Category: Family Based Visas

Spouse visa or fiance visa – which is better?

Should I marry my significant other and apply for a spouse visa, or file as a fiance without getting married first? Hi, Jim Hacking here, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri. We get this question from time to time from couples that have been together for a while but have not yet gotten married. They want to know, is it better to come to the United States from overseas as a spouse or a fiance?

The processes are relatively similar but they’re also a little bit different. Let me talk a little bit about if. When a person wants to sponsor their fiance, we have to prove that they’ve been in each other’s physical presence at some point in the last 2 years. Obviously we don’t have to prove they’re married because they’re not married yet, but we are going to have to show that they’ve been together with each other some time in the last 2 years. The way that we do that is with photos, with trip tickets, with documentation of travel, these kinds of things to show that the 2 have been together.

We also have to demonstrate that the couple intends to get married within 90 days of the non-citizen’s arrival to the United States. Typically we do that with an affidavit from both the US citizen and the non-citizen saying that the plan is that once the non-citizen arrives in the United States, that they will go either to the courthouse or the chapel or somewhere and get married, and then apply for adjustment of status that way.

On the spouse visa side, obviously at this point the couple’s already married, so typically the US citizen has gone overseas, they’ve either met in the home country of the non-citizen or they’ve met in some third country and gotten married. They’ve gotten a marriage certificate, and they’re going to apply through the I-130 process. As things stand now, right now in 2016, spouse visas are going a lot slower than fiance visa.

We see this from time to time. Sometimes the processing time to get a fiance here is relatively similar to a spouse, but lately, for the last year or so, fiances have been coming to the United States a lot faster than spouses. If the couple has not yet gotten married we often encourage them to go the fiance route, especially if we can demonstrate that they’ve been in each other’s physical presence.

This leads to some people to come to us and they want to say, “Well, Jim we may have had a marriage ceremony but we’re not really married.” That can be tricky. Obviously you can never tell a lie to the immigration service, you don’t ever want to submit fraudulent documents, but if you haven’t recorded the marriage, if it’s just been a religious ceremony or an engagement, then you can go the fiance route, but you really have to play it straight. You can’t lie or pretend that your fiances when you’re actually married.

Speed is definitely one of the issues to think about when considering whether to come as a fiance or a spouse. Let’s talk about strength of case and likelihood to get it approved. Sometimes if there are things in the relationship between the fiance and the US citizen, things like maybe big age differences, or racial differences, that stand from people being from different countries and that they think that the couple isn’t really legitimate, they don’t speak the same language, they have very few similarities, these kinds of things.

When the couples are different, when they’re fundamentally different and worry that some racist immigration officer at the state department is going to give us trouble, if we’re worried that they’re going to say, “This couple is too different. We don’t really believe that this is a valid engagement.” Then we may encourage the couple to go ahead and get married and apply as a spouse. We believe that some cases are fundamentally stronger when filed as a spouse, as opposed to as a fiance.

In other words, state department officials often look at fiance cases and sometimes like I said if there’s too many of those differences that we think that people are going to nitpick about or take advantage of or use to deny the case, then we may encourage the couple to go ahead and get married because that demonstrates another level of commitment, a seriousness, an intention of purpose, that the couple is in fact married, sometimes goes a long way towards carrying the day and getting the case approved.

These are complicated issues. We do not encourage you to do these on your own. We think that if you want to come and bring you loved one here, that it’s an important issue, that you want to spend time thinking about and doing it correctly. We want to make sure that we put your case in a position as strong as possible. We understand that it’s difficult to be separated from your loved one, and we understand that you want to get them here as fast as possible, but sometimes you really need to consider the strength of the case and getting getting approved, as opposed to just getting them here as quickly as possible.

One other concern that you have sometimes is that when you come as a fiance you may be headed towards a Green Card interview here in the United States. After the couple gets married and they file for adjustment of status for the fiance to change their status to that of lawful permanent resident, sometimes there are interviews involved at the immigration office in your local town. If we think that there’s going to be trouble from the local immigration office, then we might also encourage you to go the marriage route.

These are the kinds of things that we think about. This the kind of thing that we talk to our clients about, and we spend a lot of time thinking it through, talking it through, to make sure that we make the best decisions because we want to get the case approved. We want your spouse or your fiance to be here, to be in the United States safely. We want to do everything we can to protect you.

