Every year the United States grants over 30,000 K-1 visas.
Each K-1 visa allows a foreign-born individual the opportunity to move to the United States with their U.S. citizen fiancé(e).
The entire K-1 visa process can take anywhere from 1 year to 2 years.
What is a K-1 Visa?
A K-1 nonimmigrant visa is used by a U.S. citizen to bring a foreign-born fiancé(e) to the United States for marriage.
This visa is also called a “fiancé(e) visa.”
In order to get a K-1 visa, you and your fiancé(e) must intend to marry within 90 days after your fiancé(e)’s arrival to the U.S.
This marriage must be valid, meaning you and your fiancé(e) must intend to establish a life together.
In other words, the marriage is not for the sole purpose of obtaining immigration benefits.
Once you and your fiancé(e) have entered into a genuine lawful marriage, your fiancé(e) can then apply to adjust status filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status in the U.S.
This begins the process of becoming a lawful permanent resident and obtaining a green card.
K-1 Visa – Who Can Apply?
Only U.S. citizens may apply for K-1 visas on behalf of their foreign-born fiancé(e)s.
To be eligible, you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen (by birth, naturalization or through your parents);
- You and your fiancé(e) must intend to marry within 90 days of your fiancé(e)’s arrival in the U.S.;
- You and your fiancé(e) are both legally allowed to marry in the United States (meaning that neither you or your fiancé(e) are married, or any previous marriages have been legally terminated by divorce, death, or annulment); and
- You and your fiancé(e) have known each other for at least two years before applying for a K-1 visa and have met in person at least once in the last two years:
- Request a waiver if this meeting would:
- Violate strict and long-established customs of your fiancé(e)’s foreign culture or social practice; or
- Result in extreme hardship to you, the U.S. citizen petitioner.
- Request a waiver if this meeting would:
K-1 Visa – Who Cannot Apply?
You cannot apply for a K-1 visa if:
- You are not a U.S. citizen;
- You and your fiancé(e) have no intent to marry within 90 days of arrival in the U.S.;
- You and your fiancé(e) are not permitted in entering into a lawful U.S. marriage, and/or are intending to marry for the purpose of violating U.S. immigration law;
- You and your fiancé(e) have not known each other for at least two years and have met at least once (absent waiver).
K-1 Visa Processing Steps
You must undergo proceedings by three different U.S. agencies before a foreign-born fiancé(e) can receive a K-1 visa.
These K-1 steps can be outlined as follows:
- United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Processing;
- National Visa Center (NVC) Processing; and
- United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Inspection;
- Marriage within 90 Days; and
- Adjustment of Status with USCIS
This article discusses each process below.
STEP 1: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Processing
It is USCIS’s responsibility to verify that you and your fiancé(e) meet all K-1 nonimmigration visa requirements, including relationship verification.
USCIS Form I-129F
As a U.S. citizen, the first step in obtaining a K-1 visa for your fiancé(e) is filing USCIS Form I-129F (Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)).
USCIS uses Form I-129F to establish your relationship with your foreign-born fiancé(e).
When completing Form I-129F:
- Type or print legibly in black ink;
- If you need extra space to complete an answer, or would like to complete Part 8 (Additional Information), you may use and attach a separate sheet of paper with the form:
- If you use and attach a separate sheet of paper:
- Make sure your Alien Registration Number (A-Number) (if any) is at the top of each sheet;
- Indicate the Page Number, Part Number, and Item Number to which your answers refer; and
- Sign and date each attached sheet;
- If you use and attach a separate sheet of paper:
- Be sure to fully answer each question and answer each question truthfully:
- If a question does not apply to you, answer with “N/A” or “None” unless otherwise directed.
In completing Form I-129F, you will be asked to provide detailed information about yourself, your fiancé(e), your children (if any), and your fiancé(e)’s children (if any).
Some of the required information to complete Form I-129F includes:
- Either an Alien Registration Number, USCIS Online Account Number, and/or a Social Security Number (if any);
- All physical addresses for the past five years;
- All employment histories for the past five years;
- Date and place of births;
- Information about parents;
- Information about prior spouses;
- Citizenship information;
- Information about any prior applications filed with the USCIS or Department of State;
- Information about all children;
- Information about the relationship, such as:
- Are you related?
