K-1 Visa Process, Explained
A K-1 visa, also known as the fiancé(e) visa, is a temporary US visa that allows US citizens to bring their foreign partners to the United States and marry them in the country. Although the K-1 visa is legally classified as a nonimmigrant visa, it's generally used for immigration purposes.
The K-1 visa, also known as the Fiancee Visa, is one of the most popular non-immigrant visas available in the United States today, accounting for over 30% of all visas issued by the State Department in recent years. A K-1 visa allows the foreign fiancé of an American citizen to enter the country and marry his or her loved one within 90 days of arriving in the U.S. With this legal permission in place, the couple can then apply to adjust their status to permanent residents of the United States, thereby allowing them to live together permanently and eventually even apply for US citizenship.
However, applying for a visa isn’t easy—it takes time, money, and various other requirements that aren’t always so clear. Just like any immigration procedure, the process to obtain a K-1 visa can be confusing and lengthy without an experienced lawyer to help navigate the regulations and paperwork. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about getting a K-1 visa and marrying your loved one as soon as possible in the United States.
With numerous changes to the K-1 visa process over the past few years, it can be confusing to know where to start with the process. On top of that, every couple will have different needs based on their relationship and circumstances, which is why everyone needs individualized legal advice through their K-1 visa application process. Here’s everything you need to know about the current K-1 visa process and how you can use this information to complete your K-1 visa application with ease.
What is a K-1 Visa?
A K-1 visa, also known as the fiancé(e) visa, is a temporary US visa that allows US citizens to bring their foreign partners to the United States and marry them in the country. Although the K-1 visa is legally classified as a nonimmigrant visa, it's generally used for immigration purposes. It usually leads to important immigration benefits and is therefore often processed by the Immigrant Visa section of United States embassies and consulates worldwide.
A K-1 visa is issued to the fiancé or fiancée of a US citizen to enter that United States. However, the visa requires a foreigner to marry his or her US citizen petitioner within 90 days of entry. Once the couple marries, the foreign citizen can adjust his/ her status to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States at which point they can also apply for citizenship status.
Once the couple gets married in the United States, the foreign fiancé can apply for a marriage green card in the United States. That process is considerably faster than applying for a marriage green card abroad through consular processing. In some cases, it might make sense to skip the fiancé visa process altogether and go straight to getting married and applying for a spousal visa. This decision depends on where you are living, how long you wish to wait to be together, and various other circumstances. Applying for a K-1 visa can also be a good option if, for any reason, your U.S. citizen fiancé cannot travel abroad to get married.
K-1 Visa Requirements
It’s relatively easy to qualify for a K-1 visa when compared to many other visas. Generally, to receive a K-1 fiancé visa the US citizen and foreign national fiancé must:
- The sponsoring partner must be a U.S. citizen. U.S. green card holders (lawful permanent residents) are not eligible to sponsor a fiancé for a K1 visa.
- Both partners must be eligible to marry—in other words, both must be currently unmarried. Any prior divorce decrees, annulments, or death certificates must be provided to show that any previous marriages have been terminated. K-1 visas are available to same-sex partners.
- The legitimacy of the relationship must be proved with evidence such as photographs, flight itineraries, and/or hotel reservations of trips taken together as a couple, written statements from friends and colleagues who are aware of the engagement, letters or emails between the partners, etc.
- The couple must be able to prove that they have met in person at least one time within the two years prior to filing the visa form (except for cases of extreme hardship, or where in-person meetings would violate cultural, religious, or social norms).
- Each partner must provide a signed statement indicating an intent to marry within 90 days of the sponsored fiancé’s arrival in the United States. If concrete wedding plans have been made, it’s also a good idea to submit evidence such as wedding invitations, receipts of deposits on a venue, etc.
- The U.S. citizen fiancé must meet certain income requirements. Specifically, the adjusted gross income on their most recent tax return must be equal to at least 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. If they are unable to meet this requirement alone, a joint financial sponsor must file a supplemental “affidavit of support.”
K-1 Visa Application Process
Once you and your fiancé are eligible for a K-1 fiancé visa, you can apply by following this four-step K-1 visa process.
1. File Form I-129F (Petition for Alien Fiancé[e])
The first step for an eligible couple is for the US citizen fiancé(e) to file Form I-129F with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The United States citizen asks USCIS to recognize his/ her foreign fiancé(e). The primary purpose of this form is to prove the validity of the relationship. However, Form I-129F must be filed by a U.S. citizen. A lawful permanent resident, also known as a green card holder, can’t request a K-1 visa for their fiancé(e).
