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 jim@hackinglawpractice.com. 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.