You are in love with your American fiancé, want to spend the rest of your lives together and decide that you both want to live in the United States. Now you need to decide which type of visa is best for the two of you. Your two main choices are either the fiancé visa - often referred to as a K1 visa or the marriage or spouse visa, known as the CR1/IR1 visa. Both have pros and cons so take a look at the points below before making up your mind.
- Decide where you want to get married. If you are the immigrant and want to get married in your home country then you will not be able to choose the fiancé visa. The K1 or fiancé visa means you must get married in the United States. If you don't mind where you get married or your American fiancé definitely wants to have the wedding ceremony at home then the K1 visa might be the best one for you.
- Does the immigrant partner need to be able to work immediately? The marriage visa (CR1/IR1) allows the beneficiary to work as soon as they enter the country. If you enter on a fiancé visa then you will not be able to work before you have applied for an employment authorization document. You can make this application once you are married. This can then take up to three months to arrive, meaning you will not be able to do any kind of paid employment for that time.
- Does the visa beneficiary need to travel outside the United States immediately? The marriage visa gives the immigrant Green Card status on entry. This means they can travel in and out of the US as soon as they want to using their passport and Green Card. The K1 visa is a one-time entry visa which allows the beneficiary to apply for a Green Card once they are married to the US citizen and have filed the appropriate forms. When these forms are filed the immigrant may also file for a document called Advance Parole which on receipt allows the visa immigrant to leave the US and return before the arrival of the Green Card. This document can take at least 3 months to arrive. If you are a K1 applicant and you leave the country before you receive your Advance Parole it will be assumed you have abandoned the K1 process and you will not be able to return to the US under your K1 status. You will then have to apply for the marriage visa (assuming you got married before you left the US) or you will have to get married in your home country and then apply for the marriage visa. This will mean possibly another year of waiting before you can start your life together in the US.
- Can you deal with a longer separation? When deciding between the fiancé visa and the marriage visa consider the different times the two applications take. In general the fiancé visa is a quicker process, usually around six months from application to arrival in the US. The marriage visa takes longer, usually around 8 to 10 months. However every case is different and some take longer than average and some are quicker. If you can bear the longer wait it can be easier and cheaper to choose the marriage visa as you are a Green Card holder on entry and do not need to worry about the points in Steps 2 and 3 above.
- Do you meet the requirements for the visa you want to apply for. Read the application forms carefully. Make sure you download the latest versions from the USCIS website. If you want to apply for the fiancé visa make sure you have met (ie. in each other's physical presence) within the two years before your application. If you are applying for the marriage visa make sure you are actually married before sending in the forms. Missing something as basic as this will mean your application is rejected immediately.