The K-1 visa, also known as the fiancé visa, is a special nonimmigrant visa issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The purpose of the K-1 visa is to allow a foreign national to enter the United States to marry a U.S. citizen fiancé. It is also essential to obtaining a Green Card and U.S. citizenship.
If you are a non-U.S. resident planning to marry an American citizen, you must follow the appropriate K-1 visa application procedures. Knowing the steps to take and working with a Los Angeles K-1 visa attorney can streamline the process and help you receive your visa.
What is the K-1 Visa?
The K-1 visa, or fiancé visa, is a special type of nonimmigrant visa intended for fiancés of U.S. citizens. A K-1 visa allows you to legally enter the United States as a K-1 nonimmigrant for the sole purpose of marriage. Upon entering the United States with a K-1 visa, you must marry the U.S. citizen who sponsored your entry within 90 days.
While it is a nonimmigrant visa, the K-1 visa is considered one of the essential bridges to lawful permanent residency (Green Card). If you marry the sponsoring U.S. citizen within 90 days of being admitted to the United States, you can apply for an adjustment of status to become a Green Card holder. This allows you to continue the immigration process and legally move to the United States to stay with your spouse.
K-1 Visa Requirements
You and your U.S. citizen fiancé must understand and meet the fiancé visa’s requirements before applying for a K-1 visa. This can increase your chances of success and avoid delays or denials. The USCIS requirements include:
- Citizenship requirement. Your fiancé must be a U.S. citizen. They may need to provide documentation to prove their citizenship, such as a birth certificate or a valid passport.
- Marriage intent. You and your fiancé plan to marry within three months (90 days) of entering the United States. You may need to submit documents supporting your intentions, such as venue bookings, wedding invitations, or sworn written statements.
- Freedom to marry. You and your fiancé are free to marry legally in the United States, meaning neither of you is currently in an existing marriage or otherwise barred from marrying. For example, if a court has ruled that your U.S. citizen fiancé cannot consent to marriage due to lack of mental capacity, you may be ineligible for a K-1.
- Proof of real-world meeting. You must have met each other in person at least once within two years of starting the K-1 visa application process. Keep evidence of your meeting, such as photographs, video recordings, or hotel receipts.
In some cases, you may request a waiver of the requirement to meet in person from the USCIS. For instance, if meeting would cause extreme hardship to your U.S. citizen fiancé or if meeting in person before marrying violates rules or customs in your culture or social practices.
- Income requirement. Your U.S. citizen fiancé must submit a Form I-134, Declaration of Financial Support, and meet specific minimum income requirements. Their adjusted gross income (AGI) on their most recent tax returns must equal or exceed 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) for their state and household. Ensure that your U.S. fiancé’s AGI is at least 125% of the FPG if you plan to become a permanent resident after marriage.
The K-1 Visa Application Process
To obtain a K-1 visa, your U.S. fiancé must start the application process on your behalf. This process is called petitioning, which allows you to enter the U.S. legally. Here’s how it works:
- Your fiancé submits Form I-129F. Your U.S. citizen fiancé must complete and file a USCIS Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé. If the USCIS requires additional documentation or information, submit it to the agency when requested. The USCIS will review the petition for eligibility and approve or deny the application.
If the USCIS approves your application, the National Visa Center (NVC) will forward your approved I-129F to the Department of State for the next step.
- Apply for your visa. The approved Form I-129F is forwarded to your country’s U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Once your local Embassy or Consulate has received the Form, they will notify you of your visa interview date and the documents you must bring.
Visit your local Embassy or consulate with all necessary documentation and apply for the K-1 visa. You will typically need to complete a Form DS-160 and bring two passport-style photos, a birth certificate, your valid passport, and a police clearance certificate. You may also need to pass a medical exam.
The Department of State consular officer will review the documents and issue a decision to grant the K-1 visa based on the validity of your relationship. The visa is valid for up to six months for one entry if granted. If not, the officer will return the form to USCIS for revocation. You and your fiancé must then start the process over.
- Travel to the United States. Once you possess your K-1 visa, you may travel to the United States. As with all other visas, the K-1 doesn’t guarantee admission; the decision to admit you falls on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the port of entry.
