What is a K-1 Visa?
The K-1 is a nonimmigrant visa that permits foreign-born fiancé(e) of a US citizen to enter the United States and marry their partner. As a US citizen, you can bring your spouse to the United States, get married and live together permanently in the country.
You are to get married within 90 days after your fiancé(e)e arrives in the US. Once you become a married couple, your fiancé(e) (now spouse) can adjust their status to become a lawful permanent resident.
How Does the K-1 Visa Work?
The K-1 visa is strictly for US citizens – a green card holder is not eligible to use the visa. It is also for engaged (not married) partners who are ready to get married in the United States within 3 months. If you are already married or want to marry outside the US, the K-1 visa is not for you. You may qualify for a similar visa, which is the K-3 Spousal visa. If your K-3 spouse has a dependent child, the child may also come to the US on a K-4 Visa.
As a nonimmigrant visa, the K-1 is temporary and only useful for a short-term basis. However, it is one of the fastest and easiest routes to permanent residence and citizenship thereafter.
Both partners will undergo a series of the application process to obtain the K-1 visa. After a successful application, the foreign fiancé(e)e will receive the visa, which they will use to travel to the United States. If you don’t get married within 90 days after the arrival of your partner, the foreign partner may have to depart the United States. This is because the visa automatically expires after 90 days and cannot be extended.
How to Apply for a K-1 Visa
The K-1 visa application process involves five major stages, starting from visa application to the green card process.
The US citizen will initiate the process by filing a K-1 visa petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To do this, you will submit Form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) to the USCIS office in your area. The purpose is to establish that a genuine relationship exists between you and your foreign partner, and you intend to get married soon. You will submit relevant documents that will help you prove the genuineness of your relationship. If the I-129F application is approved, USCIS will forward your case to the National Visa Center (NVC).
The second phase of the application will be complete with the NVC. After receiving your case, the NVC will notify your fiancé(e)e to file an official visa application. He or she will also be asked to schedule an interview with a consular officer in a US embassy or consulate in their country of residence. After a successful application process and visa interview, the foreign spouse can enter the US before the expiration of their visa. Once in the United States, you can get married any time within 90 days.
K-1 Visa Application: From Fiancé(e) Visa to Green Card
Below is the breakdown of the steps involved:
Step 1: Petition for Fiancé(e) – USCIS
- You (US citizen) file Form I-129F according to the instructions for the form
- The USCIS will review your petition and the supporting documents submitted. They may mail you to request additional evidence, which you must provide within a stipulated time frame.
- If you establish a genuine relationship, USCIS will approve your I-129F petition
- USCIS will send the approved Form I-129 petition to the Department of State (DOS) NVC.
Step 2: Visa application – NVC
- The NVC will forward the approved petition to the US embassy or consulate where your fiancé(e)e resides.
- The embassy or consulate notifies you and your fiancé(e)e when the visa interview will hold.
- Your fiancé(e)submits an application for a K-1 visa and brings the required documents and forms to the visa interview. The official form for the visa application is Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
- The consular officer determines if your fiancé(e)e qualifies for the visa.
- If the consular officer approves the application and grants the visa, the K-1 visa is valid for up to 6 months for a single entry to the US.
Stage 3: Inspection at the Border – CBP
After entering the US on a K-1 visa, your fiancé(e)e will have to seek admission at the port of entry. Much like any visa, the K-1 visa does not guarantee admission to the US. A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will decide whether to admit your fiancé(e)e.
Step 4: Marriage
If CBP grants your fiancé(e)e admission, you and your fiancé(e)e will have to marry each other within 90 days.
Step 5: Adjustment of Status for a Green Card – USCIS
- If you marry within 90 days, now your fiancé(e)e can apply to become a permanent resident under the marriage-based green card category. They will file Form I-485, officially known as Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
- USCIS will review the Form I-485 and may ask for additional evidence if necessary.
- You and your spouse may be required to appear for an interview.
- If your marriage is less than 2 years at the time of the I-485 application, USCIS will issue your spouse a conditional permanent resident status with a green card valid for 2 years.
- Your spouse will apply to remove the conditions 90 days before the expiration of the 2-year validity green card. If the condition removal application is approved, USCIS will issue them permanent resident status with a green card valid for 10 years, which they can always renew for as many times as they want.
- If your spouse wishes to become a citizen, they can apply for citizenship 3 years after becoming a permanent resident.
Eligibility Criteria for a K-1 Visa
The first requirement for the K-1 visa is that one of the engaged partners must be a US citizen. However, there are other requirements to fulfil in order to obtain a visa.
The Petitioner Must Be a US Citizen
As the petitioner who wishes to bring your fiancé(e)e to the US, you must present proof of US citizenship as part of the requirements for the visa. This could be your US passport, birth certificate, or certificate of citizenship.
