Deciding whether to marry a immigrant in the U.S. or in another country
When a marriage takes place outside of the U.S., it will be difficult for the immigrant spouse to enter the U.S. as s/he once did, i.e., on a tourist visa or other temporary visa, instead of on a K-3 visa or until an immigrant visa is applied for in the U.S., then approved and finally issued in a foreign consulate. The reason that re-entry into the U.S. without a K-3 or immigrant visa is difficult for a immigrant is that when a immigrant marries a U.S. citizen, that shows CIS that the immigrant has the permanent intent to stay in the U.S. and not return to their home country. Yet, when the immigrant tries to enter on a tourist visa or other temporary visa, the immigrant is telling CIS that s/he plans to stay only for a short period in the U.S. This conflicting temporary v. permanent intent problem (commonly referred to as dual intent) usually results in CIS concluding that the immigrant committed visa fraud. Further, if a port of entry CIS officer discovers that the immigrant is married to a U.S. citizen when the immigrant tries to enter on a tourist or other temporary visa, the officer will be likely to conclude that the immigrant will overstay their visa and live permanently in the U.S. because of the existence of a U.S. citizen spouse giving the immigrant “good reason to stay” in the U.S.
Because of this and due to potentially longer processing times with immigrant visas and the K-3, many couples decide to marry within the U.S. to take advantage of the usually faster Adjustment of Status process instead of waiting for consular processing. Many times, our client couples prefer to legally marry in the U.S. but then have a renewal of vows or another ceremony (often called a religious ceremony) for friends and family abroad, so they can start the immigration process for the immigrant spouse as soon as possible while the immigrant spouse is in the U.S
Regardless, where you decide to legally marry (not necessarily a religious ceremony or even a wedding, perhaps just a justice of the peace), could significantly change your options and processing times and what path you choose. It would be best to discuss your wedding plans with a qualified immigration attorney to decide what path is best for your situation and the consequences and benefits of marriage outside and inside the U.S.
The Immigrant Visa Process
Once you are married to your immigrant spouse, you will have to apply for an immigrant visa and provide all supporting documentation for that application with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services in the U.S. Once CIS approves the petition, the case is transferred to the National Visa Center of the Department of State for continued processing. Once a visa number is assigned to the case and final documentation received, the case is transferred to the consulate nearest the immigrant spouse’s foreign address, which will arrange for the spouse to be interviewed (much like a green card interview in the U.S. ) Assuming all goes well, the spouse will be issued a green card in his or her passport upon entry into the U.S. The processing time for this entire process can take 9 months – 2 years, depending on which state the U.S. citizen spouse resides in.
There are a few exceptions to this process, that allow a couple to save months of processing time so as not to be separated for long periods. If time is a concern and before you try to cut corners yourself in the immigration process, consult an attorney right away, so as not to make any decisions that could ruin your spouse’s chances for a green card.
K-3 temporary visa
The K-3 visa was created in response to the long processing time it can take for a foreign spouse to be issued a green card for entry into the U.S. A person may receive a K-3 visa if that person is already married to a U.S. citizen, has a pending Immigrant Visa filed by their U.S. citizen spouse at U.S. CIS, and seeks to enter the United States to await the approval of the petition and subsequent lawful permanent resident status. This visa must still be applied for with CIS and once approved, must be sent to the consulate nearest the foreign immigrant’s spouse for issuance.
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