Tag Archives: marriage-based green card

Coming to America to Get Married and Get a Green Card: B-2 or K-1 Visa?

A foreign national who is living overseas and is in a relationship with a U.S. citizen has two main visa options to come to the U.S., get married, and apply for a green card: the B-2 visitor visa and the K-1 fiancé(e) visa. Each route has advantages and disadvantages.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE B-2 VISITOR VISA

The B-2 visitor visa is for temporary visits only. Entering the U.S. on a B-2 visa and then applying for a marriage-based green card carry benefits and risks.

Benefits of the B-2 to Green Card Route

1. B-2 visa applicant or visa holder does not need a sponsor

An invitation letter or Affidavit of Support from an American sponsor is not required for a B-2 visa. Unlike K-1  fiancé(e) visa applicants, B-2 visa applicants are not required to prove a bona fide relationship with a U.S. citizen significant other.

B-2 visa applicants must instead qualify on the basis of their own residence and ties abroad.  There is no medical exam to complete or immigration-related petition for a U.S. citizen relative to file. They just need to file the online nonimmigrant visa application and pay the application fee.

Legitimate purposes of the B-2 include tourism, vacation (holiday), and visits with friends or relatives. Getting married to a U.S. citizen (or permanent resident) during your visit is not prohibited – as long as you intend to leave the country before your authorized period expires.

2. General desire (and even preconceived intent) to immigrate  – in and of itself – does not prevent B-2 visa holder from adjusting status as the spouse of a U.S. citizen

The B-2 to green card route works best when the foreign national decides to get married to the U.S. citizen only after entering the country. The couple might be undecided about the future of their relationship until they spend more time together during the visit. If the U.S. citizen surprised the B-2 visitor with a marriage proposal after he or she entered the U.S., the visitor could show the original intent was truly a temporary visit.

A general desire to remain in the U.S ., when there is an opportunity to do so legally, is not a problem. Furthermore, a fixed intent to immigrate does not bar immediate relatives (e.g. spouses) of U.S. citizens from adjusting status — unless there are other adverse factors that allow USCIS to deny adjustment as a matter of discretion.

3. Concurrently filing the I-130 and I-485 application (one-step petition/application) is the most streamlined way to get a marriage-based green card

Under normal circumstances, a B-2 visitor who is physically present in the U.S., after lawfully entering the U.S., may file a Form I-485 adjustment of status application at the same time the U.S. citizen files the Form I-130 immigrant petition with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). The B-2 to green card route is commonly used by immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

The one-step filing of the I-485 and I-130 is a much more streamlined process than applying for a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, K-3 nonimmigrant visa, or immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate overseas, based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. You may also stay with your spouse in the U.S. while your green card application is pending, instead of being separated from each other.

Drawbacks of the B-2 to Green Card Route

1.  B-2 visa applicant or visa holder must show non-immigrant intent

To get the B-2 visa or to enter the U.S. as a visitor, the foreign national must have nonimmigrant intent. You need to prove you have strong ties to your home country that you will not abandon and you will leave the U.S. before your authorized stay expires.

The B-2 visa to green card route works best if you are not yet engaged to the U.S. citizen or did not make specific plans to immigrate to the U.S. after entering the U.S.

Entering the U.S. as a visitor simply to marry a U.S. citizen (or permanent resident) does not violate U.S. immigration law, as long as you leave before your authorized stay expires. While this purpose is legitimate, it still carries risks and may lead to your being denied a visitor visa or entry into the U.S. as a visitor.

If you are applying for a visitor visa, you will be asked on the nonimmigrant visa application, and possibly at the visa interview, whether you have any immediate relatives in the U.S. This includes a fiancé(e). If the consular officer learns you have a U.S. citizen fiancé(e) or believes you will marry the fiancé(e)  during your visit, you will likely be denied a visitor visa. This is because the consular officer might suspect you have no intent of leaving the U.S., but will overstay, get married, and apply for a green card to live permanently in the U.S. with your American spouse.

At the U.S. port of entry, the customs officer may deny your entry for the same reason, even if you present a valid visitor visa. If the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) finds that you cannot show nonimmigrant intent and therefore lack the proper travel documents, it has two choices. It will either (a) allow you to withdraw your application for admission (and likely revoke your visa) OR, (b) issue an expedited removal order, which bars you from returning to the U.S. for five years, unless you obtain a Form I-212 waiver. Either way, you will be instructed to return home on the next available flight.

In certain situations, the CBP might also find that you willfully misrepresented the purpose of your visit to gain entry into the U.S. as a visitor. It may then deny your entry and issue an expedited removal order on this additional ground. If you cannot convince CBP to refrain from issuing (or to vacate) a charge of willful misrepresentation, you face a lifetime bar to getting a green card or immigrant visa. You will then need to qualify for and obtain an I-601 [INA § 212(i)] waiver of inadmissibility.

I-601 waiver applicants must show  their qualifying relative (U.S. or permanent resident spouse or parent) will suffer “extreme hardship” if they are not admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant. This waiver is challenging to get.

2. Fraud or willful misrepresentation to gain immigration benefits prohibits B-2 visa holder from getting a green card

Lying about the purpose of your visit or about whether you have an American fiancé in the U.S. could be deemed to be fraud or willful misrepresentation to gain immigration benefits.

The U.S. Department of State adopted a 30/60 day rule when a foreign national violates his nonimmigrant status. When a B-2 visa holder marries a U.S. citizen or applies for permanent residence within 30 days of entry,  the DOS presumes that he misrepresented his intent in seeking a visitor visa or entry. If the marriage or green card application occurred between 30 and 60 days of entry, the DOS does not presume, but may content there was misrepresentation. If the marriage or green card application occurred after 60 days, the DOS does not consider such conduct to constitute fraud or willful misrepresentation to obtain immigration benefits.

