There are two ways for a foreign national who is married to an LPR or a U.S. citizen to enter the United States. One method is known as “consular processing,” which involves applying for a conditional Green Card at a U.S. consulate office in another country. The other path is to apply for a K-3 Visa, which allows the immigrant spouse of an LPR or USC to live and work in the United States while awaiting approval of his or her Adjustment of Status to permanent residency.
The K-3 Visa was created to alleviate the lengthy backlog of pending immigrant applications. Today, the wait time for approval of a K-3 application is roughly the same as that for an I-130 petition, consular processing, so our office generally advises clients to choose between consular processing and a K-3 based on their personal preferences, travel/business plans, etc.
Regarding the validity of the legal relationship, the USCIS and the U.S. State Department recognize most nations’ marriages, with the exception of those marriages which violate U.S. public policy. (For instance, proxy marriages and same-sex marriages are not currently recognized for immigration purposes.)
A foreign national who is married to a U.S. citizen is an “immediate relative” and can enter the United States immediately upon approval of either a K-3 application or an I-130 petition, as long as there are no barriers to entry.
The spouse of an LPR can also enter the country through the relationship but s/he must wait until a visa is available. Visa availability is based on a queue system related to the country of origin, the family relationship (e.g. spousal, parent-child, sibling, etc) and the Priority Date issued on the couple’s approved I-130 petition.
Barriers to Entry: previous unlawful presence in the United States, criminal history, and security concerns are among a variety of factors that can prevent the spouse of an LPR or a U.S. citizen from entering the country. Some of these factors can be waived; others cannot. You should consult an experienced immigration lawyer if you think you may be ineligible to enter the country.