Bringing Your Spouse To the U.S.


“It’s complicated.” While it is possible for a U.S. citizen to help their foreign-born spouse or fiance(e) obtain legal immigrant status in the U.S., the path to America can be confusing. Here’s why: there is one process for when the immigrant is outside of the U.S., and another process for when the immigrant is already here on a temporary basis (for example, on a student visa that is set to expire). Additionally, if the U.S. citizen is not yet married to the foreign citizen, additional steps may be required.

(1) When the prospective immigrant is abroad, the immigration process happens primarily through the U.S. Consulate at the foreign country where the immigrant resides, including the interview. If approved, a foreign-born spouse receives an Immigrant Visa* and, upon entry into the U.S., a permanent resident card (the “green card”) which allows them to live and work in the U.S.;

(2) In contrast, a foreign-born fiance(e) outside of the U.S. will receive a single-entry, non-immigrant fiance(e) visa. Upon entering the U.S., the fiance(e) and U.S. citizen have 90 days to get married. After the marriage, the foreign-born citizen can apply to “adjust their status” from a “K-1 fiance(e) visa” to “legal permanent resident” (green card holder);

(3) When the prospective immigrant is already here in the U.S. (but only on a temporary basis), sometimes it is possible to “adjust their status” from whatever it is to “legal permanent resident” (green card holder). That process involves an interview, which both the immigrant spouse and the U.S. citizen must attend, at the nearest USCIS office.

After being a legal permanent resident for a certain number of years, the immigrant spouse may apply for U.S. citizenship through a process called “naturalization.”

* There are also single-entry, non-immigrant K-3 visas for foreign spouses (of U.S. citizens) residing abroad.