Can I Change My Name During the Green Card Process?

By Nikita Hernandez, Sumner Immigration Law Paralegal

It’s official! You’ve become Mr. or Mrs. and want to take on your spouse’s name while getting your US permanent residence situated, but when is the best time to do that?

APPLYING FOR A NAME CHANGE AT THE START OF THE MARRIAGE-BASED IMMIGRATION PROCESS

It’s typically easier to ask for the name change at the same time you’re applying with the immigration forms, since you’ll have all the documents to apply for the new name at the same time as the immigration filing. You simply enter your married name on the forms as your current name, and make sure to list your maiden name and any other previously used names where the forms ask for previous names used. You’ll submit your marriage certificate as proof of your name change. No extra court procedures required!

When filing for permanent residence, if you apply for the new name at the beginning, the green card and social security card would show the new name, and then everything else in the US would flow from those documents (driver’s license, lease or utility bills, job applications, etc.).

Some things to keep in mind about your new name on USCIS paperwork:

  • USCIS has a character limit on green cards! The field for your name in the resident card cannot accommodate names beyond 18 characters.
  • USCIS (and other government agencies) cannot accommodate hyphenated names. Your name would simply appear as Last Name 1 Last Name 2 (Last Name 1-Last Name 2).
  • USCIS (and other government agencies) also cannot accommodate a period “.” in your last name. Names like St. Claire, etc. would be stylized as St Claire. They also cannot enter accent marks over letters that may appear in your native language.

CHANGING YOUR NAME AFTER YOUR MARRIAGE-BASED GREEN CARD IS APPROVED

Changing your name after the fact is usually more involved, but not impossible. If you don’t apply for a name change when submitting your immigration paperwork, the next chance you would have would be at the I-751 filing (once you’ve had the green card for 2 years). Or you would file Form I-90 for a name change and pay additional government filing fees, on top of updating your name separately with every agency (social security, USCIS, banks, etc.). You could also request the name change later with USCIS if you later apply for naturalization to become a US citizen. Should you choose to update your name after the fact, you will also need to change your name with other agencies and services as well, including but not limited to:

  1. Social Security (bring your marriage certificate and a form of ID)
  2. DMV (bring your new SS card, marriage certificate, a form of ID/previous license and residency documents as required by your state)
  3. Passport
  4. Bills, credit cards, leases/mortgages, bank accounts, work related documents, emails, subscription services, and any other accounts

Should you choose to change your name after the fact, we recommend thoroughly reading the instructions on each agency’s website to learn the correct forms and documents you’ll need.

CHANGING YOUR NAME AFTER SUBMITTING THE MARRIAGE-BASED IMMIGRATION PAPERWORK

What if you’ve already filed your USCIS paperwork and decided to change your name while the filing is still in process? It may be possible to do this, depending on where you are in the process. You may be able to let the officer know that you wish to take your spouse’s name at the time of the interview. However, it’s not guaranteed that this change will go through. You should coordinate with your immigration attorney to discuss the specific options.

APPLYING FOR OTHER NAME CHANGES OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE

Please keep in mind that taking on your spouse’s last name and changing your given/middle name(s) entirely are completely separate matters. If you are not simply taking on your spouse’s last name, you will need to appeal to your local court and have them grant you a legal name change. They will then issue you evidence of your new name. For example:

Acceptable: Anna Lisa Simons wants to become Anna Lisa St. Claire after marriage to her husband, Mark St. Claire

Unacceptable without further court permission: Anna Lisa Simons wants to become Anna Sylvia St. Claire (a completely new middle name change)

If you want to change your given/middle name(s), you’ll need to research the requirements within your state and follow the appropriate procedures.

In summary, it’s easiest to change your name to your spouse’s last name at the time that you submit the initial paperwork so everything is completed together. While not impossible to change your name after receiving permanent residence, it is a bit more tedious and requires jumping through more hoops on your part. In addition, it is not required to take on your spouse’s last name and whether you take on your spouse’s last name or not has no impact on the adjudication of your marriage-based petition.

If you need help navigating this process with confidence, please contact us today to get the process underway! We are immigration lawyers in Richmond, VA but we serve clients throughout the US and around the world. You can call us at 804-396-3412 or send us an email to info@sumnerimmigration.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

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