Can you get married on a travel visa? Generally, yes. You may enter the U.S. on a travel visa, marry a U.S. citizen then return home before your visa expires. Where you run into trouble is if you enter on a travel visa with the intention of marrying and staying in the U.S.
You might have heard about someone who got married in the United States while on a travel visa, didn't return home, and successfully adjusted their status to permanent resident. Why were these people allowed to stay? Well, it is possible to adjust status from a travel visa, but people in this scenario were able to prove that they came to the U.S. with honest travel intentions and happened to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to get married.
To successfully adjust status after marrying on a travel visa, the foreign spouse must show that they had originally intended to return home, and the marriage and desire to stay in the United States was not premeditated. Some couples find it difficult to satisfactorily prove intent but others are successful.
If you're thinking of getting married in the United States while on a travel visa, here are some things you should consider:
- If you choose to stay in the country and adjust status, what will happen if you are denied? No one expects to be denied a visa or a status adjustment, but not everyone is eligible to receive one. Reasons for denial may include a person's health, criminal history, previous bans or simply a lack of required evidence. If you are the immigrating foreigner, are you prepared to appeal a denial and perhaps retain the services of an immigration lawyer, and more likely, return home? What will you do if you're the U.S. citizen? Will you pack up your life in the U.S. and immigrate to your spouse's country? Or will circumstances like children or work keep you from leaving the USA? In which case, would you divorce your new spouse so you can both move on with your lives? These are difficult questions to answer, but the possibility of being denied an adjustment is very real, so you should both be prepared for any eventuality.
- It will be a while before you can travel. You can forget about exotic honeymoons or trips to the home country for a while. If you choose to stay in the country and adjust status, the foreign spouse will not be able to leave the U.S. until they apply for and receive advance parole or a green card. If the foreign spouse leaves the country before securing one of these two documents, they would not be allowed re-entry. You and your spouse would have to start the immigration process from scratch by petitioning for a spouse visa from while the foreign spouse remains in his or her own country.
- Border protection officials are paying attention. When the foreigner arrives at the port-of-entry, they will be asked for the purpose of their travel. You should always be upfront and honest with border protection officials. If you state your intent as, "To see the Grand Canyon," and a search of your luggage reveals a wedding dress, be prepared for the inevitable grilling. If the border official believes that you're not coming to the U.S. for just a visit and you cannot prove your intent to leave before your visa expires, you'll be on the next plane home.
- It is ok to enter the U.S. on a travel visa and marry a U.S. citizen if the foreigner intends to return to his/her home country. The problem is when your intent is to STAY in the country. You can get married and go back home before your visa expires, but you'll need hard evidence to prove to the border officials that you intend to return home. Come armed with lease agreements, letters from employers, and above all, a return ticket. The more evidence that you can show that proves your intention to return home, the better your chances will be of getting through the border.
- Avoid visa fraud. If you have secretly secured a travel visa to marry your American sweetie to bypass the normal process of obtaining a fiancé or spouse visa in order to enter and remain in the U.S., you should rethink your decision. You could be accused of committing visa fraud. If fraud is found, you could face serious consequences. At the very least, you will have to return to your home country. Even worse, you may incur a ban and be prevented from re-entering the U.S. indefinitely.
- Are you ok with saying goodbye to your old life from a distance? If you marry on a whim while in the U.S. and decide to stay, you will be without many of your personal belongings and you will need to make arrangements to settle your affairs in your home country from a distance, or wait until you are allowed to travel home. One of the advantages of moving to the U.S. on a fiancé or spouse visa is that you have some time to put your affairs in order while waiting for the visa approval. There's an opportunity for closure that you won't have with a spur-of-the-moment marriage. There's time to say goodbye to friends and family, close bank accounts and end other contractual obligations. In addition, there are all kinds of documents and evidence that must be submitted for the adjustment of status. Hopefully there will be a friend or family member back home who can gather the information for you and send whatever you need to the U.S.
Remember: The intention of a travel visa is a temporary visit. If you want to get married during your visit then return home before your visa expires that's okay, but a travel visa should not be used with the intention of entering the United States to marry, stay permanently and adjust status. The fiancé and spouse visas are designed for this purpose.
Reminder: You should always obtain legal advice from a qualified immigration attorney before proceeding to ensure you are following current immigration laws and policies.