Immigration by Marriage: Your Options for a Spouse or Fiancé Visa

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immigration by marriage, wedding rings on US visa

Getting married can be an overwhelming process, but navigating the U.S. immigration system is no easier. For couples that are weighing the options for immigration by marriage, there are lots of variables and choices to make. These differences can affect cost and time line, but both ultimately result in permanent residence (green card).

Generally, a couple can marry first and then immigrate to the United States. Or some couples may prefer to have the wedding in America. As a U.S citizen, you have two options to bring your partner to the United States. Permanent residents cannot petition a fiancé and must only bring a spouse.

Immigrate as a Fiancé (K-1 Visa)

A U.S. citizen may petition a foreign national fiancé to come to the United States for the purpose of marriage. Congress specifically created the K-1 visa for this purpose. In fact, once the foreign fiancé has entered the United States with a K-1, he or she must marry the U.S. citizen with 90 days or depart the U.S. The process begins with U.S. citizen filing Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé. After marriage, the K-1 visa holder may adjust status to permanent resident. At the end of this process, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues the beneficiary a green card.

RECOMMENDED: Overview of K-1 Visa Process

Immigrate as a Spouse (IR1 or CR1 Visa)

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents may petition a foreign national spouse to immigrate through marriage. The process begins with U.S. citizen or permanent resident filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary. The spouse will go through consular processing and enter the United States with an immigrant visa. Although it is just stamp at the time of entry, it is the equivalent of a green card. USCIS will mail the actual green card to the spouse short thereafter.

RECOMMENDED: Overview of Consular Processing

If you are already married and the foreign national spouse is physically present in the United States, this article probably isn’t for you. Instead, the foreign national spouse may want to apply for the green card from inside the U.S. This is known as adjustment of status.

Same-Sex Marriages

Same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, including their minor children, are eligible for the same immigration benefits as opposite-sex spouses. Your eligibility to petition for your spouse or fiancé, and your beneficiary’s admissibility as an immigrant at the immigration visa application or adjustment of status stage, will be determined according to applicable immigration law and will not be denied as a result of the same-sex nature of your marriage. In other words, USCIS treats same-sex marriages the same. However, it is essential that the marriage was legal in the jurisdiction where it occurred.

Immigration by Marriage Comparison

It is impossible to say which path for immigration by marriage is better. It depends on you and your specific situation. It’s a personal decision. Here are several factors to consider:

Place of Marriage

Congress designed the K-1 fiancé visa as a way for a foreign national fiancé to come to the U.S. for marriage. Therefore, the K-1 visa is generally the best solution if the couple desires to marry inside the United States. This path does require some pre-planning. The marriage must take place in the U.S. within the 90 days of the K-1’s admission to the United States. An adjustment of status package should ideally follow shortly thereafter. If your preference is a marriage outside the United States, the K-1 is probably is not the right choice for a visa. Some couples choose to have an unofficial wedding reception or religious ceremony that is not legally binding abroad then come to the U.S. to be legally married.

Speed of Marriage

If your priority is to become married as soon as possible, it will generally be quicker to marry outside the United States. Obtaining the K-1 visa may take approximately 5 to 10 months. If you do opt to marry outside the United States, the U.S. citizen won’t be able to file Form I-130 until you have married and have evidence of that marriage (marriage certificate).

Speed of U.S. Presence

family immigration through marriage CR-1 visaIf the goal is for the couple to be together in the United States as soon as possible, the K-1 visa is generally the fastest path. From the date of filing to the date of admission to the U.S., it will take approximately 5 to 10 months on a K-1 visa. On the other hand, the marriage visa may take 6 to 12 months. However, these are just estimations. Current conditions, local office case loads and your particular case could vary in length.

Many foreign nationals may consider entering on a B-2 visa or visa waiver program for the purpose of marriage or adjusting status. This is not recommended. Although many people do it each year, it is preconceived intent to use a visa fraudulently and has the potential to create significant immigration problems.

Congress did introduce the K-3 visa for the spouses of U.S. citizens to reduce family separation. By design, the U.S. citizen may request a K-3 visa for his or her spouse by filing Form I-129F. (You may file Form I-129F concurrently with Form I-130 or after filing the I-130 petition.) The K-3 visa allows the foreign national spouse to enter the United States to either await consular processing or simply apply for the green card through adjustment of status. In practice, the U.S. State Department rarely issues the K-3 visa. Generally, the State Department approves the immigrant visa petition first, rendering the K-3 unnecessary.

Supporting Documentation

The supporting documents that you’ll need to submit for each process are very similar. Perhaps the most underestimated requirement is the need to proof that a bona fide relationship exists. Marriage fraud, using fictitious marriage information to circumvent immigration laws, has historically been a problem area for U.S. immigration officials. You must do more than produce a marriage certificate. You must demonstrate that a genuine relationship exists.

In addition to your prepared form, CitizenPath provides you with a set of personalized filing instructions. Our filing instructions are customized to your answers in the petition so you know what to do for your specific situation. The filing instructions provide detailed directions on supporting documents and how to organize your petition.

Cost

Each path requires slightly different forms/applications with various costs. If costs are a major concern, obtaining the spouse-based immigrant visa (CR-1 or IR-1) will generally be less expensive.

K-1 Non-Immigrant Visa
Expense ItemCost (USD)
Filing Fee for Form I-129F$510
Filing Fee for K-1 Visa Application$265
Filing Fees for Adjustment of Status Package and Biometrics$1,160
ESTIMATED TOTAL$1,935
CR-1 or IR-1 Immigrant Visa
Expense ItemCost (USD)
Filing Fee for Form I-130$560
Filing Fee for Immigrant Visa Application$325
NVC I-864 review fee$120
USCIS Immigrant Fee$220
ESTIMATED TOTAL$1,225

These figures are estimates based on the 10/02/2020 USCIS fee schedule. Estimates do not include any travel or hotel that may be required for appointments and/or interviews. Immigration medical exam fees will vary by region and doctor and also are not included.

International Travel

If the immigrant fiancé travels frequently, this factor should be considered when deciding between the K-1 visa or CR-1/IR-1 visa. A K-1 visa is valid for a single entry. International travel is not permitted until the foreign spouse files a Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status, along with an Application for Advance Parole (Form I-131). Advance parole is generally issued within 90 days of filing but may take longer. If the foreign spouse travels abroad before an advance parole document is obtained, the adjustment of status application will be considered abandoned. But a CR-1 or IR-1 spouse that entered the U.S. with an immigrant visa can travel abroad immediately. An immigrant visa holder is a permanent resident upon admission to the U.S. Additionally, the K-3 visa facilitates international travel. It can be used for multiple entries to the U.S. and is valid for up to two years.

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Selecting the Best Path for Immigration by Marriage

The best choice is individual to you, your time line and your budget.

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