Love knows no barriers. If you have fallen in love with someone who is a citizen of another country, and you plan to marry that person, then your next big step will be gaining legal U.S. resident status for your partner. If you and your partner are engaged and plan to be married, there is a distinct set of steps you should follow to help him or her become a permanent resident of the U.S.--and perhaps eventually a citizen. Note that these steps only apply if you yourself are a U.S. citizen and you both plan to live--at least for the foreseeable future--in the U.S.
Step 1: Find a good immigration attorney.
For some, the process of establishing permanent residence is simple. For others, it becomes more complex, involving several re-applications and intricacies due to family situations or criminal records. It's hard to know what obstacles you'll encounter along the way, so it's best to meet with an immigration lawyer up front rather than waiting until you encounter an obstacle to hire one. Your attorney can guide you through every step of this process. They'll make sure that every piece of paperwork is filled out properly, which may save you from having to re-apply and wait longer.
Step 2: Apply for a fiance visa.
A fiance visa is a specific type of visa offered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. You and your fiance must apply for this visa within 90 days of your intended marriage date. To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen, and both you and your fiance must be legally able to marry. (Any previous marriages must have been fully dissolved by death or divorce.)
It's also required that you have seen your partner within the last 2 years before filing for the fiance visa. For instance, if you last saw them three years ago, you would need to arrange a meet-up before filing. If you last saw them 18 months ago, you can file without meeting them again before sending in the application. Your attorney should help you fill out the necessary paperwork to obtain this visa.
Step 3: Get married.
Once your fiance visa has been issued, visit your local courthouse to obtain a marriage license. They may request a copy of the fiance visa, your partner's passport, and other documents. This varies somewhat by state and region. Once you have your marriage license, you can get married at your location of choice. You will need to then send a copy of your marriage certificate to the U.S. Immigration office.
Step 4: Help your spouse apply for permanent residence.
Once the two of you are married, your spouse can apply for permanent residence in the United States. He or she will need to fill out a form called the I-485, which is an application to register permanent residence in the U.S. As long as you and your spouse are legally married and he or she does not have a criminal record that would result in disapproval of the residence application, the application should be approved, and your spouse should be granted a "Green Card."
Note that after your spouse sends in this application for permanent residence, the two of you may have to go through several interviews with the U.S. Department of Immigration. They may want to visit you in your home, ask the two of you some questions about your relationship, and see pictures of the wedding to ensure that your marriage is real.
Helping your fiance become a permanent U.S. resident is not terribly difficult, but it's helpful to have an attorney guide you though the process. This way, any bumps along the road can be dealt with swiftly.