Crossing Borders for Love

February 2011 - By Shahzad Ahmed with NeJame Law

As our world becomes more and more intertwined, the romantic metaphor of crossing the seven seas for your beloved becomes a reality. Cross-cultural marriages are becoming part of the norm. But which is better? Filing as a fiance or spouse? Let us explore both options.


When Love is Abroad

When a U.S. citizen marries abroad, he or she can return home to the U.S. and file a marriage petition from here. Once the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) confirms that the marriage is bona fide (not just to confer a green card on someone), the agency will approve the petition and then eventually forward it to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your spouse's home country, where an interview will be set for the issuance of a visa.

But what if your family insists on having your wedding here because having the entire family attend the wedding abroad would be cost prohibitive? The solution is the fiance petition! Instead of marrying abroad, you would file a petition as a fiance. You must have met your beloved at least one time within the last two years and once your fiance enters the U.S., he or she must marry you within 90 days. After marrying, your new spouse must file an adjustment-of-status application with the USCIS and attend a "marriage interview" with you.

When Love is Nigh

Most U.S. citizens meet their foreign life partners within our shorelines. Note that the fiance petition is not applicable when your fiance is in the United States. The first step would be to marry your life partner. Upon marriage, you can file your marriage petition with the USCIS. In most cases, the marriage petition should be accompanied by an adjustment-of-status application. The USCIS will eventually set an interview to review two things: that the marriage is bona fide, and that your spouse is not 'inadmissible' to becoming a lawful permanent resident. (Yes, the Immigration and Nationality Act has several grounds of inadmissibility!) Once the USCIS approves the marriage petition and the adjustment of status application, your spouse will get a Resident Alien Card (green card) in the mail. If the marriage is less than two years old, the residency will be granted conditionally for two years. Near the end of the two year conditional period, the couple must file a joint petition to establish that they still reside together; or if the marriage is terminated, the applicant must show that there is a bona fide reason for no longer residing together.

Love Can't be Blind

"My marriage is real! I don't need an attorney!" If you are inclined to believe that, think again. Our discussion provides only an overview of the marriage-based immigration process. There are many intricacies involved that are not discussed here. For every person who is able to handle the process successfully, there is one who couldn't. The lesson: While falling in love, avoid getting hurt. Whether marrying a foreigner abroad or in the U.S., knowing your options and being prepared are the keys. It can avoid unnecessary delays.

Therefore, be sure to consult with an experienced immigration attorney before starting your new life with your beloved.