I recently received my permanent residency card for the United States of America. It was a long process. I thought it would be a good idea to document the events leading up to this point.
Here’s my disclaimer: Immigration is a complicated issue and I am not an immigration expert. US Immigration laws and procedures frequently change and it’s ultimately your responsibility to keep up to date with these changes. For the most up to date information, please consult the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, also known as USCIS.
If you want to marry an American, there are two marriage-based visas that can be filed for the purpose of marriage. These are the K-1 and K-3 Visa.
The K-1 Visa, often called a fiancée visa, allows you to bring your fiancée to marry within the United States. With this K-1 Visa, your paperwork needs to be filed and approved before the fiancée can immigrate to the U.S. and get married. The K-3 Visa, on the other hand, is filed after the marriage has already taken place and the marriage usually this occurs outside of the US.
(The K-2 Visa is to allow any unmarried children of your fiancée/spouse into the country and is usually filed at the same time as either the K-1 or K-3 Visa).
Can you come to the US on a tourist visa (or as a visitor) and then just get married?
I am not sure about this route. In my own personal research and from what people have told me, it’s possible and there are couples who do this. However, that being said, from my understanding, the US Immigration frowns upon this. If the fiancé(e) comes to the US with the intent to marry and does not disclose this to Immigration Officials, they are essentially committing visa fraud and if proven, this could potentially lead to deportation and future problems US Immigration. While it’s possible to take this route, these couples may have more difficulties when it comes time to file for residency status (or green card).
My experience has been with filing the K-1 Fiancé(e)Visa, so I most of this section will document that process.
Petitioner – the American citizen who is filing for the fiancé(e)/spouse to come to the US
Beneficiary – the person marrying the American citizen
The advantages of a K-1 Visa
- supposedly, the K-1 Visa has a faster processing time than the K-3 Visa. (approximately 3-6 months vs. 8-12 month processing time–assuming that you have done the paperwork correctly)
- Because of the conditions of this visa, it may give couples who may not know each other very well, a chance to get to know one another and possibly change their minds with the 90 days allowing the beneficiary to come to the US
- supposedly, less supporting documentation is needed for the K-1 visa as opposed to the K-2 visa.
- It’s the least expensive route (supposedly cheaper than k-3 visa)
- The paper work for a K-1 is simple compared to the K-3 visa which is more complex.
- the Beneficiary gets a chance to see the US and local customs and culture and get a chance to decide if they want to live with the person in the US (the K-1 is a one time entry visa so this point is for the Beneficiaries who would otherwise have to obtain a tourist visa to enter the US. Canadians do not require a tourist visa to enter the US).
- You deal almost exclusively with US Customs and Immigration (you probably won’t have to fill out too many immigration forms in your home country).
- You deal exclusively with US Customs and Immigration (I decided it’s also a disadvantage because it can be quite the ordeal with US Customs and Immigration, it can be discouraging; the Immigrations officers, for the most part, are not very friendly and the paperwork can be tedious).
- You cannot be with your fiancé(e) while the paperwork is being processed. The Beneficiary remains in his/her home country during this process.
- Filing paperwork can be a hassle because both the Petitioner and Beneficiary must fill out biographical forms and in some cases, may have to sign papers within 30 days of filing. Original forms with signatures need to be sent (faxed and e-mailed copies of signatures will not be accepted). This requires some coordination particularly if you are not in the same country.
- In some cases, it may be harder to prove that there is a relationship because of the amount of time Petitioner and Beneficiary spend apart may be more than the time spent together.
- Because the marriage must take place in the US, it may be harder for the beneficiary’s friends and family to attend the wedding. This is particularly true if they require tourist visas to enter the US.
- The marriage must take place within 90 days of the Beneficiary’s arrival to the US. Otherwise, the visa will have expired, the Beneficiary must leave the country and you will have to refile.
Qualifications for filing for K-1 Visa
- The Petitioner must be a US Citizen.
- Both Petitioner and Beneficiary has met within the last 2 years (you must provide documented proof of the meeting). There is an exception to this if it is against one’s customs to meet in person prior to marriage. In that case a written statement explaining the circumstances of not meeting in person will be sufficient.
- Both must be free to marry (and if applicable, provide documents proving termination of any previous marriages)
- The Petitioner must prove that they are financially able to support Beneficiary
Step 1 – Filing the Petition
Package that you send to the USCIS should include the following:
- Filing fee (written by cheque or money order, cashier’s cheque payable to US Department of Homeland Security). In 2008, the filing fee was $455 US dollars.
- Form I-129F – Petitioner for Alien Fiance(e) (Note: Part B, Question 18, must include a description of how you met the beneficiary, signed and dated by Petitioner)
- Completed forms of G-325A. This was confusing because the online form consists of 4 identical pages. If you complete page 1 online, it should copy the same information onto all 4 pages. Print, sign and submit all 4 pages. Complete one set for the Petitioner and complete one set for the Beneficiary.
