If you want to get married outside the United States, there are two options that are available to you and your spouse:
- you can file an I-130, or
- you can apply for a K-3 nonimmigrant visa.
There are important distinctions between the two, and you should be aware of what each application requires.
In either case, you, as the U.S. citizen, will have to file a Form I-130.
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
If you choose to file an I-130 and your spouse is not in the United States when the application is filled, he or she cannot enter the country until after this has been approved.
Once it has been approved, he or she can then apply for a green card and will have to go through the consular process.
When you are in the process of filing this document, make sure that your alien spouse includes any evidence that can help prove that your marriage is real.
This evidence can come in the form of joint property agreements, proof that you live in the same home and that you share financial responsibilities and assets, birth certificates if you have any children together, third party statements that speak to the authenticity of your marriage, or a marriage license.
It is important to note that your application should be thorough and complete before you submit it for review.
In the event that your application is not complete, USCIS may issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) and this will only delay the process of bringing your spouse into the United States. Because this process already takes a few months, be sure that your I-130 is thorough and complete when you send it.
After the petition is approved, the U.S. consulate in your alien spouse’s home country will be notified and will assume the responsibility for his or her case.
K-3 Spouse Visa
On the other hand, the K-3 visa is a temporary visa that allows your spouse to enter the United States while he or she waits for their initial application to be processed and accepted.
In order to be eligible to apply for the K-3 visa, your alien spouse must be 1) married to a U.S. citizen and 2) you, as the U.S. citizen, must have filed an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative on your spouse’s behalf.
It is important to note that if you apply for the K-3 visa from outside of the United States, you can only apply at the consulate that is in the same country as where you two got married. Essentially, if you got married in Sweden but now reside in Germany, you would have to file for the K-3 in Sweden.
You, as the U.S. citizen petitioner, must also file a Form I-129F, in conjunction with the Form I-130. This form, once accepted, will allow for your alien spouse and their children to enter in the United States while they finish the application process, rather than having to wait abroad.
Once all of these forms have been submitted, the relevant U.S. consulate will contact you and your fiancé with instructions.
These instructions will include what forms you and your fiancé still need to fill out, what documents need to be provided, and how to schedule an interview time with the consulate.
Once your alien spouse has the interview, he or she will then have to begin filing for adjustment of status in the U.S.
Which Option is Faster?
Even though the K-3 was created as a more efficient process than the I-130, it often isn’t.
Occasionally USCIS will force you to use the typical immigrant visa as opposed to the K-3 visa. Further, if your I-130 is approved prior to the I-129F, then your spouse’s K-3 application will be void, and they can no longer qualify for that visa.
If this occurs, the I-129F is overlooked and your spouse’s application will be considered only through the I-130. Even though there is no way to really estimate how long the application process could take, the I-130 is typically considered to be more efficient but it depends on the circumstances of each case.
Marrying a Permanent Resident versus a U.S. Citizen
The I-130 option is available to both U.S. citizens and permanent residents. If you are a permanent resident of the U.S., a K-3 visa is not available to your spouse. The visa requires that your spouse be married to a U.S. citizen.
If you are a lawful permanent resident and filing the I-130, you will also have to show evidence that speaks to your lawful status.
This can be shown through a copy of your I-551 Permanent Resident Card, but you may also include any other documents that can help prove your lawful status.
For example, you should also include a copy of your passport and your Form I-797 that has your notice approving your permanent residence.
If you are a U.S. citizen, you will also have to provide documents that speak to that effect. This can include a copy of your U.S. passport, your birth certificate, or your naturalization certification.