As outlined here, there are generally two ways to apply for a green card through marriage: 1) adjustment of status in the United States, or 2) consular processing from a U.S. consulate abroad.
Proof of Bona Fide Marriage
In order for a Canadian citizen to qualify for a green card through a U.S. citizen spouse, they must be able to demonstrate that the marriage is legitimate and bona fide. That means that they have to provide sufficient proof that the marriage is real and entered into in good faith – not just for purposes of obtaining a green card.
A bona fide relationship isn’t necessarily determined by how long a couple has been together. A couple may have only been dating for a few months before getting married and that would still be a bona fide marriage.
To prove that a marriage is bona fide, the couple will have to provide a lot of documents. These can include photographs, joint accounts, proof of traveling together, and proof of living together.
Green Cards for Same Sex Marriage
Same sex marriage has been legal in the U.S. since 2013. As such, U.S. citizens married to a spouse of the same sex can sponsor that spouse for a green card. Learn more about Same Sex Marriage Green Cards.
Adjustment of Status in the U.S.
A Canadian citizen who is currently residing in the United States in some sort of valid, lawful status, may be able to adjust their status to a green card. This process requires the U.S. citizen to submit a petition indicating his or her intent to sponsor the Canadian spouse. The Canadian citizen spouse may concurrently file a form known as an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, seeking to change the Canadian’s current immigration status to that of a permanent resident.
Consular Processing from Abroad
A Canadian citizen who is currently residing in Canada can apply for a marriage-based green card through consular processing. After the U.S. citizen spouse’s petition is approved, the Canadian spouse will attend an interview in Montreal. If approved, he or she will be issued an immigrant visa and subsequently a green card after moving to the U.S.
A Canadian citizen with a pending adjustment of status application with USCIS can apply for employment authorization (EAD) which allows them to seek employment while they are waiting for their green card interview. Employment authorization is not available to Canadians applying for a green card through consular processing.
As of July 2019, employment authorization appears to be taking about 6 months for approval. Unless the Canadian citizen is already in a valid non-immigrant status such as TN status, H-1B status, E-2 status, L-1 status, or O-1 status, they should not accept any type of employment until the EAD is approved.
With the exception of those in H-1B status or L-1 status, Canadians with a pending adjustment of status application with USCIS generally cannot travel outside the United States until their green card is approved. Doing so may result in USCIS considering the green card application as abandoned. Advance Parole is not available to Canadians applying for a green card through consular processing.
When applying for adjustment of status, the Canadian citizen should also submit an application for Advance Parole. When approved, Advance Parole will permit a Canadian to travel outside the United States and return while their green card application is still pending. It should be noted that Advance Parole is discretionary and that CBP officers have discretion whether to re-admit the Canadian into the United States. As such, Advance Parole should generally only be used in emergency or humanitarian situations. Advance Parole applications submitted with EAD applications will usually be issued at the same time. As of July 2019, Advance Parole applications appear to be taking about 6 months to be issued.
Affidavit of Support
For both adjustment of status and consular processing applications, the U.S. citizen spouse is required to sign an affidavit of support confirming that he or she meets the income requirement to support the Canadian spouse after the green card is issued. When signing an affidavit of support, the sponsor is affirming that he/she will remain obligated to the Canadian spouse until one of the following has been met: 1) the Canadian spouse becomes a U.S. citizen; 2) the Canadian spouse dies; 3) the Canadian spouse leaves the U.S. and abandons residency; or 4) the Canadian spouse earns 40 quarters of social security.
Use of Income
The income requirement varies depending on the size of the U.S. citizen sponsor’s household. The larger the household, the more income he or she is required to demonstrate.
Use of Assets
Instead of income, the sponsor can also use assets such as savings, retirement funds, or real estate. For savings, the amount must be at least 3 times the difference between the income requirement and the income earned. For real estate, the U.S. citizen can have an appraisal done to assess the current value of the home minus any outstanding mortgage balance.
Use of Joint Sponsor
If the U.S. citizen sponsor does not meet the income or asset requirements, they can use a joint sponsor or co-sponsor who does. The joint sponsor must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (green card holder) but there is no requirement that he or she be related to the primary sponsor.