Relationship and family-based immigration have a long history as being a vital part of the U.S. immigration system. The U.S., as one of the benefits of marriage green cards, always puts a priority on marriage-based petitions filed by foreign nationals. To take advantage of this priority, you do have to prove your relationship.
When the spouse of a U.S. citizen has a marriage green card, they can live and work in the U.S. without the restrictions that temporary visa holders are required to follow.
After a green card is approved, the holder has permanent resident status. After three years, they may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, as long as they’ve been married to and living with a citizen for that three years.
However, getting a green card as a spouse isn’t an easy process, despite its long, important history in the immigration system of America.
If you plan to marry someone who’s not a U.S. citizen, the following are some of the important things to know about the process.
Fiance vs. Spouse Visa
If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can bring your fiance to the country, which shows your intention to marry the person and live with them. If your fiance gets a K1 visa, they can come to the U.S. and marry the sponsor, which would be you if you’re a U.S. citizen. You only have a 90-day time window to get married under the K1 visa.
Then, your fiance will be able to apply for a status adjustment. They would be applying to become a legal permanent resident.
One advantage of going through the fiance visa process as opposed to the K3 or CR-1 visa processes which are for people already married is that it tends to be faster. You can usually go through the fiance visa process in around six months, and then to become a permanent resident after that could take around 10 ½ months.
Spousal visas include, as mentioned, the K3 or the IR-1. You can have your spouse come to America using the I-i30, which is the Petition for Alien Relative, or the K3 nonimmigrant visa.
A CR-1 spousal visa is valid for your partner for six months. Your partner would be able to come to the U.S. and live permanently. You don’t need an adjustment of status with this option.
With both visas, you’re required to show you have a true, legitimate relationship.
If you go the route of a fiance visa, you get married in the U.S. A K3 spouse visa would apply to you if you were married outside the U.S.
Someone who could qualify for a K3 nonimmigrant visa includes an individual married to a U.S. citizen, an individual who has a citizen spouse who filed a Petition for Alien Relative, and an individual with an approved I-i29-F. The I-I29F is forwarded to the consulate abroad, and that’s done with the intention of applying for either a K3 or K4 visa.
While the processes are similar, again, the benefit of a fiancee visa is that your partner can join you in the U.S. a lot faster than with a spouse visa, but one tradeoff is that the fiance visa is more expensive.
The K1 visa is available only if you’re already a U.S. citizen. If you’re yourself a green card holder or lawful permanent resident, you can’t file for the K1.
Marriage visas, on the other hand, are available to spouses of lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens.
If your partner has certain criminal convictions, they may not be able to enter the U.S. on either type of visa.
If your goal is to get your partner to the U.S. as fast as you can, the K1 fiance visa is probably best. If your goal is to get a green card as soon as you can, a marriage-based visa can be the better option.
What Evidence Do You Need for a K1 Visa?
If you’re going to apply for a fiance visa, along with the K1 declaration, you also have to submit documents and evidence with Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiance.
The evidence you include is meant to show that you have a true relationship with your partner.
- Evidence you intend to marry within the 90 days you’re given. You’ll have to show things like communications you have with wedding vendors, a letter from a religious figure who will perform the ceremony, or wedding announcements, as examples.
- A big area of evidence you need to cover for a fiance visa is evidence that you’ve met in person. You should be able to demonstrate you met in the two-year period right before you filed Form I-129F. There’s a wide range of evidence you can use here, like airline tickets, passport pages, photos of you together, and credit card receipts that show you spent the time together.
- You’ll have to submit proof that you’re a U.S. citizen. This can include the submission of a variety of documents like a copy of your birth certificate, your U.S. passport, or documents issued from a vital statistics office.
The Adjustment of Status Process
If you decide on a fiance visa, after your partner arrives in the U.S. and you get married, you have to start the adjustment of the status process. The adjustment of the status process can take 18 months or more. Your partner is supposed to be issued a work permit while waiting, but those can take so long to process they may expire before they even get to you.
That’s why even though a K1 visa can seem like the fastest route, your partner is still going to have to wait a long time for their green card. There may also be an extended period where your immigrant partner doesn’t have the right to work.
Your spouse will receive a conditional green card, only good for two years. Before the expiration of the conditional green card, you have to file to remove conditions to get permanent status.
When you get a marriage-based visa, the State Department gives your spouse a visa which is their temporary green card. Your spouse can travel to America on it, and then they get an official green card mailed later.
Planning a Wedding
If you’re engaged to someone abroad, one of the things you have to think about, in addition to the logistics of visa status, is how you’ll plan a wedding day. If you get a K1 visa, you can only get married in the U.S., and again, it has to be within 90 days of your fiance’s arrival.
If you’re planning to get married outside of America, you should go for a marriage-based visa.
There’s no certainty surrounding when your partner will get a K1 visa, and the 90-day window can come as somewhat of a surprise. That deadline can’t be negotiated, though, so you have to be prepared to get married within it.
You could, theoretically, have a small, inexpensive wedding in the U.S. in the 90 days and then plan for something bigger later on.
Something people often don’t think about in the marriage visa process is the fact that income level is considered.
If you get married and then petition for your new spouse to come to the United States, you have to be able to show your income isn’t below 125% of the poverty level.
Then, when your spouse is filing for an adjustment of status, you have to meet a higher 125% requirement.
Marriage-based interviews can cause anxiety, but if you’re in a legitimate relationship, you shouldn’t feel nervous.
The goal is simply to learn about how as a couple and make sure no one is being fraudulent. If you don’t know the answer to something asked of you, it’s better to say that than to lie.
If an immigration officer feels like there are red flags during the basic interview, you might be asked to do the Stokes interview. This follow-up separates you and your spouse into different rooms. You’re asked the same questions, and the interviewer compares your answers.
If a visa is denied, the process is the same for a fiance visa and a spouse visa. There is also a difference between denial and rejection. Rejection can happen if there is a clerical issue like you left something off your petition or missed a fee you needed to pay. You can fix the mistakes and file a new petition.
Denial means the officer responsible for reviewing your case decided your situation didn’t merit a fiance or spousal visa, likely because of the interview.
If this happens to you, you should speak to an immigration attorney about what to do next.
When you find love with someone who’s from another country, no one says it’s an easy process to get them to the U.S., but it is possible and well worth it in the end.