You probably met someone during your exotic vacation in a faraway land and fell madly in love with that person.
Now an international marriage is in your plans, and your new fiancé is returning home with you. It sounds like the plot of a reality series, but it could happen to you. If you’re marrying a non-U.S. citizen, you’ll need to make sure you’re following these rules.
This includes taking legal steps to make sure your new fiancé is in the country legally. Join me to learn more about this topic
Table of Contents
- Things To Know Before Marrying Someone From Another Country
- How Can I Marry A Ghana Woman And Bring Her To The USA?
- Defining a Legally Valid Marriage under U.S Immigration Law
- 1. Requirement of a Legal Marriage
- 2. Requirement of a “Bona Fide” Marriage
- 3. Requirement That You Married a Citizen or Permanent Resident of the United States
- 4. Determining Whether Your Spouse Is a U.S. Citizen
- 5. Determining Whether Your Spouse Is a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident
- 6. Requirement That This Is Your and Your Spouse’s Only Marriage
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Things To Know Before Marrying Someone From Another Country
1. Think Before You Commit Marriage Fraud
Marriages for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration law are considered fraudulent. If the real reason you’re getting married is so that your spouse can become a permanent resident of the United States (“green card marriage”), seriously consider the consequences.
Marriage fraud is a federal crime. The penalty is up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Sometimes U.S. citizens are targeted for marriage scams. You may have fallen in love, but how can you be sure your fiancé is just as sincere?
The Center for Immigration Studies notes that middle-aged men seem to be the biggest target for these scams and points out warning signs that your relationship may be fraudulent include your significant other pushing you to marry quickly, focusing primarily on the benefits to him or her of getting U.S. residency and asking you for money.
The best advice to avoid a marriage scam is to slow down and get to know your fiancé. Seek the advice of trusted friends and family when considering international marriage.
2. Are You Planning To Get Married In Another Country?
International marriage laws can vary greatly. Foreign countries may require parental consent, residency and affidavits of eligibility to marry. If you plan to marry abroad, be sure to research that country’s martial laws. Also, check with your state’s attorney general to be sure that your international marriage will be legal here in the United States.
3. Looking For Immigration Support?
Navigating your new relationship can be hard enough. Add the struggle of navigating visas and resident status, and you have a whole new level of difficulty. Seek support as you begin this citizenship journey.
- Local community support is available in many forms. English language learning and citizenship classes are common offerings.
- The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency is committed to offering programs and referrals to assist immigrants.
- If you encounter difficulties with the visa and immigration process, consider seeking legal support. ARAG plan members have telephone access to attorneys who can give legal advice and consult on immigration processes and guidelines, the filing and processing of applications and petitions, laws and regulations of immigration benefits, and deportation and removal proceedings. They can also review your immigration application and documents and help you prepare for immigration hearings.
How Can I Marry A Ghana Woman And Bring Her To The USA?
Very, very simple. If you live in America, well, first you take out a passport (if you don’t have one already), then you obtain a Ghanaian visa, then you buy a plane ticket to Ghana.
Watch out, you need to be heavily loaded with American dollars (they can get you anything in Ghana). You will need the money not to pay your hotel bill, but also for quite a few other things.
You might want to rent a car (which boosts your status, especially if it is a big SUV) or charter a taxi (fares are likely to triple, thanks to your American accent). But that is not all. You will have to “do something” for your guide or contact person (including buying them food).
Next comes your future wife’s family. You will have to “justify your inclusion” with many relatives including, but not limited to, her mother, father, siblings (a special gesture to brother or brothers), uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather, friends of the bride, family head, clan head and village chief.
But that is not all. Next comes additional “goodwill gestures” that are never demanded but always given. You have to make a few funeral donations, sometimes for the funeral of a local headman who died some twenty years ago. And then there is the “harvest” at the church of the bride-to-be where you are very likely to be the guest of honour (you have to defend your honour).
Before that, however, you have to pay your tithes as well as your “thanksgiving offering” And don’t even think about forgetting to give “something small” to the presiding Reverend Dr. Evangelist Prophet Pastor X and his wife who own the church.
If you think it’s over, I have very good news for you. Now comes the wedding day. You will pay to transport the bride’s extended family to the church and later to the wedding reception. But that is no big deal.
The real deal is the reception. You will feed a few hundred souls with good and abundant food, especially since most of them did not have time to take breakfast.
Adults, young people, kids; church members, pastors and family, bride’s friends, schoolmates, work colleagues, homeowners, well-wishers and… lots of gate crashers.
Half of them will be served twice while additional cans of beer and soft drinks will lose their way only to find themselves in people’s handbags.
Next comes the honeymoon, but I don’t want to talk about that. Honeymoons are such dirty affairs.
So now you have your wife. How you get her to America is your own business. But I guess it is between you and the American Embassy in Ghana to slug it out.
One last thing: If you manage to secure travel documents for her, don’t forget the day of your departure. Once again the whole extended family will be there to show their love. Everyone will be at the Kotoka International Airport to cheer you on to the plane.
But you will have to pay for their transportation, including for those who traveled all the way from the village to show their love.
