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The spark of attraction knows no borders. In fact, the more exotic we find the object of our desire, the more we are attracted. So, with Valentine’s day around the corner, here are some thoughts on the path of true love with a foreign national.

Step 1: Love is in the Air

Many citizens of other countries come to the United States to study. They may be full-time academic students or vocational students, or English language students. Others come as foreign exchange visitors, au pairs, or visiting professors or researchers. Still, others come as diplomats, professional workers, athletes, models, artists, performers, or people seeking refuge from persecution. Many people visit the US each year as business visitors or tourists. Conversely, many US citizens or permanent residents do the same in other countries. All this foreign exchange produces engagements and marriages with people wanting to create joint lives together in the US.

Step 2: A Petition with USCIS

One way to a joint life in the US is the filing of a fiancé(e) petition. A US citizen can petition for their fiancée (feminine) or fiancé (masculine). However, the option is not available to permanent residents.  When a US citizen petitions for a finacé(e), the couple must have met in person within the two-year period before filing the petition. There are two limited exceptions to this “meeting” rule. One exception is for situations where longstanding custom forbids such a meeting. The other exception is for situations where the meeting would cause extreme hardship for the US citizen.  

Another option is the spousal petition. This option is available to US citizens and permanent residents alike. However, there is one big difference between the two. For US citizens, is no limit on the number of visas available for spouses or fiancé(e)s each year. This is not the case for permanent residents; there is a limit on the number visas for spouses of permanent residents each year. This limit on the number of visas means there is sometimes a wait of two years or longer before a visa number becomes available.

Step 3: Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing

Step three is divided into two paths, depending on whether the foreign national is in the United States at the time of filing the petition, or not. If the fiancé(e) or spouse is in the US at that time, there is no need for a fiancé(e) petition. In many circumstances, the couple can get married, file the spousal petition and, at the same time, file the green card application. Unfortunately, this is not true if the foreign national crossed the border illegally or has some other bar to admissibility. In these circumstances, the foreign national will not be able to apply for the green card inside the United States and likely will require a waiver of one or more grounds of inadmissibility.

If the foreign national is abroad at the time that the US citizen files the petition, the foreign national will have to “consular process.” That is, s/he will apply for a fiancé(e) or immigrant visa, at the US consulate abroad. 

Factors Complicating the Case

In the best of scenarios, these three steps about six months to about two years. However, if there are factors that complicate the case, the couple may have to wait a bit longer.

If any of the following are true of the foreign national, the case may take longer:

  • Criminal convictions.
  • Ties to a terrorist organization.
  • Health problems.
  • Unable to meet the new self-sufficiency requirements.
  • The foreign national is still married to someone else.
  • Final or of removal or deportation.
  • Claims to US citizenship (like on an I-9 form).

If there are complicating factors present, it is strongly encouraged to seek the advice of an immigration lawyer before filing anything with the government.

Happily Ever After

If the couple completes the three steps successfully, the foreign national will become a permanent resident and will receive the coveted “green card.” In a majority of cases, the green card will be valid for two years only, and the couple will have to file to remove conditions on the foreign national’s residency. After this time, USCIS will issue the foreign national a green card that is valid for 10 years, and the pair can live out their days happily ever after in the US.

If you are a US citizen or lawful permanent resident and need assistance with your fiancé(e) petition or spousal petition, our experienced immigration lawyers can offer expert advice.