Acquiring citizenship through marriage is a decision that has to be carefully made. With so many categories of visas available, you need to methodically review the eligibility requirements of each one to determine the best option. Two visas, the fiancé(e) visa and spouse visa, both have their individual characteristics.
Fiancé(e) Visa vs Spouse Visa
As a U.S. citizen, you can bring your fiancé(e) to the United States with the intention to marry and live here with a fiancé(e) K-1 visa. With the K-1 visa, the foreign fiancé(e) will be able to travel to the U.S. and marry their sponsor within the 90-day window. Afterward, the foreign citizen can apply for an adjustment of status to become a legal permanent resident (LPR) with USCIS. One advantage of the K-1 visa is that the process is relatively fast and typically speedier than a K-3 or CR-1 visa (for married individuals). The fiancé(e) visa process is about 6 months and becoming a permanent resident thereafter takes about 10.5 months.
Spouse visas on the other hand offer two possible options–IR-1 or CR-1 and K-3 visas. You can bring your spouse to the U.S. by way of a Petition for Alien Relative, I-130 or nonimmigrant visa (K-3). A “spouse” is defined as the legally wedded husband or wife, including same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens and LPRs. In some cases, common-law spouses may qualify for the same benefits. The CR-1 spousal visa is valid for 6 months and permits the holder to come to the U.S. and reside permanently. With this visa, no adjustment of status is necessary.
Spouse of Permanent Residents
In some cases, the spouse of a permanent resident will be on a waitlist until the visa or green card becomes available but this waiting period is shorter than other family immigration categories.
Comparison of Fiancé(e) Visa vs Spouse Visa
With both visas, you must demonstrate proof that you have a bona fide relationship. With a fiancé(e) visa, you must get married in the United States whereas a K-3 spouse visa is for those who were married outside the country. Individuals who are eligible for a K-3 nonimmigrant visa include:
- An individual in marriage to a U.S. citizen
- An individual with a Petition for Alien Relative filed by the citizen spouse
- An individual with an approved I-129F, forwarded to the American consulate abroad with the intention of applying for a K-3 or K-4 visa.
A sponsor for a K-4 petition would need a number of documents when filing the petition including:
- Signed Petition for Alien Relative
- Evidence of citizenship in the form of a birth certificate, U.S. passport, Certificate of Naturalization, etc.
- Completed G-325A forms for the sponsor and the fiancé(e)
- Any prior marriage nullification documents
- Passport style color photos of the sponsor and spouse
It’s important to keep in mind that the consular officer may request additional information or documentation so it’s best to consult a spouse visa attorney to learn more.
Which is Faster–Fiancé(e) Versus Spouse Visa
We often get posed which visa is faster, spouse visa or fiancé(e) visa? While the process is very similar, the benefit of a fiancé(e) visa is that they can join you in the country much faster than with a spouse visa. With that being said, however, the cost is significantly higher for a K-1 fiancé(e) visa.
K-1 Government Filing Fees
There are three major costs associated with a K-1 fiancé(e) visa. The Form I-129F has a filing fee of $535, plus $160 paid to the consulate. That totals $695 strictly to the government.
For the immigrant visa, there’s a filing fee of $535 for Form I-130, $325 to the consulate for the DS-260 application, and a financial support fee of $120. To adjust your status, it will cost $1,225 for the Form I-485 fee. Total government fees (not including attorney fees) therefore come out between $980 and $1,760 depending on if you go through consular processing or adjustment of status.
Income Requirement Differences–Marriage Visas
Regardless of whether you opt for a fiancé(e) or spouse visa, your income (petitioners) income level will be taken into consideration. If you first get married then petition for your spouse to enter the U.S., you need to demonstrate that your income isn’t below 125% of the poverty level. Afterward, when your spouse is applying for a green card through an adjustment of status, you’ll have to meet the higher 125% requirement.
Marriage-Based Green Cards
Getting a spouse visa is often a step along the road to a marriage-based green card. The only requirement for this green card is to have a legitimate marriage to a U.S. citizen and to be eligible for adjustment of status (meaning that you have not violated your status). Marrying a U.S. citizen is one of the best ways to get a green card due to the fact that you will be considered an “immediate relative” of the citizen, which holds benefits in that there is no annual limit for green cards for immediate relatives and you will not have to wait for a priority date to be current.
In fact, you can file the I-485 application to register permanent residence or adjust status at the same time that you file your I-130 for your nonimmigrant visa. It usually takes about six months for your I-485 to be processed, so filing them concurrently is the fastest method. During this time, you will likely receive a notice to come in for an interview. If you are outside the U.S. when you apply for your marriage-based green card, the interview will be mandatory.
Unless you are under the age of 14 or over the age of 78, you will need to appear for a specific appointment to have your biometrics taken. This involves having the USCIS collect your fingerprints, photos, and signature as well as perform background and security checks on you. Your appointment notice will be sent as a Form I-797C and will require you to go to an Application Support Center.
Marriage-Based Green Card Interview
Many people grow concerned about their interview, but the interviewing officer is only trying to ferret out fraudulent marriages. If your relationship is legitimate, then you only need to speak confidently, clearly, and truthfully. Some questions you might be asked include:
- What hobbies or interests you and your spouse have in common?
- When is your anniversary?
- How are chores divvied up around the house?
- When did your relationship turn romantic?
- How long was it before you decided to get married?
- Who proposed to whom?
- Did you decide to have a long or short engagement? Why was this decision made?
- When did you meet each other’s parents?
- Where was the wedding venue?
- Who were the bridesmaids and groomsmen at your wedding?