USCIS is a separate agency from the DOS and the Board of Immigration Appeals has held that immediate relatives are exempt from the 30/60 day rule. Nonetheless, USCIS may use it as a guide.

If USCIS finds you committed fraud or willful misrepresentation to get the B-2 visa or to enter the U.S. as a visitor, this presents a permanent bar to getting a green card. You may also be placed in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court.

You may challenge the finding by showing you did not engage in immigration fraud or willfully misrepresented material facts when you applied for the visa or when you sought entry into the U.S. If you are unable to overcome the finding, you will need to apply for and receive an I-601 waiver of inadmissibility.

3. Concurrent filing of the I-130 and I-485 (one-step petition/application) involves strict eligibility requirements

The visitor visa is often misused as a way to enter the U.S., get married, and then apply for adjustment of status (green card) to avoid the longer process of applying for a K-1, K-3 or immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate.

USCIS officers will carefully scrutinize your marriage to confirm it’s bona fide, i.e. entered into with the intent of establishing a life together as spouses, and not to circumvent U.S. immigration laws. You need to present documentary evidence of your shared residence, commingling of financial resources and other factors showing you have a real marriage. You also have to testify consistently and credibly as to the nature of your relationship and courtship.

As the I-485 applicant, you must show you are not inadmissible due to criminal convictions, health-related reasons, immigration violations, or other factors. The USCIS officer may conduct a full review your records (including your visitor visa application) and ask you questions at the interview to verify you are admissible to the U.S. It may investigate your true intent when you applied for the visa or sought entry on the visa.

An immigrant visa must also be available to the I-485 applicant.  If your spouse is a permanent resident, he or she may file an I-130 petition for you, but you may not file for a green card right away due to the backlog in the F2A (spouse of permanent resident) category.

When you are not in the immediate relative (e.g. spouse of U.S. citizen) category, you must be in lawful nonimmigrant status when you file an I-485. You will need to extend or change status to remain lawfully in the U.S. during the wait. Or you might have to wait until your permanent resident spouse becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen. Because adjusting status as the spouse of a permanent resident carries many obstacles, you likely will have to timely depart the U.S. and apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate when one becomes available.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE K-1 FIANCE(E) VISA

The K-1 fiancé(e) visa is for the specific purpose of entering the U.S. to get married to a U.S. citizen and filing for adjustment of status. Entering the U.S. on a K-1 visa and then applying for a marriage-based green card carry benefits and risks.

Benefits of the K-1 to Green Card Route

1. K-1 visa applicant is not required to show nonimmigrant intent

When you apply for a K-1 visa, you are declaring immigrant intent. Getting married to a U.S. citizen and applying for permanent residence are expected. Unlike B-2 visa applicants, K-1 applicants are not required to present evidence of nonimmigrant intent or strong ties to their home country.

2. K-1 visa is the most appropriate visa for marrying a U.S. citizen in the U.S. and applying for a marriage-based green card

As a K-1 entrant, you bear no risk of being found to have committed visa fraud if you marry the U.S. citizen petitioner and apply for a green card, as you indicated you would.  Because you are required to marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days, the Department of State’s 30/60 day rule does not apply at all.

The K-1 to green card route is the most direct path to obtaining a marriage-based green card when you are engaged to a U.S. citizen.

3. Adjustment of status process for the K-1 entrant is generally simpler

A K-1 visa holder who completed the medical exam within the past year to get the visa is not required to do a medical exam for the I-485 application. You just need to submit the vaccination supplement, and not the entire medical report.

The U.S. citizen also does not have to file an I-130 immigrant petition after the marriage occurs. You simply file the I-485 application based on the approved Form I-129F petition, as long as the marriage occurred within 90 days of arrival in the U.S.

USCIS also has discretion to waive adjustment interviews for K-1 and K-2 entrants, i.e. fiancé(e) of U.S. citizen and children of fiancé(e). If the National Benefits Center (NBC) determines that the I-485 application qualifies for an interview waiver, and the Service Center agrees, the K-1 entrant may be granted a green card without an interview at the USCIS Field Office. This is never the case with the B-2 entrant, who must complete a marriage-based green card interview.

Drawbacks of the K-1 to Green Card Route

1. K-1 visa applicant must prove bona fide relationship with U.S. citizen

The K-1 visa option is available only if you are engaged to a U.S. citizen. It is not available if you are not committed to getting married (or you are already married), or if your fiancé(e) is just a permanent resident.

To get the K-1 visa, you must prove you have a real relationship with the U.S. citizen, communicate with each other often, and intend to marry within 90 days of your arrival in the U.S. Documentary evidence includes written correspondences, telephone records, and airline tickets and travel stamps showing the U.S. citizen has visited the K-1 visa applicant.

2. K-1 visa involves strict eligibility requirements

In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting on December 2, in which 14 people were killed after married couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik opened fire at a holiday party, Congress began to review the K-1 visa application process. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, opined that USCIS “sloppily approved” Farook’s K-1 visa petition for Malik.  Goodlatte noted that USCIS failed to verify whether the Pakistani national had met her U.S. citizen husband in person before applying for the K-1 visa.

The K-1 visa process requires the couple to meet in person at least once during the two years before the U.S. citizen files the Form I-129F petition for the fiancé(e). Waiver of the in-person meeting requirement is very hard to get.

For USCIS to approve the Form I-129F petition and for the U.S. Consulate to grant the visa, both the U.S. citizen petitioner and foreign national beneficiary must meet other strict eligibility requirements.

