Navigating the K-1 Fiancé Visa Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

K-1 visa

A K-1 fiancé visa: what is it?

The K-1 visa, sometimes called the fiancé visa, is intended for foreign-citizen fiancés of citizens of the United States, allowing them to enter the country with the goal of getting married. This nonimmigrant visa serves as a bridge to marriage and, subsequently, allows the foreign-citizen fiancé to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. through the marriage green card process. The K-1 visa not only facilitates the reunion of engaged couples but also sets the foundation for their future together in the United States, emphasizing the importance of following the legal and procedural steps accurately to ensure a smooth transition to life in the U.S.

What is the Current Processing Time for a K-1 Fiancé Visa?

The time frame for obtaining a K-1 fiancé visa typically extends over several months. As of the latest assessments, notably by Boundless through their partner Track My Visa Now, the average processing duration for a K-1 application, using Form I-129F, stands at approximately 6 months from the date of filing. Following the approval of Form I-129F, the transition of the case to the National Visa Center (NVC) by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is expected to take an additional four to six weeks. This timeline provides a general overview for applicants to anticipate the journey ahead in their application process.

Why Might the K-1 Fiancé Visa Processing Time Differ From USCIS Published Data?

The discrepancy between the processing timeframes for a K-1 fiancé visa as experienced by applicants and those published by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can arise from several factors. USCIS reports historical processing times quarterly, offering a backward-looking snapshot rather than a real-time analysis. According to their latest quarterly update, the average wait time for a K-1 visa application is about 13.3 months, which is significantly longer than the 6-month period often cited by other sources like Boundless and its partner Track My Visa Now. This difference may be due to variations in data collection methods, the period of analysis, or fluctuations in application volumes and processing capacities at USCIS. Consequently, applicants might observe varying timelines based on when and how USCIS and other organizations assess and report these durations.

What Does the ‘2-Year Meeting Requirement’ Mean for K-1 Visa Applicants?

The ‘2-year meeting requirement’ is an essential verification step in the K-1 visa application process, aimed at confirming the authenticity of the relationship between the U.S. citizen sponsor and their foreign-citizen fiancé(e). This stipulation mandates that the couple must have met in person at least once within the two years preceding their Form I-129F submission. The intent behind this rule is not to gauge the length of the relationship but to ensure there has been physical interaction between the partners prior to the visa application. Virtual interactions such as online meetings, video calls, or telephone conversations do not fulfill this requirement due to the importance placed on physical presence. Nonetheless, the U.S. government recognizes certain circumstances under which an in-person meeting might not be feasible or advisable, including strict adherence to religious or cultural customs, or situations where such a meeting would cause extreme hardship to the foreign-citizen fiancé(e). In these instances, applicants can apply for a waiver of the 2-year meeting rule alongside their Form I-129F, provided they can substantiate the significant difficulty or impossibility of meeting in person.

Upcoming Changes to K-1 Visa Application Fees

Heads Up: K-1 Visa Application Fees to Rise from April 1, 2024:

LATEST (January 31, 2024): The USCIS has announced through its final ruling that there will be an increase in the filing fees for numerous immigration-related forms, effective April 1, 2024. This adjustment will affect a wide range of visa categories, including the K-1 fiancé visas. For an updated breakdown of the expected USCIS fees for your K-1 visa application, we recommend consulting our comprehensive guide. Submitting your K-1 application prior to this upcoming adjustment can be a strategic move to circumvent the imminent fee surge.

As of now, the aggregate cost to apply for a K-1 fiancé visa stands at $800.

For those embarking on the journey of obtaining a K-1 fiancé visa, understanding the associated fees is crucial. Here’s a concise breakdown:

a) Form I-129F Filing Fee: The initial step involves submitting Form I-129F, for which the U.S. government charges a fee of $535. Payment options include money order, cashier’s check, or personal check. For submissions at a USCIS lockbox facility, credit card payments are accepted through Form G-1450, “Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.” Checks should be made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

b) Medical Examination: Following the approval of Form I-129F, the U.S. citizen’s fiancé(e) is required to undergo a medical exam. The cost for this examination can vary depending on the medical provider, with a typical fee being around $200.

c) K-1 Visa Application Fee: The final fee for the K-1 visa application itself is $265. This fee is generally paid at the time of the visa interview. Applicants should carefully review the interview notice from the embassy for specific instructions on the timing and place of payment, as these details can differ based on the applicant’s home country.

Please note, these fees do not include additional expenses that may arise, such as the costs for translating documents, photocopying, and acquiring necessary personal documents (e.g., birth certificate). It’s important to factor in these additional costs to get a complete picture of the financial requirements for the K-1 visa application process.

Understanding the Requirements for a K-1 Fiancé Visa

The K-1 fiancé visa is a unique opportunity for U.S. citizens to bring their foreign partners to the United States under the condition they marry within 90 days of the foreign partner’s arrival. Here’s what you need to know about qualifying for this visa:

  1. U.S. Citizenship of the Sponsoring Partner: The sponsor must be a U.S. citizen; unfortunately, U.S. lawful permanent residents (green card holders) cannot sponsor a fiancé for a K-1 visa.
  2. Marital Status: Both members of the couple must be legally free to marry. This means submitting proof of the dissolution of any previous marriages, such as divorce decrees, annulment records, or death certificates for previous spouses.
  3. Authenticity of the Relationship: Couples must demonstrate the legitimacy of their relationship.
  4. Physical Meeting Requirement: The couple must have met in person at least once within the two years prior to their visa application. There are exceptions to this rule, such as in circumstances of extreme hardship or where an in-person meeting would contravene established religious, cultural, or social conventions.
  5. Intent to Marry: Both partners are required to provide a signed statement of their intent to marry within 90 days of the foreign partner’s arrival in the U.S., supplemented by any available evidence like wedding venue bookings or invitations.
  6. Financial Requirement: The U.S. citizen sponsor needs to demonstrate financial stability by meeting a minimum income threshold, specified as 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines based on their most recent tax return. Should the sponsor’s income be insufficient, a joint sponsor can be enlisted to fulfill this requirement.

