Marriage-Related Requirements to Get a Fiance Visa

An overview of the time-limits and other rules regarding the marriage associated with a K-1 Fiance Visa petition.

A fiancé visa will get you into the United States for the purpose of getting married. In order to be eligible for this visa, the U.S. immigration law requires that you:

  • intend to marry a U.S. citizen
  • have met your intended spouse in person within the last two years (though this can be waived based on cultural customs or extreme hardship), and
  • are legally able to marry.

We’ll discuss all of these below. See Who Is Eligible for a K-1 Fiance Visa for the general requirements.

You Must Intend to Marry

The requirement that you intend to marry might seem obvious—you wouldn’t be applying for a fiancé visa if you didn’t plan to get married in the United States. But keep in mind that the U.S. government wants more than your assurance that a marriage is somewhere on your horizon. They will want proof that you’ve made actual plans, such as a place, a type of ceremony or proceedings (even if the proceedings are only in front of a judge), and more.

Make your wedding plans flexible. You can’t know exactly how long it will take to get the fiancé visa, but you’ll have to hold your wedding within 90 days of entering the United States. Before you sign any contracts for catering, photographic, or other services, discuss the situation with them and build some flexibility into your contracts or agreements in case the date needs to change.

Your Intended Spouse Must Be a U.S. Citizen

To be eligible for a fiancé visa, the person that you plan to marry must be a citizen, not a permanent resident, of the United States. A U.S. citizen is someone who either was:

  • born in the United States or its territories
  • became a citizen through application and testing (called naturalization), or
  • acquired or derived citizenship through a family member. (Acquisition and derivation of citizenship are complex areas of the law. In general, however, people may acquire citizenship by being born abroad to one or two U.S. citizen parents; they may derive citizenship if they are lawful permanent residents first and one of their parents is or becomes a U.S. citizen.)

Unlike some other countries, the United States does not require that its citizens carry any sort of national identity card. People who are U.S. citizens may have different types of documents that prove their status, such as a birth certificate, a U.S. passport, or a naturalization certificate. Your spouse will need to obtain documentary proof of his or her citizenship in order to submit with the fiance visa petition.

Permanent residents of the United States— also known as green card holders—are not U.S. citizens. If your spouse is only a permanent resident, he or she can petition to obtain permanent residency for you, but your marriage must already have taken place. There are no fiancé visas available to you.

You Must Have Met in Person Within the Last Two Years

To protect against sham marriages, the law also requires that you and your intended have met in person within the last two years in order to be eligible for a fiancé visa. These days, a surprising number of couples fall in love over the Internet, or even through old-fashioned letter writing. Such couples will need to make sure they schedule at least one in-person meeting in the two years before applying for the fiancé visa. Even a brief meeting may be sufficient.

In some countries, prospective husbands and wives customarily do not meet before their wedding. If one or both of you come from a country where such a meeting would not be acceptable, you may find the meeting requirement a bit of a hurdle.

Fortunately, if you provide documentation of the prevailing customs in your country, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may overlook this requirement.

The meeting requirement may also be waived if the U.S. citizen spouse can show that arranging a physical meeting would result in extreme hardship to him or her. This exception is usually granted only in cases where the U.S. citizen suffers from severe medical problems that would make an overseas visit difficult. Financial concerns are not usually considered sufficient to prove extreme hardship.

You Must Be Legally Able to Marry

Last but not least, to be eligible for a fiancé visa there must not be any legal barrier to your getting married. You may not have to provide anything at all to satisfy this requirement if you’re an adult who’s never been previously married and you’re not a blood relative of your fiancé. This requirement is primarily directed at couples in which:

  • one person is underage
  • one person has been previously married and needs to prove that that marriage was legally ended, or
  • the two members of the couple are related by blood.

If one of you is under the age of 18, you may be considered underage. Your legal ability to marry will depend on the laws of the state where you plan to get married. Each of the 50 U.S. states sets its own rules, and you will need to research them. For example, you may find that in one state you must be 18 years of age to marry, while in another you can marry younger if you can show the consent of your parents.

If you or your fiancé have been previously married, you will not be given a fiancé visa until you prove that that marriage was legally ended, for example by death, divorce, or annulment. This is usually easily proven, by obtaining copies of records from the court or local civic records office.

If your divorce or annulment occurred overseas, the U.S. government will recognize it as long as it is recognized in the country where it took place, and as long as at least one of the divorcing parties had a residence in the place where the divorce took place.

If you and your fiancé are blood relations, your legal ability to marry will depend on the laws of the state where you plan to get married. You will need to research these rules. You’ll find that all states prohibit marrying your sister or brother (sibling), half sibling, parent, grandparent, great grandparent, child, grandchild, great grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew. But some states have additional prohibitions, such as marrying your first cousin.

Some U.S. states recognize same-sex marriages, and these do, since the defeat of DOMA in 2013, qualify a foreign national for a fiancé visa. But you'll need to research the legality of same-sex marriage in the state where you plan to hold the wedding -- the right to a same-sex marriage is not nationwide in the United States.

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