Unlike other visas, the K-1 imposes specific restrictions. For instance, you may not file a Form I-539 to request a change of status to a different visa while on a K-1.
- Marry your fiancé. After the CBP has cleared you to enter the United States, you may meet your sponsoring U.S. citizen fiancé. You have 90 days to marry each other. The K-1 visa is specific to you and your sponsoring fiancé. You may not marry anyone else, even if they are a U.S. citizen. Doing so may violate your K-1’s terms, and you may face legal consequences and deportation.
K-1 Visa Costs
The K-1 visa application process requires paying multiple filing and processing fees. As of October 2023, you and your U.S. citizen fiancé can expect to pay the following fees:
- Form I-129F filing fee: $535
- K-1 visa application fee: $265
- Medical examination fees: Varies, but ranges from $250 to $500
These costs do not include additional expenses, such as travel costs or fees for obtaining necessary documents from your government.
K-1 Visa Processing Times
The average K-1 visa processing times vary depending on factors such as the time needed for USCIS to process Form I-129F, Department of State DS-160 processing times, and other delays and waiting periods.
On average, the total time needed to process a K-1 visa typically ranges from 12 to 18 months, including:
- 4.5 to 19 months to process USCIS Form I-129F, depending on the USCIS Service Center managing your form
- 2.5 to 3 months for the National Visa Center to process your Form DS-160
If you have an ongoing application, you can check your current case status by visiting the USCIS Case Status Online portal and entering your receipt number.
Special Cases Where You May Need a Fiancé Visa Attorney
Contacting a fiancé visa attorney in Los Angeles offers many benefits during the application process. They can provide expert legal counsel and help you avoid common errors and pitfalls. Depending on your case’s complexity and potential complicating factors, a fiancé visa attorney can also provide guidance for special cases, such as:
- You have prior visa denials. If you have applied for a K-1 visa before but have been denied, it can be challenging to understand why. A fiancé visa attorney can review your situation, help you understand why you were denied, and build a stronger case before applying again.
- You have a criminal record. While foreign nationals with a criminal record can apply for a K-1 visa, it reduces the chances of success. An experienced visa attorney can review your case, provide legal counsel, and offer solutions to minimize its impact on approval.
- You or your U.S. citizen fiancé have been previously married. If you and your fiancé were married previously, it is crucial to ensure they have been properly terminated to ensure you are both free to marry. A qualified fiancé visa attorney can review your marriage history and verify that you are both eligible to marry.
- You need to apply for waivers or exemptions. A visa attorney can help you request any waivers you might need from the relevant agencies. For example, they can help you request a waiver for the requirement to meet in person from the USCIS if your culture or customs require it.
Start the Process of Obtaining Your K-1 Visa
Starting the journey towards obtaining a K-1 visa is an important step for couples eager to build a life together in the U.S. While the procedure can be confusing, with the right preparation and the help of a skilled fiancé visa lawyer, you can successfully file and receive your official fiancé status.
How much time is required to obtain a fiancé visa?
Although processing and wait times vary, it typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete the entire K-1 visa process.
Who is eligible for a fiancé visa?
You may be eligible for the K-1 visa if you are a foreign national engaged to a U.S. citizen and wish to enter the United States to marry them. You must prove your intention to marry within 90 days of entering the U.S.
What are the requirements for a fiancé visa?
Your fiancé must be a U.S. citizen, and both of you must be eligible to marry. Additionally, your fiancé must meet the minimum income requirements to support you. You may be required to provide evidence that you both met in person within the two years prior to your application.
Who is legally considered a fiancé?
An individual is legally recognized as a U.S. citizen’s foreign fiancé if they received an approved Form I-129F. Although you may be engaged to a U.S. citizen long before contacting the USCIS, receiving an approved Form I-129F establishes your relationship with the government and allows you to obtain the K-1 visa.
Can I work on a K-1 visa?
Yes, but you have to submit additional forms. According to the USCIS, you must file and submit a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. If you are approved immediately after being admitted to the U.S., the authorization is valid for 90 days after entry. If you submitted the form while applying for a Green Card, an approved authorization is valid for one year and extensible in one-year increments.