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.
[UPDATE: On August 1, 2017, the DOS replaced the 30/60 day rule with the 90-day rule, which establishes a presumption of willful misrepresentation “if an alien violates or engages in conduct inconsistent with his or her nonimmigrant status within 90 days of entry.” If such actions occur within 90 days of entry, a consular officer “may presume that the applicant’s representations about engaging in only status-compliant activity were willful misrepresentations of his or her intention in seeking a visa or entry.”]
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.
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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.
Photo by: Dennis Skley