“I know it’s possible for an American national to marry a foreign alien and legalize the alien in the process. What are the ramifications of this process? How long will it take after the marriage for the green card to be issued so that he can legally work in the U.S.?”
The ramifications are quite beneficial for the alien – legal status in the U.S. and all that it confers, such as the right to employment and travel abroad.
If your relative and his girlfriend are serious about marrying in the future, they should start the legalization process for him now as it will take a year or more to complete. Presumably they will be getting married in the U.S, and make their permanent base here.
The girlfriend can apply for a K-1 fiancé visa for your relative. This visa, once approved, allows the foreign-born fiancé to enter the U.S. to marry within 90 days after arrival.
U.S. citizens applying for a K-1 fiancé visa must be free to marry – in other words, if there were any prior marriages they must have been ended by either divorce, annulment or death. The U.S. citizen and the fiancé must have also seen each other in person at least once within two years of the I-129F K paperwork filing. (Some religions or cultures forbid future spouses from seeing each other prior to the marriage, and U.S. law does make provisions for this.)
Your Irish relative can expect to be interviewed at the U.S. Embassy once the I-129F and other related paperwork has been approved. He will also have to undergo a medical exam, and provide evidence that he will be able to support himself once he arrives in the U.S. The best way to do this is through an affidavit of support submitted by his girlfriend – visit http://travel.state.gov/visa/immigrants/types/types_2994.html for all the particulars on that and other K visa requirements.
Once the foreign fiancé arrives in the U.S., he or she can immediately file for a work authorization permit with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), even before the marriage takes place. The permit would be good for 90 days, and could be extended after the marriage takes place.
The U.S. citizen spouse will also have to file Form I-485 with the USCIS. This form will allow the foreign spouse to adjust status while in the U.S. from non-immigrant to permanent resident.
The green card that comes as a result of this will be issued conditionally for two years. When that deadline approaches, the couple must apply to have the condition removed and the status issued permanently. This will be done provided that the USCIS is satisfied that the marriage was entered into for genuine purposes, as opposed to solely obtaining legal status here.
Getting the K-1 visa should be the first step for your Irish relative and his girlfriend, because once he has it and marries within 90 days, he will for all intents and purposes be considered legal here. And, again, if they’re looking to marry sooner rather than later, they should start the process immediately.