You have fallen in love, Your special someone lives in a different country. You want to marry.
You want to have a life together, You want to be a family with her or him here in the USA. What do you do?
Well, the answer is, you need to successfully navigate a complicated and difficult immigration system
to bring your partner to the USA.
There are only two paths to choose from, either marry, then apply for an immigrant visa for your new spouse,
or propose marriage, get engaged to marry,then apply for a visa for your new fiancee.
Today, I am going to explain how both the fiancé and spouse visa processes work,
so that you can make an informed decision on which path to embark upon.
Now, let’s talk about How to bring your Fiance or Spouse to the USA
Both processes are roughly the same. We prepare an application, it is submitted in the USA to the United States
citizenship and Immigration service (USCIS),
And then once USCIS has completed its review, the case goes to the US State department’s
National Visa Center (NVC) in New Hampshire.
And finally NVC couriers the case overseas to the appropriate US Embassy for the
in-person interview and approval of the Fiance or spouse visa.
Then your partner use the visa to travel to and enter the USA
FIrst we submit a thick package of application forms and supporting documents and evidence.
This is the “front loaded petition” which is the essential
element of the Full Support service we provide at VisaCoach.
My philosophy, and I religiously follow with every case, work on, is that success, final outcome, final approval,
depends 99% on the quality of the initial application that together we prepare and submit.
The quality of the work we accomplish at the start, at the “front” of this process, determines
the ultimate outcome. Quality goes in, and a positive result comes out.
The petition package is mailed to USCIS
Fiance Visa applications go to Dallas Texas, Spouse visa applications to Dallas, Chicago or Phoenix..
After initial sorting then the applications are assigned and forwarded to one of six USCIS service centers
that are scattered throughout the USA.
At the USCIS service center your case is reviewed and processed.
Regardless of whether it is a Fiance or spouse visa application
USCIS will probably take the same amount of time, currently 5 to 9 months to complete their review.
And the review includes an FBI background check.
When USCIS is satisfied with your application, they “approve”, at least their part, then
hands your case over to NVC, based in New Hampshire.
So far Fiance and Spouse visa processes have been the same, but now this is where their paths branch off
from each other.
NVC holds Fiancee visa applications only briefly. They briefly touch the application just enough to
confirm which consulate is the correct one to process the case, and if the consulate is current on
their workload, immediately ships the case to the consulate using diplomatic courier.
Usually NVC completes this part in just a few weeks. If the consulate is behind, it’s pending interview
case load Is backlogged, then the NVC might hold on to the case longer.
During Covid many cases had very long stays at NVC.
While NVC only briefly touches a Fiance Visa Case, for a spouse visa application NVC really gets involved.
NVC asks the spouse visa sponsor to pay an affidavit of support and the consulate interview fee,
and requires copies of all civil documents, police clearances and the US sponsor’s financial evidence.
NVC reviews all of your materials, and once satisfied that all is correct ,
contacts the overseas consulate, and books the next available interview date.
Once they have an interview scheduled, then they notify you, and ship the case to the consulate.
While the Fiance application normally leaves NVC fairly quickly, the time a spouse visa is held at NVC
usually is a lot longer, currently 4 to 8 months.
So at this time, both the Fiance Visa and Spouse Visa cases have arrived at the destination consulate.
As mentioned already, if your case is for a spouse visa, the consulate interview has already been scheduled
and the interview fees paid.
But for a Fiance visa, it is up to you and your fiance to pay the interview fees and book the interview
This can be pretty complicated, depending on the country.
Fortunately, at Visacoach we’ve already worked with most consulates already,
so already have a history of experience to draw
upon to explain to our clients what needs to be done.
Now both fiances and spouses have their interviews scheduled.
And may even be together at the consulate waiting room on the day.
But before their interviews, and it is recommended to do this about one to two weeks before the interview,
not earlier, not later, your partner must go to a medical clinic appointed by the consulate
to undergo a thorough medical exam. The exam must only be conducted by the clinic that has been selected by
the consulate, and no other. Your partner can’t use their own doctor.
At the end of the medical exam, the results will be sent directly to the consulate or given to your partner
in a sealed envelope.
On the big day your Partner attends the interview at the US consulate.
Shortly, after arrival at the consulate your partner will be met with a locally hired clerk,
and asked to present all of the documents that the consulate requires for the interview.
It is critical that your partner be prepared and bring EVERYTHING that is required.
Failure to bring even one item, might cause the interview to be cancelled,
or if allowed to proceed, might add weeks or months of delay till the visa is issued.
Because this is so critical, and so easy to avoid problems,
VisaCoach prepares for each of our couples a detailed checklist on what must be brought to the consulate.
This checklist is based on our intimate knowledge of the couples case,
and past experience with the consulate.
Finally comes the actual interview. This is when your partner meets with an American consular officer,
no longer the local hires, who will be the absolute final decision maker.
This is the BIG event.
During the interview, the consular officer must be CONVINCED your relationship is bona fide
and not a sham contrived for immigration purposes.
Sorry, to say this, but US immigration has had a long and troubled history with fiance and spouse type visas
Their experience has not been a good one.
For regular immigration, there are simple tests of eligibility.
For example if a naturalized US citizen were to apply for his/her mother or brother to immigrate to the USA,
the simple test would be birth certificates. As all the names on these official documents would match,
the mother or brother would be clearly eligible and approved for their immigration visas.
But for “romance” type visas, for fiances or spouses, there is no simple, clear test.
Even proof of being lawfully married is not enough.
Basically the officer must rely on the couple’s sworn statements that their relationship is a real one,
not a sham.
