The K-1 Fiancé Visa Process
Depending on your situation, the K-1, or fiancé visa, may be one of the most effective methods for gaining entry into the United States. If you’re a foreign citizen who is engaged to be married to a United States citizen, you may be able to use a K-1 visa to come to the United States to get married and reside permanently.
This option provides an avenue for people who have fallen in love and plan to marry, but find themselves separated by geography and differing citizenships. This article will start at the beginning, and walk through the several steps of the process, explaining what you and your fiancé can expect along the way.
When is a K-1 visa appropriate?
Before delving into the process of application, it would be useful to take a minute to make sure that a K-1 fiancé visa is the proper option for you. Principally, this depends on when and where you want your marriage to take place. A K-1 visa is appropriate when you, a foreigner, are engaged to an American citizen (meaning, you’ve not yet married), and you plan to wait until after entering the United States to get married, and you’ll be staying in the country.
Additionally, in order to be eligible for a fiancé visa, both you and your fiancé must be legally capable of marrying under American law. Specifically, this means that neither of you are already married, and not under the legally required age for marriage. If either you or your fiancé has been in a prior marriage, you’ll have to produce proof establishing that that prior marriage has ended.
Now that you’ve determined that a K-1 fiancé visa is the appropriate option for you, we’ll begin discussing the process of obtaining your visa.
Step One: The Initial Petition and Supporting Package
The whole process is initiated when your United States citizen fiancé prepares and submits Form I-129F, the Fiancé Visa Petition, to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In addition to this form, you’ll also need to submit a variety of supporting documents, creating a package of papers you’ll need to assemble.
Form I-129F puts the government on notice that you’re applying for a fiancé visa, and gets the ball rolling on the process. If you’re planning on bringing children with you, you’ll need to indicate this on the petition, so that the government can provide you with the additional materials needed for children to immigrate. Note, that if you’re planning on bringing your children with you, they’ll be applying for what’s called a K-2 visa, provided they are unmarried and under 21. Details on filling out Form I-129F can be found here.
In addition to the Form I-129F Petition, you’ll also need to submit a Form G-325A, the Biographic Information sheet, one each for you and your fiancé. This form asks for fairly straightforward information about you, and can be used by the government in order to conduct background checks.
Additionally, you should submit Form G-1145, the eNotification of Application/Petition Acceptance. This allows USCIS to notify you via email or text when it receives and accepts your application, allowing you to stay abreast of the process.
The Supporting Items
In addition to the petition and forms, you’ll need to submit some items that support and backup some of the things you’ve said in the petition. A more detailed look at the evidence requirement for a fiancé visa can be found here.
First, you’ll need to submit proof that your fiancé is in fact a United States citizen. This can take the form of his or her birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or passport.
Second, you’ll need proof that both of you are legally capable of getting married. As mentioned earlier, if either of you was in a prior marriage, you’ll have to show that such marriage has legally terminated. You can do this with a divorce or annulment decree, or a death certificate for a deceased spouse.
Because the government has an interest in preventing visa fraud, you’ll need to submit some form of proof that you and your fiancé actually intend to marry upon your entry into the country. You can do this with correspondence containing or referencing your marriage plans. The government also needs a written statement describing how you and your fiancé met.
You’ll also need proof that you and your fiancé have met within the past two years (unless you can show that your religion prevents you from doing so). This may be done with plane tickets, receipts, and other items evidencing that one of you has traveled to see the other.
As part of the petition, you’ll need to submit color, passport-style photographs of you and your fiancé. These photographs must be 2 inches by inches, and have been taken with 30 days of the filing of the petition.
If your fiancé has a criminal record involving sexual and violent crimes, you’ll need to submit police and court records showing the outcomes of any prosecutions. The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) prevents American citizens from filing two or more fiancé visa petitions. So, if your fiancé has at any time in the past filed two or more petitions, he or she will need an IMBRA waiver before you can proceed.
Finally, you’ll need to pay the $340 filing fee. Once you’ve assemble the petition and the supporting items and forms, you’ll send the package to the USCIS lockbox facility in Dallas, Texas:
P.O. Box 660151
Dallas, TX 75266
The filing address noted above is current when this article was published, but please check with www.uscis.gov/i-129f for the latest in filing addresses and filing fees because they government may change these at any moment.
After you’ve submitted the Form I-129F Petition, you’ll have to wait for some time. Once the USCIS receives your petition, it will send your United States citizen fiancé (the petitioner) Form I-797C, the Notice of Action, explaining that it has begun working on the application. Alternatively, the USCIS will write to your fiancé requesting additional information if your petition was incomplete or some things were unclear.
Eventually, if everything is in order, the USCIS will transfer your Form I-129F petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) of the U.S. Department of State. The NVC will then transfer your petition to the United States consulate in your (the foreign fiancé’s) home country.
Step Two: Scheduling and Preparing for the Consular Interview
After you’ve submitted your fiancé visa petition, the next series of steps involves preparing for the interview that the foreign citizen fiancé must attend at the United States consulate in his or her home country, in order to determine whether the fiancé should receive a visa.
