Is Marriage to an American Citizen a Sure Way to Immigrate to the U.S.?
Marriage to a US citizen or US resident is one of the ways of immigrating to the United States. However, one has to be aware that it is a complicated process wherein every detail is extremely important. It has to be a bona fide marriage and not a marriage only for immigration purposes. It is wise to consult an attorney.
Advantages of Marriage-based Immigration:
- It is a relatively fast process to receive an immigration visa, Green Card, and subsequently US citizenship.
- You don’t have to wait five years after you’ve obtained a green card, as you can apply for US citizenship three years after receiving it.
- You can apply for immigration visas for your children, if you have any.
There is more than one way to come to the US through marriage, each of which has its own peculiarities. Be ready to prove that your marriage is real. We highly recommend contacting an experienced immigration attorney for advice and support at each stage of the process. Let’s consider the most common ways for getting a Green Card through marriage: marriage to a U.S. citizen, marriage to a U.S. resident, and a fake marriage.
Marriage to a U.S. Citizen
Whether you enter into marriage with a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, there are two ways to do it: outside the United States, via consular processing, and while in the U.S.
The obvious disadvantage of the first option is that once you get married and are awaiting the approval of the petition, the chances of visiting your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse in the U.S. on a tourist visa are somewhat slim. Waiting for approval may take, in some cases, up to a year or more. In other cases, an immigration attorney may be able to speed up the process. However, a long-term separation after the wedding ceremony may adversely affect your relationship. Note that it is possible to marry and file for family reunification and Green Card while you are in the U.S. so you can be together while waiting for approval of the petition.
Common Stages of Entering into Marriage in US and Filing for Green Card:
Marriage to a US citizen while currently staying or residing in the US.
Important: if you used a visa to come to the U.S. with the intention of applying for a marriage-based green card after getting here, you have committed visa fraud and may be denied on that basis.
Filing for adjustment of status to obtain a conditional Green Card immediately after getting married. This Green Card is issued for two years.
Attending a fingerprinting appointment and then an Adjustment of Status interview.
Note: if the approval takes place after you have been married to your U.S. spouse for 2 years, you will receive a permanent Green Card for 10 years.
Obtaining a Permanent Resident Green Card entitles you to the right to permanent residency in the U.S. Shortly before the Conditional Permanent Resident Card expires, it is necessary to file a petition with the USCIS for a Permanent Resident Green Card. After that, you will receive permanent resident status or Permanent Residence Card. If an immigration officer has any doubts that you have entered marriage in good faith and are committing fraud intentionally, you might face deportation or a life-long ban on entering the U.S. and / or criminal penalties which may include up to a $250,000 fine and up to 5 years in prison.
Applying for citizenship is possible after just three years of being married to a U.S. citizen. However, once it becomes known to the U.S. authorities that your marriage is fraudulent, permission for naturalization can be revoked. It is a federal crime to enter into a fraudulent marriage for immigration purposes.
Ways of Entering the United States to Have a Marriage Ceremony with U.S. Citizen
We would like to consider two most common options:
Obtaining a Fiancé(e) Visa (K1 Visa)
If you are not physically present in the United States, one of your options is to file a Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) / K-1 visa which allows you to travel to the U.S. to have a marriage ceremony in the country and then apply for a conditional Green Card after the marriage, while staying in the U.S. You will declare your true intentions early on. You can request a K-2 visa for your unmarried children under age of 21 and bring them with you.
K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa Requirements:
- Your future spouse has to be a U.S. citizen (the evidence of which can be a U.S. passport, U.S. birth certificate, or naturalization certificate)
- The absence of impediments to marriage: if you or your U.S. spouse were married before, you will have to submit a divorce decree, an annulment order, or the death certificate for the prior spouse, etc.
- Evidence that you met your fiancé(e) in-person (at least once within the last two years); for example, flight tickets, visas, hotel bookings, photos of you two together, and such. There are some very narrow exclusions to this requirement.
- Evidence of your relationship, such as correspondence, printouts of phone calls, perhaps photos with family members, relatives, and / or friends, etc.
Plan of Action:
Note: it is possible to file a petition for adjustment of status if the marriage took place outside the 90 days period.
Entering the U.S. on a Temporary Tourist Visa and Getting Married
It might seem that the easiest way to get a Green Card through marriage is to visit your future spouse on a tourist visa and get a quick wedding somewhere in Las Vegas. The spouse has to be a U.S. citizen or resident. However, the process might not be as simple as it seems. USCIS might consider that you have committed fraud if you applied for a tourist visa and came to the U.S. as a tourist with the sole purpose of getting married to the U.S. citizen. If you decide to marry a U.S. citizen while being in the country on a tourist visa, it is highly advisable to consult an immigration attorney to guide you through all the stages of the petition your U.S. citizen spouse will file for you.
