The K-1 fiancé(e) visa is a hybrid between nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. It is technically a nonimmigrant visa, permitting the holder to enter the U.S. once only for the purpose of marrying a U.S. citizen. However, it is issued with the intent that the holder will marry the U.S. citizen and thereafter immediately apply for permanent residency.
The K-1 application process involves two steps:
- The U.S. Citizen must file a petition on Form I-129F with USCIS. In the petition, the citizen must demonstrate that he has met his alien fiancée in person at least once in the last two years; that both are free to marry; and that the couple intends to get married within 90 days of the fiancée's entry to the U.S.
- Following approval of the I-129F petition, the file is transferred from USCIS to the Department of State's National Visa Center, which will contact the applicant to begin the process of the K-1 visa application. The visa applicant must submit forms and original supporting documents, so that the applicant can be scheduled for an in-person K-1 interview. The U.S. citizen need not attend. Following a successful interview, the K-1 visa will be placed in the applicant's passport and the passport will be returned to the applicant within a few days.
Once the K-1 visa is issued, the applicant must enter the U.S. during the visa validity period. Once the alien enters the U.S., she must marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days of entry. Since USCIS and Department of State processing times are, to put it mildly, unpredictable, it is nearly impossible to time the alien's entry to the U.S. within a specific timeframe. Therefore, it is not generally possible to plan a large wedding that will fall within this 90 day period. Most K-1 visa holders arrange a small legal ceremony before a Justice of the Peace to ensure that they will be legally married within the 90 day period, and then plan a larger religious and/or social ceremony for a later date.
Following the wedding, the K-1 visa holder must file an application for adjustment of status to permanent residency on Form I-485. At the conclusion of the adjudication process, the couple must attend an in-person interview at the local USCIS office with jurisdiction over their residence. Following a successful interview, a permanent residency card will be mailed to the applicant's residence.
Because the couple will have been married for less than two years at the time the alien adjusts status, the alien will be granted Conditional Permanent Residency. Conditional Permanent Residents have all of the same rights and responsibilities as other permanent residents but are issued a 2-year permanent residency card instead of a 10-year card. Then, in order to renew the card at the conclusion of that two year period, the couple must file a joint petition on Form I-751 to remove the conditions of their residence within 90 days of the expiration date on the permanent resident card. Failure to file an I-751 will result in the alien's removal from the United States.
The purpose of the I-751 filing requirement is to ensure that the couple is continuing to live together as a married couple, to ensure that the marriage is not fraudulent.
A K-1 visa is one option for obtaining permanent residency for a foreign fiancée. Another option would be to get married, either in the U.S. or the alien's home country, and thereafter file an I-130 petition and application for an immigrant visa or adjustment of status. A variety of factors need to be taken into consideration in planning the best course of action for any individual case.