- Where did you go for your honeymoon?
- Have you ever been on vacation together? Where?
- Do you attend a church or religious service? Where?
- Do you plan on having children?
- Do you have any children from previous marriages?
Remember to be honest. If you do not know the answer to a question, it is better to say “I don’t know” than to lie. Being denied your green card is a temporary inconvenience. Being caught in a lie can result in far more serious consequences.
If you have children that you would like to accompany you through your status, you can take advantage of the follow-to-join benefits, which will allow them to come with you without having to file a new petition for each child. You can apply for follow-to-join benefits by providing a copy of your green card, your approval notice, your I-130, and the I-797 notice of action.
If your application to adjust your status is approved or the consular officer approves your case, you will be issued your green card. However, if your marriage was less than two years old when approved, you will be issued a conditional 2-year green card. In order to remove the conditions and enjoy all of the benefits of the typical ten-year green card, you must file an I-751 form within 90 days before the end of that initial 2-year period.
If you and your spouse divorce before that time, you may still be able to qualify to have your conditions removed by submitting a “good faith marriage waiver” to demonstrate that your marriage was not fraudulent and that the divorce was either necessary or out of your control.
If the immigration officer detects red flags during the standard interview, you may be summoned to a second follow-up interview called a Stokes interview. During this interview, you and your spouse will be separated into different rooms and interviewed. You will be asked the same questions and your answers will be compared.
For example, if you are asked when your first date was and your answers differ, you run the risk of failing the Stokes interview and having your visa denied. Knowing the questions that you may be asked ahead of time could help prepare you for the Stokes interview. These questions are often much more specific and difficult to coordinate.
Here is a short list of questions you might expect:
- When and where did you first meet each other?
- What types of food does your spouse enjoy most?
- What types of vehicles have you owned together?
- Who does most of the cleaning, cooking, and financial planning?
- Do you own any pets? What kinds? What are their names?
- How often do you eat at restaurants?
- What do you both typically eat for breakfast?
- What is your nightly routine before going to bed?
- What is your spouse’s cell phone provider?
- What types of movies, music, or other entertainment do you both enjoy?
Red flags in your normal interview that could trigger a Stokes interview include avoiding answering questions, hesitating or answering nervously, or answering inconsistently. As long as you answer truthfully and confidently and your case is legitimate, you should have little risk of getting a Stokes interview.
Tips for Your Interview
Here are some ways you can optimize your chances of having a successful interview with the immigration officer and avoid red flags, delays, and denials:
- Arrive at least half an hour before your appointment time. The earlier the better.
- Avoid casual or immodest clothes. Always try to dress professionally.
- Answer questions calmly and clearly. Nervousness or unease may raise red flags.
- Avoid reciting memorized facts. It will be clear if you and your spouse have rehearsed your answers. Just answer truthfully.
- Don’t forget the necessary documentation to validate your relationship.
Post Interview Process
If your interview goes well, then you will need to wait until the USCIS makes a decision on your I-130 petition. If it is approved, then you will receive notice of the action and your spouse’s passport will be sent back with the marriage-based green card inside. This will allow your spouse to enter the United States as an official permanent resident. If you enter your case number into this Case Status Database, you can check on how your immigrant case is going.
Fiancé(e) vs Spouse Visa Denial
Having a visa denied can be a difficult situation, but there are steps to take if this happens that may save your case. For both the fiancé(e) visa and spouse visa, denials work the same. For starters, there is a difference between denial and rejection.
Rejection happens if there was an issue with fee payment or if there was a problem with the petition (incomplete, inconsistent, or missing information). This is often an easy-to-fix situation that simply requires filing a new petition with the mistakes corrected.
Denial, on the other hand, means that the immigration officer reviewing your case decided that a fiancé(e) visa or spouse visa was not merited. This is likely the result of the interview. If your petition is denied, be sure to take the notice to your immigration attorney who will guide you on what steps to take next.
You may be able to file a motion to reconsider or reopen. In a motion to reconsider, you are appealing to the immigration officer to have them look at your case again. For this to be successful, you must be able to argue from a legal standpoint that the decision to deny your petition was incorrect. A motion to reopen is used if you have new evidence that could shed new light on your case and potentially change the outcome.
Lastly, you may also be able to appeal to a third party, the Administrative Appeals Office, if you believe that your case was incorrectly denied. However, the AAO does not often overturn the decisions of USCIS officers, so you will need to work with an attorney to make sure that appealing is a viable choice.
Your New Social Security Number
Once you become a lawful permanent resident in the U.S., you will need to acquire a social security number (SSN). You can request an SSN through your online immigrant visa application DS-260. If you did this, then you should receive your SSN card in the mail within 3 weeks of your arrival as a permanent resident.
If you did not request an SSN with your application, then you will need to visit a Social Security office and apply for a number there. You can only do this once you have a permanent address in the United States, however, and you will need to bring your passport or Form I-551 (Permanent Resident Card) as well as your birth certificate. This will also apply for each person that is applying for SSNs along with you.
How Our Fiancé(e) and Spouse Visa Attorneys Can Help
Our marriage green card lawyers can help identify the best course of action, whether it be through a K-1 fiancé(e) visa or spouse visa. We have successfully handled dozens of cases and have assisted our clients through every step of the process.
From completing the application forms correctly to accompanying you and your spouse to the final immigration interview, we’ve handled it all. The process of sponsoring a relative or soon-to-be spouse can be burdensome but will the help of a qualified attorney, we can help you stay on the right track.
To get in touch with one of our expert attorneys, you can fill out this contact form and schedule your consultation with our office today.