Getting married can be an overwhelming process, but navigating the US immigration system isn't easier. For couples weighing options for immigration through marriage, there are many variables and choices to make. These differences can have an impact on costs and time frame, but ultimately lead to permanent residence (green card).
In general, a couple can get married first and then immigrate to the United States. Or some couples prefer the wedding in America. As a US citizen, you have two options for bringing your partner to the US. Permanent residents cannot apply for a fiancé and only need to bring a spouse.
Immigrate as a fiancé (K-1 visa)
A US citizen can apply to a foreign fiancé to come to the US for the purpose of marriage. Congress specifically created the K-1 visa for this purpose. Once the foreign fiancé has entered the US with a K-1, he must marry the US citizen or leave the US within 90 days. The process begins with the filing of Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé, by the US citizen. After marriage, the K-1 visa holder can change status to permanent residence. At the end of this process, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will issue the beneficiary with a green card.
RECOMMENDED: Overview of the K-1 Visa Process
Immigrate as a spouse (IR1 or CR1 visa)
U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents can apply for immigration to a foreign spouse by marriage. The process begins by filing Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and Form I-130A (Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary) by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The spouse will go through consular processing and enter the United States on an immigrant visa. Although it is only a stamp at the time of entry, it is equivalent to a green card. USCIS will send the actual green card to the spouse shortly thereafter.
RECOMMENDED: Overview of consular processing
If you are already married and the foreign spouse is physically present in the US, this article probably isn't for you. Instead, the foreign spouse may want to apply for the green card within the US. This is known as status adjustment.
Same sex marriages
Same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, including their minor children, are entitled to the same immigration benefits as same-sex spouses. Your eligibility to file an application on behalf of your spouse or fiancé and your beneficiary's eligibility as an immigrant when applying for an immigrant visa or adjusting the status phase will be determined in accordance with applicable immigration laws and not denied based on the same-sex nature of your marriage. In other words, USCIS treats same-sex marriages equally. However, it is important that the marriage was legal in the jurisdiction in which it took place.
Immigration by marriage comparison
It is impossible to say which route is better for immigration through marriage. It depends on you and your specific situation. It's a personal choice. Here are a few factors to consider:
Place of marriage
Congress designed the K-1 fiancé visa as a way for a foreign fiancé to come to the United States for marriage. Therefore, the K-1 visa is generally the best solution if the couple intends to get married within the United States. This path requires some planning. The marriage must take place in the US within 90 days of the K-1's admission to the US. The status package should ideally be adjusted shortly thereafter. If you prefer marriage outside of the US, the K-1 is likely 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 and then come to the United States for a legal marriage.
Speed of marriage
In general, if getting married as soon as possible is your priority, getting married outside of the United States is faster. Obtaining the K-1 visa can take approximately 5 to 10 months. If you choose to marry outside of the United States, the U.S. citizen cannot file Form I-130 until you have married and have proof of that marriage (marriage certificate).
Speed of US presence
If you want the couple to be together in the US as soon as possible, the K-1 visa is generally the fastest route. A K-1 visa takes approximately 5 to 10 months from filing date to entering the United States. On the other hand, the marriage visa can last 6 to 12 months. However, these are only estimates. Current conditions, local office costs, and your particular case can vary in length.
Many foreigners may consider participating in a B-2 visa or visa waiver program to get married or adjust status. This is not recommended. While many people do this every year, using a visa fraudulently is preconceived and it can create significant immigration problems.
Congress introduced the K-3 visa for the spouses of U.S. citizens to reduce family separation. The U.S. citizen can apply for a K-3 visa for their spouse by submitting Form I-129F. (You can submit Form I-129F at the same time as Form I-130 or after submitting the I-130 application.) The K-3 visa allows the foreign spouse to enter the United States for either consular processing wait or simply apply for the green card by adjusting the status. In practice, the US State Department rarely issues the K-3 visa. Generally, the State Department first approves the application for an immigrant visa, making the K-3 unnecessary.
The supporting documents that you need to submit for each process are very similar. Perhaps the most underestimated requirement is the need to demonstrate that a real relationship exists. Marriage fraud, which uses fictional marriage information to evade immigration laws, has historically been a problem area for US immigration officials. You have to do more than produce a marriage certificate. You need to prove that there is a real relationship.
In addition to your prepared form, Ielts Science provides you with a range of personalized submission instructions. Our submission instructions are tailored to your responses in the petition so you know what to do for your specific situation. The submission instructions provide detailed instructions on supporting evidence and how to organize your petition.
Each path requires slightly different forms / applications with different costs. If cost is a major concern, getting a spouse's immigrant visa (CR-1 or IR-1) is generally cheaper.
K-1 nonimmigrant visa
|Expense items||Cost (USD)|
|Registration fee for Form I-129F||$ 510|
|Registration fee for applying for a K-1 visa||$ 265|
|Registration fees for customizing the status package and biometrics||$ 1,160|
|ESTIMATED TOTAL VALUE||$ 1,935|
CR-1 or IR-1 immigrant visa
|Expense items||Cost (USD)|
|Registration fee for Form I-130||$ 560|
|Registration fee for applying for an immigrant visa||$ 325|
|NVC I-864 inspection fee||$ 120|
|USCIS immigration fee||$ 220|
|ESTIMATED TOTAL VALUE||$ 1,225|
These numbers are estimates based on the USCIS fee schedule dated 02/10/2020. The estimates do not include travel or hotels required for appointments and / or interviews. Medical immigration exam fees vary by region and doctor and are also not included.
If the immigrant fiancé travels frequently, this factor should be considered when deciding between the K-1 visa or the CR-1 / IR-1 visa. A K-1 visa is valid for a single entry. Travel abroad is not permitted until the foreign spouse has submitted Form I-485 (Application for Status Adjustment) and an Application for Probation (Form I-131). Early parole is usually issued within 90 days of filing, but it can take longer. If the foreign spouse travels abroad before receiving a probation document, the amendment of the status application is deemed to have been abandoned. However, a CR-1 or IR-1 spouse who entered the United States on an immigrant visa can travel abroad immediately. An immigrant visa holder is a permanent resident upon entering the United States. In addition, the K-3 visa makes international travel easier. It can be used for multiple entries into the US and is valid for up to two years.
Choosing the Best Path to Immigration through Marriage
The best choice is individual for you, your schedule and your budget.
Whichever route you choose to immigrate through marriage, some things have become increasingly important as immigration policies have changed during this pandemic:
- You want to be sure that you are doing the right thing at the right time and that you have access to in-depth immigration advice.
- Additional delays are not acceptable. You can't afford to wait any longer.
- You also want to make sure that you don't have to rely on inpatient facilities to complete your green card application.
When you use Ielts Science, you can rest assured that you will have support every step of the way as you fill out your application. And because we are online, you can prepare your application conveniently and securely from home.
Our software has been reviewed by immigration lawyers to ensure accuracy, alert you to any problems or missing information, and provide you with samples so you can submit the best possible case.
We're so confident that our software is the best possible way to complete your USCIS application that we have a satisfaction and approval guarantee. If USCIS rejects your application, you will receive your USCIS fees AND our service fee back.
Take the guesswork out of your immigration application and submit your forms through Ielts Science. Prepare your application today and don't pay until you're ready.