By Attorneys Devin M. Connolly & Nancy E. Miller
The ability to see your spouse on a daily basis makes a lot of people very happy. With as hard as people work and the stresses they encounter on a daily basis, the simple joy of having dinner with your family can be something to cherish. But what if you are forced to live in a different country from your family members? You have surely realized that telephone calls and text messages are just not the same.
It is commonly known that U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card-holders) can petition for their spouses to join them in the U.S. But what if you are not married? You may be in a committed relationship, perhaps even for several years, but, for whatever reason, you never officially married. Despite this lack of a marriage, it is still possible for many people to be reunited with their beloved significant other in the U.S.
A U.S. citizen may file a Fiancé(e) Visa Petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Approval of this petition may then lead to the issuance of a fiancé(e) visa, commonly referred to as a K-1 visa.
There are several requirements that must be met by the U.S. citizen petitioner and his or her fiancé(e). First, only U.S. citizens are eligible to file petitions for a fiancé(e). Green card holders are not eligible for this benefit. The U.S. citizen petitioner and his or her fiancé(e) must also intend to marry within 90 days of the foreign national’s entry to the U.S. This intention must be sincere; it is not permissible to enter the U.S. simply to decide whether you want to marry your petitioner. There also must not be any legal impediments to marriage. Among other issues, this means that all prior marriages must have been legally terminated through divorce, death or annulment prior to filing the petition.
In addition, the U.S. citizen petitioner and his or her fiancé(e) must have met, in person, at least once in the two-year period preceding the filing of the Fiancé(e) Visa Petition. There are exceptions to this requirement if an in-person meeting would violate strict and long-established customs of either party’s foreign culture or social practice, or if the in-person meeting requirement would result in extreme hardship to the U.S. citizen petitioner. The mere inconvenience to have to travel to a foreign country, or to take time off from work or purchase an expensive airline ticket will not qualify you for an exception to the in-person meeting requirement.
After the USCIS approves the Fiancé(e) Visa Petition, the foreign national still has significant work to do before they will be issued their K-1 visa. They will be required to appear at a personal interview at the U.S. Embassy in their home country. At this interview, they will be questioned extensively by a Consular Officer who must be convinced that the relationship is not one that has been entered into solely to obtain immigration benefits. The Consular Officer will also want to see physical evidence of the true, actual relationship. The inability to submit sufficient proof or correctly answer questions may lead the Consular Officer to deny the application for a fiancé(e) visa if they believe that the application was being submitted solely as a way of entering the U.S.
Following the foreign national’s entry into the U.S., they must marry their petitioner within 90 days of entry. It does not matter if this marriage is before many friends and family members or a small civil ceremony, so long as it occurs within 90 days of entry to the U.S. After this timely marriage, the foreign national may then proceed to file an application for a green card. Yes, that entails more applications, more documents, and likely a second interview, but the process should hopefully be more enjoyable since now you are able to go through it while living in the same house as your beloved spouse.
Finally, a fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen may also be eligible to bring their children with them to the U.S. The children will only be allowed to enter the U.S. if they are unmarried and under 21-years-old. The children will be able to obtain their green cards even if they turn 21 after entering on the K-2 but before lawful permanent residence is granted.
Immigrating to the U.S. with a fiancé(e) visa can be complex. There are some quirks that are unique to this type of visa. Be sure to consult with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney so that you can be reunited with your significant other as soon as possible.