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dudewithacamera

Marry in the US or abroad?  Where to propose? Fastest Green Card options

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I'm a US Citizen, my fiance is British. When we got engaged, we wanted to get married in 3-4 months, ideally in the UK, then move quickly to the US without being separated. Deciding where to get married and how to immigrate were stressful and complicated questions. It seemed impossible on our timeline, but there was a way! We got engaged in April, married in August, and received a US green card in November. I thought I would share my experience in case anyone else is trying to sort out the simplest and fastest path to marriage and life in the USA.

 

Path 1: Marry in the US with Fiance Visa

 

If she entered the US without a fiance visa as a visitor (in my fiance's case on the visa waiver program), we would have no problems getting married. But when adjusting status to permanent resident so she could legally stay and work in the US risks being charged with visa fraud since she entered for the purpose of getting married and staying in the US. You could get away with it, but if you get caught, you might kiss the chance of living in the US goodbye for years. Even if unlikely, it's not worth the risk. To marry in the US and legally stay in the US, she would need a fiance visa, which as I understood, would take almost a year to get! We didn't want to wait that long.

 

Path 2: Marry in the US without Fiance Visa

 

There is a way around this. If she enters as a visitor with no intention of marrying or staying, and you propose while she's in the US, you could legally get married and adjust status to permanent resident without her committing visa fraud. But she won't be able to leave the US until after the wedding and receiving her green card, or at least receives permission to leave, which could be a long time. So as it turns out, where you propose could have big implications. But by the time I learned this, I had already made plans to propose in Malta, and didn't want to change my plans. If you've already proposed, she's wearing a ring, put pictures on facebook, and communicated with friends, then forget it.

 

Path 3: Marry Abroad and Petition for Immigrant Visa

 

Getting married outside of the US can be a lot faster. Getting a fiance visa to marry in the UK only takes just a couple months, and faster services are available. But they are also much more expensive! But beware... even after the wedding, getting a US green card can take over a year, and my understanding is once she's applied for one, she may be denied entry in the US until it's approved which could be more than a year. So if you need to return to the US, you may be separated for a long time. If you don't want to be separated, you may have to immigrate to the country of your marriage while you wait for the US to process her immigration. There is something called a K-3 visa, which I think she can use to enter the US while waiting for her immigrant visa to be processed, but this takes longer to process than the immigrant visa itself, so it's probably not useful.

 

Ideal Path 4: Marry Abroad and DCF it!

 

Here's the way around this: Direct Consular Filing (different from consular processing that all foreign applicants go through). It's shocking to me how few people know about this process. If you're reading this forum you probably already know about it, but I'll continue anyway...

 

If the USC lives abroad in a territory covered by a USCIS field office, the USC may qualify to file an immigrant petition through that office rather than the main office in the US. This is HUGE. Rather than the petition waiting for the better part of a year for initial processing, it might just take a couple of months. The visa is then processed by the Immigrant Visa Unit at the embassy rather than the National Visa Center, which is also much more efficient. You save time because everything is essentially handled in-house at the embassy rather than being passed around from office to office in the US. The initial paperwork required is slightly less. The filing fee is lower, you don't have to pay fees to the NVC, and you don't have to pay for a courier if you want to pick up her passport after approval, so you save quite a bit of money. The USCIS field office and IV unit at the London embassy were both incredibly easy to get a hold of and gave incredibly fast responses to email queries. DCF applicants can choose their own embassy interview appointment time and change it if necessary. She'll receive her green card immediately upon entering the US. There's little disadvantage: With DCF it's slightly more difficult to meet the income and domicile requirements of the Affidavit of Support (more on this below). Also I've heard that if you file abroad, you can't appeal a denial, but I'm not sure about this. I'm not aware of any other disadvantages of DCF.

 

As I understand, to qualify for DCF in most territories, the USC needs to have lived there for 6 months. However the UK doesn't have this requirement (despite what you read online). The USCIS office in London lists on their website that you need a permanent residence card or military orders or something like that to prove UK residence. I'm not sure why they say this but DISREGARD THIS. I went on a futile rabbit trail trying to figure out how to get a residence card which I still don't understand, and is even more complicated with Brexit. Despite what their website says, I believe the London USCIS field office will happily process your application if you have almost any kind of visa other than a tourist visa. There is no requirement for how long you are in the UK, and you don't even have to stay in the UK for the whole process. In other words, if you have a visa to marry in the UK, the USCIS office in London will process your application the day after the wedding, saving you hundreds of dollars and months of waiting. Just email them if you have questions and they'll get right back to you. 

 

Unlike the US, if you get married in the UK, you are required to have a specific visa for that purpose -- even if you're not going to stay. As I mentioned, a fiance visa is faster to get in the UK than the US, but more expensive. But I got something else called a marriage visa. It takes just a couple weeks, doesn't require a medical and all, and costs a fraction of the price. You won't be allowed to work, but you'll be busy with wedding planning and immigration paperwork anyway. You can't stay in the UK longer than 6 months with this visa, but if you're going to the US anyway, this isn't a problem. In fact, it works to your advantage. For her to get her green card, you need to prove domicile in the US. Since a fiance visa is a settlement visa, this will work against you, but a marriage visa is only 6 months, so it helps prove that you'll be moving back to the US, yet still satisfies the requirements for DCF (at least in London). 

 

Tips for Marrying and Filing in the UK

 

The process for getting married in the UK is baffling for an American like myself -- there are lots more rules about weddings. You'll need to be in the UK over a month before the wedding, and you'll need to make an appointment at the registrar's office well in advance. We were on a short timescale, so we had to make an appointment for AFTER the wedding, give proof of that appointment in my visa application, then once I got the visa, use proof of the visa to reschedule the registrar appointment for an emergency time slot. And the immigration paperwork hasn't even begun...

 

As far as the actual immigration process once you're married, this website is a great resource. In particular this page.  More info can be found elsewhere in this forum. The US State Department, US Embassy, and USCIS websites also have tons of information. Don't hire a lawyer, they'll slow you down and charge you a fortune. I talked to 2 US lawyers and 1 UK solicitor and none of them mentioned this as an option. Do your own research. Think ahead and take initiative, especially if you want this to go quickly. For example, you have to know on your own that a police certificate is required for the medical, and it takes a couple weeks to get. If you wait 'till they tell you, you'll be delayed, but if you get it in advance, you can book the first available medical appointment like I did. Since you can't work in the UK on a marriage visa, you may need to rely on a joint sponsor to meet the financial requirements. Know this ahead of time and get the co-sponsor to send you the I-864 early since it could take a couple weeks to arrive from the US. The only way to know this stuff is to do the research and understand the process. You never know when something is going to get approved faster than you expect, and so you should always be ready with the next step. 

 

Hope this helps. Good luck!

Edited by dudewithacamera

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~~Moved to What Visa Do I Need, from DCF - The OP is sharing options~~


Spoiler

Met Playing Everquest in 2005
Engaged 9-15-2006
K-1 & 4 K-2'S
Filed 05-09-07
Interview 03-12-08
Visa received 04-21-08
Entry 05-06-08
Married 06-21-08
AOS X5
Filed 07-08-08
Cards Received01-22-09
Roc X5
Filed 10-17-10
Cards Received02-22-11
Citizenship
Filed 10-17-11
Interview 01-12-12
Oath 06-29-12

Citizenship for older 2 boys

Filed 03/08/2014

NOA/fee waiver 03/19/2014

Biometrics 04/15/14

Interview 05/29/14

In line for Oath 06/20/14

Oath 09/19/2014 We are all done! All USC no more USCIS

 

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