First of all, we have no personal preference which process to follow. What is more important is does the couple want to get married in the U.S. or do they want to get married outside the U.S.? In terms of the time it takes to bring someone from outside the U.S. to the U.S. either process will take the same time, given that a fiancée visa is processed for the most part in the same way an immigrant visa is processed.
We generally tell people it is taking 12-18 months to process for the time it takes to get a fiancée to the U.S. The same is true for marriage abroad and processing for an immigrant visa.
Having said that (up until now with the Coronavirus travel restrictions), we would say the majority of our clients who are considering filing a fiancée visa, decide to get married abroad and file a relative visa petition and visa process for an immigrant visa. Note that the time it takes from start of the process to bringing someone to the U.S. is the same. Why do marriage abroad and immigrant visa processing? It’s cheaper and the immigrant immediately has work and travel authorization and conditional permanent residency upon admission to the U.S. Whereas with the fiancée visa, no work authorization upon entry to the U.S., you have to get married and then file for work and travel authorization with USCIS and wait for an adjustment of status interview. Work and travel authorization take 6 months to process after filing, and it takes 9-12 months from filing to get to a green card interview and approval.
Why would someone now choose a fiancée petition over marriage abroad? Coronavirus travel restrictions. As long as the U.S. citizen petitioner has met the fiancée in person within the last two years, one could get started right away by filing the I-129-fiancee petition without regard to travel restrictions. (There are also waivers for the “in person” meeting requirement, but they can be difficult to obtain). Given the current uncertainty with the Coronavirus outbreak, the Fiancée petition may have an advantage in the time it takes to bring someone to the U.S. in order to get married.
Note, it does not matter to us which process you choose. However, we like to give clients the full range of options so they can make an informed decision. If you have further interest in either of these options, please reach out to us.