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Getting Married on a Tourist Visa in the US
International travel in these times is bound many complexities of visa and immigration. Most countries have clearly defined purposes for incoming overseas travelers, like business or tourism. When categories get mixed up like personal and tourism, it not only leads to further paperwork but in extreme cases, raises suspicions of attempts to immigrate illegally. So before you land in the US on tourist visa and head for the church to get married, keep these laws in mind.
If the question to whether one can get married on a tourist visa while visiting USA had to be answered in one word, it would be a ‘yes’. A person may enter the US on a tourist visa, marry a US citizen then return home before your tourist visa expires. What could however make things difficult for the tourist in question is immigration officials suspecting that he/she landed in the country with an intent to marry and not really see the sights. This is because according to US immigration laws, arriving in the country on a tourist visa but with an intent to marry is visa fraud which in turn is a federal offence.
Marriage in good faith
If you are thinking of getting married on your tourist visa in the US, one of the most important things that you will have to prove to the immigration officers is that your marriage is entered in good faith. If the officers realize that the marriage was entered only for the immigration benefits, they will deny any related application and may even deport you back to your home country. One good way to prove you entered a good-faith marriage would be to show that you intent to return to your home country before your tourist visa expires. Thus you should arrive in the country with documents like a return flight ticket, those showing that you are employed in your home country, have dependents in your home country, house lease papers and so on. Also any discrepancies between stated purpose and material evidence could prove dangerous. For instance at the airport if you state your intent to visit the country as ‘To see the Niagara Falls’ and a search of your luggage reveals a wedding dress, then you may as well get prepared sent back home on the next flight .
Don’t be in a rush
Also it is a good idea not to head for the marriage registry office straight after your landing in the airport. If the date of your marriage appears soon after your arrival date in the country, immigration officials might get suspicious that a marriage was part of your travel plans. The Department of State has an unwritten ‘30/60 day rule’ to help consular officers determine if someone has committed visa fraud and this principle is often used by USCIS officials to to sniff out suspect immigration attempts. This “30/60 day rule” makes it risky to apply for overseas travellers to apply for a change of status or marriage based adjustment of status within 60 days of arriving in the US and very dangerous within 30 days of arriving. Even if you enter with preconceived marriage plans, then it is recommended that you get married only after spending a reasonable period of time in the US on your tourist visa.
Once you get married
If you have got married on a tourist visa in the US, there are two alternatives on what you can do next. One is to return to your home country before your visa expires and then start the process of off-shore permanent residence application to be with your American spouse. This a long process but completely legal. Also how soon your application is processed and whether it will be successful at all will depend on various things like the legal status of your American spouse, his/her ability to sponsor you and so on.
The second option after your marriage on a tourist visa is to stay back to apply for an adjustment of status on your visa. Even this is a tedious process; in fact once you have married and filed for adjustment of status you will not be able to leave the US until you apply for and receive advance parole or your green card. If you leave the country before receiving one of these two documents, you will not be allowed to re-enter the US. You and your spouse would have to start the immigration process all over again by petitioning for a spouse visa for you and you will have to remain in your own country until you can complete the immigrant visa process.
Most importantly, the chances of your application for adjustment of status being rejected by the immigration officials are very real. If the officials suspect that you entered the country with an intent to marry, your application would be rejected. Other reasons for denial of adjustment of status could range from a person's health and criminal history to previous bans or simply a lack of required evidence that the marriage is bona fide.
Tourist Visa vs Spouse/Fiance visa
Even if your relationship with your American partner is genuine, it may be better to weigh the advantages of getting married and staying back in the country on a tourist visa as opposed to entering the country on the basis of a spouse or fiancé visa. In case of the latter, you have some time to put your affairs in order while waiting for the visa approval. There's time to say goodbye to friends and family, close bank accounts and end other contractual obligations. Thus there is ample opportunity for closure that you won't have with a spur-of-the-moment marriage on a tourist visa. More importantly, there are all kinds of documents and evidence required from your home country that must be submitted for the adjustment of status after getting married on a tourist visa. If you do not have a reliable family member to do all this paperwork back in your home country, you documentation in the US may remain incomplete and your application unsuccessful. On the other hand if you land in the US with all documents required to apply for change in status, then it may prove your intent to marry on a tourist visa and hence raise suspicion of immigration officials.
In the end, there is no saying for human emotions. While on your travels to the US, it may be possible that you meet someone and fall in love to the extent that you wish to get married rightaway. It is not unlawful to get married on a tourist visa when visiting USA; what is illegal though is using a tourist visa for an intent to marry which creates a scenario of visa fraud.