Finally, you get onto the plane with your brand new wife. You settle into your seat and breath a sigh of relief. You look at your wife and she flashes a golden smile back at you gratefully.
She snuggles up to you and you feel her warmth. Your heart tells you “Yes, this is it!” At that very moment, you forget all the dollars you’d been doling out over the last several weeks.
No amount of dollars can compare with your present bliss. In fact, you feel so good that you’d be willing to give more way, only if you are broke. As we say in Ghana, “You are blessed!” Now, that is how to marry a woman in Ghana and take her to America.
What Is The Citizenship Process For My Fiancé?
Marriage alone doesn’t grant a person U.S. citizenship. The road to citizenship can be a long one. Each step involves time and lots of documentation. Be careful during this process: improper disclosure and inaccuracies can delay or prevent residency or citizenship.
The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers information and resources to help navigate the process we’ve outlined. Depending on the status of your relationship, you may not encounter all the steps involved.
How Can I Get A Fiancé Visa?
If your significant other lives overseas and the wedding will take place in the United States, you’ll need to follow certain steps to ensure proper visas are in place. A visa is proof of a government’s approval for a foreign citizen to enter the U.S.
The visa for a fiancé is officially known as a K-1 visa. To obtain a K-1 visa you will first need to complete a Petition for Alien Fiancé form. You will also need proof of the identity, valid passports, medical examinations and evidence of your relationship. (There is no specific list of what’s considered evidence of a valid relationship, but it may include photos, communications and joint travel.)
Once the visa is approved, your fiancé is able to immigrate to the United States and the two of you have 90 days to marry. If the marriage doesn’t take place within the 90 days allowed by the visa, they must leave the United States.
How Can I Obtain A Resident Status For My New Spouse?
Once you’re married, you can apply to change the foreign spouse’s status to permanent resident status, which is commonly referred to as having a “green card.” A green card gives someone the ability to live and work in the United States permanently.
This permanent resident status is conditional for individuals granted a green card within two years of marriage. The conditional status can be removed after two years of marriage.
Green cards are typically valid for 10 years and must be renewed. Despite the name, the permanent resident status may be lost due to non-residency, failure to file taxes, or voluntary withdrawal.
How Does The United States Naturalization Process Work?
Naturalization is the process of a permanent resident becoming a full citizen. Not all spouses will meet the eligibility requirements to become citizens, which include that the applicant must:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Have a green card for at least three years.
- Be married and “live in marital union” with a U.S. citizen for three years before applying and up until examination of the application.
- Live in the state where filing the application for at least three months before applying.
- Have been in the United States for at least 18 months of the last three years before applying and reside continuously in the United States from the moment of applying until naturalization.
- Read, write and speak English.
- Understand civics (knowledge of U.S. history and government).
- After the spousal residency requirement of three years has been met and an application has been filed, the naturalization process takes about six months to complete. An interview and citizenship test are required to complete the process.
- If approved for citizenship, your spouse will take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. This ceremony is presided over by a judge or administrative officer. This final step is required to complete the naturalization process.
- Once a citizen, your spouse can apply for a U.S. passport and register to vote.
Defining a Legally Valid Marriage under U.S Immigration Law
If you are a foreign national married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and plan to apply for a marriage-based visa or green card, you must double-check that this marriage meets the following requirements:
- You and your spouse are legally married
- You and your spouse are in a bona fide marriage
- You are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and
- neither you nor your spouse are married to anyone else.
We’ll explain all of these below.
1. Requirement of a Legal Marriage
To qualify for a marriage-based visa or green card, you must be legally married. A legal marriage is one that is officially recognized by the government in the country or state where you were married. This usually means that an official record of your marriage has been made or can be obtained from some public office.
Domestic partnerships, in which a couple lives together but have not formalized their relationship, are not normally recognized for immigration purposes. However, if you have lived together in a place that recognizes common-law marriages, you might be able to show that you met the requirements for your marriage to be legally recognized in that state or country. If you are in this situation, consult an immigration attorney.
You do not need to have been married in the United States for your marriage to be legal. It is perfectly acceptable if you marry in your home country or elsewhere. A variety of marriage procedures are also recognized, from church weddings to customary tribal practices.
But note that both you and your spouse must have actually attended your wedding ceremony. So-called “proxy” marriages, where another person stands in for the bride or groom, are not recognized by the U.S. government unless the couple later consummates the marriage, meaning they have sexual relations.
If you have not yet married, make sure you are eligible to do so. The state or federal government where you intend to marry may have legal restrictions on who can marry. In the United States, each of the 50 states establishes its own marriage rules. For example, in some states, you must be 18 years of age to marry, while in others you can marry younger if you can have the consent of your parents.
If you and your spouse are related by blood, you’ll also need to do some research. You’ll find that all states prohibit marrying your sister or brother (sibling), half-sibling, parent, grandparent, great grandparent, child, grandchild, great-grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew. But some states have additional prohibitions, such as marrying your first cousin. For details, see Marriage Requirements, Procedures, and Ceremonies FAQ
Finally, you will need to get a document to show you were legally married. The immigration authorities do not normally accept anything less formal than a marriage certificate issued by a legitimate governmental agency (as opposed to a piece of paper from a church or a ship’s captain, for example).
