Quite often clients with a significant other that resides outside the United States ask what the differences are between a fiancée visa and a marriage visa.
A fiancée/fiancé visa is available to couples who are not yet married and one of them is a US Citizen (“USC”). In order to qualify for a fiancée/fiancé visa, the couple must demonstrate an intent to marry each other within 90 days of the fiancée/fiance’s admission to the United States. The couple must also demonstrate that they are both free to marry (meaning they are not currently married and/or all previous marriages have been lawfully terminated) and that the USC and foreign national have met each other in person at least once within the 2 year period before the USC files the visa petition. The requirement to meet in person may be waived if it is shown that meeting in person would violate strict and long-standing customs of a foreign culture or social practice, or if meeting in person would result in extreme hardship to the USC petitioner. Once the foreign national enters the United States with a fiancée/fiancé visa, and is married to the USC within 90 days of admission, the foreign national may then apply to become a lawful permanent resident.
A marriage visa on the other hand is for couples who are already married and one of them is a USC. If the spouse of the USC is living outside the United States, the USC would file a petition on behalf of the foreign spouse with USCIS. Once approved, the case is transferred to the US Consulate in the foreign national’s home country. The foreign national will then attend an interview at the consulate and if approved, receives an immigrant visa to enter the United States, as an immediate relative (spouse) of a USC. In essence, the foreign national enters the US as a resident.
Moreover, if the USC and foreign national are married and are present in the United States, then the USC may file a petition with USCIS on behalf of the foreign national and the foreign national may simultaneously file for residency. Once approved, the foreign national receives conditional residency, if the couple has been married for less than 2 years at the time the applications are adjudicated, or full residency if the couple has been married for more than 2 years at the time the application is adjudicated. If conditional residency is granted, the USC and foreign national spouse must apply for removal of conditions 90 days before the 2 year anniversary of conditional approval. At this phase, the couple will need to demonstrate that the couple continues to be married and living with each other, and provide evidence of their relationship during the previous 2 years, such as joint ownership of assets and debts and children that may have been born during the course of the marriage.