New York State Laws on Marrying a Foreigner

By Sasha Rousseau

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In New York State, resident aliens, naturalized citizens and U.S. citizens by birth are all free to marry. Unlike many other countries, in the U.S. marriage to a citizen doesn't automatically qualify the foreign-born spouse for citizenship or even permanent residency. If the couple decides to stay in the U.S. permanently together, and one of them needs a green card, the couple may decide to go through a rigorous sponsorship process after their marriage.

One Party Is Naturalized or Has a Permanent Visa

The prospective bride and groom must go in person to the city or town clerk and apply for a marriage license. The clerk must witness as they sign an affidavit swearing to their ages, identities and freedom to marry. To prove their ages, each party has to present a birth certificate, baptismal record, naturalization record or census record. To prove their identities, each partner has to present a driver's license, passport, employment picture ID or immigration record. To prove their freedom to marry, if either party has been married before, that person must present a certification of dissolution of marriage or a divorce certificate. The couple must also pay the marriage license fee, which is $40 in New York State. The clerk issues the couple a marriage license, which is valid 24 hours after it is issued, for 60 days. At the marriage ceremony, the marriage license must be given to the officiant, who will fill it out on the same day that the marriage ceremony is performed. The officiant sends the license back to the city clerk, who issues a Certificate of Marriage Registration within 15 days. The marriage certificate will be on file with the City Clerk's office, and the couple can request a copy for $30.

One Party Needs a Permanent Visa

If one of the partners does not have a permanent visa, which will allow that person to remain in the US indefinitely after marriage, the spouse who is a citizen can sponsor that partner. After the marriage certificate is issued, the couple must send a visa application to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application requires the couple to supply the marriage certificate, marriage photographs, individual passport photos, birth certificates for both spouses and any of their children, citizenship papers for the sponsoring spouse, financial records and completed USCIS application forms, such as the I-130, I-485, G-325A and the I-765. USCIS will then begin their investigation to make sure the marriage wasn't made for the sole purpose of sponsorship. They will look at documents that testify to the marriage having been made in good faith, such as letters from family and friends, and joint bank accounts, and they'll conduct at least one interview in which they will ask personal questions about each spouse, the marriage relationship and the couple's shared home. If the USCIS determines that the marriage was made in good faith, they'll issue the sponsored spouse a conditional permanent visa, also called a "temporary green card." Within 90 days of the second marriage anniversary, the sponsoring spouse can file Form I-751, which will make the visa permanent. The sponsored spouse will be issued a permanent "green card."

Marriages Performed Abroad

Marriages performed abroad are usually officiated by local officials, because, as a rule, American embassies and consulates don't allow marriages to be performed on their grounds. As long as the marriage adhered to local laws, it will likely be considered valid in the United States, and so it will also be valid in New York State. Most countries have similar requirements for marriage as New York State does, though many also require an affidavit of marriage, in which the perspective spouses swear they have the legal capacity to marry. The couple can execute the affidavit at the American embassy or consulate if they pay a $55 fee. If an American citizen marries a national of another country in that country, the American citizen will often be automatically eligible for naturalization in that country. If the American citizen undergoes the naturalization process there, that person will lose American citizenship.


If the sponsored spouse has been issued a conditional permanent visa, and the sponsored spouse decides not to file Form I-751 with the USCIS, the sponsored spouse's visa will expire and the couple must find a new sponsor (such as through an employer) or risk deportation. If the couple is going through a divorce because of allegations of abuse, however, and the battered spouse is the sponsored spouse, that person can still file Form I-751 herself, because of the "Battered Spouse" exception to the rule that the sponsoring spouse must remain cooperative in the sponsorship. If the sponsoring spouse remains cooperative and the couple remains married, the sponsored spouse will be eligible for U.S. citizenship after one more year of marriage. If the couple divorces and the sponsored spouse seeks sponsorship on her own, she will be eligible for U.S. citizenship four years and nine months after applying for the green card.