- Have you and your fiancé(e) ever met?
- Have you and your fiancé(e) seen each other in the last two years (U.S. immigration law requirement)?
- If Yes:
- You will be asked to describe the circumstances of your in-person meeting; and
- You will be asked to provide evidence of this in-person meeting;
- If No:
- You will be asked to explain any reasons you may have for requesting an exemption, such as:
- Violating strict and long-established customs of your fiancé(e); or
- Pose an extreme hardship to you, the U.S. citizen;
- You will be asked to explain any reasons you may have for requesting an exemption, such as:
- If Yes:
- Information about the use of International Marriage Broker (if applicable);
- You will be asked to provide the city or town and country of the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate where your fiancé(e) will be applying for a visa;
- You will be asked about all criminal history, and asked to provide all court and police records showing the charges and disposition for every arrest or conviction;
- You will be asked to provide biographical information;
- You will be asked to provide information about anyone who helped complete the form; and
- You will be asked to supply USCIS with your contact information.
K-1 Visa Checklist
USCIS requires the following documents/evidence be submitted with your I-129F application:
- Evidence of U.S. Citizenship:
- Copy of your birth certificate proving United States birth;
- Copy of your original Certificate of Naturalization;
- Copy of your original Certificate of Citizenship;
- Copy of your Form FS-240 (Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States);
- Copy of your valid, unexpired U.S. passport or passport card issued with a validity period of at least five years; or
- A statement executed by a U.S. consular officer certifying that you are a U.S. citizen and the bearer of a valid U.S. passport;
- Termination of Previous Marriages – if either you or your fiancé(e) were previously married, you must provide evidence that all prior marriages have been legally terminated:
- Divorce decree;
- Annulment of the marriage;
- Death certificate issued by civil authority;
- Photographs – you must submit one color passport-style photograph of yourself and one color passport-style photograph of your fiancé(e) within 30 days after submitting the I-129F petition;
- Evidence of Legal Name Change; if either you or your fiancé(e) has ever used a name different than the one shown on the evidence submitted in support of your application, you must submit copies of the legal documents reflecting the legal name change;
- Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) – if U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or USCIS ever issued your fiancé(e) an arrival and departure Form I-94, you must provide this record showing the date that your fiancé(e) authorized stay period(s);
- Evidence classifying fiancé(e) as a K-1 nonimmigrant – in addition to the above evidence, you must also submit evidence of:
- Intention to marry within 90 days of entry – this should include statements signed by both you and your fiancé(e) or any other evidence of mutual intention to marry;
- In-Person Meeting – you must submit evidence that you and your fiancé(e) have met in-person at least once in the two-year period before submitting the I-129F application, which may include:
- A statement written by you and your fiancé(e) stating how you met during that two-year period;
- A copy of airline tickets;
- Copies of passport stamps;
- Photographs of your meeting; and/or
- Written statements from others;
- If you did not have the required in-person meeting, you must provide evidence that such a meeting would:
- Result in extreme hardship to you, the U.S. citizen; or
- Violate strict and long-established customs of your fiancé(s) foreign culture or social practice; and
- Include evidence that all aspects of the traditional arrangements have been or will be met by custom or practice.
K-1 Visa Fees
Form I-129F’s fees are $535.
This fee is not refundable, regardless of any action USCIS takes on this petition.
K-1 Visa – Where to File?
USCIS requires you to file Form I-129F in the U.S. at one of the USCIS offices.
If you attach a completed USCIS Form G-1145 (Notification of Acceptance of Application/Petition) to your completed I-129F application, USCIS will email or text you when your application is accepted.
NOTE: USCIS will not accept an I-129F petition filed with a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad; you must send your completed I-129F application to one of the USCIS addresses in the U.S.
When Will USCIS Start Processing K-1 Visa?
USCIS will begin processing your I-129F application immediately.
You will be notified if your application is incomplete, or if more documentation/evidence needs to be provided.
K-1 Visa Processing Time
On average, it takes USCIS five months to approve your I-129F application.
Individual cases, however, may take longer.