For example, a U.S. citizen who has filed two or more K-1 petitions at any time in the past or had any K-1 petition approved within the prior two years may not file a new K-1 petition unless USCIS grants a waiver of these limitations as a matter of discretion. No waiver will be given to a petitioner with a history of violent offenses except in limited circumstances.

3. K-1 to green card route involves a longer, three-step process

You cannot live with your U.S. citizen fiancé(e) in the U.S. until you get the K-1 visa to enter the U.S. The first step of filing the Form I-129F petition and getting it approved usually takes at least 4 to 6 months. The U.S. citizen has to submit a filing fee with the petition.

After USCIS approves the petition, the K-1 applicant must then submit the online nonimmigrant visa application, pay a visa application fee, complete a medical exam, and attend the visa interview.

The U.S. Consulate usually takes several months to schedule a K-1 visa interview. At the visa interview, the U.S. Consulate may require additional documents to confirm the applicant is still in a bona fide relationship with the U.S. citizen. Administrative processing and background checks by the U.S. Consulate can add several more months to the process.

After you enter the U.S. on a K-1 visa, you must marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days of your arrival. Then you must file your I-485 application and pay the filing fee to complete the green card process. If you fail to marry within 90 days, the U.S. citizen spouse will need to file a Form I-130 petition, following marriage outside the 90 days, so you may file a Form I-485 application. If you do not marry at all, you become removable from the U.S. and you cannot adjust through marriage to another U.S. citizen or through any other means.

Although USCIS may waive the adjustment of status interviews for K-1 entrants, it usually does not. Following the San Bernardino shooting, USCIS is expected to waive even fewer interviews. At the interview before USCIS, the couple must prove they have a bona fide marriage and the I-485 applicant must show he or she is admissible to the U.S.

Want to hear about this topic? Check out this video:

WHICH IS BETTER: B-2 or K-1? 

Whether to use the B-2 or K-1 to join your significant other in the U.S. depends on your situation. You need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each route when deciding which to take.

Consult an experienced immigration attorney to help you determine whether the B-2 or K-1 is more appropriate for you. Although both can lead to a marriage-based green card, each carries benefits and drawbacks.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Photo by: Dennis Skley

Applying for a Marriage-Based Green Card Following Entry Into the U.S. as a Visitor

Foreign nationals who enter the U.S. on a B-1/B-2 visitor visa or on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) may file for their green card within the U.S., instead of apply for their immigrant visa aboard, based on a bona fide marriage to a U.S. citizen. Overstaying their non-immigrant status in the U.S., in and of itself, does not prevent immediate relatives from adjusting to permanent resident status. Immediate relatives include the U.S. citizen’s spouse, children under age 21, and parents (if the U.S. citizen is 21 or older).

The visitor visa and VWP program allow foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for tourism or business for a temporary period. Using the visitor visa or VWP to enter the U.S. with the specific intent of immigrating to the U.S. carries risks and consequences. Although preconceived intent to immigrate is fine, problems arise when there is misrepresentation about the purpose of the trip.

What are the risks and consequences of the visitor-to-green card holder option? 

1. Foreign national may be charged with fraud or willful misrepresentation to obtain immigration benefits

Immigration authorities expect fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens to apply for a K-1 visa and spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for a K-3 nonimmigrant visa or immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate abroad, rather than enter the U.S. as a visitor and then apply for a marriage-based green card.

The U.S. Department of State adopted a 30/60 day rule when a foreign national violates his nonimmigrant status. When a foreign national marries a U.S. citizen or applies for permanent residence within 30 days of entry,  the DOS presumes that he misrepresented his intent in seeking a visitor visa or entry. If the marriage or green card application occurred after 30 days but within 60 days of entry, the DOS does not presume there was misrepresentation. But if the facts provide a reasonable basis to believe the foreign national misrepresented his intent, the DOS allows him to present rebuttal evidence. If the marriage or green card application occurred after 60 days, the DOS does not consider such conduct to constitute fraud or willful misrepresentation to obtain immigration benefits.

USCIS is a separate agency from the DOS and the Board of Immigration Appeals has held that immediate relatives are exempt from the 30/60 day rule. In other words, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who wish to apply for adjustment of status may do so at any time, even within 30 days of entry into the U.S.

Nevertheless, USCIS is often persuaded by and frequently follows the DOS policy. During the adjustment of status process, USCIS may find that the applicant misused the visitor visa or VWP by claiming to be a mere visitor at the U.S. port of entry, when in fact he intended to remain in the U.S. and file for a marriage-based green card.

USCIS might be especially suspicious if you get married or apply for a green card within 30 to 60 days of entering the U.S. They might overlook this conduct or you might be able to convince the USCIS officer that you decided to marry or apply for a green card only after you arrived in the U.S.

If USCIS is not convinced by  your explanation, it will deny your marriage-based green card application on the basis of immigration fraud or misrepresentation, unless you qualify for and receive an I-601 waiver of inadmissibility.  (To obtain an I-601 waiver, applicants must show a qualifying relative  – i.e. U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent – would suffer extreme hardships if  they are not granted the green card and allowed to stay in the U.S.)

At the U.S. port of entry, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer may also question the visitor visa holder or VWP entrant about the purpose of his visit.  If you truthfully inform the customs officer that you are coming to the U.S. to get married or visit your U.S. citizen fiancé(e), he could find that you have no intent to leave the U.S. before your authorized stay expires.  The officer may then issue an expedited removal order or request that you withdraw your application for admission into the U.S. In some cases, your visitor visa may be cancelled or revoked and you may be barred from using the VWP.

