The Complete Guide to K-1 Fiancé Visas
What is a K-1 Visa?
If you’re a U.S. citizen who wants to marry a non-citizen, you may be eligible to use a K-1 visa to bring your partner to the U.S. for your wedding.
With this type of visa, commonly called a fiancé visa, your soon-to-be spouse can enter the U.S. within 90 days of your wedding. After you marry, your spouse can then apply to adjust his or her status and apply for a green card.
Guide to Fiancé Visas
You can’t self-petition for a fiancé visa in the U.S. Instead, your U.S. citizen partner must petition the government on your behalf. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to petition the government for K-1 visas – unfortunately, if you’re a green card holder, you cannot sponsor your fiancé for this type of visa.
Fiancé Visa Requirements
If you want to use a K-1 visa to bring your fiancé to the United States, you must have the intention to marry within 90 days of his or her arrival. Additionally, you must meet these requirements:
- You must be a U.S. citizen. Lawful permanent residents with green cards are not eligible to sponsor fiancés to come to the United States.
- You must both be eligible to marry. If either of you were previously married, you’ll need to prove to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that your prior marriage was lawfully terminated. That means you’ll need a divorce decree, proof of an annulment or a death certificate.
- You must prove that you’re in a bona fide relationship. You’ll need to show USCIS that you and your future spouse aren’t marrying so that one of you can gain an immigration benefit.
- You must prove that you have met in person at least once within the past two years. However, if meeting your soon-to-be spouse would create extreme hardship or if it would violate cultural, religious or social norms, you 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, he or she must find a joint financial sponsor to file an Affidavit of Support.
Many people choose to work with a Houston or Dallas family immigration attorney to obtain a fiancé visa. Working with an attorney can give you the peace of mind you need – and your lawyer will be there to answer your questions, fill out and file the appropriate paperwork, and explain the process every step of the way.
What Documents Are Needed for a Fiancé Visa?
The U.S. government will require the U.S. citizen sponsor to provide documentation that supports the information he or she includes in the K-1 visa petition. The documents you and your future spouse will definitely need to include are:
- A completed Form DS-160
- The non-U.S. citizen’s passport, which must be valid for at least 6 months beyond his or her intended period of stay on the 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 6 months or more since the age of 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
Consular officers can ask for additional information, as well. For example, the consular officer handling your petition might want photographs or other proof that your relationship is genuine – such as joint bank statements, travel itineraries and even wedding planning receipts.
The Fiancé Visa Process
The application process for a fiancé visa can take quite some time. Everyone – the U.S. citizen, the fiancé, and USCIS has a role to play. The process generally looks like this:
- 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.
- USCIS reviews the petition and sends it to the National Visa Center, or NVC.
- The NVC assigns the file a case number and forwards the paperwork to the U.S. embassy or consulate in the fiancé’s country.
- The foreign fiancé completes Form DS-160 – that’s the actual visa application – and submits it in accordance with is or her consulate’s instructions. The filing fee, which is currently $265, is also due at that time.
- The fiancé attends an interview at his or her local embassy or consulate. During this appointment, he or she 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 fiancé receives a K-1 visa stamp in his or her passport.
- The fiancé may enter the United States within the 6 months immediately following approval, and the couple must marry within 90 days of arrival.
Fiancé Visa Timeline
Usually, the first part of the process – the part that involves both the U.S. citizen and foreign fiancé applying for the visa – takes 6 to 7 months. Then, the fiancé can enter the United States and the next phase of the process begins.
You must marry within 90 days. After you 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 United States. This part of the process generally takes about 6 months.
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 12 and 13 months. Some other factors might affect how long it takes, though, so it’s important to respond to requests for information quickly – and it’s very important that you don’t miss interviews or important deadlines.
Fiancé Visa Costs
With all the fees for filing petitions, it costs $2,025 to apply for a K-1 visa. Some of the costs are paid when the U.S. citizen partner files in the United States, and others are paid abroad when the non-citizen fiancé files his or her own petition. You 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.
Do You Need a K-1 Visa if You’re Already in the United States?
If you’re already in the United States and want to marry a U.S. citizen, you won’t need a K-1 visa. There are a couple of caveats here, though. You can only marry a U.S. citizen if you’re lawfully present in the United States; if you have overstayed a visa or crossed a border illegally, you may not marry a U.S. citizen and expect to receive immigration benefits. Instead, you are deportable and may be ordered to leave the U.S. – and worse, you may be barred from reentering the country.
If you are lawfully present in the U.S. (such as when you arrive and stay on a work or visitor visa), you 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. However, you need to know that if you marry someone within 90 days of your arrival, USCIS may believe that you fraudulently entered the U.S. The so-called “90-day rule” is a guideline that USCIS uses to determine whether a person misled immigration officials about why that person was really coming to the U.S. You should certainly get legal advice before you marry someone if you are in the U.S. on a valid visa.
Do You Need a Fiancé Visa if You’re Already Married?
If you are already married to a U.S. citizen, you don’t need a K-1 visa (unless your marriage is not recognized as valid in the location where it took place – and if you’re in that situation, it may be best to speak with an immigration attorney). Instead, you’ll most likely be able to file a petition to get a green card, which is proof that you’re a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
Fortunately, spouses aren’t subject to the notoriously long wait times that most other people must go through – because you’re married, you’re automatically (and immediately) eligible to file for lawful permanent resident status.
Can You Bring Your Fiancé’s Children to the U.S. on a K-1 Visa?
Your fiancé’s children may be permitted to enter the United States with their parent if they are unmarried and under the age of 21. They’ll be in K-2 nonimmigrant status during their stay (unless you petition to adjust their status). Your fiancé’s children can’t enter the U.S. before your fiancé does, but it’s okay for them to arrive later.
The children must remain unmarried and under the age of 21 in order to be admitted in K-2 nonimmigrant status. Then, after you and your fiancé marry within 90 days of his or her arrival in the U.S., you can petition the U.S. government for an adjustment of status.
Can a K-1 Fiancé Work While in the United States?
Your fiancé can apply for work authorization by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, as soon as he or she arrives in the U.S. The work authorization will only be valid for 90 days after entry in the U.S. Foreign 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 a year. He or she can then extend it in one-year increments as necessary.
What Happens if You Don’t Marry Within 90 Days?
U.S. immigration law is very clear when it says that you must marry within 90 days of your foreign fiancé’s arrival in the U.S. on a K-1 visa. If you do not marry within that time, the fiancé (and his or her children) must leave the U.S. immediately.
Failure to leave before the K-1 visa expires is a violation of immigration law, and that can result in deportation. Even worse, it can affect your fiancé’s future eligibility for immigration benefits.
Do You Need to Talk to an Immigration Lawyer About a K-1 Fiancé Visa?
If you’re a U.S. citizen – or if you’re engaged to a U.S. citizen – we may be able to help you with the K-1 visa process, which will enable you to come to the United States to be married. Call our office to schedule your free consultation with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney now.