2. Requirement of a “Bona Fide” Marriage
A bona fide marriage is one in which the two people intend, from the start, to establish a life together as husband and wife. (Or, in the case of same-sex marriages, husband and husband or wife and wife!)
Although marriage can mean different things to different people, one thing is clear: A marriage entered into for the sole or primary purpose of getting the immigrant a green card is not bona fide. It’s called a “sham” or “fraudulent” marriage, and uncovering these relationships is a top USCIS priority.
For more on what USCIS may look at, see Proving a “Bona Fide” Marriage for Immigration Purposes.
3. Requirement That You Married a Citizen or Permanent Resident of the United States
There are only two classes of people living in the United States who can obtain permanent residence or green cards for their spouses: U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents (green cardholders).
4. Determining Whether Your Spouse Is a U.S. Citizen
Your spouse may have become a U.S. citizen in a variety of ways, including:
- being born in the United States or its territories
- becoming a citizen through application and testing (called naturalization), or
- acquiring or deriving citizenship through a family member. (Acquisition and derivation of citizenship are complex areas of the law. In general, however, people may acquire citizenship by being born abroad to one or two U.S. citizen parents; they may derive citizenship if they become lawful permanent residents first and then their parents are or become U.S. citizens.)
Unlike some other countries, the United States does not require that its citizens carry any sort of national identity card. People who are U.S. citizens may have different types of documents that prove their statuses, such as a birth certificate, a U.S. passport, or a naturalization certificate.
Your spouse will need to get a copy of documentary proof of his or her citizenship in order to accompany your application for a U.S. green card.
5. Determining Whether Your Spouse Is a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident
A lawful permanent resident is someone with a legally obtained green card. This means that the person has a right to live in the United States permanently and may eventually become a U.S. citizen.
The spouses of permanent residents are eligible for a green card (although it will take longer than for spouses of U.S. citizens, due to annual limits on the number of available visas). You should know, however, that the fact that your spouse has a green card now doesn’t guarantee that he or she will have it forever.
Permanent residence can be lost, for example, if the person makes his or her home outside the United States or commits certain crimes or other acts that cause the immigration authorities to begin removal proceedings and order the person deported.
If your spouse were to lose his or her permanent residence while your application was being decided on, you would also lose your right to immigrate through the marriage.
A green card is not the same thing as a work permit card. If your spouse carries a card with the title Employment Authorization Document, he or she is not a permanent resident.
6. Requirement That This Is Your and Your Spouse’s Only Marriage
Any previous marriages must have ended by legal means—such as death, divorce, or annulment—and you’ll have to present the official documents to prove it. Otherwise, the immigration authorities will wonder whether your first marriage is still your active and real one, making your new marriage just a sham to get a green card.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Will My Fiancé Be Denied Entry To The US If We Get Married In Ghana?
While your marriage in Ghana before your fiancé’s US entry on an F-1 visa might raise DHS’ concerns regarding his intent, those concerns can be overcome with proper explanations. And your Ghana marriage should not have any negative impact on his eligibility to come to the US as an F-1 visa entrant. First, the F-1 visa is a dual intent visa (that is, an F-1 visa person can come to the US even if the F-1 person also has an immigrant intent at the time of his F-1 entry.
Therefore, if he is asked at the port of entry, he should honestly disclose his marriage to you and that at some point, he might wish to apply for legal residence in the US but that he has not made such decision and that you have not in fact taken any steps to that end including the filing of an I-130.
As to why he did not apply for an immigrant visa instead of an F-1 visa, he may reply that though he is aware of his opportunity to do so, his academic pursuit is his main purpose for entering the US at this time.
If and when those priorities change, he may consider applying for a green card, or in the alternative, both you and he might relocate to Ghana. One way or the other, such decision has not and cannot be made at this time.
What Is The Fiancé(e) K-1 Visa?
The fiancé(e) K-1 nonimmigrant visa is for the foreign-citizen fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen. The K-1 visa permits the foreign-citizen fiancé(e) to travel to the United States and marry his or her U.S. citizen sponsor within 90 days of arrival. You can learn more about fiancé(e) visas on usvisas.state.gov.
How Can I Apply For A Fiancée Visa?
To apply for a fiancée visa, follow the steps on the Fiancé(e) Visa Process on usvisas.state.gov.
What Will Happen At The End of My Immigration Visa Interview?
At the end of your immigrant visa interview, the consular officer will inform you whether your visa application is approved or denied.
Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a consular officer. Applicants are advised of this requirement when they apply.
Most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of the visa interview. When administrative processing is required, the timing will vary based on the individual circumstances of each case.
What Will Happen After My Visa Has Been Approved?
If your visa has been approved, you will be informed how and when your passport and visa will be returned to you.
Carefully review the information on the Fiancé(e) Visa Process on usvisas.state.gov to learn what to do when you receive your visa, entering the United States, and other important information.