If you have any questions about whether or not your case is a good fiance case or a good spouse case, or if you need some help evaluating that, feel free to give us a call at 314-961-8200, or you can email us at We hope you liked this video. If you did please subscribe to us on YouTube. We try to update the videos every week. If you have any topics of issues that you’d like us to cover, just email us and we’ll try to shoot a video about it. Thanks a lot, have a great day.

VIDEO: Can I Bring My Overseas Family Member to the United States?

Are you wanting to bring a spouse or relative to the United States from overseas but don’t know what to do? In this video, St. Louis immigration attorney Jim Hacking tells you what you need to know about filling out green card papers for someone who is overseas.

Bringing someone the US from overseas is a complex process. First, we gather all of the required documentation and file your paperwork with the immigration service here in the United States.

Second, about two weeks after sending in the paperwork, we will receive a receipt notice which contains case numbers that we can use to track the processing steps of your case through immigration services. At this point, we sometimes also receive a request for evidence, in which we will need to provide additional documentation.

Once the immigration service has approved the application, it’s sent to the National Visa Center, at which point original documentation—such as marriage and birth certificates—will need to be provided. At this point, we will also file an affidavit of support and a police report for the overseas party, which states that he or she is a person of good moral character.

The package then travels to the embassy overseas, where the overseas party will need to go in for an interview. Assuming that the interview goes well, the party should receive a green card approximately two weeks later.

If you have questions or concerns about applying for a green card for someone overseas, contact a St. Louis green card lawyer at Hacking Law Practice.

VIDEO: Should I Marry for a Spouse Visa or Green Card?

The United States places a great premium on spouse visas because, in many ways, marrying a US citizen can clear up a lot of immigration problems for people. For instance, sometimes people will have come to the United States and overstayed or will have worked without authorization. If those people marry a US citizen, the immigration service absolves them of those mistakes that they made.

Because of that, the immigration service jealously guards spouse visas and green cards. Therefore, if you’re considering marriage to a US citizen, you can expect a full inquiry into the purpose of the marriage, whether the marriage is valid, whether the basis of the green card is valid, and whether the citizen has entered into a legitimate marriage.

If you’re considering an illegitimate marriage for the purposes of gaining a spouse visa or green card, you could be facing big problems. There was a recent incident where two St. Louis criminal defense attorneys helped an immigrant obtain a fake spouse visa. When their scheme was uncovered, they lost their law licenses and the immigrant was deported.

At Hacking Law Practice, we take legitimate and illegitimate marriages very seriously. If you’d like to marry someone to get a visa or green card, then we’re not the firm for you. However, if you want to marry for the right reasons and are having trouble with the immigration service, we are more than happy to help. Call us at 314.961.8200 to learn more.

VIDEO: How Do I Apply for a Fiancé Visa in St. Louis?

Are you trying to obtain a fiancé visa? Our St. Louis immigration lawyers can help you through the daunting task of completing the paperwork and dealing with U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services (USCIS).

Fiancé visas are available only to people coming to the United States to marry U.S. citizens. When you come to Hacking Law Practice, our St. Louis immigration attorneys can ensure that the correct steps are followed in order to obtain your visa as quickly as possible. We will ensure that all paperwork is filed, that all necessary documents and forms are approved, and that they are sent to the National Visa Center. We will provide a checklist requesting original and additional documents, as well as an affidavit of support. This is a document signed by the fiancé or sponsoring family member that promises the government reimbursement if the immigrant ever becomes a burden on the tax rolls or the social safety net in existence for Americans.

The person applying for the visa will also need to visit the police station in order to prove good moral character, as well as a clean background check. Once all of these elements are packaged together and approved by the National Visa Center, they will be forwarded to the particular embassy for adjunction and interview. This process takes between six and nine months.

If you are applying for a fiancé visa, a lawyer at Hacking Law Practice will help you with the details of applying and obtaining approval. Call our office at 314-961-8200 to schedule a consultation.

VIDEO: St. Louis Immigration Attorney Jim Hacking Discusses Sibling Visas

Many people visiting our website want to know how to bring their brother, sister or parents to the U.S.  Different rules apply if the sponsor is a US citizen or green card holder and different wait times exist if the beneficiary is a parent or a sibling.