You Must Meet the Definition of a “Fiancé(e)”
Both partners must meet the definition of “fiancé(e)e” under the United States immigration law. It implies that both the US citizen and the foreign partner must have been legally free to marry at the time the K-1 visa petition was filed and must have remained so thereafter. This means none of you is currently married.
If any of the partners had been in a marriage before, the previous marriage must have been legally terminated (by death, divorce, or annulment) before requesting a K-1 visa. In addition, the marriage must be legally possible in accordance with the laws of the US state in which the marriage will hold.
In general, the partners must have met in person within the past two years. However, if certain circumstances, such as extreme hardship or cultural factors, have prevented the two partners from meeting in person, USCIS may grant an exception for this requirement.
You Must Meet the K-1 Visa Income Requirements
You (US citizen) are required to show the adequate income required to meet your financial needs and that of your fiancé(e). You will submit Form I-134, Affidavit of Support. USCIS will use the information in the form to determine if you meet this requirement.
This is similar to the Form I-864 Affidavit of Support filed for a family-based green card application. However, while the I-864 requires a minimum of 125% of federal poverty minimum income, I-134 only requires 100%. This is to ensure that you both can live above the poverty line on your current income.
Children of Foreign Fiancé(e)
If the foreign fiancé(e)e has a child who is unmarried and under the age of 21, the child may be eligible to come to the United States on a K-2 visa. Their names must be included in the Form I-129F application if you wish to bring them to the United States. They may also apply for a green card after you and your fiancé(e)e have married each other. Please note that they must remain unmarried in order to be eligible for a green card application.
How Much Does the K-1 Visa Cost?
You will have to pay for the following services:
- Form I-129F application fee: $535
- Consulate processing fee (at the embassy or consulate): $265
- Medical examination: (varies, depending on your location)
- Form I-485: $1,140
- Biometrics fee: $85
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No, the K-1 visa cannot be extended. It automatically expires after 90. Generally, if you don’t get married at the end of the 90 days, your foreign fiancé(e)e must leave the United States. If they don’t leave, that will count as a violation of US immigration law, which could lead to deportation. It could also affect their future eligibility for entering the US and other immigration benefits.
Yes, as a foreign fiancé(e) of a US citizen, you can work while on a K-1 visa. To be eligible to work, you will need to apply for a work permit by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.
Unfortunately, the K-1 is a single-entry visa. You can only enter the US port of entry once, and after that, it is no longer useful for travel purpose.
You may be able to apply for a travel document known as advance parole. But by the time they finish processing it, your K-1 visa will likely be expired. Since you can get married within 90 days, the best is to apply for advance parole along with your green card application.
Advance parole request is generally processed within 120 days. So, if you need to travel abroad before you receive your green card, you can use the advance parole as your travel document.
Yes, you may still obtain a K-1 visa even without previous in-person meetings with your partner. Though it is generally required that you both must have met in person at least once within 2 years before applying for the visa, USCIS may waive the requirement on two conditions. If meeting in person would:
– Violate strict and long-existing customs of the foreign fiancé(e)e social and cultural practice, or
– Result in extreme hardship for the US citizen.
Yes, a K-1 visa can lead to US citizenship. The process starts by acquiring a K-1 visa, then a green card, and then applying for citizenship. As a spouse of a US citizen, you may apply for US citizenship by naturalization 3 years after receiving your green card.
Yes, it is possible to get a divorce after a K-1 visa, depending on the timing and circumstances surrounding the divorce. However, if a divorce happens before getting your green card, there could be some complications.
This is because the foreign fiancé(e) will generally need the cooperation[OA1] of the US citizen to obtain a green card. One of the major requirements for getting a marriage-based green card is that you remain married to your visa-sponsoring partner. While this can be waived given some circumstances, it is always more challenging. For instance, USCIS may require that both of you appear for an interview.
Getting a divorce after a K-1 marriage is a red flag, suggesting you got the visa just for immigration purpose and not for genuine relationship, which is a strong violation of the US immigration law. So, if you divorce before getting your green card, you will need to file a waiver with USCIS and present genuine, convincing evidence why the divorce is inevitable.
The foreign citizen will bring the following documents to the visa interview:
- Completed Form DS-160. They will print the confirmation page of the form and bring it along
- A valid passport to travel to the United States
- Birth certificate
- Police certificates from their current country of residence and any countries they’ve lived in for at least 6 months since the age of 16.
- Divorce or death certificate(s) of any previous spouse (if applicable)
- Medical examination
- Evidence of financial support (Form I-134)
- Evidence of relationship with the US citizen fiancé(e)e
- Evidence of payments of fees.
- Two 2×2 Photographs (must meet these requirements)