Unfortunately, as far as taking a couple’s word, this is problematic,
as the “well has already been poisoned”, by the crooks who long ago figured out that
if they convincingly lied about their plans, about wanting to be a stable marriage,
perhaps they also tricked their American partner, they could win the golden ticket,
and get approved for wealthier life in the USA
Because no simple reliable test exists, because so many consular officers have been tricked before,
because of their frustration and embarrassment, US immigration has decided to take the sad,
but I suppose reasonable attitude that fiance or spouse visa cases are probably fraudulent.
They now review all romance cases with the presumption that the couple is trying to trick them.
Sadly they will treat you and your partner as “guilty until proven innocent”
The consular officer always reviews the application that we submitted at the beginning,
before the interview starts, while your partner is waiting in the lobby of the consulate.
The officer is searching for “red flags” that cause suspicion and could lead to denial.
And this is why Visacoach method of “front loading” a petition is so valuable.
We craft each application, understanding the consular officers stand point.
We understand he is a professional, in order to obtain his agreement to issue the visat
he/she must be convinced of the couples sincerity.
So we help him/her do their job by going the extra mile to make sure your application
does the talking for you, telling your story of a bona fide relationship,
and backing up your statements with clear, well chosen consistent evidence.
By front loading your application with what helps the officer come to his/her decision
we set the tone for a successful interview.
Once the in-person interview begins, the officer usually asks only a few “easy” questions,
as he/she already knows the two of you pretty well, based on what was found in the application.
Our couples interviews are usually short, soon hearing “welcome to the USA”.
One to Two weeks later the passport with it’s brand new USA visa is returned via courier to your partner.
Both Fiance or Spouse visas are valid for 6 months, This gives your partner plenty of time to
settle affairs and then leave for the USA.
Here again is where the paths between Spouse Visa and Fiance Visas diverge.
Arriving on a CR1 spouse visa, your spouse is pre- approved for permanent residency.
Without any additional effort, the Green Card arrives in the mail in about 2 to three months.
If your marriage is less than two years old, the new green card is only valid for 2 years.
This is the so-called Conditional Green Card.
Two years later we must go back to USCIS and apply to renew and upgrade it.
More about this later.
Arriving on a K1 fiance visa, you have officially 90 days to “get to know each other better”,
and decide to marry, or not.
You don’t have to marry, but if you do not, your foreign fiancé should leave the USA
before the allowed 90 visit expires.
Assuming you marry on time, your new spouse does not need to leave the USA, providing that
you apply to US immigration for permission to stay.
This is a new application to be submitted to USCIS and is called Adjustment of Status.
This is to allow your spouse to “adjust” his or her immigration status from temporary 90 day visitor
to a lawful permanent resident.
At the end of the Adjustment of Status application process your spouse gets
the conditional 2 year duration Green Card.
Now the paths of Fiance and Spouse visas join again.
Regardless of what visa you originally applied for now you are married,
living together in the USA, and have a Conditional Green Card, valid for two years.
At the start of the immigration process, for your partner to get permission to come to the USA
we had to overcome US immigrations “guilty until proven innocent” attitude.
The reason that they only issue a two year green card is because US immigration is still cautious,
still skeptical about your “romance” case and they want another chance to catch you in fraud.
So near the end of the two years, we apply to USCIS once again. This application is called
“Removal of Conditions on Residence”
To avoid problems, we again use the front loaded application technique.
This time it includes quality proofs of what your joint life together in the USA has been.
Once this application is granted your spouse gets the permanent Green Card without conditions.
Your partner can then remain in the USA as a lawful permanent resident indefinitely.
If your partner would like to become a US citizen, and enjoy the benefits of US Citizenship,
such as traveling internationally on a US Passport, once he or she has been a permanent resident
for three years your partner is eligible to apply.
While working together I get to know my clients really well,
and they in turn get to know me. Typically they like the experience and continue working with
team VisaCoach, for each step along the entire US immigration path, immigration visa,
adjustment of status, removal of conditions, and finally US citizenship.
A question I regularly get is “In choosing between Fiance or Spouse Visas,
which one is easiest and best?”
For most couples there is no obvious winner to the “Which is easiest?” question.
Both are equally easy. Or maybe a better way to put it is they are both equally difficult.
Both rely on providing the same relevant evidence of your courtship and underlying genuine relationship.
In both cases the interviewing consular officer must be persuaded that yours is a “bona fide” relationship.
Then “Which is best”?
Sorry, I can’t answer this one for you, because what is best for you and your partner
boils down to what you and your partner really want to have happen and how.
This is all about your personal preferences and plans.
There are three issues, you should discuss with your partner, and come to a consensus on.
How soon do you want to start your USA life together?
How soon does your partner want to be eligible to get a job in the USA ?
Where do you desire the wedding ceremony to be held ?
Decide on these and you’ll pretty much have your answer as to which path to take.
And in considering these issues, be aware of the following:
How soon can life in the USA begin?
As a rule the fiance visa path typically is twice as fast as a spouse visa.
Recently fiance visas take about 9 months compared to spouse visas taking 14 to 18.
Fiance visas can be applied for immediately after the in-person meeting.
A spouse visa can only be applied for immediately after the wedding.
How soon is your foreign partner eligible to work?
Arriving on a spouse visa, your spouse is pre-approved for permanent residency and
can start work immediately upon arrival to the USA. Literally can go directly from the airport to the job.
But a fiance visa immigrant after arrival, mustt marry, and apply for adjustment of status
and work authorization. Typically the earliest work authorization is granted is about 8 months after arrival.
Where to have the wedding?
One of you may have imagined and hoped for and even planned the ultimate wedding.
Perhaps dreamed of where it should take place,
what it would be like, which family and friends MUST be there. You really, really,
should be careful, not to disappoint your partner.
This was Fred Wahl, The VisaCoach