Comparing Fiancé Visa And A Marriage Green Card

Foreign spouses of United States citizens may choose to come to the U.S. to live with their partners. This is made possible by two documents: the fiancé visa and the marriage green card. The choice of the type of visa depends on the status of the couple’s relationship. For married couples, they may apply for a marriage green card. For engaged couples who wish to get married, the fiancé visa is the most favorable option.

The status of the relationship is not the only difference to note between the two types of visas. Their application procedures, paperwork, eligibility requirements, and much more are also different. In this article, we will break down these two types of visas to help you note the differences, so that you may choose the best option for moving into the U.S. as a fiancé.

The Definition Of Fiancé Visa And Marriage Green Card

To help you define your status, it is important to understand the difference by definition between these two types of visas. Here is a detailed description of the definitions of the fiancé visa and the marriage green card:

The Fiancé Visa

This visa is also known as the K-1 Visa. As mentioned earlier, this type of visa is for a foreign fiancé of a U.S citizen who wishes to join their partner in the U.S. The K-1 visa allows a foreign national, engaged to a U.S citizen, to enter the country and marry their partner within 90 days.

Read more | The 90-Day Rule Explained

In this case, the alien spouse resides outside the United States, hence, the visa is solely applied for them to travel to the U.S. to marry their U.S. citizen spouse.

The Marriage Green Card

This visa is also referred to as the spousal visa or marriage-based green card. It is reserved for an immigrant spouse who is legally married to a U.S citizen or a U.S green cardholder. The immigrant spouse may either be living in the United States or outside the United States. The sole reason for this type of visa is to enable the immigrant spouse to gain legal permanent residence status in the U.S.

If the married spouse of a U.S. citizen lives outside the United States, the marriage green card process is different from that of a spouse already in the U.S. Also, the citizenship status of the U.S. citizen spouse determines the marriage visa application process.

Now that the differences by definitions of the two visas are clear, it is vital that you compare the eligibility differences to further break down what status best describes your eligibility.

Read more: Spousal Visa Eligibility Requirements Explained

Read more: Income Requirements For A Marriage-Based Visa

Read more: How Long Does It Take To Get A Marriage Green Card?

Read more: Ways To Get A Green Card?

Eligibility For The K-1 Fiancé Visa

Here is the checklist of eligibility status required by both couples before filing a fiancé visa.

  • The couple must be legally free to marry. If any of the partners was in a previous marriage, they have to provide evidence that the marriage has been terminated. Such evidence includes divorce papers, annulments, or the death certificate of a previous spouse
  • The couple must have met at least once within the past two years of their relationship, prior to the filing of a K-1 fiancé visa
  • The couple must prove their intention of getting married to each other within the 90 days as provided for by the visa

After meeting these requirements, the USCIS requires that the partner sponsoring the spouse visa files Form I-129F, also known as Petition for Alien Fiancé(e).

This is when the visa process begins. After successful consular processing, which includes an interview of the foreign spouse, the U.S government awards the K-1 visa, granting the immigrant spouse the permission to travel to the U.S. It is the duty of the couple to ensure that the immigrant partner travels to the U.S and that they get married within 90 days as stipulated by the fiancé visa (K-1).

The process continues with the sponsoring spouse filing Form DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application for their newly wedded partner to adjust their status. After two years of marriage, the immigrant spouse files Form I-485 to get legal permanent residence status.

On the other hand, the marriage green card has a totally different set of eligibility requirements as described below:

Eligibility For The Marriage Green Card

Earlier on, we discussed that the marriage-based green card caters to an immigrant spouse who may be living in the U.S. or outside the U.S. These two positions are the main focus of eligibility status in this visa category. Before filing for a marriage visa depending on these two positions, the sponsor is required to file Form I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative to USCIS, to formally inform them about the marriage.

