Does it Matter Where I Get Engaged?
When you meet, where you meet, and how you fall in love can have a surprising impact on the immigration benefits available to you. It is important to consider the following variables that may alter the green card process you and your fiancé pursue.
Where You Are Engaged May Complicate or Simplify Your Green Card Process
If you and your significant other are engaged within the United States and your significant other is legally residing in the United States, then there may be no requirement to obtain a fiancé visa. If you are married during the lawful stay of your alien fiancé, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) instead allows you to forego the fiancé visa application and pursue a green card within the U.S. In this scenario, you could simply file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative together with Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
To clarify, this option for immediate adjustment of status is only available when the alien fiancé is lawfully present in the United States with a nonimmigrant visa and the original purpose of their visit was not to get married. The simplified process above is possible in the scenario of a whirlwind engagement and marriage.
For example, assume that your alien fiancé entered the United States for an extended business trip. You and your fiancé meet and become engaged in the United States. Instead of having your alien fiancé return home, you decide to be married. In this case you could simply file Form I-130 together with Form I-485.
Keep in mind that while an abbreviated adjustment of status process is available to you, you will still need to prove to USCIS that your marriage is legitimate.
To provide a counter example, assume that you and your alien fiancé had met previously, that you had discussed marriage but weren’t yet officially engaged. Your significant other comes to the U.S. to visit you, and on this particular trip you become engaged and then quickly decide to marry. This scenario could be construed as visa fraud. Because visitor visas can typically be obtained more quickly than fiancé visas, your entrance, engagement, and marriage can be seen as an attempt to circumvent immigration law.
Essentially, USCIS might believe you entered the United States with the wrong kind of visa, claiming that you lied about the purpose of your visit.
Because these situations can be tricky, we highly advise you to speak with an immigration attorney who can advise you on your options before you make a life-altering decision, or even worse, accidentally violate immigration laws that could keep you separated from the one you love for an extended period of time.
What If We Are Engaged Outside of the United States?
If you are engaged to your fiancé abroad and wish to marry in the United States, USCIS requires you to petition for a fiancé visa before you can apply for permanent residency. To be eligible for a fiancé visa, USCIS requires you and your partner to meet certain requirements:
- One of you must be a U.S. citizen and that individual needs to petition for the fiancé visa. Even though the U.S. citizen submits the petition, the process is involved and will likely require participation from both parties to complete.
- Neither of you are currently involved in a prior, legally binding, relationship that would prevent either of you from being free to marry; any prior marriages need to be terminated legally before the fiancé visa process can begin.
- You and your fiancé plan to marry within ninety (90) days of your fiancé’s entry to the United States.
- You and your fiancé have met in person within the past two (2) years prior to your petition for a fiancé visa.
If you meet the requirements above, the U.S. Citizen fiancé files Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé on behalf of their significant other. You can read more about this process through our companion article, “How Do I Fill Out and Submit the I-129F Fiancé Visa Application?”
After your fiancé enters the U.S. and you are married, your spouse can then begin the process to apply for permanent residence within the United States.
Assessing Alternatives in Marrying Abroad or Attempting to Marry Within the United States
As noted above, if your fiancé is already legally within the United States when you are engaged then the process may be much simpler; you and your fiancé may marry and pursue permanent residency inside the United States.
However, if you and your significant other are engaged in the U.S. and then choose to marry abroad, then there is no need to pursue a fiancé visa seeing that the sole purpose of the fiancé visa is to grant a temporary stay so you can be married within the United States. Instead, the alien fiancé will need to pursue an immigrant visa after the U.S. citizen has filed a spousal petition.
Should you or your significant other encounter any difficulties in weighing your immigration options so you can begin your life as a couple, get legal help. The permanent residency process, whether it be through fiancé visas, immigrant visas, or adjustment of status in the U.S., is long and challenging.
Unfortunately, it can also be confusing. Don’t get discouraged by the obstacles—contact an immigration attorney if you discover you need help.