The K visa: bring your fiancé(e) to the United States
The K-1, also known as the fiancé(e) visa, allows a foreign national to enter the United States to marry his or her American Citizen fiancée (female) or fiancé (male) within 90 days. Once married, the foreign national spouse can apply for permanent residence in the U.S.
Eligibility for a K-1 fiancé(e) visa
In order to qualify for a fiancé(e) visa, the foreign national must meet the following requirements:
- He / she must be engaged to a U.S. citizen (unfortunately, fiancé(e)s of lawful permanent residents are not eligible for this kind of visa);
- He / she must intend to marry his / her U.S. citizen fiancé(e) within 90 days from the entry in the United States with the K-1 visa. The same applies to the U.S. Citizen, who must also intend to marry his / her foreign national fiancé(e) within the same timeframe;
- He / she must be legally free to marry in the United States (either has never been married or all previous marriages have been legally terminated by death, divorce, or annulment). The same applies to the U.S. Citizen fiancé(e)s, who must also be legally free to marry;
- He / she must have met his / her U.S. citizen fiancé(e) in person at least once within the 2-year period before filing the fiancé(e) petition. This requirement can be waived upon showing that meeting in person prior to marrying would violate strict and long-established customs of the fiancé(e)’s foreign culture or social practice, or upon showing that meeting in person will result in extreme hardship to the U.S. Citizen.
In addition to the above, the relationship must be a bona fide relationship, and the U.S. citizen may have to prove that he / she can financially support the foreign national fiancé(e) under the relevant regulations.
One last note on eligibility: K-1 visas are also available to same-sex partners.
The application process
The process to apply for a K-1 visa entails two main steps. First, the U.S. Citizen must file a petition on behalf of the foreign national fiancé(e) with USCIS (one of the federal immigration agencies). The petition must include all relevant supporting documents and the payment of the filing fees. Once the petition is approved, the case is transferred to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the foreign national fiancé(e) will apply for the K-1 visa. The process of applying for the visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate includes presenting further documentation and appearing for an interview before a consular officer, who will decide whether or not to issue the visa. It is recommended that the foreign national fiancé(e) applies for the visa as soon as possible, inasmuch as the petition is valid for four months only from the date it was approved by USCIS. While a consular officer can extend the validity of a petition that expired before the visa application is processed, it is best to avoid any extra steps and apply prior to the expiration date.
What happens after the K visa has been issued?
Once the K-1 visa has been issued, the foreign national fiancé(e) can apply for one single admission at a United States port-of-entry within the validity of the visa, which will be a maximum of 6 months from the date of issuance. Like with any visa, a K-1 visa does not guarantee admission to the United States, as the final decision lies with the officer who inspects the foreign national at the port-of-entry.
Once reunited in the United States, the U.S. Citizen and the foreign national must marry within 90 days from the date the foreign national entered the country. Once married, the foreign national spouse is eligible to apply for permanent resident status (basically, for a Green Card).
Failure to marry within 90 days
If the U.S. Citizen and the foreign national do not marry within the 90-day period, the K status is automatically terminated and cannot be extended. This means that the foreign national must leave the United States at the end of the 90 days, or otherwise he / she will be in violation of U.S. immigration laws. This may result in removal (deportation) and could affect future eligibility for U.S. immigration benefits.
Working in the United States
Upon entering the United States on a K-1 visa, the foreign national fiancé(e) can apply for a work permit, which will be valid only for 90 days after entry into the U.S. In practice, however, an application for a work permit takes usually longer than 90 days. Therefore, in most cases the foreign national fiancé(e) either elects not to apply for the work permit or, if he / she applies, the work permit is not issued in a timely manner.
What about the foreign national fiancé(e)’s children?
The foreign national fiancé(e) may be able to bring his / her children to the United States on a K-2 visa. The children must be unmarried and under 21 years of age in order to qualify for this type of visa. If the U.S. Citizen and the foreign national marry within 90 days, the children admitted with the K-2 visa will most likely be eligible to apply for permanent residence. If the U.S. Citizen and the foreign national fail to marry within the 90-day period, the K-2 status expires and the children must leave the United States at the end of the 90 days.
Why not just get married?
The K-1 visa is one of the alternatives available to the fiancé(e) of a U.S. Citizen. In some cases, the couple may consider marrying and applying directly for permanent residence. This decision is generally based on multiple factors including timing and costs, distance and separation, the physical location and immigration status (if any) of the foreign national, both fiancé(e)s’ criminal history (if any), the foreign national immigration history (if any) and so on.
Considering the requirements and the steps involved, applying for a fiancé(e) visa can be stressful and complicated, and mistakes can be fatal. Therefore, it is always advisable to consult a competent and experienced immigration attorney prior to taking substantial steps.