I thought getting married would be easy...
March 8, 2008 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Help me get this resident-alien marriage process/paperwork straightened out.

Here's the situation-

My GF is an international student (on an F-1 visa). She is hoping to finish school after next quarter. We are planning to get married at the end of this year.

Here are the steps as I see them now:
1. Get married
2. I file a I-130
3. She files an I-485.

If I understand this correctly, none of this means she can stay in the US after we get married, until she gets a visa number/space.

Our goal is to keep her here without having to travel in an out of the country for an extended period. We are currently living together, and been together 4+ years.

We have a few options for her to stay here, I believe...

1. She can keep registering for additional classes to extend the F-1 visa. (rather not)
2. She can apply for practical training (up to 1 year) where she has to be actively looking for work or be working.

So a few questions...

First, am I missing anything?

Second, how long is the wait before she is able to stay in the US after we get married? Should we get married nowas a formality and have her stay here using her F-1 visa/practical training until her status changes (through marriage). ?

Another option is for her to apply for practical training now and after she finishes next quarter, start that, then get married, but I'm afraid it will take longer than a year for her to get her marriage visa.

Anyone gone through this process?
posted by mphuie to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First, am I missing anything?

Yes, the part where you talk to an immigration lawyer :-)

Seriously, you might think you don't want to spend the money, but imagine a future where something's gone wrong that a lawyer could have steered you around and ask if you would have rather spent the money.
posted by winston at 5:41 PM on March 8, 2008

Best answer: Get yourself straight to Visajourney.com. It's the place for all the info you need and full of nice people who have been through just what you're going through and will answer your questions.
posted by merocet at 5:43 PM on March 8, 2008

Seconding what Winston says; these things can get very complicated if you don't know the ins and outs of the system. Most immigration lawyers should be able to advise you on this, and they'll probably give you a free initial consultation on what you need to do and what it'll cost.
posted by baggers at 5:46 PM on March 8, 2008

I second asking a lawyer. Way back in 1973, I was on a F1. When I married an american citizen, I did not have to go out of the US and reenter to get a green card. Granted things have changed drastically since 9-11.
posted by francesca too at 5:48 PM on March 8, 2008

A friend of mine is currently being detained (and it's been several months now...) for something that went wrong years ago regarding a visa. Having witnessed a little bit of what happens in this situation, I strongly second winston's suggestion and encourage you to talk to an immigration lawyer to get everything straight beforehand.
posted by Squee at 5:53 PM on March 8, 2008

This is the rest of your life. You must have a lawyer for this.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:06 PM on March 8, 2008

Relax. After you fill out the paperwork, a provisional visa is granted. Eventually you get an interview and then they give you the official card. This was several months in my case (and over a decade ago). Things my be a little different, but I doubt they've stopped giving out provisional visas.

If you are married in the US there's no reason you or your wife will have to leave the country.

That said, I agree with everyone - talk to a lawyer, even if it's just for a one-time consultation.
posted by O9scar at 6:55 PM on March 8, 2008

Best answer: VisaJourney is more focused on K visas, but there are a few bits and bobs there that you've probably already seen.

Lawyer lawyer lawyer up. At very least, talk to the college/university's international office.

But: seriously consider getting married now and adjusting status from F-1. Once you file -- the key term here is 'concurrent filing' -- your fiancée will eventually need employment authorization to work, and advance parole to leave and return, but 'Pending AOS' status keeps her legally in the US. (She technically gives up F-1 status by showing intent to remain, and there's currently no law on how that resolves, but the regulatory guidance from USCIS is to treat F-1s with AOS pending as F-1s as long as they satisfy the conditions of their F-1 status.)

I say all this because you've got four years of easily-digestible genuine-relationship evidence at hand, and it's likely to be much easier working your way through the system on the US side than having her deal with a consulate in her home country. But a lawyer will be so much better placed to judge your specific circumstances and help you manage the paperwork.
posted by holgate at 6:59 PM on March 8, 2008

You have several options, none of which are horrible.

(1) Get married before she's due to leave. Then file:
I-485 to adjust her status. After you file this, she remains legal; her status is now "pending adjustment." The only proof of this she will ever have is a cash-register receipt you'll get in the mail for your AOS paperwork.
I-765 to get her a temporary work permit. If the AOS takes more than a year, you can just get a new one.

(2) She goes back. You file:
I-129F to import her as a fiancee. There's associated paperwork and some followon stuff with the embassy/consulate in her home country. Timeline: a few months to a year. Once she's here, you get hitched and go through the AOS process as above.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:07 PM on March 8, 2008

On the other topic,

I dunno that you need a lawyer. Presumably if your beloved is already in the US, she doesn't have a criminal record back home or other closet-skeletons that would stop the visa process. The process is long and fussy, sometimes in irrational ways. You have to be heavily detail-oriented.

