The U.S. citizen can choose between different options on how to petition for a visa for the foreign fiancé or spouse who lives outside of the United Nations. The decision depends on the individual needs and possibilities of the couple in a particular case. The right thing to do when there is a dilemma is to hire an immigration attorney, which will help in choosing the right strategy. The most common options are the K-1 fiancé (nonimmigrant) visa and CR-1 marriage-based (immigrant) visa. Before answering the question can a couple make a choice, it is necessary to analyze both options.

K-1 visa

K-1 visa authorizes the foreign fiancé to enter the United States, intending to get married to a U.S. citizen who has sponsored the petition within 90 days from the entry date. This type of visa sets the following steps: citizen spouses can file the petition via Form I-129F with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After approving it, USCIS sent it further to the National Visa Center (NVC) for proceedings. The foreign fiancé has to apply for the visa at the local U.S. Consulate, and he also applies for admission at the port of entry. When the foreign fiancé enters the U.S., the couple has to get married within 90 days. After the wedding, the process of adjusting the status starts by filing the Form I-485.

CR-1 visa

CR-1 visa is intended for spouses who are married for less than two years. It allows the foreign spouse of an American citizen or a lawful permanent resident to enter the United States and apply for the green card. This process involves the following steps: The citizen spouse files the CR-1 petition by filing the I-130 form with USCIS. If the petition gets approved, it is forwarded to NVC, the fees are being paid, and the visa application at U.S. Embassy abroad has to be submitted. Eventually, the U.S. Embassy schedules the interview for the foreign spouse. When the visa gets approved, it lasts for six months.

In comparing steps between these two visas, the K-1 visa process is conceivably faster, with processing timelines from 5-10 months, from the date of petitioning to the date of admission, while the CR-1 visa usually takes from 10-16 months. Therefore, if time is the most important factor, the couple will choose to file a fiancé visa. Process description also indicates that if the petitioner is just a legal permanent resident, only a CR-1 visa is open.

It is essential to consider what place the couple wants to have the wedding – so if the couple wants to get married abroad, a K-1 visa is not an option. However, if marriage for a U.S. citizen in that foreign country might need a month or two to process, and it is not possible for him to stay there that long or travel back and forth, it is necessary to do the K-1 visa.

A particular requirement stands for a K-1 visa. The couple has to meet face to face within two years before filing the petition or provide the evidence to submit a waiver. This requirement does not apply to CR-1 visas. However, a marriage visa requests a valid marriage certificate. In a situation where the couple has met at least once in the past two years but is stranded now in different countries and not likely able to see each other (and marry) due to COVID restrictions, a K-1 visa should be filed immediately.

Based on a thorough visa analysis of all their advantages and disadvantages, the couple will have a clear vision of which visa will be most suitable for them. However, there are many cases and real-life situations when the couple cannot make a choice, given that eligibility exists for only one type of visa.

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