This video answers many of the most frequently asked questions regarding what needs to happen in order for a brother or sister to come to the U.S.  We also discuss why the wait is so darn long.

VIDEO: St. Louis Immigration Attorney Jim Hacking Explains Why Your Spouse May Not Have Received Their Green Card

In the old days, after the spouse of a U.S. citizen went to their visa interview at the local consulate, received their visa and moved to the U.S., their green card would follow them a few weeks later.

For the past year, however, USCIS has required the payment of one last additional fee – $165 – before the green card will issue.  The system – known as the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) was supposed to streamline the process.  But instead, many complain that it represents one more hurdle for foreign spouses to overcome.

This video explains the ELIS system and what a visa applicant must do in order to be sure to receive his or her green card.

VIDEO: Green card success story at St. Louis immigration office

Our clients waited a total of five and a half months for their spouse-based green card case to be approved.  The wife is a recent U.S. citizen and the husband visited his sister in late 2012, where he met his new bride.  After a brief trip back to his home country, the husband returned and the couple married a few months later.

We filed the I-130 marriage petition, the I-485 application to adjust status to that of permanent lawful resident, the I-131 travel document and the I-765 work authorization.  We provided all of the supporting documentation.

Last week, we met with the couple to prepare them for the interview and engage in mock interview questions.  We attended the interview last week and today received notice that the case had received final approval.


Good news today from one of our Green card cases. Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration attorney here in St. Louis, Missouri, and I’m talking to you today about a recent success we had at the immigration office here in St. Louis, Missouri. We have a client who came to see us about six months ago. She had recently gotten married. Her husband had come here from overseas, and they had just gotten married. It’s a very typical case of ours. We handle these Green Card cases based on marriage all the time. It was a very straight forward case. The husband and wife came in and we had them fill out the paperwork. They gathered up all the documents they needed in order to get the Green Card.

There’s sort of two parts to the process. One is, Immigration is going to inquire into the validity of the marriage. The other is whether the person is a good person who is being sponsored, to see whether or not they deserve to receive a Green Card. We had them fill out our client intake form. We asked them all the questions on one form so that they don’t have to fill out multiple forms over, and over, and over. We just get the information from them in one set, and then we put it into all the different forms that we file. We file the I-130, the I-45, that’s the Spouse Visa and the Green Card Application. We also file the I-131, which is the Travel Document, and the I-765, which is the Work Authorization.

After we filed all that, we got receipt notices back. We imputed all that into our system so that we can keep track on-line of our clients’ cases and how they’re progressing. Then after that our client was sent for fingerprints so that they could do a background check on him, and about six weeks later he received his Work Authorization Card in the mail. That was sort of faster than most cases. A lot of time the Work Authorization takes a few months. His came quickly. After that we’re just waiting while they do the overall background check and scheduling the case for an interview. We had submitted lots of evidence of the validity of the marriage.

During the time between when we first filed and when we had our interview, we had our clients gathering similar documents. More pictures of the two of them together, life insurance together, bank statements together, so that we could demonstrate to the immigration officer that the case had been legitimate and was properly filed. The clients came in two weeks ago, we prepared them for their interview. We role played where I acted like I was the immigration officer. I told my clients, “Answer the questions as quickly, and as concisely, and as honestly as you can. No one’s out to trick you, but at the same time, you’re not there to tell your whole life story.”

We did all that. We prepped for about an hour, got them ready, got them confident to make sure that they knew that they could do it. We went down for our interview last Thursday, and the whole interview took all of 15 minutes. Very cute couple, very nice people. The immigration officer saw that it was a valid marriage and was pretty straight forward. The client didn’t have any major … had no criminal convictions, no problems, so that made it pretty straight forward as well. We got the approval notice in the mail yesterday. Our clients are now going to be able to live together here in the United States.

The fellow from overseas is going to get a two year Green Card. Later on he’ll have to get those conditions removed to get a unconditional Permanent Resident Card, and then they’ll be all set. We were happy to help them. It’s a success for the office. We get these all the time, but still, even so, it makes each one happy and we’re glad that those were approved, and we’re happy for our clients. If you have any questions about this or anything related to Spouse Visas or Green Cards, give us a call: 314-961-8200. Thanks.


