Marrying a U.S. Citizen: Fiancé Visa (K-1/K-3) or Apply for Green Card?

Marrying a U.S. Citizen:…

When marrying a U.S. citizen, the question usually arises during the wedding plans: Should we get a fiancé visa or apply for a green card instead?  The answer depends on your timeline and your goals.  But for those who have flexibility, right now it seems that the green card option is the most economical. 

Green cards for spouses of U.S. citizens

Spouses of U.S. citizens are immediately eligible for a green card, there is no waiting list.  It’s just a matter of how long it will take for the government to process the paperwork.  Right now, paperwork processing could take up to 9 months or longer.  The couple must be lawfully married before filing the green card paperwork; for many couples, this could mean planning a marriage that will take place outside the United States. 

While waiting for the green card to go through, the foreign spouse is supposed to remain outside the U.S.  Some foreign spouses ask about temporary visas or ESTA which allow them to travel to the U.S. while waiting for the green card approval.  There are some drawbacks and risks to this plan, which should be discussed with an immigration attorney.   Our prior newsletters address some of these concerns, and discuss planning options: June/July 2017 issue and September/October 2017 issue.   At any rate, the couple might not be able to rely on the ability of the foreign spouse to travel and visit the United States while waiting for the green card approval. 

But if the foreign spouse is willing to wait outside the U.S., this procedure can be the most economical way to go, because at the end of it all the foreign spouse will have a green card in hand, and permanent residency in the U.S.

Fiancé visas can take just as long

K-1 fiancé visas allow the foreign fiancé to travel to the United States for the purpose of getting married within 90 days.  Then once married, the foreign spouse can apply for the green card inside the U.S., and can live with the U.S. citizen spouse while waiting for the green card paperwork to be approved.

K-3 visas are for couples who are already married.  The K-3 allows a foreign spouse to travel to the United States and live with the U.S. citizen spouse while the green card paperwork is approved.

In either situation you would think the K-1/K-3 visa is ideal, but in reality that is not the case right now, due to delays in government processing times.  For either visa, the U.S. citizen must first file a petition with the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and prove the relationship is “bona fide,” or valid.  Once that petition is approved, then it is sent to the consulate where the foreign fiancé/spouse lives.  The foreign fiancé/spouse must attend an interview to receive the visa.  This process can take anywhere from 5-9 months.

Then once the foreign fiancé/spouse enters the U.S., the foreign spouse must separately file for a green card.  This means additional time (up to about 9 months) and additional government filing fees.  

Therefore, in comparison, the K-1/K-3 visas can take almost as long, require the same amount of work, and at the end of the day all the couple has is a temporary visa and not a green card.  For some couples the K-1/K-3 visas may be an appropriate option, but for most they opt to just wait for the green card and save themselves money, headaches and time.

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