As shown on the popular TV show 90 Day Fiancé, couples fall in love abroad and file for a K-1 visa in the hopes of getting married and living happily ever after in the U.S. The K-1 visa, or the fiancé visa, is a common pathway for international couples to gain citizenship and begin their married life together.
What Is a K-1 Visa?
A K-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows a U.S. citizen’s fiancé(e) to enter the U.S. to get married within a 90-day timeframe. Like other visa applications, you’ll attend a visa interview, and from the moment you enter the U.S., the ninety-day countdown begins. Folks who enter on a K-1 Visa but do not get married within the deadline must return to their home country. Applying for a K-1 visa is a practical alternative for international couples if the U.S. citizen is unable to travel abroad to get married.
If you are engaged to a U.S. citizen and want to travel to the United States to marry them, you may be eligible for a nonimmigrant K-1 visa. You can apply for this visa by submitting Form I-129 and following the necessary procedures. Some stipulations apply to qualify for a K-1 visa. Both the U.S. citizen and the K-1 visa applicant must be free to legally marry at the time the petition is filed and throughout the process. The marriage must be legal within the U.S. state where the marriage will take place. Same-sex couples are eligible for a K-1 visa.
The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005
The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) was passed in 2005 after two women were killed at the hands of their sponsoring husbands. IMBRA aims to protect fiancé(e) and marriage-based green card applicants from abuse and even murder. New Americans and immigrants face numerous challenges that make them more susceptible to violence, such as little social support, lack of knowledge about resources, and language barriers. IMBRA requires that folks entering the U.S. through a brokered relationship, like a mail-order spouse, have access to help and understand their legal rights if the relationship becomes abusive.
IMBRA requires all marriage visa sponsors to undergo background checks and answer probing questions about the relationship, including divulging important milestones. This law was put in place to protect women and children during the immigration process and ensure the relationship is authentic. Detailed information about IMBRA requirements is contained in the initial petition: Form I-129F.
K-1 Visa Requirements
To successfully apply for a K-1 fiancé visa, the following requirements must be met:
One of the applicants must be a U.S. citizen
Within 90 days after arriving in the U.S. on the K-1 visa, you must marry each other
You and your fiancé can legally marry in the U.S., and any previous marriages were legally ended by divorce, death, or annulment. Same-sex partners are eligible for K-1 visas.
In-person meeting requirement: you and your fiancé have met in person at least once in the two-year period before filing the application. (However, if meeting in person presents an extreme hardship or violates either cultural or religious beliefs, then you can request a waiver
Proof that the relationship is legitimate.
The U.S. citizen fiancé’s household income meets 100% of the federal poverty guidelines. (If their income is below this amount, they must submit a supplemental Form I-864 or Form I-864A with their application).
Applying for a K-1 Visa
Applying for a K-1 or a fiancé visa is time-consuming and costly. Ensuring you understand the process and the necessary fees before applying is crucial to receiving a K-1 visa. It is important to note that in this article, “fiancé” is used as a gender-neutral term to refer to the beneficiary partner.
File the Petition
The first step in applying for a fiancé visa is to prepare and file the Form I-129 K-1 visa petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The point of this form is to prove the relationship is real. This form must be filed by a U.S. citizen and mailed to the appropriate office. Form I-129F cannot be filed in the U.S. Consulate, Embassy, or USCIS office abroad.
Once Form I-129F is approved, USCIS will send out an approval notice. Depending on the service center location, it can take USCIS anywhere from 4-15 months to process your petition.
Submit K-1 Visa
After USCIS approves the initial petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will provide a case number and send the petition to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where your fiancé(e) resides within 30 days of approval. The notice will detail the date and location of the required visa interview, including a list of instructions and additional supporting documents you need to provide to your local U.S. embassy.
Once you receive the notice, you’ll submit Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, which is the actual K-1 visa application. Once you complete Form DS-160, print off the confirmation page to bring to your interview. This step is extremely important because you’ll need to provide a copy to your local embassy.
The U.S. embassy processing your case will request documents from both you and your U.S. citizen fiancé. Every embassy has a specific process for providing these documents, so pay attention to the instructions provided in your NVC notice.
