Here at Sumner Immigration Law, we love helping clients with family-based immigration cases! It's so rewarding to help families come up with and execute an immigration strategy to help them meet their personal, family, and professional goals. One of the questions we field frequently is can I (foreign national) enter the US to get married. The answer, of course, is "it depends!"
Here are three common scenarios that our clients contemplate, and some points to consider for each. As always, this blog is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice.
The K-1 fiancee visa is the visa that's designed to allow a person to enter the US for the purpose of marrying a US citizen, and then staying to apply for a green card. So in this case, absolutely, you can get married in the US. However, this is a process that involves multiple steps (I-129F, applying for the K-1, entering the US, getting married, and then applying for permanent residence (I-485). That process can take several months to a year, just to reach the point of the K-1 fiance being able to enter the US. However, this is the very visa classification designed to allow a person to enter the US to marry a US citizen.
Some couples wish to get married in the US and then leave, either to live abroad, or to subsequently have the US citizen (or permanent resident) spouse file the I-130 petition to begin the green card process for the foreign national spouse. That is also an acceptable option. Of course the foreign national spouse would need to enter the US legally, usually (but not always) with a B-1/B-2 tourist visa. In this case, if the couple wishes to live in the US long-term, the US citizen or green card holder spouse would file the I-130 petition. Once approved, the file would be sent to the National Visa Center, and ultimately the foreign national spouse would apply for an immigrant visa at the US consulate overseas. They would then use the immigrant visa to enter the US to live permanently.
Many times, after I explain in detail the two options outlined above, the couple will ask if there is a way for them to apply in the US while the foreign national spouse is already here. There are some situations in which that may be appropriate. For example, if the foreign national spouse/fiancee has been in the US in H-1B status, or on an F-1, etc, it may be possible to get married and file the adjustment of status here in the US. However, it is not appropriate for a person to enter the US on a visa, such as a B-1/B-2, ESTA, etc. with the express intent to get married, stay, and apply for the green card. At best, this is a mis-use of the B-1/B-2 (or other classification). When you enter on a B-1/B-2, for example, you are saying, by virtue of using that visa, that you plan to remain in the US for a temporary period of time, and then will leave the US. That is not consistent with planning to marry a US citizen or resident and staying to apply for a green card. But Emily, you say, I know my sister's husband's cousin's neighbor did this, and they didn't have any problems at all! Yes, people do this all the time. However, that does not make it okay, and does not make it without risk. If a person chooses to do this, there are several different possible outcomes:
If a person does successfully enter the US on a B-1/B-2 and then immediately get married and apply for the green card, they may have problems at the interview, and it is possible the case may be denied. This is not to say that it is never appropriate to get married after entering on the B-1/B-2 - it's always a question of the person's intent at the time of entering the US and there are certainly situations where a person enters the US with the intent to leave after a temporary stay, but once they are here they change their mind.
Regardless of the strategy you choose, it is important that you know the risks and benefits of each option. We help dozens of families and couples navigate this process each year, and we'd love to help you next! We are immigration lawyers located in Richmond, VA but we serve clients throughout the US and around the world. You can call us at 804-396-3412 or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.