Alien Spouse In The United States

Typically, the alien spouse must be a holder of a different immigrant visa that allows them to be in the country legally. They are also required to change the status of the already existing visa by filing an Adjustment of Status application Form I-485. This application to adjust status is used to determine the eligibility of the spouse’s application for a marriage visa. The applicant has to provide the following information to the USCIS alongside their application for permanent residency:

  • Evidence of the immigrant spouse nationality such as passport and birth certificate
  • Evidence of legal entry into the United States. This requires the I-94 travel records and the U.S. visa awarded prior to traveling into the country.
  • Medical Exam record by an approved medical examiner
  • Biometrics of the foreign partner
  • Evidence of financial stability of the sponsoring spouse in accordance with the federal poverty guidelines Form I-864, and evidence of tax returns. If the sponsoring spouse does not meet the threshold, they are allowed to include a third party as a sponsor.

If the spouse of the beneficiary is a U.S. citizen, not a green card holder, the Adjustment of Status Form may be filed concurrently with the Petition For the Alien Relative Form. The USCIS will also require other supporting documents for this application, which may include the following:

• Evidence that the U.S partner is a legal citizen. A birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or passport may be submitted as evidence.

• Evidence of the legality of the marriage, such as a marriage certificate bearing the names of the spouses, the date of marriage, and place of marriage.

• Evidence that the marriage is not fake. Documents such as bank statements, investment records, and lease agreements may be submitted.

• If any of the spouses were in a previous marriage, they have to provide evidence of termination, such as a certificate of divorce.

If the U.S spouse is a green card holder, the application for adjustment of status cannot be filed until the U.S Department of State validates that the person is listed under the visa bulletin as a legitimate green cardholder.

Alien Spouse Outside The United States

The proof of eligibility in this category begins with the immigrant spouse filing an application with the National Visa Center (NVC), also called known as Form DS-260, The Immigrant Visa Application. This spouse visa application is accompanied by the following documents:

  • Evidence of citizenship; may include a birth certificate or a passport.
  • Police clearance form
  • Evidence of the financial ability of the sponsoring spouse in line with the federal poverty guidelines. An affidavit of support from a third party may be submitted if the primary sponsor does not meet this threshold.

After all these requirements are met and validated by the U.S government, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services may begin the visa process to enable the immigrant partner to come to the U.S.

The Difference In Eligibility Of Spouse Visa Vs Marriage-Based Visa

Despite being specifically designed for marriage between a U.S citizen and a foreign spouse, the requirements for these two visas set them apart. The K-1 fiancé visa has a shorter process, for example, and comes with fewer forms to fill. The K-1 visa is specifically for an engaged couple yet to get married, while the marriage-based green card visa is for an already married couple.

The Difference Between The Forms Filed

For the K-1 visa, the beneficiary of the green card files two forms; the I-129F and the DS-160. In the case of a marriage-based green card, several forms are required, and they are also reliant on the location of the foreign fiancé and the citizenship status of the U.S partner.

Firstly, the sponsoring partner of the alien spouse has to file Form I-130 (read instructions) to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to establish the existence of the marriage. If the immigrant spouse is already living in the U.S., they will need to file Form I-485 to adjust status. If the spouse is outside the United States, they will need to file Form DS-260 to attain nonimmigrant status. These statuses also have different lists of requirements and supporting documents the couples must submit to the responsible U.S. government agency.

The K-3 Visa

Application for a marriage green card requires more paperwork, hence, it takes a longer time to complete the process. It may go well over ten months to years of waiting. K-1 visa processing timeline may be shorter, ranging between six to nine months. Sometimes, marriage visa applicants may decide to apply for a K-3 Nonimmigrant Visa that allows them to move to the United States on a temporary status as they await their permanent residence status. Most K-1 Visa applicants do not need to apply for the K-3 visa since the K-1 visa may have a slightly shorter processing timeline.

The Supporting Documents

Despite their difference in eligibility assessment, the supporting documents submitted along with the various forms are pretty much the same. They are all used to prove the authenticity of the relationship and financial ability of the sponsoring spouse. If more information is required, the US government will send a Request For Evidence (RFE) to the applicant.