An Affidavit of Support, aka Form I-134, is a binding legal document in which the U.S. citizen fiancé agrees to provide financial support to keep their fiancé from relying on government benefits
A valid passport. The passport must have a validity date of at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the U.S. There are country-specific exemptions, so check to make sure you can travel to the U.S.
Divorce or death certificate(s) of any previous spouse(s) for both parties
Police clearance from all countries where you have lived for more than six months since you were 16 years old.
Sealed medical examination. (You will get this form from an approved doctor at an immigration medical exam).
Evidence of relationship with your U.S. citizen fiancé(e)
Two (2) 2x2 photographs. See the photograph requirements here.
Payment of fees
Note: Keep in mind that any documentation provided in a foreign language must be translated for the interviewing officer. Make clear and legible copies of any supporting documents.
Attend Interview & Submit fees
Your visa interview takes place at the U.S. embassy or consulate listed on the NVC notice. The interview will likely be in the embassy or consulate in the foreign fiancé’s home country and will take place 4-6 weeks after you receive the notice. Only the foreign fiancé needs to attend the visa interview.
There is a $265 fee for a K-1 fiancé visa, which you will usually pay at the time of the interview. Different embassies and consulates have varying requirements, so be sure to follow the instructions in the interview notice. The officer conducting your interview will usually make a decision on the same day as the interview unless they need additional information.
Travel to the U.S. & get hitched
Once your K-1 visa is approved, you will receive a sealed visa packet. Do not open this packet. The U.S. customs agent who inspects you at the border will ask you for this packet, and if it is already open, they may not allow you to enter the U.S. You will have four months from the date that your visa is approved to enter the U.S. and get married within 90 days. If you decide not to get married, you must return to your home country as soon as possible. You cannot use the K-1 visa to marry anyone other than the U.S. citizen who filed Form I-129F.
File for change of status
After you get married, the foreign spouse can apply for a marriage green card by filing Form I-485 along with the required supporting forms and documents.
How Long Does It Take To Process a K-1 Visa?
The time it takes to process your visa depends largely on the location of your interview and the complexity of your case. As of May 2023, the average processing timeline for a K-1 application is between 14-19 months. You can search here to check the case processing timeline for your local office. The adjustment of status from a K-1 visa to a marriage green card takes an additional 4-6 months. It is important to note that the process of adjusting your status is faster than applying for a marriage green card abroad through consular processing.
How Much Does a K-1 Visa Cost?
A K-1 visa application costs around $800, and an additional payment of $1,225 is required to obtain a marriage green card with the adjustment of status process.
K-1 Visa FAQs
Although every case is unique, there are many legal resources to help potential immigrants through the visa process. Below are some answers to common questions, though specific legal advice should be left up to a qualified attorney. If you are still unsure about the K-1 visa process or need help filing an appeal, an experienced legal attorney can guide you.
Who can file a K-1?
The preparer of Form I-129F must be a U.S. citizen. A legal permanent resident, aka a green card holder, cannot request a K-1 visa.
Do I have to be engaged to file a K-1 visa?
No, you do not need to be engaged, but it is significantly more challenging to prove your relationship is authentic if you are not engaged before submitting an application.
Can I work on a K-1 visa?
Yes. After you have entered the U.S. with a K-1 visa, you can immediately apply for work authorization by filing Form I-765. It takes about 1-2 months for USCIS to process this application. The work permit is only valid for the first 90 days, though, so if you need a longer-term work permit, it is more effective to apply for a marriage green card.
Can I bring my children to the U.S. with me on a K-1 visa?
Yes. As long as the children are under the age of 21 and unmarried to be admitted to the U.S. as K-2 nonimmigrants. The children must have been included on Form I-129F and should have received their K-2 visas at the same time as your K-1 visa to be eligible. You must enter the U.S. at the same time or after you, but not before. Your children can apply for green cards after you use your K-1 visa to marry your U.S. citizen fiancé.
Can I extend my K1 visa?
No. The K-1 visa automatically expires after 90 days.
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