It can be tempting to just tell the U.S. Consulate or customs officer that you are only coming to the U.S. for a temporary visit, when in fact you intend to engage in other conduct that reflects immigrant intent. While preconceived intent to immigrate to the U.S. does not bar immediate relatives from adjusting to permanent resident status, fraud or willful misrepresentation to obtain immigration benefits does.

2. Foreign national is subject to removal from the U.S.

Although overstaying the B-1/B-2 or VWP authorized period does not bar adjustment of status, it does make the foreign national removable from the U.S. The maximum period of stay in B-1/B-2 status is typically 6 months.  The maximum period of stay on the VWP is 90 days.

When the foreign national remains in the U.S. following expiration of the B-1/B-2 authorized period, he is subject to being placed in removal proceedings due to the overstay. Because VWP entrants waive their right to contest any action for removal, except when applying for asylum, they may be ordered removed without being referred to an Immigration Judge.

The filing of an I-485 application tolls unlawful presence, but does not provide any lawful status. If the adjustment application is denied and the person is not maintaining any nonimmigrant status, he is not only subject to removal, but also begins to accrue unlawful presence.

Departure from the U.S. after accruing more than 180 days to less than 1 year of unlawful presence in the U.S. triggers a 3-year bar from the U.S. The bar is 10 years if the unlawful presence lasted for 1 year or more. To obtain an immigrant visa prior to when the  3/10 year bar expires, the foreign national must first receive an I-601 waiver of inadmissibility. A foreign national who was ordered removed from the U.S. would also need to obtain advance permission to re-enter the U.S. by filing a Form I-212 application (unless the 5, 10 or 20-year bar, resulting from the removal order, has passed).

Visa fraud (misusing the visitor visa or VWP to gain entry into the U.S.) is also grounds for removal from the U.S. Instead of being granted a green card, the foreign national who entered on a visitor visa may end up in removal proceedings, and the VWP entrant may be issued an expedited removal order, if they are found to have committed visa fraud.

When does the visitor-to-green card holder option work best?

1. Foreign national met the U.S. citizen spouse or began committed relationship after he entered the U.S.

In many cases, foreign nationals meet their U.S. citizen spouses-to-be or enter into a committed relationship or get engaged only after they arrive in the U.S. on a visitor’s visa or on the VWP, either during the authorized stay or after the authorized stay expired.

A bona fide marriage between the U.S. citizen and foreign national allows the couple to file a one-step application with USCIS (i.e. US citizen files I-130 immigrant petition and foreign national files I-485 application for adjustment of status, concurrently.)  Upon entry, the foreign national might have a general desire to remain in the U.S., but no specific plans to immigrate because he had yet to meet or become engaged to the U.S. citizen spouse.

The longer the time period between the visitor visa or VWP entry and the filing of the green card application, the easier it is for the foreign national to prove he did not commit fraud or willful misrepresentation to gain entry into the U.S.

2. Foreign national is undecided about immigrating to the U.S. even though he is engaged to a U.S. citizen or shares a long-distance relationship with a U.S. citizen

Entering the U.S. on a visitor visa or on the VWP to spend time with a U.S. citizen fiancé(e), to maintain a long-distance relationship with the U.S. citizen, or to get married to the U.S. citizen, is appropriate  – as long as the intent is to return to your home country before the authorized stay ends.

Not all foreign nationals want to immigrate to the United States. Some are from developed countries or run successful businesses or hold lucrative professions in their home countries that they do not want to relinquish.

Fraud or willful misrepresentation occurs when you intend to remain in the U.S. permanently, but you tell the consular officer or customs officer that you are coming to the U.S. for a temporary visit. In general, silence or failure to volunteer negative information that is not specifically requested does not amount to fraud or willful misrepresentation.

Due to the 30/60 day rule, it is best to wait to file the marriage-based green card application at least 61 days after entry on a visitor visa or on the VWP.  If the application is made after 60 days, USCIS normally assumes the foreign national acted in good faith and was undecided about immigrating to the U.S.

Keep in mind, however, that USCIS considers other evidence when determining your true intentions upon entry into the U.S. For example, to prove the bona fide nature of your marriage, you may submit letters, emails and other correspondences proving your premarital courtship. If any of these correspondences show you planned to marry and remain permanently in the U.S. following entry as a visitor, USCIS could find that you misused the visitor visa or VWP and thus deny your green card application.

Consult an Immigration Attorney to Help You Determine Your Best Immigration Option

Although filing for a marriage-based green card following entry to the U.S. as a visitor is quite common, there are risks and consequences involved in this process.

Applying for a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, K-3 nonimmigrant visa, or immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate abroad  instead of entering the U.S. on a visitor visa – when the intent is to immigrate to the U.S. – is normally more appropriate.

If you are already in the U.S. and have concerns about proving your good faith non-immigrant intent upon entry into the U.S., you could leave the U.S. before your authorized stay expires and apply for the appropriate visa abroad.  But you will be subject to the DOS’ 30/60 day rule when you apply for the visa. And if you leave the U.S. after your authorized stay expires, and you accumulated at least 180 days of unlawful presence prior to your departure, you will trigger the 3/10 year bar. In that event, you will need to obtain an I-601 waiver of inadmissibility to obtain the immigrant visa before the 3/10 year bar expires.

Consult an experienced immigration attorney to help you determine your best visa option and immigration route based on marriage to a U.S. citizen.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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 Photo by: Theophilos Papadopoulos

From K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa to Green Card

engaged 5-1-2015When a foreign national is engaged to marry a U.S. citizen, he or she may travel to the U.S. on a K-1 fiancé(e) visa to get married and eventually become a permanent resident (green card holder).

