Congratulations on your engagement! If you’re visiting this page, it probably means that either you or your partner isn’t a U.S. citizen, but you are planning on building your life as a married couple in the United States.
What’s the best path for you and your fiancé or fiancée? (For simplicity, below we’ll use “fiancé” to mean either a male or female engaged partner.)
How is a Fiancé Visa Different from a Marriage-Based Green Card?
Fiancés of U.S. citizens have two primary options for immigrating to the United States:
- The future spouse could come to the U.S. on a fiancé visa (the “K-1 visa”), which means that the marriage then happens in the United States.
- Alternatively, you could first get married outside the United States, and the U.S. citizen spouse could sponsor the foreign spouse for a green card (the “I-130 petition”).
(If you’re already married, or if your future spouse already lives in the United States, the fiancé visa isn’t available. Refer to our explanation of marriage-based green cards for a detailed discussion of what happens next!)
For engaged couples, there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these two options. The right choice for your budding family will depend on factors such as where you want to hold your wedding, how quickly the foreign spouse wants to come to the United States, and how cost-conscious you are. Read on for a clear comparison of the two processes.
The K-1 fiancé visa is available to fiancés of U.S. citizens who are living outside of the United States and intend to get married within 90 days of arriving in the United States.
The K-1 fiancé visa requirements include:
- Both you and your fiancé must be single and eligible to be married under U.S. law. (This means that same-sex couples are eligible for the K-1 fiancé visa, whether or not the foreign spouse’s home country recognizes same-sex marriages.)
- If you or your fiancé have been married previously, you’ll need to provide divorce or death certificates for any previous spouse.
- The sponsoring partner must be a U.S. citizen. U.S. green card holders are not eligible to apply for fiancé visas.
- You and your fiancé must prove that your relationship is authentic—through photos, correspondence, and written statements from people who know you as a couple.
- You must have concrete wedding plans in the United States. You can show this through invitations, venue reservations, or other proof that the wedding is not a vague dream but a specific, planned event.
- You must have met in person at least once in the past two years. This requirement can be waived for religious practices or in cases of extreme hardship to the U.S. citizen partner.
- The U.S. citizen partner must meet certain income requirements, earning at least 100% of the federal poverty guidelines when applying for the fiancé visa, and earning 125% of these guidelines when the foreign partner applies for his or her green card.
Marriage-Based Green Card
The marriage-based green card process (initiated with an I-130 petition) is open to spouses of U.S. citizens and U.S. green card holders (permanent residents). Requirements include:
- You and your spouse must have a legally valid marriage, typically proven with a marriage certificate showing the names of both spouses, the place of marriage, and the date of marriage. (The marriages of same-sex couples and heterosexual couples are equally valid under U.S. law.)
- You must prove that any previous marriages for both spouses have been terminated (typically with a divorce or death certificate).
- You and your spouse must prove that your marriage is not fraudulent, using evidence like a joint lease, joint bank account statements, and pictures together.
- The U.S. citizen spouse must earn at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Generally speaking, the K-1 fiancé visa makes more sense for engaged couples if one or more of the following is true:
- You want to be together in the United States as soon as possible—typically 7 months for a fiancé instead of 9-15 months for a spouse.
- You want to hold your wedding in the United States.
- There is an impediment to getting married abroad (for example, a same-sex couple where one fiancé lives in a country that does not recognize same-sex marriages).
On the other hand, the marriage-based green card process generally makes more sense for engaged couples if:
- You are cost-conscious ($1,200 in fees for a spouse instead of $2,025 in fees for a fiancé).
- You want the partner seeking a green card to immediately become a permanent resident when he or she arrives in the United States.
- You plan to hold your wedding outside of the United States.
- You don’t mind waiting longer for your partner to arrive in the United States—typically 9-15 months instead of 7 months. (Your spouse can make a temporary visit sooner, but there are special travel considerations to keep in mind.)
Both processes result in the foreign partner actually getting the green card about 13 months after the application process starts. In both cases, if you have been married for less than two years at the time the green card is approved, you will need to file another form (the I-751 petition) to “remove the conditions” and obtain a permanent green card.
Boundless provides you with an easy-to-use, step-by-step online tool so you can complete your marriage-based green card application process with confidence. We want to celebrate with you at the moment you receive your green card. Let’s get started!