Getting a green card through marriage takes more than simply marrying another person. You must follow the rules specific to your individual situation. Are you married or engaged? Is your fiancé or spouse living in the United States or abroad? If already in the U.S., what is his or her status? These are a few of the questions that dictate the steps you must take to obtain a green card.

Due to backlogs, the time required to process your loved one’s fiancé or spouse visa could take up to a year from initial application to arrival. Mistakes, such as missing a vital document or making an inaccurate statement on the application, may cause further delays. The process is more streamlined for a spouse that is already in the United States.

Applying for a Fiancé Visa

You met the love of your life, but sadly, you are worlds apart — literally, because she or he lives abroad.  As a U.S. citizen, you can petition the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to allow your loved one to live and work in the United States.

To qualify for a K-1 fiancé visa, you must have met each other (in person) at least once in the two years preceding the petition filing, unless you can prove that meeting would have been an extreme hardship or violated your long-standing customs. In addition, you must both be currently single and your fiancé must otherwise be eligible to enter the United States.

Upon approval of your Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), USCIS transfers the case to the consulate or embassy where your loved one resides. A consulate officer interviews your fiancé and reviews the required documentation to determine visa approval.

Once your fiancé arrives in the United States, you have only 90 days to get married. There is no process for extension of the fiancé visa, so if you delay, your loved one must leave the country and you must start the process all over again.

Learn how to apply for the fiancé(e) visa in 6 easy steps here.

Applying for a Spouse Who Lives Abroad

The process for applying for your spouse is similar to that of a K-1 fiancé visa. In this case, you would file a Petition for Alien Relative. Initially, there were three primary options with respect to marriage visas: a CR1 visa (which is issued by the consulate in cases were the couple has been married less than two years at the time the visa was issued), an IR1 visa (which is issued if the couple has been married two years or more at the time of issuance), and the K-3 spousal visa. The appropriate consulate would then consider his or her eligibility for the relevant visa. Upon admittance into the United States, your spouse would apply for permanent residency.

It is important to note, however, that while it is true that in previous years, applying for a K-3 nonimmigrant visa was the preferred option, things have changed. Due to current USCIS timing issues, the K-3 visa option is generally less desirable as it may not be the most efficient.

Learn how to apply for the spouse visa in 6 easy steps here.

If Your Fiancé Lives in the United States

If your fiancé lives in the United States already, eligibility for permanent residency depends upon his or her current status. There is no fiancé visa that allows your loved one to remain in the United States after his or her status has expired. However, your loved one may adjust status to permanent resident after you are married as long as you both meet all other eligibility requirements.

For example, if your loved one was in the United States on a H1B, F1 student visa or a B visitor’s visa, you would ideally get married before the visa expires and file an adjustment of status and Petition for Alien Relative simultaneously.  In some cases, an alien that is out of status can still obtain a green card, but must jump through more hoops to do so. Your spouse can also submit applications to work and travel during pendency of adjustment of status.

Learn how to apply for a green card when both spouses live in the United States and one spouse is a U.S. citizen here.

Talk to an Immigration Lawyer

An immigration lawyer can advise you on which path is best under your unique circumstances. Explore our network of immigration lawyers to get the help you need.

For more information, check out these articles:

6 Steps to Applying for a Fiance Visa

6 Steps to Applying for a Spouse Visa

Obtaining a Green Card Through Marriage (Living in the U.S.)

*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

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