The CR-1/IR-1 (CR-1 if married less than two years, IR-1 if married more than two years to your Thai Spouse) visa is an immigrant visa, the holder of which is lawfully admitted for permanent residence immediately upon arrival in the United States.
Permanent residents have the right to live and work in the U.S. permanently and may apply for naturalization at a later date. It should be noted that permanent residents are obliged to maintain a genuine permanent residence in the United States at all times after arrival, and can only go outside of the country temporarily.
If a permanent resident (for our purposes a Thai spouse) spends too much time abroad after entering the US on an IR-1 or CR-1 Visa without credible evidence that the Thai Spouse intended, at the time of leaving the US and while overseas, to return to the US, the Thai Spouse can be found to have abandoned his or her permanent resident status when returning to the U.S. without a new visa.
Basically, if a Thai Spouse has spent less time in the US than abroad over a certain period of time then it could be inferred by immigration officials that the Thai Spouse has abandoned his or her permanent residence in the United States.
WHAT IS A K-3 VISA?
The K-3 visa was invented as a faster alternative to waiting for an immigrant visa (IR-1/CR-1) to become available. The K-3 Visa is also a non-immigrant visa so the Thai Spouse entering the US on this Visa is not a permanent resident. Therefore, the Thai spouse entering the US on a K-3 visa will need to have their status adjusted in order to stay in the United States permanently.
The K-3 Visa is a two-year visa so it is not immediately necessary to adjust status, but adjustment will be necessary at some point. On the K-3 Visa a Thai spouse can also apply for a work permit. Another big upside to the K-3 is that the Thai spouse can exit and reenter the US without that act being deemed an abandonment of the Visa. In practical terms, what this means is that, unlike a K1 visa where departure from the US is deemed abandonment and travelling abroad necessitates restarting the immigration process over from scratch, a K-3 visa holder’s departure from the US will not affect their status.
DECIDING WHICH VISA TO USE WHEN TRYING TO BRING A THAI SPOUSE HOME
There is a great deal of confusion and consternation when trying to decide which visa to use to bring a spouse from Thailand to the United States.
SPEED: WHICH SPOUSE VISA IS FASTER FOR GETTING A THAI WIFE TO THE US?
For Thai spouses (or spouses of any nationality) of U.S. citizens there is no limit to the number of immigrant visas that can be issued annually so an immigrant visa is theoretically immediately available. However, the processing time of the two visa categories differs greatly. Where it takes, on average, about 12 months to obtain an IR-1/CR-1 Visa it generally takes approximately 8 months to obtain a K-3 Visa. Generally, the K-3 is the faster of the two spouse visas. However, if the US citizen applicant has been resident in Thailand for over one year, then the US Citizen can apply with the USCIS office in Bangkok Thailand. This is significant because it can shave off 3 or 4 month from the overall processing time. This processing time difference coupled with the fact that a Thai Spouse enters the US with permanent residence is essentially the best of both worlds. The Thai spouse enters the US quickly and with permanent residence. See Residing in Thailand and USCIS benefits for more on the US Citizen Spouse residing in Thailand and the benefits for the Thai spouse.
SPEED IS NOT REALLY A FACTOR: WHICH VISA IS A BETTER CHOICE
If speed is not an issue, the immigrant visas (IR-1/CR-1) are really a more suitable choice if the American/Thai couple intends to reside in the US permanently. The reason for this is that the Thai spouse will get his or her permanent residence up front which essentially means the couple won’t have to deal with the headaches of adjusting the Thai spouse’s status (getting the green card) once in the United States.