While there is no special category of immigrant visas for spouses, family-based immigration rules give preference to spouses of U.S. citizens. An immigrant visa allows someone to enter the United States as a legal permanent resident. Applying for permanent residence through this process has two steps. First, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident family member must submit an immigrant petition. Only certain types of family relationships will qualify for an immigrant petition.
After the petition is approved, it is sent to the National Visa Center. The immigrant must submit an application for an immigrant visa and the required supporting documents. The consulate will then schedule the applicant for a visa interview. If the immigrant visa is granted, the applicant can travel to the United States and receive a green card.
For marriage-based cases, the green card (lawful permanent resident status) may be a conditional (2-year) card or a standard (10-year) green card.
The CR-1 visa is issued to a foreign spouse who has been married to a U.S. citizen for less than 2 years. The “CR” stands for “Conditional Resident.” This means that your spouse will enter the United States with conditional permanent resident status. They will be issued a green card that is valid for 2 years.
The green card holder must petition to remove conditions on permanent residence in the 90-day period before the card expires. In most cases, this is done jointly with the spouse who petitioned for them in the first place. If you were issued a 2-year green card, you generally should not wait until the 90-day period to start preparing your petition to remove conditions on residence. A lawyer can guide you in the process. Our firm has assisted many green card holders in removing conditions from their residence. Once conditions are removed, a 10-year card is issued, which can be renewed.
The IR-1 visa is issued to a foreign spouse who has been married to a U.S. citizen for more than 2 years. The “IR” stands for “Immediate Relative.” An IR-1 visa holder is considered a permanent resident with no conditions and therefore does not have to file for removal of conditions. Under an IR-1 visa, the green card is issued in 10-year increments.
A 10-year card will be issued to foreign nationals who are applying for an immigrant visa based on a parent-child or sibling relationship.
K-1 Fiancé(e) Visas:
For couples who wish to start the immigration process prior to getting married, the K-1 fiancé(e) visa is an option that may be appropriate in some cases. Unlike an immigrant visa petition, the fiancé(e) visa petition can only be filed by a U.S. citizen. Permanent residents cannot file a fiancé(e) visa petition.
Obtaining permanent residence (a green card) through the fiancé(e) visa process consists of three steps. First, the U.S. citizen files a fiancé(e) petition for the foreign fiancé(e). Second, after the petition is approved, it is sent to the appropriate consulate, and the fiancé(e) applies for a K-1 visa. Third, after the K-1 visa is issued, the fiancé(e) will enter the United States, get married, and apply for adjustment of status.
The fiancé(e) visa requires that the petitioner and his or her fiancé(e) marry within 90 days of the fiancé(e)'s entry to the United States. After the marriage, the application for adjustment of status can be submitted.
If you are not already married, the best plan is to talk to a lawyer so that you can decide whether the fiancé(e) visa process is right for you, or whether you will want to get married before starting the immigration process. Our firm has advised countless couples on this issue and can explain the pros and cons of the different options.
The K-3 Visa:
The somewhat cumbersome K-3 visa process has been further complicated by recent administrative changes. We no longer recommend K-3 visas for most of our clients.
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If you are serious about getting a marriage-based visa, a consultation is the best place to start. Spend up to a full hour with an immigration attorney to discuss the details of your case, get answers to your questions, work through complex issues and supporting documents and plan a strategy.