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

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.

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 might 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 fiancé(e) visa is an exception, however. To get a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, you need to go through the full process described below, including submitting a petition (Form I-129F) to U.S. Citizenship 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, typically within 90 days; though the maximum is six months. 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 at the border and actually tell the officer your intentions were to be a tourist, and then soon after, you get married.)

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. The agency will look especially hard if you got married within three months of your U.S. entry. With any luck, you'll be able to convince it 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 might 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 into 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 fiancé(e) fills out and submits the fiancé(e) petition on Form I-129F, prepares supporting documents, and submits it by mail to USCIS.
  2. When the petition is approved, the foreign national fiancé(e) fills out more forms, which he or she will prepare according to instructions from the National Visa Center.
  3. The foreign national fiancé(e) brings everything to the U.S. consulate in Montreal 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(e) enters the United States, and, within 90 days of entry, marries the U.S. citizen and submits an I-485 Adjustment Application by mail to USCIS (the primary form for which is the I-485).

For more information on this process, see Steps to Get a K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa.

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