Understanding the K1 Fiancé(e) Visa Process
Basic Eligibility Requirements
The K1 visa is a non-immigrant visa available to the fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen which allows the beneficiary of the petition to enter the United States and marry his or her U.S. citizen petitioner within 90 days of arrival. The basic requirements for a fiancé(e) visa are:
- The petitioner must be a U.S. citizen.
- The petitioner and the foreign national fiancé(e) or beneficiary must have met in person in the last two years.
- The couple must have the legal capacity and bona fide intention to marry within 90 days of the beneficiary's entry to the United States.
If you do not meet these basic requirements, you will not be able to obtain a K1 fiancé(e) visa.
Overview of the K1 Process
Many people mistakenly believe that the K1 fiancé(e) visa process only involves filing a simple form with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In fact, this is only the beginning of the process. The K1 fiancé(e) visa is really a three step process that includes USCIS processing, consular processing, and Adjustment of Status (AOS) after the marriage takes place.
Step 1: USCIS I-129 Processing
To begin, the U.S. citizen petitioner must file a petition and supporting documentation with the appropriate USCIS office, which will either deny the petition at this stage or forward it to the National Visa Center. From there, it is sent to the appropriate U.S. embassy or consulate, where the final decision will be made. It is important to note that just because the USCIS approved the fiancé(e) visa petition, this does not mean that a K1 visa will be issued. In fact, most of the K1 visas which are rejected are denied at the consular level—not at the USCIS. It is very important that you do not make any travel plans for your fiancé(e) until he or she has the actual K1 visa issued by the U.S. embassy or consulate in hand.
Step 2: Consular Processing
After receiving the approved USCIS petition from the NVC, the U.S. embassy or consulate will notify the beneficiary that the petition has been received and provide instructions for applying for the K1 visa. Once the beneficiary completes the embassy or consulate's processing procedures, an interview will be scheduled with a consular officer. The officer will approve or deny the visa at the interview. In most cases, the beneficiary will receive his or her visa within a week or so from the time it is approved.
With the approved K1 visa in hand, the K1 beneficiary can travel to the United States and seek entry as a K1 non-immigrant. It is very important to note that the K1 visa is a single entry visa. This means that it can only be used once. If for some reason your fiancé(e) needs to leave the United States before a travel document is issued during the AOS phase, he or she must make arrangements to obtain the appropriate documentation to return to the United States and complete the process. If this situation should arise, I strongly encourage you to consult an immigration attorney.
Step 3: Marriage
Once the K1 beneficiary arrives in the United States, the marriage to the petitioner must take place within 90 days. This is very important. If the marriage does not take place within 90 days of the date that the beneficiary enters the United States, it will be very difficult for him or her to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. Because 90 days is not a lot of time to plan a wedding, many K1 couples opt to have a simple civil wedding ceremony right away and then plan a more formal event later down the road.
Step 4: Adjustment of Status
After the petitioner and beneficiary have been married, they must begin the final step in the fiancé(e) visa process: Adjustment of Status . Through this process, the status of the beneficiary is adjusted from that of a K1 non-immigrant to a conditional lawful permanent resident. The AOS application is filed with the appropriate USCIS Service Center in the U.S. While there is no firm deadline for filing, I strongly encourage you to file the AOS application as soon as possible after the wedding takes place and in no case more than two years after the date of the marriage. It generally takes between 8-10 months for the AOS application to be adjudicated, but the beneficiary should obtain an employment authorization document and a travel document within 90 days of filing the AOS application so he or she can work and travel while the petition is pending. This is another selling point for filing the AOS petition as soon as possible after the marriage.
Upon completion of the AOS process, the beneficiary will be issued a conditional lawful permanent resident card which will be valid for two years.