If you, as a United States citizen, decide to marry a person from another country, you probably have numerous questions about that person's rights under the U.S. immigration laws. Some of the more common questions are addressed below.
To learn more, visit our comprehensive guide on visas and green cards based on marriage to a U.S. citizen
Can I Marry a Non-U.S. Citizen?
Yes, you can marry anyone you like, unless it happens to violate local laws. Some U.S. states, for example, don't recognize a marriage between close family members or people under a certain age. But such situations are rare. The person's immigration status has no bearing on whether your marriage will be recognized as legal.
Can I Marry My Gay or Lesbian Partner (of the Same Sex)?
Yes, as of 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a piece of federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex marriages are treated like any other marriage for federal immigration law purposes. But you will still need to make sure that gay marriage is legally recognized in the state or country where it took place. Simply holding a wedding ceremony in a state where the laws don't authorize same-sex marriages will get you nowhere -- you will need to present a government-issued certificate of your marriage as part of the immigrant's application for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card).
Will My Immigrant Spouse Become a U.S. Citizen Automatically?
Sorry, but no. An immigrant who marries a U.S. citizen must apply for a green card (U.S. permanent residence). This is a long process involving many forms and documents. The immigrant can be refused entry if he or she is found inadmissible, perhaps because of a medical problem, criminal history, past immigration violations, or the U.S. immigration authorities' belief that your marriage is a fraud to get a green card.
After successfully obtaining a green card, the immigrant spouse can, after three years as a permanent resident, apply for U.S. citizenship. (This assumes that you're still married and living together when the immigrant applies. If not, the waiting period changes to five years.)
Learn more about the green card application process or obtaining U.S citizenship through naturalization.
We're Not Married Yet: How Can My Fiancé Get a Fiancé Visa?
A fiancé visa grants permission to a non-U.S. citizen who is engaged to marry a U.S. citizen to enter the United states for the purpose of getting married. In order for your fiancé to get a fiancé visa, you will need to file a petition on Form I-129F with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
If the petition is approved it will then be forwarded to the U.S. consulate in the immigrant's home country for review. The review process could take several months. An interview with the applicant will be scheduled to take place at the consulate.
If all goes well at the interview, the fiance visa (K-1) will be issued. Once the fiancé visa is issued, the immigrant has six months in which to use it to enter the U.S., and then another 90 days in which to get married. It's best to get married early in your stay if the immigrant wishes to apply to adjust status (get a green card), because you'll need an official government certificate proving the marriage in order to submit the adjustment of status application.
Learn more about the eligibility requirements and the application process for a K-1 visa for fiance.
Are There Any Regulations About Our Finances?
Yes, the immigration law of 1996 outlines specific financial requirements for U.S. citizens who marry non-US citizens who will apply for a green card. The U.S. citizen will need to fill out a Form I-864 Affidavit of Support, which proves the ability to support the immigrant at a level above the U.S. Poverty Guidelines. In fact, the citizen will need to promise the U.S. government to support the non-U.S. spouse for approximately ten years.
If the U.S. citizen doesn't have enough income and assets to support the immigrant at the required level, you may need to find a household member or other person in the U.S. to promise support. The immigrant's own assets can be counted, as well. But it won't help for the immigrant to get a job offer in the United States.
What Forms Do I Need to Complete?
That's a complicated question, the answer to which depends on various factors such as whether you're married yet, whether the immigrant lives in the U.S. or overseas, and if the immigrant lives in the U.S., whether he or she is actually eligible to use the procedure known as Adjustment of Status. You can count on filling out several forms!