Problems Getting a K-1 Fiance Visa

Learn about some common factors that may complicate the K-1 fiance visa process.

The K-1 visa is among the more commonly requested visas for U.S. entry. A K-1 visa is issued to the fiancé or fiancée of a U.S. citizen to allow the alien to enter the country for 90 days for the purpose of getting married and, if desired, apply for U.S. lawful permanent residency (a green card) after the marriage.

The vast majority of applications for K-1 visas are granted, according to statistics on visa refusal rates made public by the U.S. State Department on its "Nonimmigrant Visa Statistics" page.

However, that doesn't mean you can be careless or casual in preparing your application. Strict regulations must be followed, and many issues can cause someone's K-1 visa application to be rejected. We'll describe some of these possible reasons for denial below.

Basic Ineligibility for a K-1 Visa

In order to qualify for a K-1 fiance visa, the visa applicant must meet the following criteria:

  • the two people intend to marry
  • the prospective visa applicant is engaged to a U.S. citizen, not a lawful permanent resident (the latter status is not sufficient to petition someone for this visa)
  • the couple have met within the last two years, and
  • they are legally able to marry in the state where the wedding will be held.

Failure to prove any of these can result in a denial, either early on when the U.S. citizen starts the process by filing what's called a "Visa Petition" on Form I-129F, or later, when the immigrant files forms with a local U.S. embassy or consulate and attends a visa interview. (See "Steps to Get a Fiance Visa" for details.)

For example, maybe the couple provides insufficient documentation to show that they have planned a wedding, or that the U.S. citizen is truly a citizen. (Such problems can usually be overcome by providing more documentation along the way, however.) It's even possible for someone to believe he or she is a U.S. citizen but not be, perhaps because he or she passed a naturalization interview but has not yet been sworn in as a citizen.

Or perhaps there is some reason why the couple cannot be legally married in the citizen's state of residence, such as the fact that they are not both of legal age, or have not actually terminated a marriage to someone else, or plan to hold a same-sex wedding ceremony but such marriages are not actually legally recognized in that state. (In the latter case, finding another state in which to get married would be worthwhile, because same-sex marriages are, as of 2013, recognized for U.S. immigration purposes.)

The personal meeting requirement can also present difficulties for some couples. This requirement can be waived by the Department of Homeland Security, but only when the couple can prove that strong religious or cultural traditions prevent such meeting, or that meeting would create extreme hardship for the U.S. citizen petitioner.

Ineligibility for Any Kind of U.S. Visa, Due to Inadmissibility

It's possible that the alien is not eligible for any type of visa to the United States. For example, foreigners with specified communicable diseases of public health significance (most notably tuberculosis), those who are addicted to illegal drugs, those with a history of being involved with terrorism, and those who have committed crimes of moral turpitude are not eligible for K-1 visas or visas of any other type. See our article on immigrant inadmissibility for more details.

An important ground of inadmissibility to be aware of is what's known as "public charge." The K-1 visa applicant must prove that it's unlikely that he or she will receive need-based government assistance in the United States. To that end, the U.S. consulate may ask the U.S. citizen fiance to file an Affidavit of Support on the immigrant's behalf, using USCIS Form I-134. This affidavit, or other forms of evidence, must prove that the U.S. citizen has sufficient income to keep the immigrant from receiving public support or welfare.

Suspected Fraud

The immigration authorities are always on the lookout for fraud in using this type of visa. Be prepared to prove that the relationship is legitimate and not being entered into solely for the purposes of gaining entry and U.S. residency.

If the U.S. citizen has previously applied for two or more K-1 visas in the past or one for another intended spouse in the past two years, he or she must obtain a waiver in order to complete another K-1 visa application. Such actions raise suspicions that the citizen might be doing this for money, not for love.

Protection for Immigrants

Some additional rules apply under the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA), which may lead to a visa denial -- or lead the foreign-born person to call off the wedding and visa application after finding out certain information about his or her prospective spouse! The IMBRA rules require that:

  • the foreign-born fiance be told if the U.S. petitioner has a criminal history or a history of filing multiple K-1 petitions, and that
  • the petition be denied if the petitioner has been convicted of a specified offense against a minor unless the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) determines, as an act of discretion, that the petitioner poses no risk to the visa applicant.

The U.S. citizen's fingerprints will be taken and checked as part of this process.

If You Need Help

Immigration laws are notoriously complicated, and the bureaucracy can be difficult to navigate. Don't hesitate to talk to an immigration lawyer if you need assistance with your case. In many cases, the legal fees are well worth it in terms of time saved and potentially serious mistakes avoided.

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