How Spouses and Fiances Can Legally Qualify for Visas and Green Cards
If a U.S. citizen or green card holder marries or gets engaged to a foreign national, they can sponsor the foreign national for a green card. This involves submitting a fiancé visa petition or an immigrant visa petition. You can file a fiancé visa petition only if you are a U.S. citizen. This form is known as Form I-129F, while the immigrant visa petition form is known as Form I-130. You should be aware that your fiancé or spouse must wait for the application to be approved before they can come to the U.S. This waiting period can last a long time, especially if you are a green card holder rather than a citizen. Waiting periods for foreign national spouses sponsored by green card holders can last for years in some cases.
Even if you are anxious to get your loved one to the U.S., you should be careful to avoid immigration fraud. The foreign national fiancé or spouse should not use a tourist visa to get married in the U.S. or to further their green card application. Immigration fraud has serious consequences, potentially including a denial of a visa for a foreign national who is otherwise eligible.
A foreign national can receive a fiancé visa if they intend to marry a U.S. citizen, they have met the citizen in person within the last two years (in most cases), and they have the legal capacity to enter into a marriage. You cannot get a fiancé visa for your loved one if they are already in the U.S. A signed statement of your intent to marry may satisfy the first prong of the test, although you also can submit documents such as your contract for the wedding ceremony and your correspondence with your loved one. Similarly, you can submit documentary evidence to prove that you met within the last two years, including travel documents, receipts, and photographs.
Fiancé visas allow fiancés of U.S. citizens to enter the U.S. for 90 days to get married. Once the marriage ceremony has taken place, they may apply for permanent residence with Form I-485.
Some couples do not meet in person before they marry due to cultural reasons. If this type of extenuating circumstance or an extreme hardship applies to your case, you may be able to get the meeting requirement waived. You cannot claim an extreme hardship if you cannot afford the costs of the trip to meet your fiancé.
A foreign national can receive a marriage visa if they were legally married in any country to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder, and they were not married to someone else at the same time. The marriage must be legitimate, rather than a fraudulent effort to get a green card. You can meet the requirement of showing a legal marriage by submitting your marriage certificate. Generally, the certificate must come from a government entity, which may cause complications for spouses who get married overseas. To prove that the marriage is legitimate, you can submit letters or emails between the spouses, photos of the wedding and other events involving the spouses, and the birth certificates of any children. You also can submit financial documents to show that you hold assets together.
Spouses and fiancés may be denied legal status if they are found inadmissible to the U.S. Grounds for inadmissibility include certain criminal convictions or immigration law violations.
USCIS will apply closer scrutiny to an application for a marriage visa when either spouse is under 16, or when either spouse is 16 or 17 and 10 or more years younger than the other spouse. Under a policy enacted in 2019, USCIS will require the U.S. citizen or green card holder to attend an interview with a USCIS officer before it decides whether to approve the initial I-130 petition. The interviewer will examine whether the marriage is valid and entered in good faith, attempting to ensure that the minor is not being exploited.