Affianced couples comprised of a U.S. citizen and non-citizen face many obstacles regarding permanent residence that, when not handled correctly, could yield legal consequences. It is illegal and inadvisable for a couple to apply for a temporary visitor’s visa when the intention is to marry and later apply for permanent residency. This is due to the nature of temporary visas, which are granted under the declaration that the noncitizen does not intend to remain in the U.S. permanently. Therefore, if an applicant stays beyond the visa term to convert into a green card (i.e., permanent residency), it is possible that he or she could face charges of visa fraud, be subject to immediate removal, and lose the opportunity to apply for permanent residency in the future. Instead of facing potential legal consequences, the couple should apply for a fiancé visa or permanent residence visa.
To obtain a fiancé visa, the U.S. citizen files a petition with the U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of the potential spouse. The petition must state that the couple met within the last two years and intend to marry. The fiancé will attend an interview with the relevant consulate and is then granted a temporary 90-day visa to get married. Once married, the immigrant spouse may apply for permanent residence.
Permanent Residence Visa
Under the second option, the couple gets married abroad and applies for permanent residence while abroad. The U.S. citizen files a petition with USCIS. Once the petition is granted, the spouse applies for permanent residency with the relevant consulate and attends an interview. Once completed, the spouse may travel to the U.S. with a permanent residency visa.
Finding the Right Fit
The primary difference between the two processes is the location in which the couple will marry. For couples who plan to get married abroad, and have the means to wait abroad while applications are reviewed and approved, a permanent residency visa may be ideal. For couples who desire to wed within the United States and can execute a wedding within 90 days, the fiancé visa could present itself as a better option. Therefore, the right choice for each couple depends on situational factors. An experienced spouse visa lawyer may be able to help guide those seeking spouse residence to the altar without risking legal consequences.