Form I-129F Processing Time
|Form type||Application center||Processing time|
|K-1/K-2 – Not yet married – fiancé(e) and/or dependent child||California Service Center||5 Months to 7 Months|
|Vermont Service Center||17 Months to 22.5 Months|
|K-3/K-4 – Already married – spouse and/or dependent child||California Service Center||5 Months to 7 Months|
|Nebraska Service Center||7.5 Months to 9.5 Months|
|Potomac Service Center||16 Months to 20.5 Months|
|Texas Service Center||3 Months to 7 Months|
|Vermont Service Center||17 Months to 22.5 Months|
How to Track Your K-1 Visa Application
You can track the status of your I-128F application through the USCIS’s website here: Track I-129F Application
STEP 2: National Visa Center (NVC) Processing
Once the USCIS approves your I-129F application, your file will be sent to the National Visa Center for further processing.
The National Visa Center (NVC) is a branch of the United States Department of State that processes all visa applications submitted by foreign-born individuals.
It is NVC’s responsibility to decide if your K-1 visa is approved or denied.
Once you receive notice on USCIS Form I-797C (Notice of Action) that your I-129F application has been approved, it is time for your fiancé(e) to complete and submit NVC Form DS-260.
For a detailed discussion on NVC and DS-260, SelfLawyer’s NVC Form DS-260 Immigration Guide can be found here: SelfLawyer DS-260 and DS-261 Immigration Guide
NVC Form DS-260
Form DS-260 (Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application) is the second step for a K-1 fiancé(e) visa.
Form DS-260 is an online visa application that must be completed and submitted through the National Visa Center’s website.
Form DS-260 can be found and completed online at: NVC Form DS-260
Immediately after completing NVC Form DS-260 you must complete NVC Form DS-261 (Choice of Address and Agent).
This form simply tells NVC how to contact you during your application process.
Form DS-261 can be found and completed online at: NVC Form DS-261
Form DS-260 Fees
Form DS-260 fees include:
- DS-260 and DS-261 application fees: $325.00
- I-864 (Affidavit of Support) application fee: $120.00
- Biometric services fee: $85.00
- I-693 medical exam: No fee, but you must pay for the examination.
How to File Form DS-260
Both DS-260 and DS-261 are online forms, meaning they must be completed and submitted online through the National Visa Center’s website at: NVC Online Forms
All persons seeking a K-1 visa (and children over 14 seeking K-2 visa) must undergo a biometric exam.
This exam requires you to give fingerprints, photographs, and other information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a background check.
Your U.S. Embassy or Consulate interview will not be scheduled until your FBI background check is complete.
There is an $85 fee for biometric services.
Under U.S. immigration law, all K-1 (and K-2) visa applicants must undergo a medical examination to decide if they pose a risk to the public health of the United States.
In your NVC interview letter, you will be instructed to undergo an immigration exam and complete Form I-693 (Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination).
Schedule this exam quickly, because the exam and all associated laboratory tests must be completed before your immigration interview date.
While there is no fee associated with Form I-693, you are responsible for paying for your I-693 medical exam (these fees vary depending on doctor and location).
NVC will instruct you to bring your completed I-693 form with you to your immigration interview.
STEP 3: INTERVIEW AT U.S. EMBASSY
After all your applications have been filed, all supporting documentation submitted, and all fees paid, NVC will schedule an immigration interview.
This usually takes about one or two months for the interview to be scheduled.
The interview is perhaps the most important part of your K-1 visa application process.
At your interview, a U.S. Embassy or Consulate officer will seek to learn more about your background and moral character, learn relevant details about your U.S. citizen fiancé(e), and decide if the relationship is genuine.
In order to learn about you, you might be asked:
- Your name, nationality, date of birth, and place of birth.
- Have you visited the U.S. before? When? Why? What type of visa?
- Do you have relatives living in the United States?
- Questions about any prior marriage? Has it ended? How did it end? When?
- Questions about any children (who may be required to attend the interview);
- Is this your first K-1 visa application?
- Have you ever been arrested or convicted of any crime?
It’s important that you answer all questions truthfully.
Your fiancé(e) is required to attend your interview.
They will also be interviewed, typically in a different room from you.
The purpose of this is to determine if you and your fiancé(e) are intending to enter into a genuine marriage and not evading U.S. immigration law.
Most of the questions will be focused on each other and might include:
- Full name, age, and birthday?
