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Engagement and marriage are exciting life events! Now that you and your fiance are planning your wedding, it’s important to understand your options for starting your life together in the United States.
On this page, you’ll learn about the differences, pros, and cons of a fiance visa and a marriage visa, so you and your fiance may make an informed decision about the best option for your situation. Remember, that every couple has their preferences and constraints to consider. Your marriage story is unique, your journey may differ from that of other couples.
For the sake of this article, we will refer to a partner as a fiance, no matter the gender. In the United States, the same laws apply to same-sex marriages; the term “spouse” recognizes a legally wedded individual through a civil marriage.
There are two main ways in which citizenship can be attained through marriage:
The fiance and marriage visas have their own benefits and drawbacks, depending on the scenario. We will go into more detail on each type of visa further down the page, but first, let’s go over a quick overview of each visa and situation.
Fiance visas are temporary non-immigrant visas. The process for a K-1 visa would be to apply for a non-immigrant visa, marry in the United States, and then apply for an Adjustment of Status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The foreign national may later become a lawful permanent resident (LPR).
If you resonate with these situations, you may consider applying for a K-1 visa.
A marriage visa is a green card for eligible spouses of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. If you take this route, you will marry outside of the United States and apply for a family sponsorship immigration because your spouse is now your immediate family. This is known as the IR1 or CR1 process.
There is also the marriage visa called a K-3 spouse visa, which allows your spouse to legally enter and stay in the United States while USCIS processes their permanent resident application. If the LPR or U.S. citizen spouse needs to return to the United States, this is the quickest way to be reunited with your spouse.
The K-3 visa is a non-immigrant visa, meaning it is temporary. This visa is similar to the fiance visa, but has important contingencies that differentiate the two such as having already been married.
The marriage visa can open up various opportunities for newlyweds, including the option for Lawful Permanent Residents to bring a spouse to the United States. Fiance visas are only available to U.S. citizens and their foreign national fiance. LPRs cannot bring a foreign national fiance to the United States. LPRS can use a marriage visa to petition for their foreign national fiance to join them in the United States so that they can become lawful permanent residents.
These steps below are how fiance visas are obtained, then how the new spouse can apply for lawful permanent residency.
This process is usually relatively faster than a marriage visa application. Talk to your K-1 visa attorney to help you through every step of the process. Find out more about the adjustment of status through a K-1 visa here.
There are two different ways to the marriage visa application process, which you will learn about below. In both cases, you and your spouse will marry outside of the United States. In either case , you must file Form I-130, Petition for Relative. Applying for the K-3 visa is in addition to the main marriage visa process.
The process of bringing your spouse to the United States results in their permanent residency. Three main visa forms are involved in accomplishing that. Marriage visas use a process called consular processing, which is applying for a green card from your home country.
This process can take a very long time, so it’s crucial to work with an experienced attorney to support you in each step.
A K-3 spousal visa is an excellent option for foreign national spouses who need to travel abroad after entering the United States, as well as remain united and live in the United States while their marriage visa is being processed.
As stated above, the K-3 visa is in addition to the CR1 visa, not in replacement. Once you file a petition for your spouse to become an LPR in the U.S., the foreign national spouse can apply for a nonimmigrant K-3 visa.
The K-3 visa allows the foreign national spouse to legally live and work in the U.S. while the marriage visa is pending approval.
Once Form I-130, Petition for Relative, is submitted by the U.S. citizen or LPR, the foreign national spouse will file Form I-129F, Petition for Fiance. Note that you are not applying as a fiance but as a spouse. Section 1 of the form has a box to check which visa classification you are petitioning for. Here, you will choose Spouse (K-3 visa).
It is the U.S. citizen who will file on behalf of their foreign national fiance. In order for you to be eligible to petition for your partner:
If you have questions about the evidence you need to include to verify your eligibility, speak with your immigration lawyer today. We can help you gather all the required documents to send in your petition right away.
