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Marrying a Foreign National
If you are planning to marry someone who is a citizen of another country and you intend to live in the United States, there are different ways that you can handle the immigration process. You can get a fiancé visa and bring your fiancé to the US for the express purpose of the wedding ceremony (and then to stay permanently), or you can marry abroad or in the US (if your fiancé is here on another visa type), and then file an immigrant petition. There are important things to know about each process and to keep in mind as you decide what works for you.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about a fiancé petition is that, if granted, it will allow your fiancé to enter the country strictly for the purpose of marrying you. The visa only permits your fiancé to stay in the country for 90 days and cannot be extended if the wedding does not occur during this limited timeframe. Some people have difficulty getting the timing right and they file their petition too soon or too late.
The process begins with filing a Petition for Alien Fiancé with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You should expect to provide some evidence of your relationship with your fiancé, including proof that you have met in person at least once in the last two years. There are exceptions to this requirement if you can show that the requirement would cause extreme hardship or that meeting would violate you and your fiancé's long-established customs or religious beliefs. If your fiancé petition is approved, your fiancé will receive instructions on applying for a visa at the US embassy or consulate in his or her home country.
If you do not want to pursue a fiancé visa, another option is to get married and then file a Petition for Alien Relative. You can marry overseas or you can marry in the US if your fiancé is already in the country with some other lawful status. If you marry overseas and then file the Petition for Alien Relative, your new spouse will not be able to enter the US until processing is complete. Most Petitions for Alien Relative are filed with a USCIS office in the US, but if you are physically present in your new spouse's home country, you may be able to file this petition with a foreign USCIS office. If the petition is approved, your spouse then will need to file for an immigrant visa at the local US consulate or embassy. If your fiancé is already in the US lawfully when you marry, your spouse then will apply for a change of status to a legal permanent resident.
A Note of Caution
It is important to have an immigration plan in place before you complete your wedding plans. The immigration process can be time-consuming, and you do not want to face the possibility of your fiancé being denied admission or unable to secure a visa in time for the ceremony. If your fiancé is entering the US for the purpose of marrying you, it is essential that he or she apply for the proper visa. If your fiancé enters on a visitor visa, for example, then he or she is declaring before the USCIS that the purpose of entry is to "visit" and not to marry. Entering the country on the wrong type of visa — particularly on a temporary visa when your intent is to remain in the country permanently — may be considered immigration fraud and have very serious consequences, including deportation.
For more information on securing a fiancé visa or filing a Petition for Alien Relative, contact an experienced immigration lawyer in your area.
Getting Ready To Apply for a Visa
To read and print out a copy of the checklist, please follow the link below.
You can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader here.
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