It’s possible to visit your spouse in the United States while your marriage-based green card application is pending. In order to do so, you would need to apply for a tourist visa. But before pursuing this option, it’s important to understand the challenges and risks involved.
First, you would need to convince an immigration officer that you plan to stay only for a short time and would leave the United States before your tourist visa expired.
But there’s another hurdle to overcome after that: When you arrive in the United States, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent will “inspect,” or question, you at the border or “port of entry” (where visitors first physically enter the United States). You’ll be asked to explain why you’re visiting. The CBP agent would then decide — at their discretion — whether to let you enter (known officially as “admission”).
IMPORTANT: You must never misrepresent your reason for visiting the United States, either on an immigration form or before an immigration officer or a CBP agent. You also must never lie about being married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder.
Any kind of misrepresentation could jeopardize your future eligibility for a green card.
Even with a valid tourist visa, however, you will not be guaranteed admission. In many cases, spouses seeking a green card are denied entry at the border or port of entry when a CBP agent discovers they are married to a person living in the United States and have a pending marriage green card application.
In this guide, we’ll discuss those risks in greater detail, as well as how to apply for a tourist visa and typical issues encountered in the process:
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What to Expect
Spouses of U.S. citizens or green card holders — especially those with a pending I-130 petition (the first step in obtaining a marriage-based green card) — often face additional scrutiny. If you visit your spouse on a tourist visa, the immigration officer processing your application could suspect that you’re trying to bypass the green card process to be with your spouse sooner.
Here’s what you can expect based on your situation:
If you have a pending I-130 petition
Visiting the United States while you have a pending I-130 petition involves walking a logical tightrope. Although you intend to live permanently in the United States once you receive your green card, right now you must convince the immigration officer or CBP agent that you will not be settling in the United States yet.
That can be difficult to do if you’ve already quit your job and sold all of your property in your home country. That’s why many people choose to visit the United States before doing either of those things.
It’s therefore important to present strong evidence that you plan to return to your home country after your short visit — though there is still always a risk of denial, as admission is never guaranteed.
If you don’t have a pending I-130 petition
If you haven’t started the marriage-based green card process yet — by filing an I-130 petition — you won’t have to prove that you’re not rushing to settle in the United States.
You might still face additional scrutiny when applying for a tourist visa or when arriving in the United States, however. This is because the immigration officer or CBP agent could suspect that you intend to avoid the whole I-130 process — by entering on a tourist visa and then applying for a marriage-based green card once you’re in the United States (a process known as “adjustment of status”).
If you don’t have any immediate plans to live permanently in the United States, it’s best to be clear about that in your tourist visa application. You might also want to prove that:
- You have employment or educational commitments in your home country that prevent you from moving permanently to the United States at the present moment.
- You have a confirmed travel plan with a clear date of return to your home country.
Again, you should never lie about the fact that your spouse is a U.S. citizen or green card holder because lying could jeopardize your ability to get a green card in the future.
Boundless helps set you up for success by helping you prepare for your green card interview. Learn more about what Boundless can do to help.
Other Factors Affecting Visa Approval
There are at least three other factors that can make a big difference in whether your tourist visa application will be approved (and whether you will be admitted to the United States upon arrival):
Your Immigration History: If you have a history of coming and going to the United States without any immigration violations on your record, the immigration officer or CBP agent will be more likely to believe that you intend to visit the United States temporarily and return to your home country on time. On the other hand, if you have ever had an immigration violation — even if you only overstayed a previous tourist visa for one day — your chances of approval will be much lower.
Your Country of Origin: If you come from a country with high rates of immigration fraud, you will be less likely to convince the immigration officer or CBP agent that you intend to visit only as a tourist. (Although there is no official list of such countries, Brazil, China, the Dominican Republic, India, and Mexico were among countries that were subject to relatively high rates of immigration fraud in past years.) This is all the more reason to establish that you have strong ties to your home country, as detailed in the “Preparing Your Visa Application” section below.
Other Relatives in the United States: If you have a lot of family already in the United States — especially immediate family members — this could attract additional scrutiny. The immigration officer or CBP agent may be inclined to believe that you are less likely to return to your home country if you have strong family ties in the United States. In addition to the list outlined in the “Preparing Your Visa Application” section below, it’s a good idea to have a round-trip ticket demonstrating your plan to return home on a specific date.