Meanwhile, when you file your Form I-129F petition with USCIS, you will need to include the following supporting documents with your forms:
- Proof of citizenship for the U.S. citizen fiancé (copy of a passport, certificate of naturalization, or birth certificate)
- Copy of the sponsored fiancé’s passport
- Proof of the legitimacy of the relationship (photos, correspondence, sworn statements from friends and colleagues, etc.)
- Proof of having met in person at least one time within the two years prior to filing the form
- Sworn statements, written by and signed by each partner, with a brief description of the nature of the relationship and an intent to marry within 90 days of the sponsored fiancé’s arrival in the United States. It’s generally best to provide the original signed statements and keep copies for your records.
- A copy of any Form I-94 arrival-departure record previously issued to the sponsored fiancé.
- One passport-style photo of the U.S. citizen fiancé and one passport-style photo of the sponsored fiancé.
After the form and supporting documents are filed at the appropriate address, USCIS will typically send a receipt notice within 30 days. This means USCIS will begin processing your case within 30 days. It usually takes USCIS 6-9 months to process an I-129F petition. USCIS may also send a Request for Evidence (RFE) if they need more information. Once Form I-129F is approved, USCIS will send an approval notice.
2. File Form DS-160 and Interview
At this point, USCIS hands off the case to the U.S. Department of State. Within about 8.5 months after the I-129F fiancé sponsorship form is approved, the sponsored fiancé will receive a notice from the U.S. embassy in their home country, including the date and location of their visa interview and a list of required documents. Next, the sponsored fiancé must complete the State Department’s online DS-160 form (technically called the “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application”). This is the actual K-1 visa application, after you complete this form, you need to print the confirmation page. This is very important because you will need to send the confirmation page to the embassy and bring it to your visa interview.
The U.S. embassy processing your case will request documents from both you and your American fiancé.
Sponsored fiancé(e) documents:
- Two passport-style photos
- Birth certificate
- Valid, unexpired passport
- Police clearance from all countries of residence of more than six months since the age of 16
- Sealed medical exam form (obtained through a physician abroad who is authorized by the State Department)
US citizen fiancé(e) documents:
- Affidavit of support (Form I-134)
- Most recent tax returns
- Proof of relationship (copy of the approved I-129F package originally filed with USCIS)
The visa interview takes place at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the sponsored fiancé’s home country, usually about 4–6 weeks after the embassy’s initial notice. Only the foreign fiancé needs to attend the visa interview. The interview is usually pretty straightforward and painless.
The interviewing officer will typically make a decision on the case either the same day of the interview or shortly afterward. If they need additional evidence, they will request that it be submitted directly to the U.S. consulate.
3. Arrival and Marriage
Once requirements are met and the K-1 visa is approved, the sponsored fiancé is given a total of six months from the date of approval of the initial I-129F form to travel to the United States. You must enter the United States within four months of the date that your K-1 visa is approved. Then, within 90 days of entering the United States, you must get married to your U.S. citizen fiancé. If you don't, you will lose your K-1 status. If you decide not to get married, you must return to your home country as soon as possible.
You can’t change your status from a K-1 visa to any status other than a marriage green card. You also can't use your K-1 visa to marry anyone other than the U.S. citizen with whom you filed Form I-129F. After you get married, the foreign spouse can apply for a marriage green card by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and the required supporting forms and documents. To learn more about this process, check out our article about how to get a marriage green card with a K-1 fiancé visa.
Moreover, here are some of the frequently asked questions related to the K-1 visa.
How long does it take to get a K-1 visa?
The processing time for the K-1 visa is 19 months
How much does it cost to get a K-1 visa?
The total cost for a K-1 visa is roughly $1000.
What are the income requirements for a K-1 fiancé visa?
The U.S. citizen fiancé must be at or above 100% of the Federal Poverty Level. There are no specific income requirements for the foreign fiancé.
Can I work with my K-1 fiancé visa?
Yes. Once you have entered the United States on a K-1 visa, you can immediately apply for work authorization by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (EAD). It will take USCIS 1-2 months to process this application, and the work permit will only be valid for the first 90 days after you enter the United States. The best way to get a longer-term work permit is to apply for a Marriage Green Card. Check out our previous article on marriage-based green card immigration.
Getting married to a U.S. citizen and moving to America can be an intimidating process for people from all around the world; luckily there are plenty of resources to help ease you into your new life. For those who want it broken down, step by step and in plain English, we’ve provided a list of every single resource needed to get started on your K-1 visa process. Be sure to bookmark this post so that you'll have quick access to these resources at any time! We hope you enjoy reading about the K-1 visa process and we wish you the best of luck on your journey to becoming a permanent resident of America. Proceed with the link below for more details on the K-1 visa.