The K-1 visa is not just for modern-day “mail-order brides” who met their American fiancé(e) through international matchmaking services or international marriage brokers.

The K-1 is also for couples who met each other through mutual friends and family members, chance encounters, or online dating sites (such as match.com) that do not charge fees for international matchmaking services. K-1 cases can involve couples who were born in the same countries, attended the same college, or grew up in the same neighborhood. The K-1 visa is available to both opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples.

The immigration process starts with the filing of the K-1 visa petition, continues with the K-1 visa application, and ends with the filing of the Form I-485 application for adjustment to lawful permanent residence after the couple marries.

The general process is as follows: 

STEP #1 – FILING THE K-1 VISA PETITION

U.S. Citizen Files the Form I-129F Petition

To start the process, the U.S. citizen must file a Form I-129F petition, including filing fee, Form G-325 biographic information for both parties, and supporting documents, with the USCIS office that processes these cases at the time of filing.

If the fiancé(e) has accompanying children younger than 21, the U.S. citizen must include their names on the Form I-129F to allow them to apply for a derivative K-2 visa.

Basic Requirements

The U.S. citizen must present evidence showing the eligibility requirements are met, such as a birth certificate showing U.S. citizenship, a written statement of intent to marry within 90 days of the fiancé(e)’s arrival in the U.S., and photographs of the couple together and airline tickets showing they met during the two years prior to filing the petition.

(USCIS can waive the two-year meeting requirement if it receives evidence showing this would result in extreme hardship to the U.S. citizen or would violate traditional marriage customs of either party. But this waiver is very difficult to get.)

Additional Requirements

The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) imposes additional requirements and limitations. The Form I-129F instructions provide detailed information about IMBRA.

An international marriage broker (IMB) is a business that charges fees for dating, matrimonial or matchmaking services or social referrals for U.S. citizens (or permanent residents) and their foreign national clients. An example is Foreign Affair, the largest online international matchmaking service that features thousands of purportedly single women on its website, LoveMe.com.

Petitioners who met their fiancé(e) through an IMB must state this on the Form I-129F. They must also provide a signed, written consent form that the IMB obtained from the foreign national authorizing the release of personal contact information to them.

A U.S. citizen who previously filed K-1 petitions for two or more beneficiaries (at any time) or who received K-1 approvals within the two years prior to filing the current K-1 must apply for a waiver. The petitioner may submit with the Form I-129F an affidavit explaining the reasons for requesting the waiver.

The Adam Walsh Act Child Protection and Safety Act also prevents a U.S. citizen who has been convicted of a “specified offense against a minor” from filing a Form I-129F petition, unless he proves he would pose no threat to the foreign citizen fiancé(e) or accompanying children.

If applicable, USCIS must provide to the U.S. Consulate the petitioner’s criminal records and information related to certain crimes, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, dating violence, elder abuse and stalking.

USCIS conducts a background check for national security, criminal records, and other information on both the petitioner and beneficiary, which can lead to significant delays in the Form I-129F processing.

USCIS Processes Petition and, If Approved, Forwards it to NVC

Upon receiving the Form I-129 petition, filing fee, and supporting documents, USCIS will issue a receipt notice to the petitioner.

During the processing, USCIS may issue a request for additional evidence and will normally give the petitioner 87 days to respond. If the petitioner does not respond, USCIS may issue a decision (likely a denial) based on the evidence in the record.

If USCIS denies the petition, the decision can be appealed to the Administrative Appeals within 33 days or the U.S. citizen may file a new petition with additional evidence.

If USCIS approves the petition, it then forwards it with an approval notification to the National Visa Center (NVC). An approved K-1 visa petition is valid for four months from the date USCIS issues the decision. (The U.S. Consulate may revalidate the petition in four-month increments as long as it is convinced the parties are still legally free to marry and intend to marry within 90 days of the foreign national’s arrival in the United States.)

NVC Processes the Case and Forwards it to the U.S. Consulate

After processing the case, the NVC will forward it to the U.S. Consulate that has jurisdiction over where the fiancé(e) lives. The NVC will send a letter to the petitioner, indicating the case number and stating that it forwarded the petition to the U.S. Consulate.

STEP #2 – FILING THE K-1 VISA APPLICATION

After receiving the approved petition, the U.S. Consulate will send instructions to the foreign national to apply for a K-1 visa.

Foreign National Applies for K-1 Visa

The applicant must bring the following forms and documents to the visa interview:

Completed Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. The foreign national applying for the K-1 and any eligible children applying for K-2 visas must: (1) complete Form DS-160 online and (2) print the DS-160 confirmation page to bring to the interview.

An unexpired passport that is valid at least six months beyond the intended period of stay in the U.S. (unless there are country-specific exemptions).

Divorce or death certificate(s) of any previous spouse(s) for both the U.S. citizen petitioner and visa applicant.

Police certificates from  present country of residence and all countries where the applicant has lived for six months or more since age 16. (Police certificates are also required for accompanying children age 16 or older.)

Medical examination, preferably including vaccination. Prior to the interview, applicants must schedule and complete a medical examination by an authorized panel physician. The U.S. Consulate will provide instructions.

Vaccinations are not required for K visas, but will be required when adjusting to permanent resident status following marriage to the U.S. citizen petitioner. Therefore, applicants are encouraged to complete the vaccinations at the time of the medical examination.

Proof of financial support. During the visa interview, applicants must prove they have sufficient financial support and will not become a public charge in the United States (i.e receive government benefits or welfare).

The U.S. Consulate may request a Form I-134, Affidavit of Support, plus proof that the U.S. citizen petitioner’s income is 100% of the federal poverty guideline.

