It’s always challenging when you start a new relationship, regardless of the other circumstances surrounding it.
If you bring in other complicating factors, such as living in a different country from your fiancé, the process can quickly become overwhelming.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does grant fiancé visas for people engaged to U.S. citizens, but not everyone knows how to get or use a fiancé visa. There are a few basic steps you need to complete so that you can help your intended spouse to get a visa and then enter the country to marry you.
The K1 Visa
The fiancé K1 nonimmigrant visa is for foreign citizen fiancés of people who are U.S. citizens. This visa permits someone who’s foreign to travel to the U.S. and get married to their U.S. sponsor within 90 days of their arrival. Then, the foreign citizen applies for adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident. They have to apply for this adjustment status with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
When someone has a fiancé visa, it allows them to immigrate to America and marry someone in the U.S. who’s a citizen shortly after their arrival, but to get to this point, they must meet certain requirements.
A K1 visa applicant’s eligible children may receive K2 visas.
Under immigration laws in the United States, a foreign-citizen fiancé of a citizen receives an approved Petition for Alien Fiancé, Form I-129F. Both the citizen of the U.S. and the visa applicant must have been legally able to marry at the time the petition is filed, and they have to remain that way going forward.
The fiancé and the U.S. citizen sponsor must have met in person within the two years, with some exceptions granted based on extreme hardship for the sponsor to personally meet the person. Another reason for an exception that might be allowed is if it’s against the culture of either the sponsor or foreign citizen’s culture for a man and woman to meet before they’re married.
Some couples skip the fiancé visa process completely and instead get married, so they can then apply directly for a spousal visa.
Which route is right for a couple depends on where they live, how long they’re willing to wait to be together, and other circumstances specific to them.
Both partners who are involved in the fiancé visa situation must have an intention to be married within 90 days after the sponsored person arrives from abroad and in the U.S. Requirements include:
- The person sponsoring the foreign national must be a U.S. citizen. Green card holders, who are permanent residents, aren’t eligible to sponsor someone for a fiancé visa.
- Most partners have to be currently unmarried and eligible to marry. Applicants may have to provide proof of annulment, divorce decree, or death if they have previous marriages, showing they are legally terminated.
- Same-sex partners are eligible for K1 visas, no matter the laws in the home country of the sponsored individual.
- The relationship has to be proven legitimate. Evidence to demonstrate legitimacy can include flight itineraries or hotel reservations for trips taken together, photos, written statements from people who know the couple, emails between the two people, and similar things.
- A couple has to be able to prove, as mentioned above, that they’ve met at least one time in person during the two years before completing the visa form other than in situations of extreme hardship.
- Both partners are required to provide a signed statement saying they intend to marry each other within 90 days of the sponsored person’s arrival in the U.S. If there are particular wedding plans already made, submitting evidence like receipts for a venue deposit or invitations is a good idea.
- The citizen fiancé from the U.S. has to meet income requirements. The adjusted gross income on the person’s most recent tax return has to be equal to at least 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. If a sponsoring fiancé isn’t able to meet the requirement on their own, they have to get a joint financial sponsor. The joint financial sponsor has to file an affidavit of support. The income requirements for a marriage green card sponsorship are higher than those for a fiancé visa.
Submitting Form I-129F
The first step for a couple is to file Form I-129F with USCIS. The form is an initial step to showing the validity of the relationship.
Supporting documents used as evidence that you should attach to the form include:
- Proof of citizenship for the person who is a U.S. citizen. This proof might include a passport, birth certificate, or certificate of naturalization.
- A copy of the passport of the sponsored fiancé.
- Proof to show the relationship is legitimate.
- Something to show proof of having met at least once in the two years before filing the form.
- Sworn statements from each partner that include a brief description of the relationship and an intent to marry within 90 days.
- A passport-style photo of the U.S. citizen fiancé and one of the sponsored fiancé.
Form DS-160 and Interview
After the form and any supporting documents are filed, USCIS sends a letter of receipt typically within 30 days. They may also indicate they need more information by sending a Request for Evidence. Then, once the form is approved, you get an approval notice from USCIS.
From there, the case goes to the U.S. Department of State. The fiancé being sponsored gets notice from the U.S. embassy in their country with a date and location for a visa interview. That notice will also include all the documents they need to bring.
The sponsored fiancé completes DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. This form is the actual application for a K1 visa.
The State Department requires, at this point:
- Two passport-style photos for the sponsored fiancé
- The sponsored fiancé’s birth certificate and valid, unexpired passport
- Police clearance for the sponsored person from all countries of residence of more than six months
- The sponsored fiancé’s sealed medical form that was completed by a physician authorized by the State Department
- The U.S. citizen’s fiancé has to provide an affidavit of support, their most recent tax returns, and proof of relationship
The visa interview happens at the U.S. embassy or consulate close to the sponsored fiancé in their home country. It’s usually scheduled anywhere from four to six weeks after the sponsor gets the initial notice from the embassy.
An officer conducting the interview will usually decide on the case the same day or shortly after the interview. If they need more evidence, they’ll ask for it to be submitted directly to the U.S. consulate.
After all the requirements are met, the K1 visa is approved. The sponsored fiancé has a total of six months from the date of their approval of the original I-129F to come to the United States.
Once they arrive, the couple is expected to be married within 90 days, or the K1 status is lost. If the couple doesn’t get married, the partner who was sponsored isn’t eligible to stay in the country and has to leave immediately.
The K1 doesn’t allow for a change to another temporary visa, which makes it different. You also can’t adjust your status from a K1 visa to a green card based on marrying anyone other than your original sponsor.
Once someone gets married, the last step is applying for a marriage-based green card. The marriage-based green card is sponsored by the same partner originally sponsoring the fiancé visa.
What Else to Know?
A few other things to know about the K1 visa include that you can work with it, but you have to apply for work authorization first. To apply for work authorization, you complete Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. The employment authorization is only valid for 90 days, beginning on the day you arrive in the U.S. if you apply for permanent residency after arrival and file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residences or Adjust Status, you can include the employment authorization form with your application.
In doing so, you could gain work authorization for a year.
Reasons for K1 visa denials include, most commonly, inadequate income, past criminal convictions for either fiancé, or a past history of violating immigration laws. Past K1 petitions from the U.S. citizen, diseases from the foreign-born resident that could threaten the public, and an inability to show supporting evidence are other reasons for denials.
If your fiancé is a green card holder rather than a U.S. citizen, they can only petition for you to enter the country if you’re already married. The visa for a spouse of a U.S. citizen is a K3, and that’s also only available to people who are partners of U.S. citizens.
Marriage visas tend to be approved less quickly than fiancé visas.
Either way, the process can be confusing and time-consuming. A lot of couples work with immigration attorneys on the visa process, which actually ends up saving both time and money.