Now that you’re engaged, waiting for the big day might be frustrating. And when waiting to walk down the aisle also means being separated by international borders, the anticipation might be even more unbearable. Still, there are some important things you should know about what to do — and what not to do — while waiting on a K-1 fiancé visa.
What is a K-1 visa?
A K-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows the future spouse of an American citizen to enter the United States. (Even though you will likely see the word fiancé used for men and fiancée used for women, we’ll just use the word fiancé in this article.) While the K-1 visa is the first step to getting a marriage green card for many foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens, they are not the same thing.
Who is eligible for a K-1 visa?
Because the K-1 visa is intended to provide a single entry into the U.S., along with a conditional allowance to remain in the U.S. while waiting for marriage, the K-1 visa is only for foreign nationals living outside of the U.S. If your partner is already living in the U.S. under a different kind of visa, then your upcoming marriage means your partner could file for an adjustment of status instead, and you should speak with an immigration attorney about your options.
In order to apply to bring your fiancé to the U.S. on a K-1 visa, you must
- Be a U.S. citizen yourself — permanent residents cannot be a K-1 sponsor;
- Both be legally free to marry under U.S. law; and
- Have met each other in person at least once in the two years petitioning (although it is possible to apply for a waiver).
Being legally free to marry in the U.S., means that neither spouse is currently legally married to anyone else. That is, any previous marriage was legally terminated. And this should be supported with documentation corroborating previous marriage dissolution through annulment, death, or divorce.
Many people wonder if sponsoring a fiancé or a spouse of the same sex is allowable, even if the foreign partner’s home country does not recognize such marriages. Because the U.S. federal regulations extends protection to same-sex couples, U.S. immigration law also allows same-sex couples to seek fiancé visas.
What’s the process like for getting a K-1 visa?
Once you’ve decided to make the leap, it’s time to get to work on taking steps to start your new life together. First, you, as a U.S. citizen, must file the initial K-1 petition by filing a Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiance(e) as well as any children your spouse will bring to the U.S. under the K-2 category.
If needed, you will then submit additional evidence requested by USCIS. Once you receive approval of your Form I-129F petition, your fiancé can move forward with their application to enter the U.S. Once approved, the K-1 visa has a quick expiration date.
- Your fiancé must travel to the U.S. within four months of the I-129F petition’s approval, and
- You must get married within 90 days of your fiancé’s arrival in the U.S.
Otherwise, the K-1 visa will be invalidated, and your fiancé must leave the country. Because such a quick turnaround leaves little room for error, you should know what to avoid before starting the K-1 visa process. Some actions might invalidate the process and could even make it more difficult to be approved in the future.
Can your fiancé visit you in the U.S. while waiting on a K-1 visa?
Of course you want to see the person you love as often as possible. Plus, cake-tasting just isn’t the same over video chat. Still, there are some reasons to avoid seeing each other in person until the right time, depending on where you are in the filing process.
- Before filing an I-129F petition: If you have not filed an I-129F petition for your fiancé, then your fiancé is legally able to visit on a tourist visa. However, your fiance will be asked why they are traveling to the U.S., and USCIS or Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials might have concerns about whether or not your fiancé intends to overstay their tourist visa. If your fiancé decides to travel to the U.S. under a tourist visa to visit you, having clear evidence of their intent to return can help avoid complications.
- While waiting on I-129F petition: If you have already filed a petition for your fiance’s visa, it may be best to avoid any appearance of trying to skirt the system. The petition makes it clear that your fiancé intends to become a permanent resident through marriage, and the Department of State’s advisory against travel under these circumstances is a clear warning that it might result in problems.
- After the fiancé visa is approved: Congratulations — you are just one step away from the rest of your life. However, keep in mind the K-1 fiancé visa is only good for one entry into the U.S., so your fiancé must not use it to travel to the U.S. until you are both ready to follow the requirements of the visa by getting married within 90 days.
What can we do while waiting on my fiancé’s K-1 visa?
While you wait for your paperwork approval and your big day of travel to arrive, there are plenty of things to do that do not involve international travel.
- Stay connected to each other as best you can. International video chats and phone calls are almost always available through a free service these days, so you can save your money for the wedding.
- Creating a fun countdown calendar or another method of keeping track of how long it will be before you see each other again.
- Stay up to date on any communications from USCIS for updates, and be sure to check on the status of your petition online.
- Arrange travel and accommodations, and verify that all documentation and paperwork is ready to go.
The time you spend apart will probably pass before you know it, and you will have wonderful stories to tell of how you stayed connected across borders.
Can my fiancé leave the U.S. to visit other countries under a K-1 visa?
Once inside the U.S., those with K-1 visas can leave the U.S. on temporary trips, but only to certain places. This means you might be able to plan that joint bachelor/bachelorette party in the Caribbean after all!
Because of a rule called “automatic revalidation,” beneficiaries of the K-1 visa program may take short trips to Canada, Mexico, or certain neighboring islands of the U.S. and re-enter under the same I-94, which is the arrival/departure they will receive when they enter the U.S. from their home country.
Can my fiancé work or go to school under a K-1 visa?
Once in the U.S., non-immigrants with K-1 visa status may apply for work authorization by filing a Form I-765. If granted, the work authorization is only good for the duration of the applicant’s K-1 status —that is, your partner can only work while waiting to get married. Once married, your fiancé must re-apply for work authorization at the same time that they apply for their green card.
What are some common pitfalls to avoid with the K-1 visa?
Marriage is exciting, but try to avoid letting your knowledge of the certainty of your love distract you from the nitty-gritty details of proving it.
- Make sure you meet the criteria.
- Don’t skimp on paperwork.
- Pay all fees on time.
- Don’t file until you’re ready.
- Don’t lie on paperwork or during your interview.
When you are truly ready, be sure to have answers for the types of questions you may receive to demonstrate the genuineness of your relationship. For example:
- How you met your fiancé;
- Details of each meeting and even long-distance conversations;
- What you love about your fiancé;
- How you knew you wanted to marry your partner and details of the proposal;
- Your plans for a life together in the U.S.
Not everyone is comfortable about revealing details on their personal life, but petitioning for a K-1 visa means you’re setting yourself up to do just that. Know what you are getting into, so that you can be prepared to give honest, genuine responses that will give you and your fiancé the best chance of tying the knot and making a life in the U.S.
How can an experienced lawyer make the process easier?
There are a few ways to make your life easier while weighing your options to bring your fiancé to the U.S., starting with hiring an experienced immigration lawyer. While a K-1 visa process is not as complicated as some other immigration processes, it can still be stressful. Not having the proper documentation can cause delays or denials, which may also impact your chance of a future approval.
Furthermore, because the nature of a K-1 visa process entails that one spouse is outside the U.S., you may need the support of an immigration lawyer who knows how to get information from all over the world.
When love is on the line, the process for getting a K-1 visa is worth getting right. If you are ready to take the next steps toward a K-1 visa, schedule a consultation with Farmer Law today.