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How does your foreign future spouse enter the United States?

Whether you met online, in your future spouse's country of origin or here in Houston, you fell in love and decided to marry. The two of you decided to have the wedding in the U.S. and live here.

The question is how your intended can legally enter the country for the ceremony and what happens thereafter. Fortunately, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a form for that.

Applying for a K-1 Visa for your future spouse

The first thing you need to know is that only a U.S. citizen can obtain a K-1 visa on behalf of a future spouse. Permanent residents cannot bring their intended into the country prior to the wedding. Second, your intended can only enter the country 90 days prior to the wedding, which means that you will probably need to make most of the wedding arrangements yourself. Moreover, the process could take some time, so the sooner you begin, the better.

You and your future spouse must meet the following criteria in order to apply for this visa:

  • You, as the U.S. citizen, are the one to apply for the visa.
  • You and your future spouse must not have any legal impediments to the marriage. For instance, if either of you was married previously, prepare to provide proof of death, divorce or annulment of that relationship.
  • Your wedding must take place within 90 days of his or her entry into the country.
  • Unless you qualify for a waiver, you and your intended must meet in person at least once within the two years prior to your application.

If you fulfill these requirements, you may then file your application.

What happens next?

After submitting the application, USCIS reviews it. It's important to include as much documentation as possible from the start in order to avoid unnecessary delays in the process. Otherwise, USCIS will put the application on hold while it requests and you provide additional information. Once the agency recognizes your relationship and approves your application, the DOS National Visa Center takes over the process. 

Your intended will then file his or her own application, which must also go through a review process. Once approved, the visa remains valid for only six months, but he or she still cannot enter the country until 90 days prior to the wedding. Your future spouse will still need to go through all of the requirements any other non-immigrant goes through before the U.S. government allows him or her to enter the country.

You may want to talk to an attorney

Immigration law in the U.S. creates enough confusion without adding in the current issues immigrants face here. In order to help ensure that your future spouse receives a K-1 visa as expeditiously as possible, you may want to consult with an immigration attorney who makes sure to keep up with the changes and understands how the system works.

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