Planning a wedding is often a time-consuming process with a thousand details to consider. For couples in which one is not a permanent resident or a U.S. citizen, you have the additional tasks associated with planning your move and your immigration application. 

The decisions you make right now could affect how quickly and under what circumstances you are able to join your spouse. What are your visa choices and which one is right for you? The primary considerations are whether you are in the United States currently and the timing of joining your spouse.

Conditional Residence

Application for a conditional residence (CR) immigrant visa is the most commonly-used process for a U.S. citizen to bring his or her foreign national spouse to the United States. A conditional resident has the same rights and obligations as a permanent resident, except she/he holds conditional status. Except under specific circumstances, you have to remain married for two years before the conditions can be removed. If you fail to file for removal of conditions or you get divorced before the two-year period, your residency expires. If you are a newlywed who has been married for less than two years, this is the option you are most likely to take.

To apply, your U.S. citizen spouse must file a form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. If you are in the United States already, you should file form I-485 to adjust status simultaneously. If you are abroad, your application for admission will be processed through your consulate.

Immediate Relative

If you have been married longer than two years, you can skip the conditional status and enter the United States as a permanent resident. The process is otherwise the same as for conditional residence. You would just be considered an immediate relative (IR) instead of a conditional resident (CR).

K-3 Nonimmigrant Visa

In the past, couples often applied for a K-3 that allowed the foreign national spouse to enter the United States during pendency of the application for residency. This option has fallen out of favor because of costs and timing.


The processing time from filing the Petition for Alien Relative to the consulate’s decision is generally about 12 months. A complicated case might take longer. For many couples, this lengthy time apart is understandably upsetting. Unfortunately, you may have little option but to wait.

The K-3 used to be a quicker option. However, the processing times have slowed considerably. With the added costs, you are likely to pay more without receiving any added benefit.


The K-3 visa is restricted in regards to which consulate will process your application. If you were married in the United States, the consulate where you now live will accept your application. If you were married abroad, the consulate in the country where you married is your only option. This requirement can cause serious inconvenience and substantial additional costs if you were married far from where you currently live.

Visa laws are constantly changing. Talk to an immigration lawyer to avoid delays or rejection of your application.

Related articlesChoosing Between a Fiance Visa or Spouse Visa

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

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