If you reside in the United States legally, for example, studying or working there pose fewer chances of a USCIS officer suspecting fraud. Therefore, you probably won’t face major issues with providing evidence that your marriage is valid, as you have had enough time to get to know each other well and to build a committed relationship with your U.S. citizen spouse. To get a Green Card via marriage, it will be necessary to file all the required forms and attach the requisite evidence.
Marriage to a U.S. Resident
As compared to marriage to a U.S. citizen, marrying a permanent resident is not as fast a way to a green card. With a marriage to a U.S. citizen, you can get married while in the U.S., or outside the country. However, it is not possible to get a K-1 or fiancee visa to marry a US resident. There are only two ways to marry a U.S. resident while in the US:
1. You Reside in the Country on a Long-term (Employment or Student) Visa
As you already have reasons for staying in the country for a long period, you won’t have to leave the U.S. just after getting married. However, as marriage to a U.S. resident is not exactly the same as the marriage to a U.S. citizen, you advised to consult an attorney regarding the most efficient way of obtaining a Green Card through marriage to a U.S. resident.
2. You Receive a Short Term Tourism Visa
In this case, you will have to be out of the country before the short-term visa expires (unless you are able to change your status while in the U.S.). Your next actions will be the same as getting married in any other country. It won’t speed up the immigration process when a petition for an immigrant visa is filed by your U.S. resident spouse. It is a family-based petition. When you marry a U.S. resident, his or her petition will fall under Category F2 (Second Family Priority). The waiting period for a decision on the petition by your U.S. resident spouse will vary, as each category has an annual quota. Of note, the number of petitions often exceeds the quota. In addition, while you are waiting for the decision, you might not be allowed to travel to the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa, as you have already declared your immigration plans. It is recommended to get a consultation from a U.S. immigration attorney.
Some people are tempted to enter into a fake marriage in hopes of moving to the U.S. The problem is that U.S. authorities take it very seriously when it comes to eligibility to live in the United States permanently. A fraudulent or fake marriage is a federal crime. If an immigration officer (who is well-trained) has the slightest suspicion that you are not telling the truth at any of the interviews you attend, or just a single page from your submitted documents raises a doubt, the entrance to the land of dreams might be closed forever.
One might get the impression that the family reunification process is an uncomplicated procedure that merely needs an eye for detail to avoid mistakes. One of the factors that may affect the waiting period and one’s chances to obtain permanent resident status is the location where you get married, for example. A practical way to develop the correct strategy is to consult with an immigration attorney. If necessary, such an attorney will accompany you to an interview with an immigration officer.
Frequently Asked Questions:
I am planning to marry a U.S. resident and move to the country permanently. Do you think it will be reasonable to wait until he receives his U.S. citizenship?
If your spouse expects to receive his citizenship soon, in some cases it might be better to wait. The waiting period for a marriage-based visa, filed by a permanent resident, could take 1-2 years on average. In some cases it might be possible to speed up the process. There is no quota for marriage-based visas when one marries a U.S. citizen. The waiting period can take up from several months to 1.5 years. In addition, there is an option to file a fiancé(e) visa, which can be done only by a U.S. citizen. After entering the US as a fiancee and marrying the US citizen, one can request a Green Card.
We got married a year ago and had to live separately after I moved to the United States. Am I likely to face any difficulties while applying for a permanent Green Card?
It depends on the evidence you submit with your petition. A practical way to develop a correct strategy is to consult with an immigration attorney.
My fiancé filed the documents to apply for a Green Card, and we have every reason to believe that he will receive it. We are planning to live in the United States permanently. When should we have a wedding ceremony – before or after receiving a Green Card – to expedite the immigration process?
If a spouse is about to receive a Green Card, depending upon which basis the spouse qualifies, it is recommended not to delay getting married; in fact, do it before the spouse receives it. A practical way to develop a correct strategy is to consult with an immigration attorney at the very beginning of the process.
I married a U.S. citizen but we are not getting along well. I would like to get a divorce and to stay in the United States. Will I have my permanent citizen status extended?
This situation can be regarded as a complicated case. The best way to deal with it is to consult an immigration attorney early on. A number of factors have to be considered, such as the existence of common children, whether a prenuptial contract exists, the duration of the marriage, your personal financial situation, just to name a few. It is not possible to answer your question without a personal consultation. It is recommended to get a consultation from an immigration attorney before filing for divorce.
American Corporate Services Law Offices, Inc. provides comprehensive advice on all U.S. immigration questions regarding marriage to a U.S. citizen or a U.S. permanent resident, from choosing the best way to enter the country and the right option to marry, and preparing all the required documents for your petition, to preparing or accompanying you personally to an interview with an USCIS or consular officer.