Are you a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident (green card holder) who has a girlfriend, boyfriend, fiance, husband or wife that is abroad? If you recently got engaged, planning on getting engaged, or getting married, congratulations! You have a lot of exciting things to plan. Immigration visa options is probably one of them.
Our clients ask us all the time about the differences between a fiancé visa and marriage / spouse visa and which one is better. In this article, we will breakdown all you need to know when making this decision. There are certain advantages and disadvantages to both.
For spouses from Iran, Syria, Yemen, or other Muslim Ban / travel ban countries (related to the Presidential Proclamation / Executive Order), there are extra hurdles and strategies to take into consideration. We will address those as well in the last section below. For example, the estimated processing times are different depending on the country your partner is from.
Here’s What This Guide Covers:
1. How is Fiancé Visa Different From a Marriage Visa?
A fiancé visa is a nonimmigrant visa (temporary visa). The fianceé visa is for a U.S. citizen wanting to sponsor a fiancé who is currently abroad. In other words, it is not available to legal permanent residents (green card holders). The fiancé visa (K-1 visa) was created so that fiancés abroad can get a visa quickly to enter the United States. This way, couples could be together and not have to wait out the lengthy green card process in two different countries.
One of the main requirements of the fiancé visa is the two-year meeting requirement. During the two years right before you file the I-129F (fiancé petition), you must have met your fiancé in person. If in the past two years, you were unable to meet with your fiancé, you must request a waiver of the meeting requirements and show that a meeting in person would:
The other major requirement for a fiancé visa is that once you are together in the United States, you and your fiancé must get married within 90 days of your fiancé’s first arrival to the United States. Then, you can apply for a marriage green card through the adjustment of status (I-485) application process.
Keep in mind the fiancé visa is technically two separate application processes before your fiancé can obtain a green card. One process is abroad to obtain the actual fiancé visa for entering. Then, you do the adjustment of status process once in the United States to obtain a green card (permanent residency). Because of the two separate processes, the fiancé visa is more expensive than a marriage visa case when getting the ultimate goal of permanent residency (green card status). The good news is the fiancé visa is usually the fastest way for your fiancé to come to the United States, especially compared to the marriage green card process. One important exception to the fiancé visa being the fastest visa to be together is for applicants from Muslim ban countries, which we explain more below. Overall, the fiancé visa is a great option for couples who want to start their immigration process right away and who do not want to wait until they are married to apply for a visa and wait out the embassy process for a green card.
The marriage visa is also known as IR-1/CR-1 visa (for spouses of U.S. citizens) or F-2A/family-based 2A category (for spouses of green card holders). A marriage visa is an immigrant visa process which means that once approved, your wife or husband will have an immigrant visa and green card status once they enter the United States. This option is for both U.S. citizen and legal permanent residents (green card holders) both.
As the name implies, you can apply for this visa once you are married. Therefore, if you are not already married, you have to make arrangements to get married abroad. If you prefer to have a wedding in the United States, a fiancé visa would be the best option. The two main requirements for the marriage visa are that (1) the marriage is valid and (2) you have proof of your real relationship. A marriage is valid if the marriage is considered a “legal marriage” in the country where it was performed. One example is that if you perform a religious marriage ceremony only, you must make sure that a religious ceremony makes you legally married in the country that you performed the ceremony. For the second main requirement of proving your real relationship, some good evidence includes ceremony pictures with family present in the pictures, extensive communication history such as phone logs, emails, and texts. You can also provide letters from family and friends describing how they know you and your spouse as a couple. Overall, the marriage visa can be a fast route to a green card. Furthermore, a marriage visa is the most cost-effective option, which we explain more in the next section.
2. Cost Comparison: How Much Does it Cost for a Fiancé Visa? How Much Does it Cost for a Marriage Visa / Marriage Green Card?
Fiance Visa Application Fees
Total government fees are $2,025 (as of December 2020) and are breakdown as follows:
Marriage Visa Application Fees
Total government fees are $1,200 (as of December 2020) and are breakdown as follows:
👉 These breakdowns are for filing fees only. Other potential costs may include medical exams, translations, legal services, photocopying charges, travel expenses, marriage ceremonies, etc. Please note that USCIS planned to increase filing fees in October 2020, but lawsuits and court decisions, such as federal court injunctions, have put a hold on these increases until further notice. Check the latest USCIS or Department of State pages for each application to see the most current filing fees before deciding.
