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Can a Traveler on non-immigrant visa marry while in USA?

A foreigner who is already in the U.S. is welcome to marry a U.S. citizen or other person while here. Marriage procedures are set by the state and local governments, and not involved with immigration which is a Federal issue.

For example two Canadians fly to Las Vegas, get married, return to Canada. Immigration is not involved. And the marriage is valid worldwide.

I personally did about the same thing. I was living in Hong Kong and engaged to Joyce. I had been an expat (American living outside the USA) for about 15 years by then. My friends and family were scattered all over the world. We decided to get married in Las Vegas, cause flights, food, and rooms in Las Vegas were bargain priced especially 20 years ago, and it would be easy for my family and friends to meet us there for our celebration. Joyce already had a B-2 visitor visa, so we just flew in from Hong Kong, met our friends and family, got licenced, married, met Elvis, had a short honeymoon then returned to Hong Kong. Immigration was not involved at that time. About 7 years later, when our first child was ready for kindergarten, we then finally applied for a spouse visa for Joyce. She was interviewed and got her visa in Hong Kong, then we all moved back to the USA.

Flying in, getting married, flying out. Is not a problem. Immigration is not involved.

What is more complicated, but possible, is the case when the foreign born spouse wants to remain in the USA without leaving. Who wants to remain permanently in the USA and obtain a green card.

We already know about the fiance visa. The k1 visa anticipates that the foreign born fiance, will marry during her 90 day temporary visit, and then apply for green card and permanent residence without leaving the USA. That is its normal and expected process.

But foreigners who arrive on visa waiver programs, or on work, study or visitor visas are expected to leave after a set period of time. Usually the maximum allowed time of stay is stamped onto their passports when they land.

What can be done in these cases? Must they return overseas and apply for a spouse visa?

In some cases, without leaving it is possible to obtain a green card. In some other cases it's not so likely, and probable that the new spouse will be required to leave and must obtain a spouse visa before returning.

Two issues apply. 1. Intent to remain 2. Restrictions on the visa

Intent to remain

For example a Japanese tourist travels to USA for holiday, is walking on the beach meets a handsome American LifeGuard, ( falls in love, and after a few weeks marries.)

There wasn't any advance contact between the couple, the traveler was not planning or intending to use her tourist visa to remain the USA. Immigration will probably believe that this case is legitimate, that there was no actual intent to misuse the visa. They will probably grant the foreign born spouse, permission to remain permanently in the USA and there won't be any need to leave the USA first and apply from overseas for a spouse visa.,

The outcome may not be so happy for a couple who was corresponding for a year, the foreign girlfriend arrived on a tourist visa, and married after a week. Immigration may be unlikely to accept that this all occurred spontaneously without pre-planning and without prior intent for the foreigner to remain past the expiry date of her visa. The application for Green Card would probably be denied and the foreign spouse required to return overseas.

Specific Restrictions

Some visas, regardless of intent, won't permit the foreigner to remain to obtain the green card, such as some J student visas that require the student, to return to home country for 2 years, without fail.

Conclusion: Marriage in the USA is not a concern by immigration. Foreign travelers who marry an American while traveling on a temporary visa, providing they had no prior intent to remain in the USA, and whose visas don't have restrictions, may be able to successfully apply for permanent residency without need to leave the USA at the end of the original allotted time on their temporary visas.

By Fred Wahl
the VisaCoach

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