- Questions about your living situation, such as:
- Where do you live?
- Do you live in an apartment, house, etc.?
- Have you met parents?
- Siblings? What are their names? Ages? Have you met?
- Previous marriage(s)? Information about your prior marriage?
- Any children? Names, ages, etc.?
Both you and your fiancé(e) will likely be asked about your wedding plans, where you will live afterward, and where your children (if any and K-2) will go to school.
It’s important that your answers match your fiancé(e)’s.
Remember, the purpose of the interview is to prove that you and your fiancé(e) are in a true relationship and planning to enter into a genuine marriage.
How to Track Your DS-260 Application
You can track the status of your DS-260 application through the State Department’s website here: Track DS-260 Application
How Long Will It Take for a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to Process my K-1 Visa?
Once your case has been received from NVC, your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate will immediately process your application.
The time it takes to approve your application varies according to circumstances.
Some cases are delayed because the applicant did not follow instructions carefully or they supplied incomplete information.
Any error on your applications will cause a delay in receiving your K-1 visa.
Be sure that all addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information are correct on all submitted documentation.
Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after your Consular interview.
How Long Does NVC Take to Schedule an Interview?
This usually takes about two to three months for the interview to be scheduled.
How Long Does NVC Take to Approve K-1 Visa?
Like other visa applications abroad, it may take a few weeks to receive approval for your K-1 visa.
After your U.S. Embassy or Consulate interview, the Embassy might delay in making a final decision on your case.
In these situations, your application will enter what is known as Administrative Processing.
Administrative Processing is not a denial of your K-1 application.
In most cases, this means the Embassy wants more time to consider your case.
Sometimes you will be asked to submit additional documents.
Other times you will be asked to clarify an answer from your application or interview.
It’s possible that the Embassy may ask for a second interview.
Most of the time the reasons for Administrative Processing can and will be resolved simply.
The time it takes to complete Administrative Processing varies widely, between 30 to 60 days, sometimes longer.
Unfortunately, there is little you can do to speed Administrative Processing along.
In this situation, patience is the best advice SelfLawyer can provide.
Reasons for Denying K-1 Visa
Most K-1 visa applications are generally denied for one of three reasons:
- Either you or your fiancé(e) fail to meet a requirement for a K-1 visa;
- Some form was either incorrect or incomplete and never corrected; or
- There is a lack of evidence to support the claim of a relationship.
Can I Appeal a Denial of K-1 Visa?
If the unthinkable happens, and your K-1 visa application is denied, there are still options available.
First, it’s important to determine at which point in the process your application was denied.
During USCIS Processing
If your application was denied by the USCIS you have a right to an appeal within 30 days.
You will have to file Form I-290B (Notice of Appeal or Motion) and pay fees.
A second alternative is to withdraw your I-129F application by filing a “letter of withdrawal” with the USCIS.
This option allows you to file a new application with any errors found in your first application cured.
During NVC Processing
If your K-1 visa application was denied at the Consular level, you have the right to ask for a Consulate General to review the decision.
You must ask for this review quickly because this option is only available until the Embassy returns your application to the USCIS.
Consulate General procedures vary between embassies, so check your local Embassy’s website for the exact procedure.
You can find you local U.S. Embassy or Consulate at: Find U.S. Embassy
If the Embassy has already returned your I-129F application to USCIS, you can ask USCIS to reaffirm its early decision and send your application back to your local Embassy for reprocessing.
This process takes a long time, so it’s usually best to withdraw your petition and refile.
Keep in mind that U.S. immigration law allows you to apply for a second K-1 visa after waiting for two years after being denied.
But you can only apply for a K-1 visa twice, otherwise, you will have to request a waiver.
A final option might be to marry your fiancè(e) and then apply for immigration through a CR-1 visa for a spouse of a U.S. citizen.
STEP 4: K-1 VISA ISSUANCE
After K-1 Visa Approved, How Long Until I Get My K-1 Visa?
It may take a few weeks to receive your visa.
You will be instructed to return to your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate where a Consular officer will give you your passport containing the K-1 visa.
At the same time, you will be given a sealed packet containing the civil documents you have provided, plus other documents prepared by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Do not open the sealed packet.
