Problems Getting a K-1 Fiancé Visa

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

By , J.D.

The K-1 visa is among the more commonly requested visas for U.S. entry. It can be issued to the fiancé or fiancée of a U.S. citizen, so as to allow the person to enter the United States for 90 days, for the purpose of getting married to a U.S. citizen. Following the marriage the foreign national can, if desired, apply for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card).

The majority of applications for K-1 visas are granted. However, that doesn't mean you can count on receiving one, or 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 the main possible reasons for denial below, including:

  • outright ineligibility for the K-1 visa under U.S. law
  • inadmissibility problems
  • suspected fraud, and
  • the U.S. citizen petitioner's criminal history.

Basic Ineligibility for a K-1 Visa

In order to qualify for a K-1 fiancé visa, the foreign-born visa applicant must:

  • be engaged to a U.S. citizen, not a lawful permanent resident (the latter status is not sufficient to petition someone for a K-1 visa)
  • intend to marry the U.S. citizen within the U.S. (and provide proof of this)
  • have met the U.S. citizen fiancé(e) within the last two years, and
  • be 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 a 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 Fiancé 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, in response to a request from the U.S. government.)

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. If the petitioner has only a green card, the K-1 visa cannot be granted.

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 according to that state's laws, or have not actually terminated a marriage to someone else.

The personal meeting requirement can also present difficulties for some couples. It can be waived (officially overlooked) by the Department of Homeland Security, but only when the couple can prove that strong religious or cultural traditions prevent such meeting, or that the 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 foreign-born person 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 any of various crimes are not eligible for K-1 visas or visas of any other type. See more on immigrant inadmissibility.

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 fiancé 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. But even signing it might not be enough.

Suspected Fraud in Seeking the K-1 Visa

U.S. immigration authorities are always on the lookout for fraud in using a K-1 fiancé visa. Be prepared to prove that the relationship is legitimate ("bona fide") and not being entered into fraudulently, or primarily for the purposes of gaining U.S. entry and eventual U.S. residency based on marriage. (See Marriage Just For a Green Card? Legal and Procedural Problems.)

If the U.S. citizen has previously applied for two or more K-1 visas in the past, or applied for one for another intended spouse within the past two years, the citizen 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 From Dangerous U.S. Citizens

Some additional rules apply under the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA), which can 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 the prospective spouse!

The IMBRA rules require that:

  • the foreign-born fiancé 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 Professional Help Getting the K-1 Visa

Don't hesitate to talk to a U.S. 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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