Understanding and meeting these criteria are fundamental steps in the K-1 visa process, setting the stage for a successful application and the future union of the couple in the United States.

What is the Rejection Rate for K-1 Fiancé Visas?

In 2022, approximately 20% of K-1 fiancé visa applications were not approved, translating to about 1 in every 5 applications facing rejection. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received 48,118 applications in total, out of which 9,462 were denied. More recent figures from the last quarter of the same year indicate a slight improvement, with the denial rate dropping to 16%.

Your Roadmap to the K-1 Fiancé Visa: Detailed Steps for Applicants

Step 1: Filing Form I-129F

The initial step for a U.S. citizen planning to bring their foreign fiancé to the United States on a K-1 visa is to complete and submit Form I-129F, known as the “Petition for Alien Fiancé(e),” to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The goal of this document is to establish the authenticity of the couple’s relationship.

Necessary Documents to Accompany Form I-129F:

  1. Evidence of U.S. Citizenship for the Sponsor: Acceptable forms of proof include a copy of a passport, a certificate of naturalization, or a birth certificate.

Copy of the Foreign Fiancé’s Passport: A photocopy of the foreign fiancé’s valid passport is required.

  1. Verification of a Genuine Relationship: Provide evidence such as shared photographs, itineraries from trips taken together, testimonial letters from relatives and friends, and records of correspondence like emails or texts.

  2. Documentation of Meeting in Person: Provide evidence, such as travel receipts, hotel reservations, pictures, etc., to show that the couple has met in person at least once in the two years before the application.

  3. Intent to Marry Statements: Both individuals must submit a signed statement detailing their relationship and affirming their plan to marry within 90 days of the foreign fiancé’s entry into the U.S.

  4. Historical Form I-94 Records: The foreign fiancé should include copies of any previously issued I-94 arrival/departure documentation.

  5. Passport-Style Photos: Submit one recent passport-style photograph of each partner.

After the paperwork is sent to the correct USCIS address, a receipt notice is typically issued within 30 days. USCIS might also issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) if it requires more details to process the application. Following the approval of Form I-129F, an approval notice will be dispatched.

Step 2: Moving Forward with Form DS-160 and the Interview Process

Once USCIS approves the Form I-129F, the application transitions to the U.S. Department of State’s jurisdiction. The foreign fiancé will then be notified by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their country, which will provide details on the visa interview. This notification includes the interview’s scheduled date and venue, along with a checklist of documents needed for the interview. Once USCIS approves the Form I-129F, the application transitions to the U.S. Department of State’s jurisdiction. The foreign fiancé will then be notified by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their country, which will provide details on the visa interview. This notification includes the interview’s scheduled date and venue, along with a checklist of documents needed for the interview.

For the next phase in the K-1 visa application, the State Department mandates the submission of several key documents:

For the Sponsored Fiancé(e):

  1. Personal documentation of the sponsored fiancé(e).
  2. A pair of passport-style photographs.
  3. The birth certificate of the sponsored fiancé(e).
  4. A current, valid passport with no imminent expiration.
  5. Police certificates from every country where the sponsored fiancé(e) has lived for more than six months since turning 16.
  6. A sealed medical examination form, completed by a physician overseas who is accredited by the State Department.

For the U.S. Citizen Fiancé(e):

  1. An affidavit of support, using Form I-134.
  2. The most recent tax return documents.
  3. Evidence of the relationship, which includes a copy of the approved Form I-129F package initially submitted to USCIS.

The Visa Interview Process

Scheduled at the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the sponsored fiancé’s country of residence, the visa interview typically occurs 4 to 6 weeks following the embassy’s preliminary notification. The decision on the visa application is often made by the interviewing officer either on the day of the interview itself or soon thereafter. Should there be a need for further documentation, the officer will direct the applicant to submit the additional evidence directly to the U.S. Consulate.

Step 3: Entering the U.S. and Getting Married

After fulfilling all the prerequisites and securing the K-1 visa approval, the foreign fiancé is allotted six months from the approval date of the Form I-129F to make their way to the United States. The marriage must take place within 90 days of the foreign fiancé’s arrival; failing to do so will result in the forfeiture of the K-1 visa status. In the event that the couple opts not to proceed with the marriage, the foreign partner is obligated to depart from the U.S. immediately. The K-1 visa uniquely does not permit the holder to switch to another type of travel visa (such as F-1 or H-1B) nor to “adjust status” to a marriage-based green card with anyone other than the U.S. citizen who filed the original sponsorship. The K-1 visa’s exclusive aim is to enable the foreign fiancé to enter the U.S. for the purpose of marrying their U.S. sponsor within the designated 90-day period. Following the marriage, the couple should apply for a marriage-based green card, with the sponsorship continuing under the U.S. citizen who initiated the K-1 visa application. For a comprehensive understanding of the marriage green card application process, including a step-by-step guide for spouses of U.S. citizens residing in the U.S., explore our detailed resources.