VIDEO: St. Louis Green Card Attorney Jim Hacking Discusses Sham Marriages

USCIS takes the issue of fraudulent or sham marriages very seriously.  This video discusses the types of issues that get people in trouble and what triggers fraud investigations.  We also discuss how to prepare for your interview so as to minimize the changes of a claim of fraud.

These fraudulent claims can lead to arrest, deportation and/or convictions.


What is a sham marriage and does it get me in trouble at USCIS?

Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration attorney here in St. Louis, Missouri. Today we’re talking about sham marriages, fraudulent marriages, and what the test is at the Immigration Service into the validity of a marriage. There’s so many benefits that come with marrying a U.S. citizen beyond just getting a Green Card, that Immigration Service takes marriages cases very seriously. One of the things that they look out for are fraudulent marriages. We’ve never had a case in our office where we thought that the people who were applying were engaged in fraud, but we have studied the issue, and we’ve come across cases in the reports and in news stories about different immigration scams.

The Immigration Service takes these cases very seriously, and you should know that they have the right to really inquire into whether or not the marriage is legitimate. The real test is the subjective intent of the people at the time of the marriage. That is, were they intending to perpetrate a fraud on the Immigration Service so as to obtain immigration benefit for the person who is not the U.S. citizen? How do they do this? A lot of times in interviews, they’ll push pretty hard on the validity of the marriage. Some cases are very straight forward and it’s sort of a rudimentary inquiry into the validity of the marriage. With other cases, if they get a whiff of fraud, or if there are circumstances that demonstrate that the people might not be legitimate, then they go in a lot more aggressively asking lots of questions.

What are the factors that lead them to inquire? If the couple hasn’t known each other very long. If the non-citizen was up against an immigration deadline or is out of status, or if the story just doesn’t jive. We’ve heard of cases where the people didn’t even speak the same language. These are the kinds of cases where the people are radically different. The two people are so different that they don’t necessarily think that it’s a legit marriage. They’ll inquire heavily. They can separate people at interviews. We’ve had that happen before. A lot of people look on the internet and hear things about, “Well, do they inquire into what color your toothbrush is or what side of the bed one person sleeps on?”

They don’t really do that so much, but they will come pretty hard about, “How did you meet? What do you like to do together? Why was this marriage valid?” Those kinds of things. You really got to prepare well for these. You obviously don’t want to ever engage in any kind of immigration fraud. It’s a very serious matter. We’ve had people come to us after a finding of immigration fraud, and unless you can get that waived later on by the Immigration Service, immigration fraud in the marriage context can serve as the basis of a bar from any immigration relief in the future.

We had a young man who came to see us. His mother had been found to have engaged in immigration fraud 20 years ago. He was trying to bring her here as the mother of a U.S. citizen, and that got denied because of her prior fraud finding, so it’s very serious. The Immigration Service takes it very serious and so should you. If you have any questions about the kinds of things that Immigration asks about at the interview, or about what indications of fraud they usually find or look for, give us a call: 314-961-8200.

VIDEO: Learn how a fiancé visa case can go wrong if you don’t use a solid immigration attorney

Hi. I’m Jim Hacking, immigration attorney, practicing immigration law here in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the things we talk about a lot on these videos is the error of doing immigration applications on your own. While there are certainly cases that individuals who’ve not been trained in the law, or who are not immigration practitioners can handle on their own, if there’s any issues or any major complications, you should really consider hiring an immigration attorney, and today’s story highlights how that can work.

We were recently contacted by a very smart young lady who works full time. She was engaged to someone that she planned on marrying back in her home country. So she decided that she was going to file an I-129F, a fiance visa, on her own. Like I said, she was very capable, very intelligent. She went on the internet. She looked around. She got on chat boards and figured out what forms needed to be filed with her I-129. She filled out those forms to the best of her ability, sent them off, and after a while she received a request for evidence from Immigration. So her case had been pending for about 2 or 3 months, and because of the request for evidence, that stops everything. Immigration doesn’t act on your case while a request for evidence is pending.

So think of it like a ping pong ball. You send the application off to them. It’s in their court. Then they send a request for evidence back, and it’s in your court. So she took some time to get the document that she thought that they wanted, and she sent it off to them. So now the ping pong ball has gone back over to them. Well, lo and behold, she sent back the wrong form. Incredibly, the Immigration Service denied her application. Now, they could very well easily have made it clear to her what the form was that they truly wanted, but maybe in their mind they thought that they had. So in any event, this lady wasted about 6 months of time, plus the filing fee on an I-129F. Most importantly, she was separated from her fiance for that much longer.

