Engaged or Just Married? Visa Options for your foreign fiancé or spouse

Below are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding marriage to a US Citizen. While this process can seem stressful and overwhelming, we're here to make it easy and smooth.

What is the quickest way to bring your foreign citizen fiancé or spouse to come and live in the US with you?

The thought and process of tying the knot brings forth an array of emotions and calculations, from anxiety to exhilaration. As you embark on this journey, one of the things that may apply in your situation is planning out how your fiancé/spouse may legally enter the US if he/she is not a US citizen or a Green card holder and lives abroad. Advance planning can certainly help you navigate the immigration maze without getting lost or stumbling over something unexpected. Below we go over the options: K-1 visa (Fiancé visa), K-3 visa as well as filing Form I-130 for your foreign citizen spouse.

The question to consider is: what is the appropriate visa with which your fiancé can enter the US legally and get married to you? 

A number of couples come to this realization a little too late. Some try to use a tourist visa for this purpose. Under a tourist visa (which is probably the quickest visa to obtain), the intention is that one is coming to visit and will leave, certainly not that he or she will marry a US Citizen and stay here permanently. A tourist visa may be appropriate in cases where you want to hold your marriage ceremony in the United States, but do not wish to live here after the ceremony and want to complete your immigrant visa processing abroad.  Keep in mind that using a tourist visa even in this type of scenario carries certain risks, primarily the possibility of being denied entry at the U.S. port of entry regardless of your stated intention to get married here and then leave. This type of hold-up can certainly place undue stress and anxiety around your upcoming nuptials.

K-1 Visa:  Appropriate when you are engaged and you plan to get married in the United States

Therefore, it is important to make plans in advance and obtain the correct visa to avoid possible future problems. The appropriate visa for engagement purposes is called the fiancé visa or K-1 visa. When planned accordingly, the process for obtaining a fiancé visa can be rather straightforward.

In order to file a petition for your fiancé’s visa, you must show that you are a US citizen; that you and your fiancé intend to marry within 90 days of your fiancé entering the United States; that you and your fiancé are both free to marry and any previous marriages have been legally terminated by divorce, death, or annulment; and that you met each other, in person, at least once within 2 years of filing your petition. There are two exceptions to this last requirement: 1) if the requirement to meet would violate strict and long-established customs of either of your foreign culture or social practices, and 2) if you prove that the requirement to meet would result in extreme hardship to you. The application for a fiancé visa will be reviewed by a USCIS office in the United States. It will then be transferred to a U.S. consulate in the country where your fiancé resides. The final decision will be made by the consulate, after interviewing your fiancé personally.

Once issued, the fiancé visa allows your fiancé to enter the United States for 90 days so that your marriage ceremony can take place. After you are married, your spouse may apply for permanent residence (green card) and remain in the United States while USCIS processes the application.

I-130:  Once you are already married and your foreign citizen spouse lives abroad and will wait abroad

On the other end of the spectrum, if have already married your fiancé in a foreign country, and you want your spouse to come and live with you  in the United States, the only option for you to  is to file an application for permanent residence or green card (Form I-140). You definitely cannot use a Fiancé visa when the marriage has already taken place.  I have seen many couples applying for a fiancé visa when they were in fact already married but were tempted by relatively short processing time for fiancé visa, with disastrous results. For immigrant visas (such as a green card), it usually takes ten to twelve months from the initial filing with USCIS until the consulate’s final decision. However, your application could go faster or slower, depending on a variety of factors including the complexities of your case and the efficiency and workload of your nearest USCIS Service Center and the U.S. consulate in your spouse’s home country.

The process can certainly be lengthier than in the case of a fiancé visa with a number of steps that take time to get through. You, the U.S. citizen spouse, must submit a visapetition to USCIS in the United States. (In some cases, filing directly with a local consulate may also be an option).USCIS transfers the file over to the National Visa Center (NVC), which will ask you to submit a number of specific forms and documents.  The NVC then transfers your case to a U.S. consulate in the home country of your foreign national spouse, where he/she will attend an interview.

The immigrant visa should be issued shortly thereafter. When you arrive in the US, the visa will be examined by an immigration officer. Assuming you are approved, your passport will be stamped for U.S. residency (in other words, you officially get your green card status).

K-3 Visa: Once you are already married but do not want your foreign citizen spouse to wait abroad

In my practice I have come across many cases when the couples wanted to get married but instead got engaged because they wanted to enable the other mate to come to the US faster by using a fiancé visa rather than using the traditional route of an immigrant visa. If you are ready to marry but instead getting engaged just to shorten the immigration processing wait, you don’t have to defer your marriage. You can be married yet bring your spouse almost as fast as a fiancé by using a special nonimmigrant visa specially designed for US citizen’s spouses. This special nonimmigrant visa is called K-3 visa.

The K-3 nonimmigrant visa is for the foreign-citizen spouse of a United States (U.S.) citizen. This visa category is intended to shorten the physical separation between the foreign-citizen and U.S. citizen spouses by having the option to obtain a nonimmigrant K-3 visa overseas and enter the United States to await approval of the immigrant visa petition.  K-3 visa recipients subsequently apply to adjust status to a permanent resident (LPR) with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) upon approval of the petition. Because the spouse of a U.S. citizen applying for a nonimmigrant K-3 visa must have an immigrant visa petition filed on his or her behalf by his or her U.S. citizen spouse and pending approval, a K-3 applicant must meet some of the requirements of an immigrant visa. It should be noted that under U.S. immigration law, a foreign citizen who marries a U.S. citizen outside the U.S. must apply for the K-3 visa in the country where the marriage took place.

While both of these processes, the fiancé visa as well as permanent residence, generally seem uncomplicated, it is important to prepare in advance by knowing and understanding the realistic timelines, required documents, and applicable fees. Planning a wedding typically entails months of preparation. The last thing you want to go wrong is a bride or groom that is simply unable to attend his/her own wedding.

This post is for informational purposes only. Please contact us for a consultation: nadia@roamimmigration.com / 917-522-4994.



This website constitutes attorney advertising. The information provided is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.


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