Lord knows there's nothing wrong with going to a lawyer, especially for an initial consult where he tells you what the pathway will be. But you shouldn't think that it's necessary in the same sense that it's necessary to have an attorney represent you in a criminal trial. And there are cases where couples end up with their case all fucked up because the lawyer didn't submit something on time, even though he had all the materials for donkey's years, or otherwise did something wrong.

In addition to visajourney, the newsgroup alt.visa.us.marriage-based is an utterly invaluable resource. It is chock full of people who have been there and done that, and also several real no-shit immigration attorneys.

The other thing about lawyers is:

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:16 PM on March 8, 2008

I didn't do the student-to-spouse version, but I did do the I-129F visa for my then-fiance, now-ex-husband. (marriage ended for reasons totally unrelated to immigration, except maybe the part where if we'd been able to live short distance for any time at all before getting married, I might have made a different decision. Fortunately, it sounds like you don't have that issue.)

Anyway: we went through the process in 2001 (he got his actual visa to come here 3 weeks after 9/11, which made his consulate visits rather more exciting than we wanted.)

You do not need a lawyer *if* your situation is absolutely straightforward, and *if* you are very good at filling out forms. (We got compliment after compliment on ours: we just followed the instructions absolutely. Apparently, that's rare.) You do need a lawyer if your fiancee has any kind of criminal record (no matter how small) or if there's anything irregular about her being in the US. Or other weirdnesses. You might want to see one for a short amount of time to confirm there's no weirdnesses and to get a path through which way makes the most sense to you, and then do the forms on your own.

I really second, third, etc. the online resources - visajourney is the successor to some of the sites we used and the alt.visa.us.marriage-based group was a lifesaver (so were its FAQ files, etc.) It'll give you an excellent idea of what to expect, and we found the timelines for response really helpful and generally very close to spot-on.
posted by modernhypatia at 8:05 PM on March 8, 2008

You might want to see one for a short amount of time to confirm there's no weirdnesses and to get a path through which way makes the most sense to you, and then do the forms on your own.

Agreed. As others have said, legal advice is useful for picking up on any specifics that may cause problems, and possibly for double-checking your paperwork before you file. Ultimately, there are going to be lots of forms that no lawyer will be able to complete much better than you, a large bill, and lots of annoying visits to various offices in your locality. The international student office at your fiancée's institution may be just as well suited to these questions, since she's not going to be the first F-1 who finds love in the US.

I will repeat, though, that while inside-the-US immigration bureaucracy is Kafkaesque, it's generally easier than dealing with consulates abroad. District offices often seem to work from their own interpretation of whichever regulations are in effect at the time, whereas consulates tend to know their stuff. But consulates are also best prepared to deal with long-term residents in that country, and an applicant who has been in the US for the past four years doesn't fit that model. (Obtaining something like a police report can get tricky.)
posted by holgate at 11:48 PM on March 8, 2008

2nding ROU_Xenophobe (interesting screen name). Look at alt.visa.us.marriage-based on usenet. Lots and lots of experience there, and several immigration attys are regular posters. Yours is not an unusual situation, but even with the existing F-1 you are in uncharted waters. Good luck. My partner is from elsewhere as well, and although the bureaucracy has been a mess at times, the individuals at the 3 district offices we've dealt with have been great.
posted by headnsouth at 6:20 AM on March 9, 2008

I will repeat, though, that while inside-the-US immigration bureaucracy is Kafkaesque, it's generally easier than dealing with consulates abroad.

And generally, your choice isn't between dealing with USCIS or State (who run consulates and embassies). It's between dealing with USCIS or USCIS *and* State.

District offices often seem to work from their own interpretation of whichever regulations are in effect at the time, whereas consulates tend to know their stuff.

Hrrrb. On a.v.u.m, the things you really heard horror stories about were the consulates. The Mumbai consulate was renowned for its old Indian employees who would ask why a nice Indian boy couldn't find a nice Indian girl to marry, for example.

(interesting screen name)

See Iain M. Banks.

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2008

ROU_X: point taken. I'm going on the example of European consulates, but I can imagine it being different elsewhere. The biggest issue, obviously, is workload and accessibility: Seattle has a better-than-average district office, while [home country]'s consulate may be a long way away and understaffed. (What's also marginally helpful about district offices, from my perspective, is that they seem to employ a fair percentage of naturalized citizens.) But even the European missions are better set up to deal with long-term residents, as opposed to people briefly back after several years in the US.
posted by holgate at 10:06 AM on March 9, 2008

« Older How to cram lots of differing but related info...   |   Felony Record and Disability Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.