She came to see us a little while ago. We looked over the file. We refiled everything. We went through our systems and processes and got her application together as quickly as we could, sent it off to the Immigration Service, and I’m very happy to tell you that just today, very quickly, within about 2 weeks, we had the fiance visa approved. So now her case is back underway, going to the National Visa Center. Now this isn’t to toot our own horn and say how brilliant we are. What we do want to do, though, is highlight the fact that sometimes people make a big mistake in thinking that they’re going to save a little bit of money doing it themselves, when what we all want more than anything is time, especially time with our loved ones. Because of this mistake, they were separated for that much longer. So we’re very happy for our client. We’re glad that we were able to get her case moving again, restarted. But it’s just an example of why working with an experienced immigration attorney might be your best bet.

So if you have any questions about fiance visas, about how that process works from start to finish, give us a call. (314) 961-8200. Or you can always email me,  We’d be happy to answer any questions you have, explain the process to you, or anything else that you might need. Thanks a lot. Have a good day.


VIDEO: St. Louis Green Card Attorney Explains the 3 Stages of the Immigrant Visa Process

What are the three stages of any Immigrant Visa Petition? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking immigration attorney, St. Louis, Missouri. We thought we’d make this video to explain to you the different stages that an Immigrant Visa Petition goes through. After you submit all of your paperwork and you’ve sent all of your documents to the first agency to deal with your application, they’re processed. That agency is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, known as USCIS. Around the country, the USCIS agency maintains various “lock boxes” which are places that accept filings in immigration cases, so depending on which part of the country you live in, your case will go to a different lock box and it will then be forwarded to a service center for background checks and adjudication.

At that point, that’s all done by mail and through paperwork. There’s no real interview or anything at that stage unless there’s a particular issue that the immigration service has identified in your case and they feel that they need to speak to the sponsoring American here in the United States. That is very, very rare so USCIS typically takes two or three months to process the application.  They may issue what’s called a request for evidence where they’re asking for more documentation.  There’s no real interaction directly between the beneficiary or the applicant and the immigration service.  Everything at that stage is done on paper.

Once the USCIS part of the process has been completed, they forward the application to a place called the National Visa Center, the NVC which is located in New Hampshire.  This is sort of a second round of scrutiny on the application.  This part is done not under the USCIS offices, but rather under the Department of State and this is where the Department of State is reviewing the application to make sure that everything is in order for the case to be sent to the Embassy for an interview.  At the NVC, a lot of times you’ll get back what’s called a checklist.  They have a list of things that they want to make sure are in the application and they will ask for supplementation if there are things that are missing.

It’s also at the National Visa Center where you pay the Visa fee and the affidavit support fee and your document that you’re going to be able to support this person who you asked to receive an Immigrant Visa for.  At that point, once the National Visa Center approves it which takes another three or four months, the case is forwarded on to the Embassy closest to where your intended beneficiary is residing.  For instance if they’re living in Lyon, France, they’ll go to the U.S. Embassy in Paris for their interview and sometimes depending on how busy the Embassy is, there’ll be a significant wait between when the National Visa Center approves the application and when it’s sent to the Consulate for interview.

It’s really at that point at the Consulate interview that the beneficiary will have their real interaction with any agency of the U.S. Government to see if they should receive the Immigrant Visa.  They usually give you plenty of [lead 00:03:22] time usually three, four, five, six weeks between leaving the National Visa Center and the date of your interview.  You’ll usually know far in advance as to when your interview is.  You don’t want to reschedule that interview if you can avoid it because that will just delay your case even longer.

Those are the three stages of an Immigrant Visa Application.  You start at USCIS.  You go to the National Visa Center.  Then, you go to the Embassy.  Once the interview is complete, they’ll usually take your passport and send it back to you some various means with a Visa stamp for you to come to the United States and then once your intended comes to the United States you file one more form electronically, pay one more fee and if all goes well their Green Card arrives shortly thereafter.

If you have any questions about any of these stages, the USCIS stage, the National Visa Center or the Embassy, feel free to give us a call, 314-961-8200 or you can email me  Thanks.