A fiance visa brings your fiance to US and then you get married here within 90 days and your fiancé applies for his or her green card from the US. A visitor's visa allows a person to visit the US for a temporary stay. Usually a couple might choose using a visitor's visa when the foreign fiancé already has a visitor's visa and just wants to get married in the US then return home. A couple might have no choice but to use the fiance visa if they want to get married in the US but the fiancé lives in a country where the visitor's visa is next to impossible to obtain.
Which one is better and what are important tips to keep in mind?
If your fiancé already has a visitor's visa and is uncertain of whether they want to stay for a longer visit or move to the US permanently then using the Visitors visa to have a longer visit makes sense. What immigration officers care about in this situation is what the couple's intentions are. If the couple intends to bring the fiancé to the US to get married and start a life together permanently, then an immigration officer would prefer a filing of a fiancé visa in this situation. However, if your intention when you come is just to visit the.US for a temporary stay and intend to return home at the end of your visit then it would be an appropriate use of your visitors visa.
A few things to keep in mind about the fiance visa and travel on the visitors visa:
Use of the visitor's visa once the fiance petition has been filed: Be careful and really consider the consequences if your fiancé has a visitor's visa and you want to file a fiancé visa petition for them. Once the petition is filed your fiancé now has immigrant intent and will not be allowed to enter in a nonimmigrant category like that of a visitors visa. The fiancé visa has been taking an average of 6-8 months in the US, and most practitioners that I speak to will tell me it is more like 8-9 months. That can be a long time to go without seeing your fiancé, so be mentally prepared for that especially if for monetary or work/family reasons the US citizen is unable to travel back and forth to visit the fiancé.
Caution about changing your mind from non-immigrant to immigrant intent: When you enter the US in a non-immigrant visa category, at some point you have told an immigration officer that you are just coming to the US for a temporary duration. Life happens and circumstances change, so there are plenty of people currently in the US who decided for one reason or another to postpone their trip home and remain in the US. BUT even though this is a reality for some people, staying past your authorized time period can have negative consequences as discussed below.
Changing your mind to return to your home country and getting married/staying in the US: Be careful when coming to the US to visit and then changing your mind and deciding to stay. This can be very tricky and people who might have been fine if they had that intention and came through the proper channels of obtaining an immigrant visa can be denied their application for fraudulent intent and then removed and barred from returning. This happens because there is a presumption when the marriage happens within your first month of arrival that you came specifically to get married and stay--therefore you are presumed to have evaded immigration laws that say you needed to wait for an immigrant visa in your home country. Immigration takes this very seriously, so if you are here less than 90 days and are thinking about staying and getting married please consult with an immigration lawyer. There may be safer options and it is always better safe than sorry when it comes to immigration.
Consequences of overstating your visa: There are many serious consequences to overstaying a visitor's visa. It may not be a bar to adjustment of status if you are married to a US citizen and applying for a green card--BUT it may bar you from other immigration benefits. The consequences to overstaying vary and may depend on how long you over stayed your visa, but you risk deportation and the potention of facing a bar to returning for time spent out of status.
Deportation proceedings: Yes, marriage to a US citizen can be a defense to deportation proceedings BUT if the marriage occurs after your fiancé is placed in removal proceedings then you will need to show convincing evidence that the marriage is not fraudulent. The presumption is that when the marriage occurs in removal proceedings that it just took place to keep the foreign national here in the US and is not genuine.
As you can see some of these issues can be complex. But as long as you consider some of the consequences of your actions beforehand you can make an informed decision about whether you need to visit or immigrate. If you have any questions about what I have outlined above feel free to contact me.