In some cases a temporary visa can be a path to permanent residence. The K-1 visa is no exception. Known as the fiancé visa, it permits foreign nationals to temporarily enter the country in order to marry a U.S. citizen. Unlike family based green cards, which are issued annually in smaller amounts, nonimmigrant visas, such as the K-1, are issued in greater numbers. The K-1 is a good stepping stone to a marriage based green card.
This page was designed to provide some information for foreign nationals and U.S. citizens who plan on marrying and how to apply for a fiancé visa, or K-1 visa. The following topics are covered:
- K-1 Fiance Visa Basics
- Applying for a Fiancé Visa
- How Long Will it Take?
- Adjustment of Status
- Children of Foreign Nationals
- K-1 Visas In the Media
- Do I Need an Immigration Attorney?
While certain concepts relating to immigration law are discussed on this page, it is not intended as a substitute for speaking directly with an attorney. The law can be vast and confusing and a qualified immigration lawyer can help applicants avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes.
K-1 Fiance Visa Basics
The basic criteria for a foreign national seeking a K-1 visa is that they be a fiancé of a U.S. citizen, who seeks to enter the U.S. to get married. The marriage must take place 90 days after the foreign national enters the country. Same sex partners can apply for fiancé visa status.
When applying for a Fiancé visa, the foreign national cannot petition U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) on his or her own behalf, but rather must be “sponsored” by the U.S. citizen. The couple must also be able to demonstrate that they have met in person within the two years prior the filing of the petition (cultural exemptions may apply).
Federal law prohibits U.S. citizens who have been convicted of specific offenses against a minor from petitioning on behalf of a foreign fiancé. During the application process, the petitioner must provide his or her criminal record, particularly when it comes to the existence of restraining orders against the petitioner or convictions for domestic violence or substance abuse.
Applying for a Fiancé Visa
The process of applying for a Fiancé visa begins with the U.S. citizen hiring an immigration lawyer and filing, on the foreign national’s behalf, a Petition for Alien Fiancé (Form I-129F). This form is filed through USCIS. Once approved, form DS-160 must be filed through the U.S. Department of State. Once the visa is issued, the fiancé is allowed to enter the U.S. for 90 days in order for the marriage ceremony to take place. The visa can also be extended in certain cases.
If however, the wedding does not take place within the 90-day time frame, the visa automatically expires. If this happens, the foreign national could be subject to deportation. Once married, the foreign national is eligible to apply for permanent residence (marriage-based green card) and is allowed to stay in the country while USCIS processes the application.
How Long Will it Take?
While many couples are anxious to get married, it’s important to keep in mind that every case is different, and processing times vary. As of June 30, 2016 , the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services California Service Center lists a five-month wait period for persons seeking a K-1 visa. This is subject to change depending on demand and each the specific situation.
Adjustment of Status
The Immigration and Nationality Act allows K-1 recipients, once married, to apply for adjustment of status. This basically means the foreign national can apply to become a lawful permanent resident — a status that grants permission to live and work permanently in the U.S.
The process begins when the newly-married spouse files an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485). The foreign national can also request permission to work by simultaneously filing an Application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765). Both of these documents are filed through USCIS.
Supporting evidence that will be required when filing Form I-485 include birth certificate, evidence of marriage to U.S. citizen, and vaccination report among other documents. It is important to note that federal law prohibits the K-1 holder from adjusting status with any other spouse other than the original U.S. citizen petitioner.
Children of Foreign Nationals
The unmarried minor children (under 21 years of age) of foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens are also eligible to obtain visas. These are designated as K-2 visas. Following the marriage of their parents, K-2 holders are eligible for adjustment of status based on their parent’s adjustment of status.
It’s important to note however, that if the K-2 is adjusting status based on his or her parent’s adjustment, it must be done prior to his or her 21st birthday. If you have questions about the child of a foreign national attempting to adjust status after the age of 21, call our office to see if we can help.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Services lists the filing fee for a Petition for Alien Fiancé (Form I-129F) at $340. Unfortunately, this form is not eligible for a fee waiver due to financial hardship.
K-1 Visas in the Media
Incredibly, an entire reality television show has been formulated around the concept of the K-1 Visa. Airing on TLC since 2014, 90-Day Fiancé follows the real life stories of inter-cultural couples wrestling with the decision of whether or not to marry within the 90-day period granted by a K-1 visa. In each couples’ case, one person is a U.S. citizen, and the other a foreign national inside the U.S. on a K-1. While the television program deals largely with themes of culture shock, it provides some interesting background on the challenges of the immigration process in America.
Do You Need an Immigration Attorney?
Under federal law, neither the U.S. citizen nor foreign national filing for a K-1 visa must retain a lawyer. However, the bureaucratic process can be lengthy and complex. An experienced lawyer might be able to save visa applicants valuable time when filing a petition. To find out if we can help, don’t hesitate to contact our office.