Marriage between citizens of different countries can be complicated. For U.S. citizens seeking to marry foreign citizens, the K-1 visa can eliminate one of the most significant obstacles: geography.
The K-1 visa, also known as the “fiancé visa,” is a non-immigrant visa intended to allow the fiancé of a U.S. citizen to enter the country prior to getting married with the stipulation that the marriage must take place within 90 days of arriving in the U.S. The K-2 visa allows a fiancé traveling to the U.S. under a K-1 visa to bring his or her minor children along.
The fiancé visa automatically expires if the marriage does not take place within 90 days, and cannot be renewed. So, it is important that the couple plan carefully to ensure that the wedding will take place within that 90-day window. Overstaying a K-1 visa is a violation of U.S. immigration law, and could result in removal and restrictions on future immigration benefits.
It is also important that you factor in processing time when planning your nuptials. You can check current processing times with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and should make a point to do so, as timelines vary. There are three steps in the K-1 visa process and the process from beginning to end could take a year or longer. Historically, however, processing time for the first step of the process averages about 150 days.
The U.S. citizen petitions for the K-1 visa by filing Form I-129F. Basic eligibility requirements are:
USCIS will then conduct a background check on both parties. Proof of the legitimacy of the relationship must also be provided along with the Form I-129F.
When the Form I-129F petition has been approved, it is forwarded to the National Visa Center, which then collects additional supporting documents. Once all the documents have properly been provided to the National Visa Center, it forwards the application to the appropriate embassy or consulate, and the petitioner is notified. Once the application has been forwarded, the foreign fiancé makes an appointment for his or her visa application and also collects additional documents. At this stage, the Department of State conducts further investigation into both the legitimacy of the relationship and the parties’ backgrounds.
The couple must marry within 90 days of admission to the U.S. The newly married foreign national spouse must then apply for a green card. Because this adjustment takes place soon after the marriage, the new spouse will typically receive a conditional green card.
The conditional green card will be valid for a period of two years, and—like the K-1 visa--cannot be renewed. Instead, the spouses must jointly petition to remove conditions during the final 90 days of the two-year period. During the removal of conditions phase, the couple will likely be interviewed again, and additional background checks, fingerprint collection and other investigation generally occurs. Upon successful completion of this process, green card conditions will be removed and the spouse granted permanent residence and an opportunity to work toward citizenship.
Whether you are preparing to bring your fiancé to the United States or have recently married and need to transition from a K-1 visa to a conditional green card, an experienced immigration lawyer can be your best resource. Give yourself and your fiancé or new spouse every advantage by working with a lawyer who thoroughly understands the system and can help to ensure a smooth process.