Getting Married in the USA: What are the Visa Rules?
Whether you’re a foreign national making plans to get married in the USA or a non-US citizen marrying a US citizen in their home country, it will be important to ensure you hold the relevant permission to travel to the US for the purpose of getting married.
Getting married on a tourist visa
If you and your fiance are non-US citizens wanting to visit the USA to get married, it is possible to do this with tourist status.
If you are a national of one of the Visa Waiver countries, you can apply for ESTA authorization to travel to the without having to secure a visa. Visa-free travel is allowed for trips of up to 90 days and permissible activities include getting married and tourism (honeymooning).
You must have been granted your ESTA approval before you travel.
B-2 tourist visa
If your ESTA application is refused, or if you are not otherwise eligible, you may need to apply for the B-2 visa. The B-2 visa permits and is usually granted for a maximum period of 6 months.
You cannot apply to get married and stay in the US indefinitely under either the VWP or the B-2 visa. Whether you are travelling under the VWP or a B-2 visa, a key requirement you will need to evidence in your application (and potentially at the border should you be questioned by immigration officials) will be your intention to leave the US by the end of your permitted stay by showing for example evidence of your home residence such as mortgage statements, a letter from your employer to prove continued work in your country of residence and your return travel details.
Getting married to a US citizen in the USA
If you are getting married in the USA to a US citizen, as a non-US national you may become eligible to remain in the US with your spouse after the wedding. Marrying an American citizen does not automatically grant you immigration rights. You must ensure you are making the relevant immigration application to secure lawful status in the US.
Entering the US as a fiancé of a US citizen
With a K1 visa, you can enter the US for the purposes of marriage and then apply to adjust your status to remain in the US with your spouse after you are married.
You are generally eligible for the K-1 visa if you have met your US fiancé in person in the past two years and are planning to marry within 90 days of the visa being issued.
The application process can be lengthy, and you will need to complete the relevant forms and attend an interview at a US consulate or embassy in your country of residence. Following your entry into the US on a K1 visa, and your subsequent marriage, you will need to submit an application to adjust your status to that of a lawful permanent residence, that is, apply for a Green Card. This is a highly involved process and will require you to submit documents and applications, pass background checks, attend interviews and take a medical.
Already in the US
If you are already in the US with lawful status, for example with a work-related visa such as the H-1B or L-1 visa, you should again apply to adjust your status from within the US. This will require you to show:
- You were granted lawful admission to the US under a nonimmigrant visa and this is still valid
- You have during this time breached the conditions of your visa status, and
- You do not have any convictions that would make you ineligible.
Entering the US as a tourist
If you enter the US as a tourist with no intention of getting married but meet a US citizen on your trip and subsequently marry, it will challenging – but not impossible – to stay in the country with your new spouse. If applying to adjust your status to that of a lawful permanent resident as a non-US spouse, you will need to show you arrived in the US with honest intentions to return home and the decision to marry and stay was made during your time in the US.
You have to prove you married in good faith. If, however, USCIS believes your relationship is not genuine, and that you entered into marriage for the purpose of gaining immigration benefits, your application will be denied, and you may be deported.
Applicants should also note the 90-day rule for adjustment of status. It is not advised to apply to change your staus within 90 days of entering the US on a nonimmigrant, non-intent visa, as immigration authorities can presume fraud and the applicant should expect increased scrutiny of their application.
If you are getting married in the USA or looking to marry a US citizen and stay with them in the country, given what is at stake, it will be important to approach your US immigration application with care.
Whichever route is appropriate for your situation, the eligibility criteria are strictly applied and you will need to build a compelling case to support your application and convince the adjudicator that you meet the requirements.
NNU Immigration are specialist US immigration attorneys. Based in London, UK, we advise individuals on their US immigration options and provide professional guidance and support throughout the application process.