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Bringing a foreign spouse or fiancée to the United States

We are increasingly living in a global society. As part of this, it has become very common for American citizens to spend extended periods abroad for work, school or military service. Some of these people end up falling in love while they are away, and they want to bring their new spouse or fiancée back to the United States when they return home.

This can be done by obtaining the appropriate visa. However, because the visa process can be complicated, it is important to work with an experienced immigration attorney. Even small errors can result in a spouse or fiancée's arrival being delayed by months or years.

Immigrant visas for spouses

Individuals who are already married to a U.S. citizen can enter the United States on an immigrant visa. If the couple has been married for more than two years, the foreign spouse will need to obtain an immediate relative (IR1) visa. If the marriage is less than two years old, the foreign spouse must obtain a conditional resident (CR1) visa. The conditional status can be removed two years after the spouse enters the United States.

In order to qualify for a visa, the immigrant spouse must be legally married to a U.S. citizen. Mere cohabitation does not qualify, though common-law spouses may be eligible depending on how the relationship is recognized by the laws of the country in which the common-law marriage occurred. Same-sex couples are not eligible for spousal visas, even if they were legally married in another country. In polygamous marriages, only the first spouse can qualify for a spousal visa.

Non-immigrant visas for fiancées

Fiancées of U.S. citizens are not eligible for immigrant visas. However, they can obtain non-immigrant visas to enter the United States temporarily. The fiancée can then adjust status to become a legal permanent resident after the wedding takes place.

A K-1 visa gives fiancées of U.S. citizens permission to travel to the United States with the intent of getting married. The marriage must occur with 90 days of the fiancée's arrival. In order to qualify for a visa, the proposed marriage must be legal in the state in which it will occur. In addition, the couple must have met in person at least once during the previous two years. There are exceptions to this rule in cases of hardship or in cases where it is culturally impermissible for a man and a woman to meet before marriage.

Obtaining a visa

In order to obtain a spousal or fiancée visa, the U.S. citizen must first file a petition with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service. Then, the foreign citizen will apply for a visa. As part of that process, the foreign citizen must submit to an interview, background check and medical examination.

If you are hoping to bring your spouse or fiancée to the United States, an experienced immigration attorney can help you navigate the process.