As you can see, there is a major difference between the two applications. If you are open to either visa option, but the cost is important to you, the marriage visa might be the way to go. On the other hand, while a fiancé visa can be a bit more costly, the huge benefit of the fiancé visa is that it is typically processed faster than the marriage visa so you and your partner can be together as soon as possible and applying for the green card together once your partner is in the United States.
3. Process and Timeline for Fiancé Visa and Marriage Visa: How Long Does It Take for a Fiancé Visa? How Long Does It Take for a Marriage Visa / Green Card?
Processing times can vary greatly depending on where you live and what immigration processing center and the embassy are handling the case. For each step of the process, there are different agencies involved that have separate processing times. For example, the initial sponsorship application is processed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Their processing times can be checked here. After that, the National Visa Center (NVC) processes your application and has you fill out more applications for the consulate/embassy, then the U.S. embassy or consulate abroad evaluates your visa application package and schedules your interview. An embassy interview can be scheduled fairly quickly or be delayed depending on the local country's conditions and the embassy’s caseload. An immigration attorney can advise regarding choosing embassies for the fastest processing times. Below is an approximate estimate of processing times:
Fiancé Visa Estimate Processing Times (as of December 2020)
Marriage Visa Estimate Processing Times (as of December 2020)
👉 These estimates are as of December 2020. For the most up-to-date processing times, check with USCIS and the embassy.
Your process could be in the lower range of these estimates. There is a significant range of time for the processing right now because of embassy closures due to COVID-19 restrictions and delays and because of the soon transition of the presidency to Joe Biden (more information on COVID restrictions below). To put it most simply, you can expect at least a year and a half for the processing for either the marriage visa or fiancé visa. However, remember for a fiancé visa, the lengthiest portion of the processing is when your fiancé is with you in the United States. There are also options to expedite processing for each stage if there is an urgent need or emergency.
Here at ImmigraTrust Law, our best immigration attorneys have worked with many different USCIS offices, NVC, and embassies abroad and can help you decide what are the best strategies for marriage and fiancé cases. Our best marriage green card attorneys have successfully represented hundreds of couples get marriage visas and fiancé visas. We can help you navigate all the requirements with ease. Based on our experience over the years, the bottom line regarding processing times is that if you and your fiancé, wife, or husband want to be together, and you want to live in the United States, start the process as soon as possible. Get your place in line. Our best immigration attorneys can help if you need COVID-related emergency exceptions and other exceptions to normal processing times as well.
4. Can I Apply for Fiancé Visa or Marriage Visa During COVID-19? Due to Coronavirus, Can I Get a Fiancé or Marriage Visa?
We are in the middle of a global pandemic, which has affected visa options and processing times greatly. There are a few visas that are currently suspended until December 31, 2020, due to President Trump’s COVID-19 Presidential Proclamations. These bans might be extended into next year. The good news is that fiancé visas and visas for U.S. citizen spouses are currently available, so they are NOT banned because of COVID-19 Presidential Proclamations. However, visas for spouses of green card holders ARE currently blocked. You can read more about what visa categories are currently banned or blocked in this article.
It is important to note that the COVID restrictions are a ban on entry at the border of the United States; it is not a ban on the entire visa process. In other words, you can apply and go through the entire process, but when it comes to getting the visa and being able to enter the United States, the process is stopped. Therefore, you can move forward with your plans, get married, start the sponsorship application, etc., but when it comes to scheduling the embassy interview and figuring out a good timing for the last part of the process, we can work with you for the best strategy. For most cases, it is beneficial to apply as soon as possible to start the processing time because the wait times are so long currently, partly due to immigration policies and partly due to coronavirus embassy closure delays.
It is important to note that the COVID restrictions come into play at the embassy interview stage. With current processing times, if you apply today for a fiancé or marriage visa, you will not have your embassy interview until approximately 6–10 months from now. Hopefully, by then, there will not be a coronavirus related restriction anymore. President Joe Biden is likely to change some of the immigration restrictions including the COVID bans, but we have to wait to see what happens. Furthermore, even if President Biden is successful in stopping the immigration bans, it might take time for the changes to take effect. Therefore, it is always good to be ready for any possibility. For this type of planning, it is best to speak with an attorney to strategize about the best options.
Another byproduct of COVID-19 is that USCIS and embassies are not processing cases and scheduling interviews at normal speeds. Therefore, many parts of the process have been delayed significantly. Every USCIS regional center/processing and consulate post/embassy is different. Therefore, check the processing times for the application type and the embassy before applying and during the process as they change regularly. This is a fluid situation; check the processing times frequently.
