For many foreign born individuals seeking to obtain residence in the U.S., marriage to a United States citizen or green card holder may open up the doors to this process. The regulations may vary depending on the country the individual is from. In this case, we are going to discuss the procedures required for marrying an individual from the country of Ethiopia.
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MARRIAGE AND IMMIGRATION STATUS
If you and your significant other have not tied the knot quite yet, you have the option of petitioning for him or her to be able to leave Ethiopia and enter the U.S. as your fiancé so that you may have your ceremony in the U.S. You may also choose to get married in your fiancé’s country of origin. In both cases, your fiancé may then apply for a green card once you are married. This petitioning is only possible however if you are a United States citizen, not if you are a green card holder yourself. In order to do this, you must prove:
- The legal status of the petitioner (either citizen or lawful permanent resident)
- A legal marriage ceremony will occur in the future, or has already occurred
- The marriage is not a fraud (a deceptive attempt to obtain a green card)
- The foreign individual is not deemed “inadmissible” by the government
The fiancé visa is referred to as the K-1 visa. It lasts for a 90 day period for the purposes of holding the wedding ceremony. The fiancé will have to apply for this visa after his or her significant other files a visa petition with the I-129F form and submits it to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before leaving Ethiopia.
FROM ETHIOPIA TO THE U.S.
The process differs slightly for a couple who has already been married and is now applying for a green card for the foreign born individual. This requires filing an I-130 form with the USCIS. Individuals applying through a spouse who is a U.S. citizen may often proceed to the next part of the application process. Individuals applying through a spouse who is a lawful permanent resident however may have to wait for up to two years to enter into this next stage of processing. The next stage involves the foreign spouse submitting forms and holding an interview at a U.S consulate in Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), otherwise known as consular processing. The U.S. has one consulate in Ethiopia, and it handles both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applications. It is important to file the correct forms at the consulate so that they can properly process your request and you can avoid legal trouble upon entry into the U.S.
VALIDATING THE MARRIAGE
Once you are married, you will need a legal marriage certificate that validates the ceremony in the country and/or state where it took place. The forms will differ depending on where you get married.
If you are holding your ceremony in Ethiopia you will have to go through the U.N. High Commission for Refugees to determine the laws for marriage ceremonies.
In the United States the laws will vary depending on which state you decide to hold your nuptials. It is important to view the marriage laws in your state so that you may be fully equipped to perform your ceremony, whether in Ethiopia or the United States.
HELPFUL INFORMATION: PROCEDURES IN ETHIOPIA AND THE U.S.
- Marriage Laws by State
- Green Cards Through Marriage
- Immigration waiting times
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening a firm specializing exclusively in US immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.