International couples who choose to get married while living in different countries face certain challenges. Before an immigrant can legally relocate to the U.S. to reside with his or her fiancé, a K1 visa application must be submitted and approved. A K1 visa, or fiancé visa, allows an engaged partner of a U.S. citizen the opportunity to enter the United States. However, there are certain requirements that must be met before the newly married spouse applies for permanent residence based on marriage. While the K1 visa is classified as a non-immigrant visa, it is often used for immigration purposes.
2020 K1 Visa Requirements
1. The Petitioner Must be a U.S. Citizen
To qualify for the K1 visa, the petitioner must be a legal citizen of the United States. Green card holders are not eligible for K1 visas. If you are a green card holder and wish to bring your fiancé to the U.S., there are other ways to go about it, but it will take some more time for the process to finalize.
2. The Petitioner and Beneficiary Must Be Legally Free to Marry
Before a K1 visa application can be approved, the petitioner and beneficiary must prove that they are both legally free to marry. This means that if the petitioner or beneficiary was ever married before, it must be proven that the prior marriage was lawfully terminated via divorce, annulment, or death. To prove this, the petitioner will need to submit the proper documentation.
3. The Couple Must Plan to Marry Within 90 Days
The USCIS wants to ensure that engaged couples that apply for a K1 visa are actually in a bona fide relationship. To cut down on the amount of fraud involved in marriage-based immigration, trans-national couples seeking a K1 visa must intend to marry within 90 days of the immigrant fiancé entering the U.S.
4. The Couple Have Physically Met Within the Last 2 Years
K1 visa requirements also demand that the couple have met in person at least one time within the last two years. Note that this does NOT mean that the couple needs to have known each other for two years, but that they have met in person within the last 24 months. Face-to-face encounters via technology, such as Skype, do not count.
5. The Petitioner Meets the Income Requirements
Some types of immigrant visas, including the K1 visa, require the U.S. petitioner to provide financial support to his or her immigrant fiancé. There are minimum income requirements that are based on a variety of factors, such as the ability to meet a certain percentage of the federal poverty guideline.
Process and Timelines
If you and your fiancé meet all K1 visa requirements, your application will likely be approved. The estimated timeframe to obtain an approval if you choose the K1 visa route depends on USCIS processing timelines. Nonetheless, as a very general estimate, it can take approximately 6-9 months for a decision.
The process involves submitting the petition for a K1 visa to the USCIS, along with a filing fee of $535. If the petition is approved, you will be assigned a case number by the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will forward your paperwork to the U.S. embassy or the closest consulate to where the foreign fiancé resides. The foreign fiancé will then need to undergo an interview with the consulate or U.S. embassy. If the interview goes well, the foreign fiancé will receive a visa stamp on his or her passport which can be used to enter the U.S. within six months.
After the fiancé enters the United States, the couple must legally marry within 90 days. Once married, the foreign fiancé can file a green card application for an adjustment of status. This application comes with a $85 biometrics fee for fingerprinting, along with a $1,140 filing fee. If the foreign fiancé would also like to work or travel outside the country before receiving a green card, he or she will also need to file for a work permit and travel permit.
Where to Learn More
After going through the K1 visa process, the foreign spouse will hopefully be granted permanent residency which allows him or her to remain in the U.S. legally. The foreign spouse will also have the ability to exit and re-enter the U.S. without the need for further visas. Of course, trans-national couples may run into hiccups during the process. To avoid lengthy delays, it is important to work closely with an experienced immigration attorney.
In September of 2018, USCIS updated a policy to give full discretion to immigration officers to deny incomplete and ineligible applications and petitions submitted for immigration benefits. This policy affects all applications, petitions, and requests with the exception of DACA. Any application submitted without all required documentation can be denied by USCIS and they can keep the filing fees. It is important to work with an immigration attorney who can handle your case competently from beginning to end in order to ensure that you get the results you want. To learn more about getting permanent residency through marriage or for help with your case, contact the immigration lawyers at Johnson & Masumi.