Consular officers are also aware the U.S. citizen must submit a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, when the foreign national applies for a green card following the marriage. So they may require the applicant to show the U.S. citizen petitioner’s income is 125% of the federal poverty guideline (unless the petitioner is on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.)

Additional items include two passport photographs of the applicant, evidence that the relationship with the U.S. citizen petitioner is genuine, and payment of the non-refundable visa application fee.

Foreign National Attends Visa Interview

At the visa interview, the applicant will be asked questions about the relationship, including how the couple met,  how often they communicate with each other, and when they plan to marry.

The U.S. Consulate may also require the applicant to present additional documents showing the couple continues to share a bona fide relationship, especially if several months have passed since USCIS approved the Form I-129F petition.

U.S. Consulate Issues Decision

Discrepancies between the information in the K-1 petition and the applicant’s circumstances might cause the consular officer to question whether the relationship is bona fide or might cause the U.S. citizen petitioner to choose not to proceed with the marriage. These include the visa applicant having one or more children not named in the petition, a prior undisclosed marriage (even if it has been annulled or ended by divorce or death), or a current pregnancy.

When there are discrepancies, consular officers may use their discretion in deciding whether to return the K-1 petition to USCIS. They should, however, first contact the U.S. citizen to verify whether he or she was aware of the particular circumstance(s) and whether he or she still intends to proceed with the marriage. If they receive a satisfactory answer from the U.S. citizen, consular officers do not have to return the petition to USCIS.

Consular officers will return the K-1 petition to USCIS for reconsideration if they doubt the relationship is genuine or if the U.S. citizen indicates that he or she no longer intends to go forward with the marriage.

The Consulate also conducts background checks on the K-1 visa applicant, including fingerprints and other checks similar to those conducted by USCIS, as well as checks of its systems and other interagency databases.

The Consulate will not issue the K-1 visa to a foreign national who is inadmissible to the U.S., unless he or she qualifies for a waiver.

Inadmissibility grounds include having a communicable disease, a dangerous physical/mental disorder, a drug addiction, or a criminal record (including crime involving moral turpitude, drug trafficking, or prostitution). They also include previous violations of U.S. immigration laws and failure to show he or she will not become a public charge.

If the Consulate approves the case, the foreign national and accompanying children will receive a K-1 visa and K-2 visas, respectively. The visa is valid for six months and is good for one entry into the U.S. The consular officer will give the visa holder a sealed envelope containing a copy of the petition and other paperwork to present at a U.S. port of entry.

STEP #3 – FILING THE APPLICATION FOR ADJUSTMENT TO LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENT STATUS

Marriage Within 90 Days

The couple must marry within 90 days after the K-1 visa holder enters the U.S. The K-1 status cannot be extended. If the marriage does not occur within 90 days, the foreign national becomes removable from the United States.  If the foreign national leaves the U.S. before marriage, he or she will have to apply for a new K-1 visa.

Foreign National Submits Form I-485 Application to USCIS After Marriage

Once married, the foreign national becomes an immediate relative (i.e. spouse of a U.S. citizen). He or she may then submit the Form I-485 application for permanent residence, with filing fee and supporting documents, to USCIS.  The foreign national may also file for advance parole to travel outside the U.S. and re-enter the U.S. before the green card is issued. He or she may also apply for a work permit to lawfully work in the U.S. while the green card application is pending.

After receiving the Form I-485 application, USCIS will issue a receipt notice and then a biometrics appointment notice instructing the foreign national to get his photograph and fingerprints taken at a USCIS Application Support Center. In some cases, USCIS may issue a Request for Evidence to continue processing the application.

Form I-485 Interview with USCIS

It normally takes at least 3 to 6 months for USCIS to schedule a Form I-485 interview. But in some cases, a year or more could pass before the interview occurs.

The green card applicant will receive the interview notice, with instructions on the documents to bring.  He or she will also be instructed to bring the U.S. citizen spouse so the USCIS officer may interview them both.

The officer will ask questions to determine whether the applicant’s marriage to the U.S. citizen is bona fide (i.e. entered into with the intent of establishing a life together as spouses, and not solely or primarily for immigration benefits). The officer will also go through the questions on the Form I-485 to verify whether the applicant is admissible to the United States.

USCIS may waive I-485 interviews for K-1 visa entrants. But the documentation must be strong enough to get an approval without an interview.

USCIS Issues Decision

USCIS will approve the Form I-485 application and issue the green card if it determines the applicant’s marriage to the U.S. citizen is bona fide and the applicant is admissible to the United States (or qualifies for a waiver of inadmissibility).

If the marriage is less than two years old at the time USCIS approves the Form I-485, foreign nationals will be granted “conditional” permanent residence. This means they will have to file a Form I-751 petition to remove the conditions on the permanent residence before the green card expires, but no earlier than 90 days before the expiration. If the couple divorces, the green card holder may file for a waiver of the joint filing requirement to get the conditions removed.

If USCIS denies the Form I-485 application, it may issue a Notice to Appear in removal proceedings. The applicant may renew the Form I-485 before an immigration judge in removal proceedings. Otherwise, the applicant may re-file the Form I-485 with USCIS or ask USCIS to reopen and/or reconsider its decision. There is no appeal process.

* * *

The K-1 was created to allow the foreign national fiancé(e) to enter the U.S. more quickly and be spared a long separation from the intended U.S. citizen spouse. But the process still requires a lot of documentation and can involve complications and setbacks. Furthermore, the K-1 holder is subject to removal from the United States if the I-485 process is not completed successfully or is not initiated at all.

