Last updated on May 21st, 2019
In order to live in the United States permanently and legally, immigrants will need to obtain a green card, which is evidence of their status as lawful permanent residents.
For those who are engaged to a United States citizen, and wish to become permanent residents, there are usually two different methods that can be used.
- obtaining a K-1 fiancé visa followed by an adjustment of status, or
- going through consular processing in order to get a green card.
The method that is most appropriate for you will depend on your situation, and which considerations are the most important for you. One important consideration when dealing with immigration is the speed at which you can expect to complete the process.
Here, we’ll touch on the two approaches mentioned above and discuss how the length of processing time might affect other decisions you make.
What’s Involved in Getting a Fiancé Visa?
A fiancé visa, or K-1 visa, is a method for entering the United States that can be used by foreign citizens who are engaged to marry a United States citizen but are not planning on getting married until after the foreign fiancé has entered the country.
Once you, as the foreign citizen fiancé, have married your United States citizen, you’ll then have to go through a process called “adjustment of status.”
The application process for a fiancé visa begins when your United States citizen fiancé, the petitioner in immigration lingo, prepares and submits Form I-129F, the Fiancé Visa Petition, to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You’ll then arrange for a visa interview at the consulate.
As long as the interview goes smoothly, you’ll be issued your fiancé visa. You must use the visa to enter the United States within six months of its issuance. Otherwise, it will expire.
Very soon after entering the United States on your fiancé visa, you’ll want to get married and start working on your adjustment of status application.
In order to adjust status, you’ll need to prepare and submit Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. At this stage, you might also want to apply for a work permit using Form I-765.
The next step in the process is an interview, which will take place at your local USCIS office. After the interview, your green card will be mailed to your home address.
The useful thing about adjustment of status is that you can go through the entire process of obtaining a green card from within the United States, provided that you’re already here on a legal basis, such as a valid fiancé visa.
Only a rather narrow category of immigrants qualify to use the adjustment of status process. If you’ve entered the United States legally, such as on a visa, and are now married to a United States citizen, such that you’ve become that citizen’s immediate relative, you should be eligible.
What is Consular Processing?
Consular processing is the method that most immigrants will have to use in order to obtain a green card. Here, the process starts when the immigrant’s U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative prepares and submits a visa petition for the benefit of the immigrant to the USCIS.
You, the immigrant, will then be called into the United States consulate in your home country, where you’ll be required to submit various documents, and then be interviewed by a consular official.
Once your visa petition has been approved, your file will be sent to the NVC. After the NVC has everything it needs, it will send your file to the United States embassy closest to you.
The next step is for you to attend an interview at the embassy on the date that you’ve been assigned. At the interview, a consular official will discuss the contents of your application with you and verify that you’re not inadmissible for any reason.
Additionally, if your visa is based on marriage, the official will want to hear about your marriage, in order to make sure that it’s authentic, and not fraudulent in any way.
Most immigrants, particularly those currently living outside the United States, will need to use consular processing.
As mentioned above, the number of immigrants eligible to adjust status is small, including, for example, those who are already validly in the country or are immediate relatives of citizens.
Which is Faster?
Depending on your situation, you’ll likely have two principal options.
First, you can get married in your home country and file Form I-130, the Petition for Alien Relative, in order to establish your relationship to a United States citizen.
Second, you can use Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé, in order to apply for a K-1 fiancé visa, and then get married and apply for permanent resident status in the United States upon your arrival.
In terms of the speed with which you can expect each process to proceed, the answer will depend on various circumstances and factors, some within, and some outside of your control.
Even though using Form I-129F for a fiancé visa involves the application for a nonimmigrant visa, that does not necessarily guarantee that that route will be the fastest at any given time.
The primary outside-your-control factor that will affect whether one option is faster than the other is how backed up the government agencies handling the visas are.
Before choosing an option, you’ll want to check the processing times that can be expected. This will all depend on the volume of other applicants that are using a particular method.
An example of a factor that is within your control, and will affect which option you’ll want to use, is wedding plans.
If you and your United States citizen sponsor aren’t yet married, but you have your heart set on marrying in the United States, then you’ll have no choice but to use Form I-129F and apply for a fiancé visa.
However, if it’s not important for you to get married in the U.S., there may be advantages to getting married in your home country instead, especially if time is important and you’re looking for the fastest option.
Say that the wait times for the Form I-130 option are substantially shorter than for the I-129F option.
In that case, in order to take advantage of this situation, you and your sponsor could get married in your home country, and then use Form I-130 to enter the United States.
Upon your arrival in the U.S. it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to have another reception or ceremony with friends and family in recognition of your marriage.
For many immigrant couples, speed is an important consideration, especially given the long wait times that are often involved with the immigration process.
Many immigrants will be able to choose between several options for how to get into the country. Which one you’ll want depends primarily on your particular needs and wants, as well as the current wait times that you’ll encounter.
Which one you’ll want depends primarily on your particular needs and wants, as well as the current wait times that you’ll encounter.