Are you in a long-term relationship with a non-US citizen? Wondering if and how you can get married, or if your future spouse can ever be a US citizen? The good news is yes, you can marry anyone you like; a person’s immigration status-legal or not-has no bearing on whether your marriage will be recognized as legal. Gaining US citizenship on the other hand is, unfortunately, more complicated.
What if you and your fiancé share the same sex? Not a problem. As of 2013, same-sex marriages have been treated like any other marriage for federal immigration law purposes. If, however, your marriage occurred outside the US, you do need to ensure that gay marriage is legally recognized in the country or state where it took place.
The K1 Visa Process
For immigrants living outside the US who wish to marry a permanent US citizen, the K-1 visa allows a foreign fiancé to enter the U.S. within six months of receiving the visa. They must be legally married to the petitioning U.S. citizen — the person they have declared they will marry — within 90 days of entering the country.
To obtain a K-1 visa (otherwise known as a fiancé visa), you first need to file a Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e). You must also be able to prove that the couple has known each other for at least two years unless either religious or cultural norms prohibit the meeting of spouses before marriage. Moreover, you must prove that they are legally eligible for marriage, including being of legal age and that any prior marriages ended due to annulment, divorce, or death of a spouse.
K-1 Visa Eligibility
The K-1 visa essentially allows a U.S. citizen to sponsor their fiancé to come to the United States and get married within 90 days of their arrival. This is pertinent on providing specific evidence that each qualification is met, usually in the form of paperwork.
Specific K-1 visa requirements include:
- The sponsoring partner must be a U.S. citizen. In contrast, U.S. green card holders (permanent residents) are not eligible to sponsor a fiancé for a K1 visa.
- Both partners must be currently unmarried. Any prior divorce decrees, annulments, or death certificates must be provided to show that any previous marriages have been terminated.
- 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.
- The U.S. citizen fiancé must meet certain income requirements. Specifically, the adjusted gross income on their most recent tax return must be equal 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.”
The sponsored fiancé must also pass a formal visa interview which takes place at the nearest U.S. embassy or in the fiance’s home country, usually within 4-6 weeks of the embassy’s initial notice. It is important to review the embassy’s interview notice, which can vary by home country, as well as prepare for common interview questions.
Steps After The K-1 Visa Is Approved
Once the K-1 visa is approved, the sponsored fiancé is given a total of 4 months from the date of approval to travel to the United States. Upon arrival, they will then have 90 days to get married, or risk losing their K-1 status and be required to return home.
If the fiancé(e) marries within 90 days of being admitted to the United States as a K-1 nonimmigrant, he or she may then apply for lawful permanent resident status in the United States via a Green Card. This is a long process involving many forms and documents, along which the immigrant can be refused entry for a variety of reasons. Common reasons why many immigrants are found inadmissible to the US include medical problems, criminal history, past immigration violations, or simply not convincing the U.S. immigration authority that your marriage is legitimate.
After successfully obtaining a green card, the immigrant spouse can, and after three years as a permanent resident, apply for U.S. citizenship. This assumes that they are still married and living with their spouse when they apply. If not, the waiting period changes to five years.
Be advised that if your fiancé(e) is already residing legally in the United States (if, for example, they are currently residing in the US on a student visa), your fiancé is not eligible for a fiancé visa. The same rules apply however for obtaining permanent residence, which means that in order for your fiancé to stay in the US, they must successfully obtain a green card.
Applying for a K-1 visa is a notoriously difficult process, requiring a thorough understanding of complex legal requirements and filing guidelines. Misunderstanding these rules could result in failing to properly file the necessary paperwork, resulting in delays, or worse, the termination of your visa application. Fortunately, Johnson & Masumi have decades of experience in immigration law, having handled nearly every type of immigration matter for hundreds of clients. Contact Johnson & Masumi today and learn more about what we can do for you!