Read more: Translating Your Immigration Documents

Cost of Fiancé Visa Vs Marriage Green Card Visa Applications

The U.S government charges different fees for filing immigration documents. These fees may be subject to changes without prior notice. It is the responsibility of the sponsor and beneficiary to cover the costs related to travel arrangements.

K-1 Visa Fees

As of February 2021, the USCIS fees for filing Form I-129 is $535. If the application is successful and the foreign fiancé is invited for a visa interview, they will be required to pay $265 embassy fees. The fiancé visa process also requires that the partner submits a medical examination report at their own cost. The medical fee varies in different countries, however, it may range between $60 and $300. There are no costs involved when filing the last form DS-160 for adjustment of status. Form I-485, which awards the relative spouse permanent residence, costs $1,225.

Marriage Green Card Visa Fees

Marriage green card costs differ depending on the location of the spouses. If you are applying for a green card while in the United States, the filing fee for the Form I-485 is $1,140 as of February 2021. You will also be required to pay the biometrics fee of $85. If you are applying for a green card while outside the U.S, the government fees for Form I-130 is $535. The State Department processing fees stand at $325 and an additional USCIS immigration fee of $220 is required.

Read more: All You Need To Know About Marriage Green Card Cost

The total fees required to process a K-1 visa vs marriage visa are lower. K-1 may be the better option if you are on a budget.

What If An Immigrant Partner Wants To Move To the U.S. With Their Children?

Both the spouse visa and the marriage-based visa have provisions for a foreign child to accompany their parent to the United States. The K-1 visa dictates that unmarried children of a foreign fiancé under the age of 18 may be eligible to apply for the K-2 visa. The marriage green card also allows children of the spouse under the age of 18 to apply for a green card through the green card application process. Despite their parent being a permanent resident of the U.S., children of a foreign national have to prove that they are not inadmissible.

Choosing Between A Fiancé Visa And A Marriage-Based Green Card

A couple’s decision on whether to get married in or out of the United States may decide the length of their immigration process. If you are engaged to a U.S. citizen spouse and not yet married, the most desirable visa option is the K-1 visa. Here’s why:

Shorter Application Timeline

The fiancé visa takes an average of 7 months to process. The time may be longer if all the supporting documents are not submitted on time. If you wish to travel sooner to the United States to join your spouse, this visa option would work better for you.

Getting Married In The United States

If you dream of having your wedding in the U.S. after your engagement, the K-1 visa is specifically tailored for that purpose. Once you enter the United States, you will be required to be married within 90 days. If you do not get married within the aforementioned period, you will be required to leave the United States, or face the risk of deportation. At that point, you will be considered to have violated U.S. immigration law.

More Marriage Options

The United States has more marriage options compared to many countries. For example, if your home country does not allow same-sex marriages, you may opt to get married in the United States since the law approves of it.

Already-married couples have limited marriage visa options. Since they do not qualify for the K1 visa, a marriage-based green card would be the past option. Here are some advantages of this alternative:

Faster Pathway To Permanent Residency

A successful marriage-based visa application awards the applicant permanent resident status. This saves the applicant the third process under the K-1 visa application. After getting married within 90 days, a K-1 visa applicant will need to file Form DS-160 to be a permanent resident.

Affordability Of The Visa

A fiancé visa is relatively expensive compared to a marriage visa. There is a difference of approximately $825 between the application fees of a fiancé visa and that of a marriage visa, by the time a spouse attains permanent residence status.

The K-3 Temporary Visa Option

The foreign partner may apply for the K-3 visa to allow them to enter the U.S. on temporary status as they await to be a permanent resident. This option is not available to fiancé visa applicants.

Overall, the eligibility of a foreign spouse determines the type of visa they are best suited for. If you are unsure of the type of visa that suits you based on your situation, it is always advisable to talk to a professional immigration attorney. Such an attorney usually comes with the much-needed experience and knowledge of how the U.S. immigration system works, and the best pathway to take on your journey to attaining permanent residence status.


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