How do I go about marrying a foreigner?
August 13, 2005 10:52 AM   Subscribe

On a recent trip to the Motherland I've met an old friend of mine, whom I've known when I was about 10, but lost contact since. We got pretty involved and are thinking about getting married. The thing is, I have absolutely no idea how to go about doing it. I'm a US citizen, she's not. Is there anyone here who might know good sites to go learn about this sort of thing, or share some of the personal experiences in this regard? The legalspeak on the government sites is beginning to hurt my head.

More specifically, we're thinking about her coming over for a visit, just to see how things are around here. Should we do it, or should we go straight for the K1 visa? Also, how long do such processes usually take, how much money and paperwork is involved? How much money do I need to have in a bank account in order to prove that I can support her? (I'm a grad student, so this is a purely academic question) Should I involve a lawyer, or can I do the paperwork myself?
posted by c13 to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If your fiancée visits, be careful that she doesn't say that she's visiting her fiancé as the purpose of the visit. Back when I was engaged (a UK-US relationship; married in Scotland, we live in Canada now), I accidentally said that at the point of entry. The immigration guy started to ask if I was going to be married in the US, if I had a job to go back to, and things were beginning to get unpleasant.

It took some very careful words to stop the situation escalating. I suspect if I hadn't been so lucky, the famous windowless room, deportation, and a ban from the US would have followed.
posted by scruss at 11:38 AM on August 13, 2005

My main advice is be very careful; I was one step away from that windowless room once :) Fortress America's The United States' immigration system is staffed by bullies and idiots and managed by worse.

I believe you have a few options.. a) file a green card application abroad and go to the US as a permanent resident, b) bring your fiancé to the US with the K-1, or c) go to the US as a non-immigrant tourist or legal worker, then marry and file for the green card in the US.

The stress on option c is delibrate. The INS will not admit people who intend to live in the US permanently as a non-immigrant. So, if you're unsure, and she doesn't want to work, go with option c. If you're definitely going to get married within 90 days, and she wants to be able to work, go with the K-1. If you want to get married overseas, and perhaps live overseas for a while, option a may be best.

If you're unsure you're getting married, I don't see the problem. People who are unsure generally aren't fiancés, and she can just say she's coming over to see friends. She'll need to be smart though, as their questioning can tie you in loops.

I recommend a lawyer, as they know quite a few tricks, but stick to one with specialist knowledge of immigration law. Depending on your beau's religion and source country, there may be some catches (sad, but true; security screening has gone nuts).
posted by wackybrit at 12:00 PM on August 13, 2005

K1 Visa FAQ
posted by blue_beetle at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2005

Wackybrit, are you saying that, if we go with option c, she won't be able to work until she gets a green card? If so, how long does *that* usually take? Will the INS stall and generally fuck with you for not following the rules?
posted by c13 at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2005

Talk to a good immigration lawyer. It's worth every penny. He'll probably advise her to enter the USA on a tourist visa, then marry and apply for a status change here. IANAL.
posted by Ervin at 12:36 PM on August 13, 2005

c13: If you went with option c, she could apply for a visa in the regular way to become a legal non-immigrant worker.. so, H1-B, or some visa specific to her occupation, and then you could (in the eyes of the law and the INS) 'happen to marry' after a while.

However, getting a work visa is hard at the best of times, so it's more likely she would get in with a tourist visa or on a visa waiver, in which case it would be illegal for her to work. And, if she did so, she could be deported and banned from the US for five years (this may have increased since 9/11).

My suggestion would be for her to come visit as a tourist, see how the relationship pans out for a few weeks, perhaps, then she returns home. If you agree to marry at that point, then go down the K-1 route, as it'll allow her to work on her return. Of course, if she did get a job, getting a week off for a honeymoon after 90 days might not work too well ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 1:59 PM on August 13, 2005

I should also point out I'm not a lawyer, but I considered every option and studied every loophole possible to make it to the US. I still never made it ;-) This has, however, become a subject I have some interest in.
posted by wackybrit at 2:01 PM on August 13, 2005

The United States' immigration system is staffed by bullies and idiots and managed by worse.
This is so true that it should be engraved above the entrance to every place they perform their "service."
Consulate staff in many of "our" embassies operate in a similar manner. That's where foreigners have to go to get a visa.

My wife came to the U.S. on a student visa, then started working after she graduated. Her employers helped her convert her visa. (I do not know how much of a hassle that has become.) After we were married, the green card application was still a pain in the ass, mostly because of the bullies and idiots wackybrit talks about.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:41 PM on August 13, 2005 is a pretty comprehensive site on legal immigration issues.
posted by of strange foe at 7:45 PM on August 13, 2005

Its been about a dozen years, so things may have changed. But in my case it was easier to marry overseas, and then work on bringing my wife to the US.
Ditto on the difficulty on working with the immigration people. The DMV is stellar customer service by comparison. I'm straight dog serious. I would also second the suggestion for working with an immigration lawyer.
posted by forforf at 7:51 PM on August 13, 2005

I give you this advice as a paralegal working for an immigration attorney: Go directly to a lawyer. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. The USCIS is every bit as bad as people have described it upthread. Hiring a lawyer will be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as it could get if you try to do it yourself and screw the whole thing up. I've seen some real disasters from people trying to do their own marriage cases. If you want, feel free to E-mail me, and I'll ask my boss for the name of a good immigration lawyer in your neck of the woods. Good luck.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:56 PM on August 13, 2005

If she comes over on a tourist visa or visa waiver (I'm not quite sure which country you're referring to by 'Motherland') and doesn't say the trigger word 'fiancée', you can get married in the US. But your then-spouse will have to then return home and apply for a K3 visa, which takes about six months.

The advantage of a K3 is that it gives you more time to adjust status, and gives her the freedom to travel outside the US without something called 'advance parole', which is the USCIS equivalent of a hall pass. It's a little trickier to get work authorisation (again, it takes about six months after you enter on the K3) but not too bad. All in all, it's a difficult, daunting, infuriating and self-contradictory process. I've not used an immigration lawyer, but it's probably worth doing.

One thing: if 'Motherland' does refer to Russia, you may run into a few problems given the whole mail-order bride thing.

Oh, money. $13,000 per annum, or thereabouts. If you're not earning that amount, you could get one of your parents to be a co-sponsor.
posted by holgate at 2:48 AM on August 14, 2005

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