- Evidence of Petitioner’s US Citizenship (photocopies of long form of US birth certificate and/or US passport biographical page). I also included a copy of my long-form birth certificate which lists information about my parents. It supplements the G-325A Biographic Information
- Two passport sized pictures of the Beneficiary (I included two passport sized pictures of B.B. as well because I wasn’t sure at the time and decided to be safe than sorry). There are strict photo specifications including a measurement of 2 inches x 2 inches. (See photo requirements).
- Letters certifying intent to marry. These are original statements from both the Petitioner and Beneficiary stating that you are willing to marry each other within 90 days of arrival.
- Documents proving your relationship (included: letters, e-mails, photographs, airline itineraries, boarding passes, photocopies of telephone bills, engagement announcements, invitations addressed to both Petitioner and Beneficiary).
- Attach a cover letter that lists all supporting documents included in the package.
Tips for sending your package:
- Make sure that the edition date of the forms is current. (Check the expiry dates printed in the upper right corner of the forms).
- Check on the USCIS website to find the office where you are to mail your package (where to file). This will depend on which state you reside.
- To save yourself future hassle, it’s a good idea to make three copies of your package (one package with forms with original signatures to be mailed to USCIS, one package for the petitioner, and one package for the beneficiary which should include original proof of relationship documents such as original boarding passes. should be in this package in the case that you go to your interview and could be asked to produce original documents).
- Use a courier service so that you are able to track your package. Keep in mind that courier services cannot send packages to PO Boxes so you will have to get the address for courier drop off.
- Use black ink when filling in form or signing documents. The I-129F instruction form states “Type or print legibly in black ink.” It seems like a silly reason for having your application denied, but why take that chance?
- The I-129F instruction form also states that you should photocopy both the front and back of the Petitioner’s US birth certificate. If you provide the US passport as proof of citizenship, you must photocopy all pages of the passport provided that it is valid for at least 5 years.
After you mail the package
The Petitioner will recieve a letter from the USCIS called the I-797C Notice of Action which acknowledges that they received the application and the filing fee. This could take place a few months after filing.
Once the application has been approved, another I-797C Notice of Action will be sent to the Petitioner stating that application has been sent to the Depeartment of State National Visa Center. They in turn send the petition to the US Embassy or Consulate nearest to the Beneficiary.
The Beneficiary receives a package from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. The Beneficiary follows instructions in the packet which requests that they fill out part 1 DS-230 Biographic data and fax it back to the US Embassy. Included in this packet is a sheet called the “Visa Instructions for Fiancé(e) Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants.” It’s a checklist of documents that you must gather and other things you must do before the US Embassy will allow you to make an interview appointment. It’s a two page list requesting:
- a valid passport with at least 6 months validity
- a Medical Examination to be completed by a physician listed in the package (In Canada, there are only 4 physicians approved by US Immigration to complete the examination–lucky for me, one of the physicians is located in Vancouver).
- Birth Certificates in the long-form which state the names of both parents (the wallet-sized commemorative certificate is not accepted). In British Columbia, you can contact BC Vital Statistics to obtain this birth certificate.
- Police certificates from each country where you hae resided for six months or more since the age of 16.
- Court and Prison records (regardless of whether or not you have been pardoned)
- Photographs (5 identical photographs that have been taken within the past 6 months measuring 50 x 50 mm, in colour, showing full front face, with white background. Three of these photos are to be taken with you to the medical exam and two will be taken to the US Consulate or Embassy when you go for your interview).
- Divorce and Death Certificates (originals)
- Form I-134 Form, Evidence of Support completed by the Petitioner, but the Beneficiary must have this document for the interview at the Consulate.
- Documents for Accompanying Child/children
- Evidence of a relationship (originals of letters, photographs, receipts, travel itineraries, boarding passes, etc.)
- Translations (if your documents are not in English, you must provide certified English translations)
- Fee ($131 US non-refundable application fee that must be deposited in the bank that they specify. Instructions are written on the checklist)
- DS-156 Nonimmigrant Visa application and DS-156K. (These forms have to be filled out and faxed to the office. The contact information is listed in the packet).
As mentioned above, the medical examination is to be completed by a U.S. Surgeon (the contact information is included in the packet. You must set up an appointment with the office (contact information is listed in the packet). On the day of your appointment, you must bring:
- three of the five identical photos of yourself
- written records of your vaccinations (if your records are incomplete, you can get a blood test prior to your visit to prove you’ve been immunized)
- the payment in US dollars (it was $350 US when I took the medical exam)
You need to be prepared for the amount of time that it will take to complete the exam. When I went to the medical examination, they expected me to be there by 6:30. I checked in and waited to be called. Many other people were at the office to see the doctor for Immigration purposes. They send you to do tests in groups. The first part, as I recall, was the blood test. They took a few vials of blood. We also had to get a chest x-ray taken, and then a quick physical with the doctor. A nurse was present in the room with the male doctor. He just checked my blood pressure, eyes, ears. I was wearing a paper gown during the exam but I didn’t have to get pap exam.
(This page is a work in progress. More information to follow).