International Marriage Immigration Laws

By Eric Feigenbaum

Getting married can be a wonderful and romantic thing. Spending the rest of your lives together can be exciting and seem easy. But when a U.S. citizen marries a foreign spouse outside the United States, there are some legal bumps and hurdles along the way to "happily ever after." Because marriage to a U.S. citizen has traditionally been an abused path to a green card, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services scrutinizes international marriage through a very specific, detailed process. Some find it a little invasive and most find it highly procedural. But for those with a genuine marriage, the challenges should be easily surmountable.

K-3 Visas

The USCIS has a special classification of visa just for foreign spouses to enter the United States with the intention of immigration. The U.S. citizen must file with USCIS an I-130 application for permanent residency on behalf of the foreign spouse. At the same time the U.S. citizen must also file a I-129F form to get a K-3 non-immigrant visa. The I-129F takes approximately six months to process and become available for issuance at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

The K-3 allows the foreign spouse to reside in the United States for up to two years while the permanent resident application is processing. K-3 visas may be extended so long as the I-130 remains pending but will be canceled if the I-130 petition is denied or if the marriage terminates.

The safest way to apply for permanent residency and K-3 visas is through a qualified, experienced immigration attorney. Be sure to get proper legal assistance to get the best results.

Work Permit and Travel Benefits

A holder of a K-3 visa may apply for a Employment Authorization Document, which can allow the holder to work until the issuance of a permanent resident green card. The foreign spouse must file a Form I-765 with the USCIS. The processing typically takes 30 to 90 days.

Additionally, so long as the visa is valid, K-3 holders may enter and exit the United States freely without applying to the USCIS for permission to travel--or what's known as advanced parole.

Adjustment of Status Immigration

A foreign spouse who can successfully enter the United States on a non-immigrant visa in classifications designed for tourism, family visitation or education may apply for adjustment of status. This involves filing both an I-130 for permanent residency and an I-485 to immediately change the non-immigrant visa into an immigrant visa. An I-485 can also provide for an EAD, which allows the foreign spouse work privileges.

While this immigration route is usually viable for a legitimate marriage, the USCIS does not prefer it. The USCIS emphasizes the K class visa for a proper marriage-based immigration.