When a U.S. citizen who resides in the United States marries an alien, the alien is eligible to receive a green card on the basis of the marriage. The spouse of a U.S. citizen is considered to be an "immediate relative", and is thus eligible to apply for permanent residency. The immigration process for the spouse begins with the filing of a petition for an Alien-Spouse Visa (I-130) with the USCIS.
Some couples wish to commence the immigration process prior to marriage. In those situations, a U.S. citizen may apply with the USCIS for a K-1 fiance(e) visa. A citizen seeking a K-1 visa must remain unmarried until the arrival of the alien fiancee in the United States.
For the fiancee to remain in status, the wedding must take place within three months of the fiancee's arrival. The visa qualifies a fiancee to enter the United States only one time. If the fiancee departs before the wedding, the fiancee may not be permitted back into the United States without obtaining a new visa.
In order to qualify for a K-1 visa,
- The alien and U.S. Citizen must have met personally at least once in the two years before the petition was filed,
- Both the alien and the U.S. Citizen must be eligible for lawful marriage in the petitioner's state of residence, and
- The alien must not be otherwise disqualified for entry into the United States.
Legal permanent residents (green card holders) are not eligible to file petitions for fiance visas. Green card holders must marry abroad and then file an I-130 petition for the immigration of a new spouse.
1. It may be possible to obtain a waiver of the requirement for an in-person meeting, where both parties cannot meet either because of either hardship or due to a long established custom. See 8 C.F.R. §214.2(k)(2).