Applying and Scheduling
To initiate this process, the NVC, upon receiving your petition, will contact the foreign citizen fiancé, and direct him or her to fill out and submit Form DS-160, the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
This form must be filled out online, and asks for various pieces of personal information, as well as your travel plans in the United States and family history. Once you’ve filled out and submitted Form DS-160, you’ll be taken to a confirmation webpage and barcode. You must print out both the confirmation page and the barcode, and take them with you to the consular interview. They will allow the interviewing official to access your application.
Your next step will be to contact the United States embassy in the home country of the foreign citizen fiancé, and schedule an interview.
Showing Financial Support
Before your consular interview, the consulate may send the United States citizen fiancé Form I-134, the Affidavit of Support, that the U.S. citizen must fill out. The purpose of this form is to show that the citizen fiancé is financially capable of supporting the noncitizen fiancé, and that the noncitizen will not need to receive welfare or other public support upon his or her arrival in the country.
The government has an interest in not admitting people who will need to become recipients of public funds, and thus wants to see that the petitioning fiancé has enough money on hand to support the beneficiary fiancé. In order to meet the requirement of demonstrating an ability to financially support, the United States citizen fiancé will need to show that he or she has an income that is at least 100% of the federal poverty guidelines.
It is worth noting at this point that down the road, as part of the green card application process, the citizen fiancé will need to show an income of at least 125% of the poverty guidelines. This means that, if possible, the citizen should demonstrate this higher level of income, as this is what the government ultimately wants to see.
Assemble Supporting Documents for Interview
In advance of the consular interview, you’ll need to assemble a variety of items in support of your visa application that you’ll need to bring to the interview. The government will require you to backup the claims made in the affidavit of financial support. Thus, you’ll need to bring the United States citizen’s federal tax returns.
In the same vein, you’ll also need a letter from the citizen fiancé’s bank demonstrating that his or her bank account actually contains the amount of money that you said it does. To evidence income, the citizen will need to procure a letter from his or her employer describing the citizen’s current employment and salary.
Before the interview, you will need to get a medical exam. The embassy will provide you with a list of approved doctors in your country. The government requires this step to make sure that you’re not inadmissible for any of several medical reasons.
When you attend your exam appointment, you’ll need to bring a copy of your vaccination records, a photo ID, and your interview appointment letter from the consulate. Note, that at this point it is not necessary that you fulfill the vaccination requirements, though you will need to meet these requirements later when you apply for your green card, so it may be worth clearing that hurdle now.
Step Three: The Interview
The consular interview is the point in the process at which a final decision on your fiancé visa will usually be made. Principally, the purpose of the interview is to allow an immigration official to question the noncitizen fiancé about his or her relationship to the citizen, to make sure that their engagement is the real thing and not a fraud created solely for immigration purposes. Thus, it’s important that you are prepared for the interview, and are able to answer the interviewer’s questions correctly.
You’ll need to attend the interview on the date that you scheduled, and bring the various supporting documents. If you’re attempting to have your children accompany you into the United States, they may need to attend the interview as well, though consulates differ on this.
After the Interview
If everything goes according to plan, the interviewing official will give you your K-1 fiancé visa at the conclusion of your interview. Once you’re issued your fiancé visa, you must enter the United States within six months; otherwise your visa will expire.
When you enter the country, a border official at the port of entry will inspect you again. If the official finds a reason to deny entry, you’ll be sent right back home. If you’re approved, the official will stamp your passport, thus beginning the 90-day period for which the fiancé visa is good.
You and your fiancé will need to get married within these 90 days, so it’s important to get married soon after your arrival in the country, so you can start working on your green card and adjustment of status application. It is important to note that your K-1 visa is good for only one entry. This means that once you’ve entered the United States, you cannot leave or travel abroad, and then expect to be able to reenter based on your K-1.
If an emergency comes up, and you must leave, you’ll need to apply for “Advance Parole” from USCIS using Form I-131, giving you special permission to leave and reenter.
Step Four: Adjusting Status
The ultimate step in the process involves applying for your green card, also called adjusting status to permanent residency, once you’ve married in the United States. This is done by submitting Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residency or to Adjust Status. Additionally, your United States citizen sponsor will need to submit Form I-864, the Affidavit of Support, along with his or her federal tax returns, a letter from his or her employer, and a list of assets. At this stage, you’ll also have the opportunity to apply for a work permit using Form I-765.
You’ll submit this package to the USCIS lockbox facility in Chicago, and wait to be scheduled for a green card interview, the next step in the process. More information on how to prepare for your green card interview can be found here. The interview will take place at your local USCIS office. If all goes well, your green card will arrive in the mail shortly thereafter.
The fiancé visa process can be complicated and confusing at times. However, if you are able to take the time to understand the process, the results will be rewarding and well worth it. As we work with clients, we have learned that clients who understand the process well react better to delays in the process and understand the value of hiring an attorney.