outlined the eligibility for a Green Card based on a marriage and how your undocumented spouse entered the country. 

Lawful Entry 

Under U.S. immigration law, a spouse of a U.S. citizen is classified as an immediate relative and is exempted from specific rules that would otherwise prevent many applicants from obtaining their permanent residence card. An undocumented spouse of a U.S. citizen can adjust their status after overstaying their visa if they did not depart the United States. This length of their overstay can be a few days or even multiple years, but they must not have left the U.S. To adjust their status, the couple will need to fill out and file the following forms:

  • Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status
  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
  • Form I-944, Declaration of Self Sufficiency
  • Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (optional)

Before your spouse obtains their Green Card, they may be able to get employment authorization in the form of a work permit. If they are approved, she or he will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to use as a government-issued photo identification with employers. Applicants can request the EAD by filing Form I-765 along with their adjustment of status package (or while it’s still pending). Be aware that the undocumented spouse should not leave the U.S. while they are waiting for their adjustment of status unless they receive advanced parole by filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. 

Marriage to an Immigrant with an Unlawful Entry 

If you have a marriage to an immigrant with an unlawful entry and your spouse has spent more than 180 days in the U.S. after an unlawful entry, they will most likely need to travel to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad for their Green Card interview. Generally, once your spouse leaves the U.S. after unlawful entry, this will trigger bars to reentry that can last anywhere from 3 years to permanently. Below are the current reentry bar rules:

  • 3 years if the foreign national leaves the U.S. after staying more than 180 days but less than 1 year during a single stay.
  • 10 years if the foreign national departs the U.S. after staying one year or more during a single stay.
  • Permanently if the foreign national tries to reenter or reenters the U.S. without being admitted or paroled after having accrued more than 1 year of unlawful presence in the aggregate during one or more stays in the United States.


Navigating the complex U.S. immigration system is incredibly difficult, especially if you are unsure of your eligibility for a Green Card based on your marriage. Whether you are trying to obtain lawful status in the United States for yourself or a family member or are facing deportation, the experienced team at Dominguez Law Firm, PLLC has the knowledge and tools to help. Get in touch today to discuss your needs!