Do Canadians Need a K-1 Visa to Enter the U.S. & Marry a U.S. Citizen?

Canadian citizens typically enjoy easy entry into the United States, but to enter and marry a U.S. citizen, the K-1 visa process still applies.

If a Canadian citizen wishes to marry a U.S. citizen inside the United States, then applying for a K-1 visa at a U.S. consulate is the appropriate first step. This may be a surprise to any Canadian who is accustomed to the easy application procedures that usually apply. For example, Canadians wishing to enter the U.S. as tourists can simply show up at the border or port of entry, present their passport, and visit as tourists for up to six months.

Similarly, Canadians wishing to obtain various temporary visas, such as TN visas, can simply prepare their paperwork and bring it straight to the U.S. border or other port of entry for a decision by U.S. immigration officials, without making a stop at a U.S. consulate.

The fiance visa is an exception, however. To get a K-1 fiance visa, you need to go through the full process described below, including submitting a visa petition (Form I-129F) to U.S. Citzenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and then applying to a U.S. consulate in Canada for the K-1 visa. We'll describe, in this article, why you shouldn't attempt to do an end run around this process.

Why Not Just Enter the U.S. as a Tourist and Get Married?

It has probably occurred to you that you could save all this trouble by simply showing up in the U.S. with your Canadian passport, getting married, and then applying for your green card. There's just one problem with that strategy, and it's called "visa fraud." By using your rights as a Canadian for quick entry, you are telling U.S. immigration officials that your intention in the U.S. is to be a tourist, and to leave within 90 days. That's true even if you get waved through without an interview by an officer at the U.S. border, and never actually say to anyone "I'm coming here as a tourist." (It's even worse if you do get interviewed and tell the officer your intentions were to be a tourist, and then turn around and get married.)

But if you get married after arriving in this way, and apply for a green card, USCIS will take a look at your U.S. entry to see whether you misused your entry rights. They'll look especially hard if you got married within two months of your U.S. entry. With any luck, you'll be able to convince them that you were only considering getting married when you entered the U.S., and made your decision and plans to marry after your U.S. entry. Or you may be able to apply for a waiver of your fraud, but that's hard to get approved. If all of that fails, you will be found inadmissible and denied the U.S. green card.

An even worse possibility is that you will be denied entry to the U.S. at the outset. Even if you pretend to be a tourist (which again, is a bad idea), the border or other U.S. immigration officials may search your belongings and discover a wedding dress, documents that you brought along in preparation for the green card application, a copy of a contract with your wedding caterer, and so on. They could, at that point, issue an order of removal in your case -- and you wouldn't be allowed back in to the U.S. for five years.

Applying for a K-1 Visa

The K-1 visa application is a four-step process:

  1. The U.S. citizen fiance fills out and submits the fiance visa petition, prepares supporting documents, and submits it by mail to USCIS.
  2. When the visa petition is approved, the foreign national fiancé fills out more forms which he or she will receive from the National Visa Center.
  3. The foreign national fiancé brings everything to a U.S. consulate in Canada for a personal interview and a decision on the K-1 visa.
  4. Once the K-1 visa has been approved, the foreign national fiancé enters the United States to marry the U.S. citizen.

For more information on this process, see Steps to Get a K-1 Fiance Visa.

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