Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
Great news! After a long COVID delay, my fiancée finally arrived in the U.S. on her K visa.
We’re thinking about eloping to Las Vegas for a quick wedding so we can get started on her green card application. (In Silicon Valley, we’d have to wait a few months to get a marriage license.)
After we file, we want to have a big wedding in the spring with her family and friends in her hometown and then go on a honeymoon. Is that allowed?
— Happy in Hayward
Congratulations on being reunited with your fiancée through the K-1 visa and your upcoming wedding! My law partner, Anita Koumriqian, has been immersed in her own wedding planning these past few months. So, in addition to being an expert in family immigration law, she’s super knowledgeable about all things related to getting married, including local Silicon Valley jurisdictions that have residency requirements for a marriage license and generally how long it takes to get a marriage certificate. On our podcast, we chatted about wedding planning, marriage licenses, applying for a green card for a spouse once you’re married, and the dos and don’ts of proving to immigration that your marriage is legit.
Always consult with an immigration attorney first and never just rely on Googling your way through the green card process. For more details, check out our prior podcast, Engaged, Now What?
Vegas is still possible
Once you have your marriage certificate, you can file for a green card for your wife. Locally, while Santa Clara and San Francisco counties are still backlogged in issuing marriage licenses due to COVID, nearby Santa Cruz County is quicker and allows you to get married in California.
Looking for a more dramatic getaway? Eloping to Las Vegas is still an option. The city has always made it super easy to get married there: The marriage license bureau is open 16 hours a day (from 8 a.m. until midnight!), and once you get your marriage license, it’s ready to use at one of the many casinos, hotels or chapels where you can be married by an Elvis impersonator or have a disco-themed wedding and get a marriage certificate.
Small ceremony versus big hoopla wedding
Oftentimes, clients ask us whether they can still get their green card approved if they get married in a small civil ceremony. Keep in mind that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers’ job is to deny fraudulent applications based on sham marriages, and it’s the petitioner and beneficiary’s burden of proof to establish that the marriage is bona fide.
With that in mind, it’s helpful to make a big deal about your wedding, even if it’s a small one. Keep in mind that your activities should reflect this (hopefully!) once-in-a-lifetime commitment you are making to one another. Since immigration officers will want to see and hear about the details of your wedding, it can be a good idea to invite friends and family and take lots of photos. If you’re planning a big wedding abroad later in your fiancée’s home country, let the immigration officer know in your petition and at the interview.
Sometimes, for life reasons, couples who are really in love and who really plan to “share a lifetime together” may still feel the need to have a secret wedding and not tell their parents and other family members. Sometimes, there can be a legitimate reason, but these factors often serve as red flags that will prompt officers to suspect a fraudulent marriage. In my experience, it goes far if the U.S. citizen’s family is aware of the marriage. However, once our client was able to explain the circumstances of how they were estranged from their family that couple was still able to get approved for a conditional green card.
Don’t leave home without a combo card
Keep in mind that once your wife applies for Adjustment of Status, she will likely not be able to depart the United States for that big hoopla wedding in her home country until she gets her “combo card,” which is advanced parole and work authorization. Advance parole is a travel document that permits its holder to reenter the U.S. after traveling abroad. Work authorization (an employment authorization document, or EAD) is permission to work in the U.S. for any employer or yourself. Departing the U.S. with an I-485 pending and without advance parole is evidence of abandoning one’s permanent residence application.
In 2019, it typically took six months to get a combo card. And around 2008-2010, I remember that it only took three to four months. Currently, it’s taking nine months to a year to receive a combo card. Meanwhile, marriage green card cases in Santa Clara County are taking only nine months from application to the green card interview. That means your wife will likely still be waiting for her combo card after you go through the green card interview process. Cases filed in San Francisco are still taking more time.
Despite the wait time, marriage to a U.S. citizen — or even a permanent resident — offers the quickest and least expensive path to a green card. Currently, fees for filing for a marriage-based green card total $1,760, which includes the $85 biometrics fee. (There is no premium processing.) Moreover, because there are no numerical or per-country limits on marriage-based green cards like there are for employment-based green cards, there’s no backlog for people born in India and China.
The green card interview process
Once your case is scheduled for an interview, your immigration attorney should prep you. Spouses must attend the interview in person and more often than not will be interviewed together. Contrary to what you see in movies, it’s rare to have a couple be interviewed separately at first. Also, immigration officers should not be asking questions about intimacy and personal sexual matters.
One way to think about the green card interview is to imagine it as a conversation with a new nosy friend. Immigration officers know how nervous people are when they come for the interview, so they try to make small talk to make you feel comfortable. Remember, they’re just trying to do their job.
Once you make it through that process and your wife’s green card is approved, if your marriage is less than two years old, she will receive what’s called a conditional green card, which is valid for two years instead of the full 10 years. Before that conditional green card expires, she will have to file to get those conditions removed, which we discuss in more detail in this podcast episode.
All my best for your future life as husband and wife!
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The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.
Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!