Preparing Your Visa Application
What you must prove
When an immigration officer reviews your tourist visa application, they will look for proof that:
- You plan to return to your home country after visiting the United States.
- Your visit will be temporary and short.
- You will be able to support yourself financially during your visit.
This is true for anyone applying for a tourist visa or entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of certain countries to visit without a visa for up to 90 days.
You’ll also be required to establish that you have strong ties to your home country. This is to ensure that you will return home before your tourist visa expires.
Some examples of documents that can help prove strong ties to your home country include the following:
- Copy of an unexpired lease or a home mortgage
- Letter from your employer stating the dates of your vacation, including when you’ll return to work
- School enrollment confirmation in your home country for either yourself or your children
- Proof that your children are staying in your home country during your visit, such as a letter giving a grandparent consent to make decisions for your children
- Title deeds for any property you own in your home country
It’s also generally a good idea to provide copies of your bank statements, credit card statements showing healthy spending limits, or other proof that you’ll be able to support yourself financially during your visit to the United States. (Check out our detailed guide on how to scan and copy documents the way immigration officials prefer.)
Remember: For the best chance of gaining temporary admission to the United States, it’s important to take extra care in preparing your tourist visa application and assembling the right documents to take with you.
The 90-Day Rule
What if I change my mind about going home?
The U.S. government recognizes that life doesn’t always go according to plan.
What if you come to the United States to visit your spouse, fully intending to return to your home country, but then decide to stay and apply for a green card from within the United States (technically an “adjustment of status”)?
Your green card application will not necessarily be denied. But you will need to prove that you changed your mind for legitimate reasons — that you intended to return home but a significant change in circumstances forced you to alter your plans. For example, if you intended to visit your spouse in the United States for a short period, but a sudden decline in your spouse’s health prompted you to remain in the United States, it would be in your best interest to explain this during your green card interview.
Applying the “90-Day Rule”
For spouses who apply for a marriage-based green card after entering the United States on a tourist visa, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will apply the “90-day rule” as a guideline to decide how much extra scrutiny to give the green card application.
Under this guideline, any of the following conduct within the first 90 days of entering the United States may be considered a violation of your temporary visitor status:
- Engaging in unauthorized employment
- Enrolling in an unauthorized course of study (without a proper student visa)
- Entering into a marriage with a U.S. citizen or green card holder
- Filing an “adjustment of status” green card application (Form I-485)
If any of the above activities takes place within 90 days of entering the United States on a temporary visa — such as a B-1 (business visitor) or B-2 (tourist) visa — USCIS will presume that you “willfully misrepresented” your intention for visiting. In this case, you will need to disprove such a presumption and submit evidence to overcome it. Otherwise, a USCIS officer could deny your marriage-based green card application or even revoke your tourist visa.
USCIS will not presume willful misrepresentation, however, if you do not engage in the above activities for at least 90 days after entering the United States on a tourist visa. While observing the 90-day rule doesn’t guarantee a successful marriage-based green card application, it’s probably a good idea to play it safe.
We understand that this process can be confusing and intimidating at first. But by always telling the truth and being prepared, you can take charge of your immigration journey.
With Boundless, you get the peace of mind that comes with having an independent immigration attorney who answers your confidential questions and reviews your entire green card application. Get started today!
Can my fiancé(e) visit me in the United States on a tourist visa?
The short answer is yes, you can. The same rules for spouses of U.S. citizens (as described above) also apply to engaged partners with a pending K-1 fiance visa. You can read more about this process here. Boundless also has a detailed guide on the differences between a fiancé visa and a marriage-based green card.
Marriage Green Cards, Explained
How is a Fiancé Visa Different from a Marriage-Based Green Card?
How Long Does It Take to Get a Marriage Green Card in the U.S.?
What Are The Costs of a Marriage-Based Green Card?
What Documents Do I Need for a Marriage-Based Green Card?
What is an Affidavit of Support?
Preparing for the Green Card Interview
Adjust of Status Vs Consular Processing
Direct Consular Filing for Sponsors Abroad