5. My Fiancé is From Iran or a Muslim Ban Country (Related to the Presidential Proclamation) — Is Marriage Visa or Fiancé Visa Better? What Couples From Muslim Ban / Travel Ban Countries Need to Know
If your fiancé is from one of the travel ban countries (Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Chad, North Korea, or Venezuela), deciding between a fiancé or marriage visa requires a few considerations. For travel ban/Muslim ban cases, such as Iranian fiancés or Syrian fiancés, the fiancé visa is not the fastest or easiest option. Due to processing delays and extensive security and background checks (also known as administrative processing), fiancé visas take approximately the same amount of time as a marriage-based application for people from Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Therefore, the fiancé visa’s main benefit of getting a visa quickly is defeated for couples from travel ban countries like Iran, Syria, Yemen, etc.
There are still some benefits to a fiancé visa for travel ban country applicants. For example, if you and your fiancé want more time to get to know one another or you are not ready for marriage. Also, you might not want to have a wedding abroad. Navigating immigration regulations does not have to be your only consideration; you have to do what is best for you!
If you and your fiancé are ready to get married and are just wondering what is best as far as the immigration process and the travel ban, marriage is the better option. A marriage relationship is a “stronger” relationship and shows that you both are truly committed to each other. Therefore, a marriage case can be better as far as travel ban waiver evidence or eligibility. Your spouse can still be subject to lengthy administrative processing (FBI background checks) in a marriage green card case. However, once the process is completed, it means that your spouse will receive a green card.
President Joe Biden has promised to eliminate the Muslim ban/travel ban as one of the first things he does in office. As noted in the COVID section above, even if President Biden stops the Muslim ban/travel ban and other immigration bans, it might take time for the changes to take effect. Other politicians might push back and take the issue to the court which will delay the stopping and cause cases to still be affected by the travel ban restrictions. Therefore, be prepared to potentially being required to prove travel ban waiver qualifications for your wife or husband, or fiancé.
To learn more about the travel ban / Muslim ban requirements, please visit our extensive breakdown in this article.
6. How to Choose Between Fiance Visa and Marriage Visa — Pros and Cons of the Fiance Visa and the Marriage Visa
Fiance Visa Pros and Cons
✅ Fastest way to enter the United States and be together (for most nationalities)
✅ Apply for green card while together as a couple in the U.S.
✅ Have time to get to know one another
✅ Marriage ceremony in the U.S. (this can also be a negative)
❌ More expensive
❌ Two separate application processes
❌ Must have met in person in the last two years
❌ Must marry within 90 days of entry to the United States
❌ Not the fastest option for Muslim ban / travel ban country applicants
❌ Not the strongest evidence for Muslim ban / travel ban waiver
Marriage Visa Pros and Cons
✅Fast route to green card
✅Cheaper application fees
✅Strong evidence for Muslim ban / travel ban waiver
❌ Longer processing times (for most nationalities)
❌ Must marry abroad (this can also be a positive)
❌ Might not be ready for marriage
Ultimately, you have to consider all the factors and decide what is best for you. Remember, that the immigration process is one factor in your decision, albeit a major one. You also have to evaluate what is best for you considering your personal life such as goals, location, finances, and your relationship. If you are not sure that you want to get married yet, then do not rush through getting married. If you know you have found the one and are ready, then get married and start the green card process ASAP. If your main goal is to find the fastest visa process, then typically the fiancé visa is the fastest way for you and your partner / significant other to be together (some exceptions apply if your fiancé is from a Muslim ban country). If cost is the most important factor for you, you can save significantly by applying for a marriage green card, instead of doing the two separate processes for the fiancé visa.
Here, at ImmigraTrust Law, we have helped hundreds of couples successfully get fiancé visas and marriage visas. We have also helped hundreds of couples affected by the travel ban. We are considered the top travel ban/Muslim ban legal experts in the United States and internationally. We would be happy to help you and your fiancé, wife or husband navigate the requirements and choose the best option that works for you! You can book a consultation via this link. We look forward to helping you reach your immigration success!
For more information on this and other immigration topics, please visit our articles page.
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--Najmeh Mahmoudjafari, J.D.
Najmeh is the Founder and Lead Immigration Attorney at ImmigraTrust Law (www.ImmigraTrust.com), an immigration law practice in Orange County, California, representing individual and corporate clients in all 50 U.S. States and internationally. Najmeh can be reached at Najmeh@ImmigraTrust.com.
DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended and does not constitute legal advice. This article does not create an attorney/client relationship and does not provide an attorney/client privilege. For legal advice about your specific case, please contact an attorney.
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