Like the fiance visa, the U.S. citizen (or in marriage visa cases, LPRs) petitions on behalf of their spouse. To petition for your spouse, you need to meet the following qualifications:
A significant difference when considering K-1 vs. K-3 visa is that a marriage visa allows spouses of LPRs also to gain permanent residency in the U.S., while the fiance visa does not.
As immigration attorneys, we often get asked which is better: fiance or spouse visa? The answer to this question is subjective, one that is a personal decision you and your partner need to make to find the best option for you.
At Scott D. Pollock & Associates P.C., you will work with an experienced immigration attorney who can walk you through the options, laying out factors for you and your fiance to consider. Below are a few common deciding factors when comparing a fiance visa vs. a spouse visa.
Cost is also a large factor in your choice. Fiance visas are typically more expensive than marriage visas. There are price variations, so this is simply an estimate and is subject to change. These prices take into consideration form and processing fees
Most fiance visas can cost around $2000-$3000. Most Marriage visas can cost around $1200-$2500. Talk with your immigration attorney about the cost breakdown and what is best for you and your fiance.
Getting engaged is the first step, then marriage. Some couples are content with staying in the engagement period for a bit longer. Others like to be married right away.
If you are willing to wait, a K-1 fiance visa might be best for you. However, the visa timeline is faster, and the marriage will come later because it can still take up to around a year for the foreign national fiance to be eligible to come to the U.S.
If you want to get married as soon as possible, having the wedding abroad may be best for you. That way, you can be married, then pursue a wedding visa while your spouse stays abroad.
Traveling abroad, whether for work, leisure, or family matters, is a factor in which path to choose when choosing between a fiance visa and a spouse visa. Here is a breakdown of the laws around each visa:
Marriage visas make it possible to be married outside of the United States, whereas fiance visas make it possible for the ceremony to take place within the United States. Some couples prefer having the ceremony abroad to be together with family (or for other reasons). Some couples want a wedding in the United States and start their married life together immediately. The decision is a very personal one.
Keep in mind that if you choose the fiance visa route, you must get married within 90 days of admission into the U.S. This means that lots of preparation must be done ahead of time to ensure the marriage happens within the allotted time period. If the 90 days passes, you risk removal. Make sure your wedding plans are in order so that when the K-1 visa arrives, you can relax and enjoy your special day.
Another factor to consider when deciding where to have your wedding is religious ceremonies versus legal binding. Civil marriage ceremonies are recognized in the United States. A wedding ceremony to celebrate a marriage is not legally recognized as the marriage itself. This means that you are legally allowed to have an unofficial marriage outside of the United States as a celebration before or after your legal marriage in the United States.
If you wish to have a wedding ceremony abroad, speak with your immigration attorney about the laws around the U.S. legal definition of a marriage ceremony. You may be able to have a ceremony before or after your civil union in the U.S.
One of the main deterrents of the CR1 marriage visa choice is that the foreign national spouse cannot enter the United States until their petition is processed and their visa is granted. The plus side is that the spouse will receive permanent residency upon arrival in the United States, although there will be a waiting period.
If the U.S. citizen or LPR spouse does not need to return to the United States, you two can remain together if your location allows it. However, many people need to return to the U.S. for their jobs. As a result, the spouses are separated until the visa is processed, which can take up to a year or more..
K-1 fiance visas, on the other hand, allow newlyweds to begin a life together in the United States without delay. Even though the foreign national’s status has not been adjusted yet, they can still legally remain in the U.S. Waiting for the K-1 visa to be accepted is shorter than a marriage visa, taking less than a year to process.
The immigration lawyers at Scott D. Pollock & Associates P.C. have helped couples decide their path to citizenship through fiance and marriage visas for over 30 years. We have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the process and law out all options so that you and your fiance can make the best decision. Call us at (312) 444-1940 or fill out an online contact form today.
We look forward to hearing from you!