The truth is that you don’t need a Fiancé Visa in every situation.
For example, let’s say you come to the United States as an international student for a semester or two. While you’re over here, you meet the person of your dreams (who is also a US Citizen), fall madly in love, and in a whirlwind of youthful optimism, you two decide to (and do) get married right away.
Now you’re left wondering: do we need to a fiancé visa to make all this “official?” The answer is no—you’re already married after all—but it’s time to do some paperwork and fast.
Adjustment of Status
You will have to apply for adjustment of status, meaning that you are applying to change your status from, for example, F-1 Student Visitor to Lawful Permanent Resident. Assuming that your wedding was lawfully performed, you are now the spouse of a United States Citizen, meaning you now have standing to apply for permanent residence.
“Lawfully performed,” in this context, means that you were given a government-issued certificate of marriage when you were married – a certificate given by a church or other religious organization may not be sufficient. You will need this document in order to prove the validity of your marriage to USCIS so that you may apply for green card.
Why Not Wait for Marriage and Use the Fiancé Visa Process?
This is an important question.
The answer is that the K-1 Fiancé Visa process, and also any other process that requires you to set up consular processing on your immigration application, may take a long time.
This means that you and your fiancé will be waiting a long time to see each other again, or even simply live in the same country.
However, if the alien fiancé is lawfully present in the U.S. when you meet and fall in love, it might be the best idea in terms of your life circumstance to simply get married and apply for permanent residency while remaining in the U.S.
If the legal nuance of this situation is confusing, try speaking with an attorney.
On the other hand, if you are determined to marry and live in the United States, keep reading.
A Note Before Going Forward: Beware the Timeline
You’re going to want to take care of all of this quick, fast, and in a hurry.
Student visas typically expire 60 days after the end of student’s course of study, and regular tourist visas usually only have a 90-day window.
The good news is that you may remain in the country while your paperwork is processing, but you must submit all necessary forms and documentation before your initial visa would have expired – USCIS does not typically allow persons who stay in the country after their visas expire to submit the I-485.
If your visa expires and you are detained by immigration before you can file your paperwork, you risk deportation. Don’t take that risk – get it all out as soon as you can.
Necessary Forms: The I-130 and I-485
I-130: Petition for Alien Relative
This form will have to be filled out by the U.S. Citizen member of the newlywed couple. The I-130 is a form that US Citizens submit on behalf of their non-Citizen relatives so that they may immigrate and become Lawful Permanent Residents.
Now that you are married, your new spouse is your relative and this form is your way of proving that to USCIS.
Furthermore, spouses of US Citizens are designated as Immediate Relatives (IR), a classification that jumps to the front of the immigration line (and that can be quite a long line).
To submit the form, you will need a fair bit of accompanying documentation.
First of all, you must enclose a photocopy of any of the following: your birth certificate; current passport; certificate of naturalization; FS-240 (Report of Birth Abroad of a US Citizen); or a statement from a US Consular Officer that verifies that you are a US Citizen.
Next, you will need to submit documentation proving that you are legally married to your new spouse – this is where you’re going to need that marriage certificate.
If either you or your spouse was previously married, you must also submit documents showing that those marriages were legally dissolved, such as court-issued documents showing a final dissolution of marriage.
You must also attach a completed G-325A: Biographical Information form for both you and your spouse.
This form asks for basic information regarding both of your names, country of origin, parents’ names, current and past employment, etc. You should also include passport-style photos (in color) of you and your spouse, taken within the last 30 days.
These are relatively easy to get, and many pharmacies and shipping centers will take them for less than $15.
Finally, you’re going to have to attach documents that prove the validity of your marriage; that is, documents that convince USCIS that this marriage is not a green card sham.
These documents are many and varied, and the whirlwind circumstances of your marriage may mean that the usual documentation is not yet available (such as joint leases, documents showing jointly owned property or bank accounts, and information regarding any children the two of you have had together).
If you have this documentation, great.
If not, it may be best to secure sworn affidavits from people familiar with your relationship that state (under penalty of perjury) that you two are engaged in a bona fide marital union.
Note that this form should be submitted at the same time as the I-485 in this circumstance—your lawful stay in the U.S. is only extended with a pending Form I-485, not with a pending Form I-130 petition.
I-485: Application to Register or Adjust Status
This form will have to be filled out by the non-US Citizen spouse. Form I-485 requires much more in-depth information and much more documentation than the I-130, and will invariably be followed by an interview between both of you and a USCIS official.
First of all, this form requires that you submit documentation of any criminal history that you have. USCIS does not require you to report traffic violations unless they were drug or alcohol related, but the rule of thumb is simple: when in doubt, report it.
Official court documents are the best thing here. For more information, see “What if my fiancé has a criminal history?”
On the lighter side of things, you’ll need to submit your foreign birth certificate and a copy of your passport with your valid visa stamped in it.
The I-485 also requires a G-325A, passport photos, and a copy of your marriage certificate, but if you submit this form along with the I-130, you don’t have to worry about duplicating those.
You will also have to submit Form I-693: Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record. For more information on where to acquire an examination and what is required, see “Why do I have to send a medical exam with my I-485 application?”
The I-485 also requires biometrics (i.e., fingerprinting). After your application is submitted, you will be contacted by USCIS and given instructions on where to go to have your fingerprints taken.
After everything is submitted, you and your spouse will have to come in for an interview with a USCIS official.
These interviews have one purpose only: weeding out fraudulent green card marriages, and the circumstances of your marriage may mean that you are given some additional scrutiny.
Dress sharp for the interview, be honest with the interviewer, and everything should go fine. For more information on what to expect at your interview, see “What questions will I be asked at my marriage-based Green Card interview?”