This packet is to be opened only by a Customs and Border Parole officer when you present yourself for inspection in the United States.
Once you receive your K-1 visa, you have six months to enter the United States.
STEP 5: ENTER THE U.S. WITH A K-1 VISA
Customs and Border Parole (CBP) Inspections
From the date you receive your K-1 visa, you have six months to enter the United States.
Upon entering, you must present yourself for inspection by the U.S. Customs and Border Parole.
There, a CBP officer will open the sealed packet given to you by your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
K-1 Visa is No Guarantee of Entry
Arriving at a United States port-of-entry with a valid K-1 visa is not a guarantee that you will be admitted into the U.S.
This determination will be made by a CBP officer at the time you present yourself for inspection.
As a foreign national, there are many reasons you can be denied entry.
If this happens, you will either be placed in detention or temporarily held until a return flight is arranged for you.
In some cases, CBP officers might not be able to decide if you should be admitted.
If this happens, your inspection may be deferred (postponed), and you will be instructed to go to another office near your intended destination in the U.S. for further processing.
CBP Inspection Process
Upon arriving in the United States, you will be inspected by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers.
CBP at the Airport
During the inspection process, CBP officers must decide the following:
- Why you are seeking entry into the U.S.;
- What documents you need;
- If you have those documents; and
- How long you should be allowed to stay in the U.S.
This inspection process should only take a few minutes.
When you are allowed to proceed, the officer will stamp your passport and customs declaration form and issue you a completed Form I-94.
A completed Form I-94 will show your immigration classification and how long you are allowed to stay in the U.S.
CBP at a Land Port-of-Entry
When you arrive at a land border port-of-entry by automobile, one CBP officer will conduct a primary inspection.
In some cases, that officer may send you to a secondary proceedings area for additional inspection.
CBP at a Sea Port-of-Entry
Inspections at sea port-of-entries are similar to airport processes.
If airport type facilities are not available, passengers will be instructed where to report for inspection on board the vessel.
STEP 6: MARRIAGE WITHIN 90 DAYS
Entering the United States under a K-1 visa, U.S. immigration law requires that you marry your fiancé(e) within 90 days.
Failure to marry within 90 days breaks the terms of your visa and subjects you to immediate arrest and deportation.
This will also be held against you if you apply for any type of visa in the future.
STEP 7: ADJUSTING STATUS USING FORM I-485
Because you entered the U.S. on a K-1 nonimmigration visa, your visa is only valid for 90 days.
If you wish to stay longer, it’s necessary that you adjust your status.
If you entered the U.S. on a K-1 visa and married your U.S. citizen fiancé(e) within 90 days, U.S. immigration law allows you to adjust your status and apply for legal permanent residence (get a green card).
SelfLawyer suggests that you begin this process before your 90-day K-1 visa expires.
The process for adjusting your status is explained in the SelfLawyer Immigration Guide found here: Form I-485 (Application to Adjust Status)
How (and When) to Get Work Authorization
Once you (the K-1 visa holder) are admitted into the United States, you may immediately apply for evidence of work authorization by filing Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization).
In such cases, however, your work authorization is only valid for 90 days.
Once married, you may apply for work authorization (Form I-765) at the same time you file Form I-485 seeking permanent residency (green card) status.
In such cases, your work authorization is valid for one year and may only be extended in one-year increments – or until your I-485 application is approved.
Children of Fiancé(e)
If your fiancé(e) (the K-1 visa applicant) has a child who is under 21 and unmarried, that child may be eligible to come to the United States on a K-2 nonimmigrant visa.
For children under a K-2 visa, include their names on Form I-129F.
The children must remain under 21 and unmarried to be admitted into the United States under a K-2 visa.
They may arrive in the U.S. with your fiancé(e) or later, but they will not be admitted into the U.S. before your fiancé(e).
If you and your fiancé(e) married within 90 days of your fiancé(e)’s admission into the United States, your fiancé(e)’s children who were admitted as K-2 nonimmigrants may also apply for permanent residency (green card) status by filing Form I-485 (Application to Adjust Status) with USCIS.
However, K-2 nonimmigrant children must remain unmarried in order to be eligible for a green card.
Also, K-2 nonimmigrant children should file their I-485 applications at the same time or after your fiancé(e).
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