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Statutes of Liberty: “90 Day Fiancé” Isn’t Total Nonsense — Immigration Lawyers Explain All

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

Reality TV, just like 2020, is a train wreck — but we can’t stop watching. The TLC blockbuster show “90 Day Fiancé” is no different. Even Laura and Doran are highly invested in the cast of characters. (James is too busy watching “Wolf Hall” reruns. — Ed.) But how much of this reality TV show is actually real?

First, a crash course on fiancé(e) visas. One of the most important aspects of the fiancé(e) visa is that only U.S. citizens can file a petition for a fiancé(e); green card holders can’t. It is also true, as the spinoff “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” shows, that the couple must meet in person within the two years prior to filing the paperwork to start the fiancé(e) visa process, with limited exceptions.

After meeting, the U.S. citizen files a petition (Form I-129F) to prove the basic facts to the US government: I’m a citizen, I’m free to marry, and I’m in a genuine relationship with my fiancé(e). The petitioner and prospective immigrant have to sign a statement of intent to marry — we enjoy reading those; they’re as cute as you might imagine.

If the petition is approved, the immigrant goes for an interview at his or her local U.S. embassy. Hopefully, the immigrant gets the visa and can come to the United States. From the day the immigrant enters, the 90-day clock starts to run. But what actually has to happen in those 90 days?

*Cue dramatic music.* *Cue reaction shots.*

It’s very simple, which is why it works so well on TV: They have to get married. But they can’t marry just anyone — they have to marry each other. (Tricking the U.S. citizen into filing the fiancé petition just so you can marry someone else and get a green card through the latter relationship simply doesn’t work. The law expressly forbids it.)

Do they have to meet an immigration lawyer within the first 90 days? No. (Hence the appalling lack of immigration lawyer cameos.) Do they have to file a green card application within the first 90 days? No. It’s very simple, which is why it bears repeating: They have to get married.

So, what could reasonably happen with some of our favorite (or most hated) couples? Let’s take Larissa and Colt, aka Coltee, for example. As we saw, Larissa, who is from Brazil, immediately clashed with Colt’s mother upon arriving in the United States. The first 90 days were tumultuous. There were demands for a large monthly allowance and Chanel purses, accusations of Colt being a mama’s boy, and even Larissa’s arrest on domestic violence charges. They still managed to marry within the 90-day period, but split soon after. What now?

Surprisingly, Larissa is still in the United States as far as we know. Larissa has maintained that Colt was violent toward her, and he told the police a different story, so she may be attempting to file as an abused spouse of a U.S. citizen. She may also be continuing the green card process based on her marriage by arguing that, despite their breakup, the marriage was valid at inception and therefore valid for green card purposes. Neither of these options seem very promising.

Then there’s Nicole and Azan. Nicole, a young single mom from Florida, met Azan, from Morocco online.

She traveled to Morocco to meet Azan. Nicole struggled to adapt to the more conservative culture, and “90 Day Fiancé viewers” almost unanimously thought she was naive. Azan did not have a stable job and said that Nicole should lose weight. Nicole also lied on various occasions to her own family about the relationship, including about investing in a business that she was going to start with Azan in Morocco. Nicole filed a fiancé visa petition for Azan, but his visa was ultimately denied.

Surprisingly, Nicole and Azan had the right idea after the K-1 visa denial. Instead of trying again as fiancées, they planned to marry so Nicole could bring Azan to the United States as a spouse. However, their wedding was cancelled multiple times. While it seems like Nicole and Azan are now separated, we imagine it would be difficult for Azan to get a visa in the future due to his various attempts to obtain a U.S. visa.

“90 Day Fiancé” is fun, but viewers should remember that the producers select for oddballs and then add more nuttiness in the production room. In our experience, most applicants for fiancé visas are careful, sincere and low-drama. They just want to get the paperwork out of the way so they can move forward with living life together. And that’s what we’re for.

As always, we welcome any thoughts or comments and will do our best to respond.

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