An experienced immigration attorney can help you with filing the K-1 visa petition, applying for the K-1 visa application, and filing for permanent residence. Although information is readily available online, a skilled attorney knows how to deal with unique situations, prevent unnecessary delays, and maximize the chances of approval in the K-1 to green card process.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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5 Things to Do to Get Your Marriage-Based Green Card

In this video series, immigration attorney Dyan Williams describes the one-step petition (I-130 & I-485) and the five things to do to get your marriage-based green card:

1. Enter into a bona fide marriage
2. Establish a life together and collect evidence of this
3. Provide sufficient evidence of bona fide marriage
4. Take the interview seriously and prepare for it
5. Get help from an experienced immigration attorney

Read about 5 Things to Get Your Marriage-Based Green Card here.

Contact Dyan if you need help filing an immigrant petition for a foreign national spouse, responding to a Notice of Intent to Deny I-130 petition, or appealing a denial of an I-130 petition based on failure to prove a bona fide marriage.

This video series provides general information and is for educational purposes only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Immigration laws, regulations and policies are subject to change. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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5 Things to Do To Get Your Marriage-Based Green Card

Marrying a U.S. citizen is one of the quickest — but not necessarily the easiest — way to get a green card. USCIS will deny a marriage-based green card case if it does not receive sufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage and/or if it determines that the marriage is a sham.

A U.S. citizen’s filing of an I-130 petition with USCIS is the first step to helping the foreign national spouse become a permanent resident. A spouse who was lawfully admitted to the United States or who qualifies for 245(i), and is still in the U.S., may concurrently file an I-485 application to become a lawful permanent resident (green-card holder). One advantage is that the spouse does not have to depart the U.S. to apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate.

Submitting the I-130 and I-485 together is known as the one-step petition/application. Normally, USCIS processes and adjudicates both at the same time. The foreign national cannot receive a marriage-based green card unless USCIS approves the I-130 petition.

Here are five things to do to get your marriage-based green card:

1. Enter into a bona fide marriage

USCIS will approve the I-130 petition only if it finds that the parties entered into marriage in good faith, i.e. intended to establish a life together at the time they married.  Normally, it must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the marriage is bona fide. Basically, this means the petitioner must show that it is “more likely than not” the marriage is real. [NOTE: When the marriage occurs while the foreign national is in removal proceedings, the standard of proof is higher: It must be shown by “clear and convincing evidence” that the marriage is real.]

Typically, USCIS expects a bona fide married couple to speak each other’s languages, live together, share common interests, co-mingle their finances, own joint property, and celebrate important events like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.

A good faith marriage is one that is entered into for reasons other than for circumventing U.S. immigration laws. It could be arranged or freely chosen by the parties. It may be based on mutual love and affection, shared religious beliefs, a need for lifetime companionship, or a desire to raise children together.

A bona fide marriage is the opposite of a sham marriage, which is when the parties marry solely or primarily to obtain immigration benefits for the foreign national. USCIS’ Adjudicator’s Field Manual lists 10 factors indicating a marriage might be a sham:

  • Large disparity of age
  • Inability of petitioner and beneficiary to speak each other’s language
  • Vast difference in cultural and ethnic background
  • Family and/or friends unaware of the marriage
  • Marriage arranged by a third party
  • Marriage contracted immediately following the beneficiary’s apprehension or receipt of notification to depart the United States
  • Discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge
  • No cohabitation since marriage
  • Beneficiary is a friend of the family
  • Petitioner has filed previous petitions on behalf of foreign nationals, especially prior foreign national spouses

If any of these 10 factors apply to your marriage, you can expect more scrutiny from USCIS.

2. Establish a life together and collect proof of this

Before the one-step petition is filed, the couple should take steps to establish a married life together and collect documents to prove they are committed to one another. Examples include:

  • Living together (joint residential lease or mortgage statement showing both names, driver’s licenses showing same address)
  • Buying major assets together (motor vehicle title, invoice for furniture)
  • Adding the spouse as a beneficiary to employer-sponsored benefit (life insurance policy, health insurance plan, retirement account)
  • Co-mingling assets and liabilities (joint bank account statements, joint credit card statements, joint tax returns)
  • Sharing household expenses (utility bills in both names)
  • Going on vacations together (travel itineraries, photographs)
  • Participating in shared activities (gym or club memberships)
  • Spending time with mutual friends (affidavits from third parties attesting to the bona fides of the marriage)

The Service will consider the parties’ conduct before and after the marriage to determine their true intent at the time of marriage.

Circumstances might require the couple to live apart temporarily, especially for work-related reasons. If the couple is not living together at the time they file for immigration benefits or at the time of their interview, they need to have a good explanation and gather reliable documentation showing they have a real marriage. Examples include:

  • Letters, emails and greeting cards you have exchanged with each other
  • Airline tickets, hotel bills and other receipts showing trips you made to see each other
  • Telephone records showing calls you made to each other
  • Photographs of the two of you together and with family and friends (or even with pets), taken over a considerable period at different events
  • Correspondences (e.g. bills, letters, cards) addressed to both of you at the same address
  • Receipts for gifts you bought each other
  • Birth certificates of (biological, adopted) children you have together, or evidence that you are trying to have children

3. Provide sufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage 

The Instructions for Form I-130 list the types of documents that may show the bona fides of a marriage. They include documentation showing joint ownership of property (e.g. mortgage, car title); documentation showing co-mingling of financial resources (e.g. joint bank account); birth certificates of children you have together; and affidavits from third parties confirming the bona fides of your marriage.

Your marriage certificate and proof of termination of any prior marriages (e.g. divorce decree or death certificate of previous spouse) only show that your marriage is valid. These documents are required, but are not sufficient to show the marriage is bona fide.

