Rules of Marriage and a J-2 Visa to the US
November 16, 2014 7:03 AM   Subscribe

My long-term boyfriend is moving to the US for his PhD-degree in September 2015 and plans on getting a J-1 visa. I would like to join him on a J-2, but we are not married yet. Is it possible for him to apply for a visa this winter, then we get married in the spring/early summer, and then I can apply for a J-2 visa at that time?

My boyfriend has been informed by his University that he should start the Visa application as soon as possible, probably in January already, to be sure to get it sorted so he can start in September. Because of planning reasons, I'd like to have the wedding in early June, at the earliest. We are EU citizens in our late 20s. We have been together for five years and were planning on getting married anyway in a few years, so although this is also for practical reasons, it's definitely a "real" wedding.

The stay is fully funded by my boyfriend's University and additional scholarships and will be for a duration of 3-6 months (as of yet undecided – probably also dependent on my visa options). I would like to come on a J-2 visa so that I would be able to work or study while in the US.(I already hold a Masters degree.)

Would it be possible form him to list me as a dependent on his J-1 application in January, and then only give proof of marriage (marriage certificate) when I apply in June? Or can his application be amended at that time?

Another possibility is that we could have a courthouse wedding in January and then hold the ceremony in June. This would be less romantic, but maybe it's the only way?

Bonus question: If it's not possible for us to get married in time, and I join him in a tourist visa, would it be legal for me to do volunteer work while in the US?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do not count on timing your application. The US government has and will continue to have shutdowns that render everything unpredictable.

It is best to deal with US immigration via an immigration lawyer as they know the ins and outs and the current state of the constantly changing immigrations laws and implementations (which often differ from what you will read).

People can tell you about their experiences but the laws and more importantly their implementation will almost certainly have changed since they went through the process even if it was just last year.
posted by srboisvert at 7:21 AM on November 16, 2014

From an anonymous commenter:
Your friendly neighborhood Consular Officer is back with answers to all your questions:

It is very possible for him to apply for a J1 now, you to get married later, and you to apply for a J2 after the wedding.

He should not list you as a dependent on his application until you are legally married. His institution will give him a form that is called the DS-2019 which he will use to apply for his J1 visa. Once you are married, his institution can issue you a separate DS-2019 which you will use to apply for your J2 visa.

You can get your DS-2019 after you are married -- probably by late January if you marry in early January and probably by late June if you marry in early June.

Tread carefully if you intend to join your husband on a visitor visa before you get married. If you enter the U.S. under the visa waiver program (you said you're an EU citizen, so that's likely…), it's not possible to adjust status to a J2 visa and you are only admitted for 90 days. If you would like to accompany your boyfriend as his domestic partner, not as his spouse, I'd recommend you apply for a full B2 visa and enter the U.S. on that. That will give you at least six months in the U.S. and the opportunity to adjust status. If you apply for a visa, make it clear to the Consulate/Embassy official that you intend to use the B2 visa to reside in the U.S. as a "member of household" of your J1 partner. You should also make this clear when you reach the immigration counter at the airport.

I would speak with the International Students office at your partner's university before starting any volunteer work on a visitor visa. That is a very tricky area of law and it's difficult to answer in the hypothetical without knowing your exact visa status at the time and what you're proposing to do.

(By the way, my two cents: Do the January courthouse wedding. U.S. immigration is set up to deal with married couples, not unmarried partners. It will be immensely easier to do it this way.)

Good luck and enjoy!
posted by restless_nomad at 7:24 AM on November 16, 2014 [15 favorites]

Friendly neighborhood Consular Officer is fast. I was mainly going to add the last point: immigration is very much set up to deal with married couples, and if it's a choice between timing one's legal wedding and timing one's visa application, romance takes a distant second place to USCIS bureaucracy.

Do the "paperwork wedding" as perfunctorily as possible to give yourself breathing room for the visa application, because the stress of visa paperwork and interviews does not combine well with planning a wedding ceremony.
posted by holgate at 7:34 AM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please note that you must apply for a separate work permit (employment authorization, I-765) in order to work legally. You should probably count about 3 additional months for processing time there, and it looks to me that you can only apply after entering the US on the J-2 visa. So you might actually only have 0-3 months to actually work depending on the duration of your stay.
posted by yonglin at 8:54 AM on November 16, 2014

Note that actual visa processing for a J1/J2 is quite fast - plan on an 0-4 week period of waiting for an appointment (dependent on your location) and then about a week to get the visa itself in the mail.

The employment authorization form, however, might be significantly slower.

A courthouse wedding before the initial application might significantly simplify things.
posted by Ashlyth at 11:27 AM on November 16, 2014

Do not count on timing your application. The US government has and will continue to have shutdowns that render everything unpredictable.

Small clarification: USCIS (the immigration service) is not funded by Congressional appropriations--its budget is something like 90% based on user fees--so it won't be affected by a shutdown. The Department of State, which actually issues visas, is a different story.
posted by psoas at 11:45 AM on November 17, 2014

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