Since most Peace Corps volunteers spend 2-3 years creating strong friendships in a community abroad, it is not surprising that some volunteers fall in love and marry a host country national. While getting a green card for your spouse is one of the easier, quicker ways to begin the immigration process, Peace Corps volunteers may be surprised at how difficult and time consuming the process can actually be. While military spouses may benefit from expedited naturalization, naturalization abroad, and parole in place, Peace Corps spouses are often left out of these benefits. This means that you will have to go through the normal immigration process. However, there are some ways you can make it easier on you and your spouse.
Get Help From Your In-country Staff
Even though your in-country staff may not be able to push your application along, or even offer official immigration advice, there is usually quite a bit they can do. Most Peace Corps staff members have extensive professional and personal experience living abroad. Some have foreign spouses and many have seen Peace Corps volunteers successfully bring their foreign spouses back to the states with them.
As soon as you know you want to get married, you should find a way to sit down with your country staff and have a frank conversation about your situation. They can help you figure out a timeline, so your partner can return with you near the end of your close of service as well as guide you in some of the intricacies of the paperwork.
Emphasize Your Peace Corps Service at the Embassy
Although your Peace Corps service does not afford you special status at the embassy, apart from discounts on a few procedures, you should still make sure that everyone you talk with at the embassy knows you are a volunteer. You may find that embassy workers appreciate your service, have had good experience with volunteers in the past, and are willing to go above and beyond helping you understand the paperwork and immigration process.
Marry and Apply for Your Spouse's Green Card Early
On average, the process of getting a green card for your spouse takes about a year. If you meet your spouse towards the end of your service, it is likely that you will have several months when you will have to return to the U.S. without your spouse or remain in their country as a non-volunteer. However, if you may consider extending your service with the Peace Crops for an additional year while you apply for a spouse visa. To do this, and to be allowed to marry while a Peace Corps volunteer, you will have to have an excellent volunteer record and show yourself as a vital part of your host community.
Consider Family Members to Help Meet Support Requirements
Many Peace Corps volunteers have difficulty meeting the requirements to provide an Affidavit of Support. These include having a domicile in the U.S., and having an income that will be able to support your spouse. Many Peace Corps volunteers do not own a permanent home in the states and the Peace Corps living allowance is far below the amount you need to prove you earn.
You should keep in mind that even if you are applying for your spouses green card, one or more family members can help fulfill the support requirements. Each of these family members will have to fill out an Affidavit of Support with proof of the support they are offering. They will then be responsible for the well-being of your spouse until he or she is naturalized.
Deciding to get married while living abroad is a big step, and unfortunately, bringing your spouse home with you can be a difficult task. To make sure you get all of the paperwork right the first time, consider consulting with an immigration counseling lawyer before you begin.