Filing a one-step petition is not just about completing the forms and submitting the filing fees. You also need to carefully document the bona fides of your marriage and give USCIS a sense of who you are as a couple.  The more documents you present to show your marriage is real, the easier it will be for the officer to approve your case.

Some types of documents are also more persuasive than others.  For example, birth certificates of your children, mortgage statements for your shared home, and life insurance policies showing one of you as the other’s beneficiary are much more persuasive than photographs of the two of you together, your joint residential lease , and your joint utility bills. They are harder to fake and are practically non-existent in sham marriages.

No matter the circumstances, you must avoid submitting any fabricated, false, forged or altered documents to USCIS. This could lead USCIS to find that you committed fraud or willful misrepresentation of material facts to obtain immigration benefits. This would require you to obtain a waiver of inadmissibility to obtain the green card (even if you managed to get the I-130 approved).

4. Take the interview seriously and prepare well for it

In marriage-based green card cases,  the USCIS field office in your jurisdiction normally interviews you to verify whether your marriage is bona fide.

The officer will place you both under oath at the start of the interview. In addition to getting specific information, the officer will be observing your demeanor and your interactions with each other to determine whether you have a real marriage.

Tell the truth at the interview, even if the answers are less than ideal. Giving false testimony or misrepresenting facts at the interview is grounds for a denial. Discrepancies between your and your spouse’s testimonies and inconsistencies within your testimonies also hurt your credibility. They will cause the officer to doubt the bona fides of your marriage.

At the interview, listen carefully to the USCIS officer’s questions and respond truthfully to the questions you’re being asked. Giving too many details about your courtship and embellishing stories about your shared life can make you less believable.

There’s no need to volunteer information that was not required on the application forms and is not being asked for at the interview. While you should not give misleading information to cut off a line of inquiry from the officer, you also don’t want to open up a line of questions that could unnecessarily bring out negative information.

If you don’t understand a question, ask the officer to repeat it or rephrase it. If you don’t recall information or you’re not 100% sure of your answer, let the officer know.  If you feel you’re being asked inappropriate questions, stay calm and avoid arguing with the officer. (You may ask to speak with a supervisor.)

If your first language isn’t English or if you’re not fluent in English, be sure to bring a qualified interpreter. Otherwise, you could misunderstand the officer’s questions or the officer could misunderstand your answers.

USCIS often interviews you together, but may interview each of you separately. When separate interviews are conducted, the officer will ask you each the same questions and compare your answers. If both of you tell the truth, it’s more likely that your answers will be the same or similar. Consistent testimonies help to persuade the officer that you have nothing to hide and that your marriage is bona fide.

Even bona fide married couples do not always observe, perceive or recall things the same way. For example, would you give the same answers if you were separately asked the following questions:

  • Where did you first meet?
  • How did you meet?
  • Where did you go on your first date? When was your first date?
  • How many people attended your wedding?
  • What did you to to celebrate your marriage?
  • Why did you get married?
  • Who proposed? Where were you when marriage was proposed?
  • What are your spouse’s work hours?
  • What is the color of the wall in your bedroom?
  • Which side of the bed do you sleep on?
  • Where did you go on your last vacation together?
  • Who woke up first this morning?

These are just a few of the many potential questions the officer may ask you. It helps for you and your spouse to prepare for the interview and make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to your relationship history and shared life together.

Your testimony at the interview can be the deciding factor in whether your case gets approved. Following the interview, the adjudications officer can approve the one-step petition, issue a Request for Evidence, have a site visit conducted at your claimed residence, conduct further investigation, or issue a Notice of Intent to Deny the petition.

5.  Get help from an experienced immigration attorney

You’re better off consulting an attorney from the outset, before you file your one-step petition. Full representation is best, but if you cannot afford this, you want to get limited representation or consult an attorney at least once.

An experienced attorney can determine whether you qualify for a marriage-based green card, review your application forms for accuracy and completeness, advise you on the types of documents to submit to prove the bona fides of your marriage, prepare you for what to expect at the interview, and represent you at the interview. An attorney can also discuss red flags in your case and counsel you on how to address them.

At the interview, a USCIS officer who suspects the marriage is fraudulent may give the U.S. citizen an opportunity to withdraw the petition and write a statement to that effect. Having your attorney at the interview will help protect your rights and make the process more comfortable.

A diligent attorney will take notes, ask clarifying questions, and object to inappropriate lines of questioning. The attorney will also be able to give you an assessment of how the interview went and advise you on follow-up matters.

Want to hear about 5 Things to Do to Get Your Marriage-Based Green Card? Check out the video series:

Conclusion

Entering a bona fide marriage, establishing a life together, submitting documentation of your shared life, successfully completing the interview, and seeking advice from counsel are five key steps to getting your marriage-based green card. If you have a real marriage, you really have little to worry about. It’s just a matter of convincing USCIS that your marriage is bona fide.

WARNING!

USCIS may deny a one-step petition if it receives insufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage and/or if it finds that the marriage is a sham. The immigration authorities may then file removal charges against the foreign national on several grounds, such as failing to maintain lawful non-immigrant status and committing fraud to obtain immigration benefits.

A sham marriage finding is also a permanent bar to obtaining an approval of any subsequent petitions for the foreign national. So the foreign national could never get a green card based on, for example, a second petition by the same spouse or by a new spouse (unless the marriage fraud finding was overturned on appeal or on USCIS’ own reconsideration).

Marriage fraud is a crime. A person who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading immigration laws is subject to imprisonment (up to 5 years), a fine (up to $250,000), or both.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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