What is a K-1 Visa?
If a person is a U.S. citizen who wants to marry a non-citizen, the person may be eligible to use a K-1 visa to bring their partner to the U.S. for their wedding. With this type of visa, commonly called a fiancée/fiancé visa, the soon-to-be spouse can enter the U.S. within ninety (90) days prior to the wedding. After the couple marries, the spouse can then apply to adjust her or his status and apply for a green card.
Who can file the petition?
A non-citizen can’t self-petition for a fiancée/fiancé visa in the U.S. Instead, their U.S. citizen partner must petition the government on their behalf. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to petition the government for K-1 visas – unfortunately, if the partner is only a green card holder, they cannot sponsor their fiancée/fiancé for this type of visa.
Which are the Fiancée/fiancé Visa requirements?
- The person must be a U.S. citizen. Lawful permanent residents with green cards are not eligible to sponsor fiancées/fiancés to come to the U.S.
- Both persons must be eligible to marry. If either of them was previously married, the person will need to prove to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the prior marriage was lawfully terminated. That means the person will need a divorce decree, proof of an annulment or a death certificate.
- The person must prove that they are in a bona fide relationship. The person will need to show USCIS that they and their future spouse aren’t marrying so that one of them can gain an immigration benefit.
- The person must prove that they have met in person at least once (1) within the past two (2) years. This doesn’t mean the couple needs to know each other longer than two (2) years. However, if meeting the soon-to-be spouse would create extreme hardship or if it would violate cultural, religious or social norms, the person may be eligible for an exemption to this requirement.
- The U.S. citizen partner must make enough money – and prove it with a tax return – to meet or exceed 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. If the U.S. citizen partner can’t meet the requirement alone, she or he must find a joint financial sponsor to file an Affidavit of Support.
What documents are needed for a Fiancée/fiancé Visa?
- A completed Form DS-160;
- The non-U.S. citizen’s passport, which must be valid for at least six (6) months beyond her or his intended period of stay on the fiancée/fiancé visa;
- Birth certificates;
- Divorce or death certificates for any previous spouses;
- A police certificate from the non-citizen’s country of residence, as well as all countries where he or she has lived for six (6) months or more since the age of sixteen (16);
- Medical examination records;
- Evidence of financial support;
- Two 2-inch-by-2-inch photographs that meet these requirements;
- Evidence that a bona fide relationship exists.
How is the Fiancée/fiancé Visa process?
- The U.S. citizen (often with the help of an attorney) completes the appropriate petition (Form I-129F – Petition for a K-1 Visa) and files it with USCIS.
- The citizen must also pay the filing fee, which is currently $535.00 dollars.
- If eligibility is established, the USCIS will approve Form I-129F and recognize the relationship.
- USCIS reviews the petition and sends it to the National Visa Center (NVC).
- The NVC assigns the file a case number and forwards the paperwork to the U.S. embassy or consulate in the fiancée’s/fiancé’s country.
- The foreign fiancée/fiancé completes Form DS-160 – that’s the actual visa application – and submits it in accordance with her or his consulate’s instructions.
- The filing fee, which is currently $265.000 dollars, is also due at that time.
- The fiancée/fiancé attends an interview at her or his local embassy or consulate. During this appointment, she or he will provide supporting documents – including those that the U.S. government has requested.
- The official conducting the interview usually makes a decision at the interview.
- The fiancée/fiancé receives a K-1 visa stamp in her or his passport.
- The fiancée/fiancé may enter the U.S. within the six (6) months immediately following approval, and the couple must marry within ninety (90) days of arrival.
Note: Usually, the first part of the process – the part that involves both the U.S. citizen and foreign fiancée/fiancé applying for the visa – takes six (6) to seven (7) months. Then, the fiancée/fiancé can enter the U.S. and the next phase of the process begins.
Note: The couple must marry within ninety (90) days. After they marry, the foreign spouse can file an adjustment of status petition. The adjustment of status petition is the first step in getting a green card and becoming a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. This part of the process generally takes about six (6) months.
Note: Altogether, applying for a K-1 fiancé visa and starting the adjustment of status petition so that the foreign-born spouse can become a lawful permanent resident takes between twelve (12) and thirteen (13) months.
What is the cost of the Fiancée/Fiancé Visa?
With all the fees for filing petitions, it costs $2,025.00 dollars to apply for a K-1 visa. The person may incur additional costs, as well, including attorney’s fees and the cost of translations, medical examination fees, and travel to and from the consulate or U.S. embassy.
Does a person need a K-1 Visa if they are already in the U.S.?
If a person is already in the U.S. and wants to marry a U.S. citizen, the person won’t need a K-1 visa. A person can only marry a U.S. citizen if they are lawfully present in the U.S.; if the person has overstayed a visa or crossed a border illegally, they may not marry a U.S. citizen and expect to receive immigration benefits. Instead, they are deportable and may be ordered to leave the U.S. – and worse, the person may be barred from reentering the country. If a person is lawfully present in the U.S. (such as when they arrive and stay on a work or visitor visa), the person may be able to marry a U.S. citizen and then start the adjustment of status process without ever obtaining a K-1 fiancé visa.
Can a person bring their fiancée’s/fiancé’s children to the U.S. on a K-1 Visa?
The fiancée’s/fiancé’s children may be permitted to enter the U.S. with their parent if they are unmarried and under the age of twenty one (21). They’ll be in K-2 nonimmigrant status during their stay (unless a petition is filed to adjust their status). The fiancée’s/fiancé’s children can’t enter the U.S. before the fiancée/fiancé does, but it’s okay for them to arrive later. The children must remain unmarried and under the age of twenty one (21) in order to be admitted in K-2 nonimmigrant status. Then, after the U.S. citizen and their fiancée/fiancé marry within ninety (90) days of her or his arrival in the U.S., a petition can be filed to the U.S. government for an adjustment of status.
Can a person with a K-1 Fiancée/fiancé Visa work while in the U.S.?
The fiancée/fiancé can apply for work authorization by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, as soon as she or he arrives in the U.S. The work authorization will only be valid for ninety (90) days after entry in the U.S. Foreign fiancées/fiancés can also apply for work authorization while applying for a green card – and in that case, once approved, the work authorization will be valid for one (1) year. The person can then extend it in one (1) year increments as necessary.