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 classified as an immediate relative and is thus eligible to seek 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.
If a U.S. citizen is engaged to a foreign national and wants to begin the immigration process prior to marriage, the citizen may seek a K-1 fiancé visa.
If a couple wants to begin the U.S. immigration process prior to marriage, and one of them is a U.S. citizen, the citizen may apply with the USCIS for a K-1 fiancé(e) visa. A citizen seeking a K-1 visa must remain unmarried until the arrival of the alien fiancé in the United States.
For the fiancé to remain in status, the wedding must take place within three months of the fiancé's arrival. The visa qualifies a fiancé to enter the United States only one time. If the fiancé departs before the wedding, the fiancé 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 fiancé 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).