If someone who’s not a US citizen comes to the US, either on a tourist visa or on a visa waiver program, or commonly referred to as ESTA, can they get married and apply for a green card in the US?
With this question, there’s a lot of online forums that have said that they have done it this way. But tourist visas are non-immigrant visas, which means that you have the intent to come here for the purpose of short-term travel and not to live here, get married, file your green card.
You can’t come to the United States with a tourist visa or ESTA with the intent of getting married and filing your green card application because immigration doesn’t want you to circumvent the normal process that’s involved with individuals who are living abroad.
Because the normal process is so annoying and time-consuming, that’s what makes people want to try that option. For some people, they come into the US with non-immigrant intent, and then something changes once they’re here. A perfect example is what’s happened with COVID.
We had people who were they were doing their case a different way, but they happened to be inside the US in March when a lot of this hit and international travel was shut down. A lot of things became very difficult. For some of those people, they ended up getting married or they were already married.
They didn’t have the intention of staying when they first came in with their visa waiver or with their tourist visa, but the circumstances changed quite drastically and they are legally permitted to change their strategy at that point to file the case inside the US.
Sometimes we see other situations where someone came in on a student visa or a tourist visa and they met someone and fell in love and it just wasn’t foreseen.
The problem is if you have this plan to sell all your belongings, put your wedding dress in your suitcase, fly to America with an ESTA to get married and stay. That’s what’s not allowed. It’s a very fact-specific situation.
People coming in as tourists and then getting married and staying has been singled out for additional scrutiny. It’s not as easy as it used to be to do that. It’s true that in the past, officers have looked the other way. But now, we’re seeing significant pushback. We’ve seen actual changes in some of the written policies that the government has for the workers who assess these cases.