Navigating through marriage-based immigration

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As many people know, love can transcend boundaries, including international ones. American citizens who marry non-citizens are permitted under United States immigration law to bring their spouses to live in Utah or any other state, provided the conditions of the law are met.

International engagements

A foreign national who is engaged to an American citizen can obtain a fiancé (or fiancée) visa to enter the United States. Of course, both parties must be free to marry. The citizen must petition for the visa and the couple must plan to get married within 90 days of the intended spouse's entry into the country.

Usually, the law requires that the couple has met in person at least once during the previous two years, but there are some exceptions for strict cultural or social practices or for extreme hardship.

If the couple fails to marry within 90 days, the foreign national must leave the United States immediately. This kind of visa cannot be extended.

International marriages

If an American citizen marries a foreign national while outside the United States, the American citizen can bring his or her spouse into the United States while awaiting a family-based visa to be approved, but only on a temporary basis.

Whether a couple marries in the United States or abroad, the spouse who is not a citizen can apply for permanent residence, commonly referred to as a green card. The first step is to file a Form I-485, which is the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

If the couple has been married for two years or more when the Form I-485 is approved, the immigrant spouse receives permanent residency right away.

If the couple has been married less than two years when the Form I-485 is approved, the immigrant spouse will have what's known as a "conditional residence status". Both spouses must wait until 90 days before the second anniversary of receiving the conditional status, and then they can apply together to have the condition removed. If they can show that their marriage is valid and in good faith, the foreign spouse will receive permanent residence status independent of the American spouse.

How abuse affects marriage-based immigration

The laws of Utah and the rest of the country protect everyone - citizen, permanent resident, or not - from domestic violence on American soil. Victims of abuse have the right to obtain a restraining order or protection order against the abuser and to receive help from government agencies, including counseling, emergency housing and medical care.

If an international relationship becomes abusive, the abused partner is entitled to help. If it is the immigrant party who is being abused, immigration protections might be applicable too.

The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, provides that immigrants who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault can apply for legal immigration status. The protection of VAWA extends to persons who might otherwise have to leave the country. Immigrants who are covered by VAWA can also apply for legal immigration status for their children.

The assistance of an experienced attorney is indispensable for immigrants who are married to or in a relationship with an American citizen. An immigration attorney will know how immigration law applies to each person's unique circumstances and can help with the necessary paperwork and other requirements for obtaining legal residence. When relationships are abusive, the attorney will be especially useful in helping abused persons to receive the protection they are entitled to.