Steps to Get a K-1 Fiance Visa

An overview of the basic process of getting a K-1 visa for a foreign fiance.

The fiancé visa, or K-1 visa, is a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa issued to the fiancé of a U.S. citizen in order to enter the U.S. for the purpose of getting married. If the couple wishes, the foreign-born person can, after the marriage, apply to get lawful permanent residence (a green card) using the process known as "adjustment of status." This process does not require leaving the United States for the required green card interview.

We'll give a step-by-step overview of these procedures below, all the way through to the green card application. Also double check that you are eligible for a fiancé visa, as discussed under "Who Is Eligible for a K-1 Fiance Visa?"

Step One: Personal Meeting Requirement

Even before you get started on the application process, you should know that the fiancé and the U.S. citizen are required to have met within the last two years before filing the K-1 visa petition that starts off the process. If you have never met, or have been apart for the last two years, you will need to take care of this first. Certain exceptions may be made for cases of religious tradition or extreme hardship to the U.S. citizen.

Step Two: U.S. Citizen Files Visa Petition

The U.S. citizen, who will from now on be referred to as the "petitioner," must file a visa petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This is done by mail, using USCIS Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiance, together with Form G-325A, Biographic Information.

The petitioner must also submit documentary proof of U.S. citizenship (such as a copy of a birth certificate or passport), as well as evidence of your courtship and intended marriage, a personal statement from each of you on the same topic, proof that you have met within the last two years, evidence of commission of any violent or domestic crimes (as detailed on the Form I-129F instructions -- in this situation you should absolutely consult with an attorney), and a passport-style color photo of each of you, taken within the 30 days before submitting the petition. If there are any issues that might prevent your marrying -- for example, if one of you has been married before -- the petitioner will need to submit evidence to overcome that, such as divorce or death certificates for the previous spouse.

The petitioner must pay nonrefundable fees to USCIS. The fee was $340 in 2012, but check the USCIS website for the latest.  

Once the petition is submitted, USCIS will review it for completeness and send, within a few weeks, a Form I-797 Notice of Action acknowledging receipt.

If and when the petition is approved, USCIS will send the petitioner another Notice of Action advising him or her of the approval. USCIS will then forward the petition to the National Visa Center for handling, after which the file will be transferred to the U.S. embassy or consulate having jurisdiction over the fiancé’s place of residence.

Step Three: Foreign-Born Fiance Applies to U.S. Embassy or Consulate

The embassy or consulate will inform the fiancé about its requirements for forms, a medical examinations, and documents. Some of these may be country-specific.

The fiancé will have to appear before a consular officer for a scheduled interview. Besides a valid passport, the fiancé must typically all of submit the following at the time of the interview:

  • birth certificate
  • divorce or death certificate of any previous spouse for both the applicant and the petitioner
  • police certificate from all places lived since age 16 (if available in the relevant countries)
  • medical examination including evidence of vaccinations  
  • evidence of financial support (a Form I-134, Affidavit of Support may be requested, to be prepared and signed by the petitioner)
  • two Nonimmigrant Visa Applications, Form DS-156 (A Form DS-156, prepared in duplicate.)
  • nonimmigrant Fiancé(e) Visa Application, on State Department Form DS-156K
  • Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, on State Department Form DS-230, Part I  (but not Part II)
  • two photos, passport style
  • evidence of a fiancé relationship
  • passport valid for travel to the U.S., with an expiration date at least six months beyond the date you would have to leave the U.S. after entering on a fiance visa.
  • visa fees

After considering the application and evidence, the consular officer will hopefully approve the person for a K-1 fiance visa to the United States. If the case is denied, there is, for all practical purposes, no right of appeal. But if you can correct the underlying problem, you may reapply.

Step Four: Enter the United States

The immigrating fiance will need to present the K-1 visa at a U.S. border, airport, or other point of entry. Admission at this point is not guaranteed. If the officer of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) finds evidence that you were not, in fact, eligible for the visa, or are otherwise inadmissible, he or she can deny entry.

Step Five: Get Married

It is best, if the immigrant plans to apply for a green card, to conduct the wedding as soon as possible after the immigrant's entry to the United States. That way, you will have time to receive the official marriage certificate before the 90 days on the fiance visa are up. You will need this official marriage certificate in order to submit the green card application.

Step Five: Apply for Adjustment of Status

This is optional. If you don't want to remain in the U.S. and obtain a green card, you may simply leave within the 90-day expiration date of your fiance visa, otherwise, you'll want to adjust status to a permanent resident.

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