British Expats: What to Do Before You Say ‘I Do’
Options for Getting Your Green Card and Remaining in the U.S.
To paraphrase Truman Capote, love knows no geography.
If you’re a British expat reading this article, then you are likely hoping to marry your American sweetheart and remain in the United States. If your goal is to go through the immigration process and get your green card, i.e. obtain permanent residence, you have three main options:
- K-1 fiancé(e) visa
- I-130 Petition for Alien Relative filed in the U.S. (either with or without a K-3 nonimmigrant visa)
- I-130 Petition filed in London
The information that follows, though helpful, should not be construed as legal advice tailored to the specifics of your legal situation. If you require more specific legal advice, you should contact a U.S. immigration lawyer.
K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa
If you and your American love are not yet married, the K-1 visa allows you to move to the United States on a temporary basis and then to apply for permanent residence. In this scenario, you must marry a U.S. citizen within 90 days of arriving, then begin the process of adjusting your status to lawful permanent resident – often referred to as getting your green card. This “adjustment of status” process does not require you to return to the United Kingdom for immigrant visa processing.
Note: If you have already married your U.S. sweetheart, the K-1 visa is no longer an option. Rather, you will need to pursue an immigrant visa, discussed below.
If you’d like to pursue a K-1 visa, your American love must file a Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e). It must be filed with the Citizenship and Immigration Services Regional Service Center that has jurisdiction over the place of the U.S. residence you will live in. Along with the abovementioned form, the American citizen must also submit documents to demonstrate compliance with certain statutory requirements. For example, you’ll need to prove that you are both legally free to marry.
Petition processing times vary, but the current processing times are always listed on the USCIS website. Once your petition is approved, your file will be sent to the appropriate U.S. embassy or consulate (typically, in the country where you, the alien fiancé(e), reside).
Next, you’ll need to apply for a K-1 visa. The process is similar to that for an immigrant visa, and it includes a required medical exam. If you have unmarried children under the age of 21 and you wish for them to accompany you to the U.S., they may apply for K-2 visas in order to do so. Once your K-1 visa is issued, you’ll have six months to use it to enter the United States. Once you do, you must marry your American petitioner within 90 days. During that 90-day period, you’ll also be permitted to apply for employment authorization.
As soon as your marriage is official (congrats!) and you’ve obtained your official marriage certificate, you can take the next step. As a couple, you’ll apply for you to be granted lawful permanent resident status – the adjustment of the status process mentioned above. At the same time that you apply for the adjustment of status, you can also apply for employment authorization and advance parole. This allows for employment and travel while you’re in the midst of the adjustment of status process, which is often lengthy. Eventually, though, you’ll receive word to attend an interview at the local USCIS office. If the meeting goes well, you’ll be approved for permanent resident status.
K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa I-130 Visa (Potentially with K-3 Visa)
This is the option you may wish to pursue if you are already married, with your spouse living in the U.S. while you are still living abroad.
In the majority of cases, the U.S. citizen must initiate the process by filing the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with the USCIS Chicago “Lockbox.” (However, the location may vary.) This facility allows USCIS to receive forms expediently and to process payments securely. Once your I-130 petition is approved, the next step is for USCIS to forward your case to the National Visa Center in New Hampshire. There, you will receive a request for additional documentation, including your completed immigrant visa application. You’ll also be asked for an affidavit of support and the payment of any required application and processing fees. Once all your application requirements have been met, your file gets transferred to the appropriate U.S. embassy. Next, you’ll be notified of your scheduled interview date and instructed to schedule a medical examination in advance, too. If the interview goes well, you will be asked to surrender your passport so that your immigrant visa can be issued.
Your immigrant visa is valid for six months from the date of issuance. It permits you to enter the U.S. one time. Once you use it to enter American soil, you will be processed and granted lawful permanent resident status. This means you are authorized to accept employment with no further need for authorization.
On the Topic of the K-3 Visa: Yes or No?
If you’ve filed the I-130 and are awaiting adjudication and processing of your immigrant visa, you should be advised that the process can be quite lengthy. Obviously, it is difficult to be apart from your significant other for a long period of time, but you should not attempt to travel to the U.S. during this time without obtaining legal advice first. If you find yourself in this situation, applying for a K-3 visa may be the answer to shortening your time apart.
A K-3 visa allows the spouse of an American citizen to enter the U.S. and wait there for the immigration process to be complete. So, it’s a way to shorten the time you must spend apart before receiving your immigrant visa. In the same way, K-4 visas are available to your unmarried children under the age of 21. After your American love files the I-130 petition, they can also file a second petition for the K-3 (and K-4 as needed). When this petition has been approved, processing will depend on whether your marriage took place inside or outside the U.S. If it was outside the U.S., you’ll be required to apply for your visa at the U.S. embassy or foreign consulate in the country where you were officially married. If you were married on U.S. soil, you must file for your visa in the country where you were born or where you last legally resided. Once you receive your K-3 visa, you may travel to the U.S. to be with your significant other to complete the process of obtaining permanent resident status.
I-130 Petition and Immigrant Visa Filed in London
If your American sweetheart is resident in the United Kingdom, you can complete the process of applying for a visa in the UK. In this scenario, you will not need to go through the National Visa Center or any of the U.S.-based USCIS offices. Typically, this is a much faster process than the Stateside alternatives discussed above.
Final Thoughts on British Expats Planning to Marry American Citizens
While the above processes can seem lengthy and complicated, know that many British ex-pats marry their American loves every year and are granted green cards after completing the required paperwork and interviews.
As mentioned above, it may be that you require the advice and counsel of a U.S. immigration attorney. The State Bar of California offers information on obtaining such assistance. Unfortunately, scammers do prey on individuals seeking immigration help, so utilizing the channels of the State Bar will be the best way to ensure you are connected to trustworthy and knowledgeable attorneys to assist you in your immigration journey.