Immigration Topics Explained:

K-1 Visa Path to a Marriage-Based Green Card

K-1 Fiancé Visa Explained

What is a K-1 visa?

A foreign citizen may use the K-1 visa to travel to the United States for the purpose of marriage to his or her U.S. citizen fiancé. Once married to the U.S. citizen sponsor, the foreign citizen may apply for permanent residence – represented by a green card — inside the United States.

It’s one of two fundamental ways for a U.S. citizen and foreign citizen to unite in the United States. Alternatively, the couple could marry outside the United States and the foreign spouse would immigrate as an immediate relative (spouse of a U.S. citizen) through consular processing.

We’ve assembled a detailed K-1 visa overview that provides a look at the different steps in the path to a green card. In this process, the petitioner is always a U.S. citizen fiancé, and the beneficiary is the foreign citizen fiancé. If you're ready to get started, see how CitizenPath can help.

The K-1 is a nonimmigrant visa, but it behaves like an immigrant visa. The U.S. Department of State categories the K-1 visa as a dual intent visa. That means it's a nonimmigrant visa, however, the beneficiary may have an immigrant intent.

Eligibility for Fiancé Visa

What are the K-1 visa requirements?

Only the fiancé of a U.S. citizen has a qualifying relationship for the K-1 visa process. The fiancé of a lawful permanent resident does not qualify. Additionally, the couple must satisfy all three of the following requirements:

  • Be legally free to marry and intend to marry within 90 days of the fiancé’s admission to the United States.
  • Have met each other in person within the two years immediately before filing the petition, unless the U.S. citizen petitioner establishes that either:
    • The requirement to meet in person would violate strict and long-established customs of the foreign national’s culture or social practice, and that any and all aspects of the traditional arrangements have been or will be met in accordance with the custom or practice; or
    • The requirement to meet in person would result in extreme hardship to the U.S. citizen.
  • Meet the requirements set in the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005.

K-2 Visas May be Issued to Children

If the foreign fiancé has minor children (unmarried and under age 21), they can generally immigrate as well. Upon approval, the child applicant receives a K-2 visa. K-2 children may generally enter the U.S. at the same time as the K-1 fiancé or shortly thereafter.

K-1 Visa Application Process

Do I need to file Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)?

There is a visa application, but there's a process to get there first. Before the foreign fiancé may apply for the K-1 visa, the U.S. citizen must file a petition that establishes a qualifying relationship. In other words, there’s a process to confirm that there’s a legitimate relationship that includes an evaluation of the requirements listed above.

The process begins with the U.S. citizen filing Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In fact, the petition package should include Form I-129F along with several supporting documents. Generally, the petition package includes:

  • USCIS filing fee
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • Evidence any previous marriages have been terminated
  • Passport-style photos
  • Evidence of in-person meeting with fiancé
  • Evidence of intention to marry within 90 days
  • Evidence of a genuine relationship

Additional supporting documents may be necessary. Therefore, refer to your personalized filing instructions from CitizenPath. When you prepare your petition through CitizenPath, we will generate personalized filing instructions based on your specific situation. Our instructions provide detailed guidance on supporting documents, samples, how to organize the package, and where to mail it.

A similar process is available to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents that want to bring a spouse (as well as any of the spouse's children) to the U.S. This process begins with the petitioner filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Unlike the K-1 visa, this path is available to the spouses of permanent residents also. Learn more in consular processing.

Should I immigrate through a K-1 or CR-1/IR-1 Visa?

If you are considering a marriage-based green card, there may be more than one option. And there are trade-offs between immigrating as a spouse and fiancé. Explore your paths to immigrate based on different factors such as cost, marriage status and location.


K-1 Consular Interview

What happens after USCIS approves Form I-129F?

Provided that the petition package is well prepared with all supporting evidence, USCIS will typically approve an I-129F in 6 to 9 months. Upon approval, USCIS moves your case to the National Visa Center (NVC). Expect the transition of your case to the NVC to take at least a month. They will contact the foreign fiancé to request the K-1 visa application (DS-160) and medical exam. The NVC will do a background check, collect additional documents, and then forward your case to the respective U.S. embassy or consulate.

Submit the K-1 Visa Application

Submit the online nonimmigrant visa application (DS-160). You can only find the application on the U.S. State Department website. Any eligible children that will accompany the K-1 fiancé must also submit separate applications. Provide answers in English only. The U.S. citizen fiancé may assist or act as an interpreter through this process for the foreign national fiancé. Be sure to print the DS-160 confirmation page for the interview.

Get the Medical Examination

Every applicant, regardless of age, undergoes a medical examination which must be performed by an authorized panel physician. The U.S. embassy will provide directions including a list of approved physicians. Although some vaccinations are not required for K-1 visa issuance, they will be necessary when adjusting status to green card holder following the marriage. Therefore, it makes sense to get them at this time.

The embassy will schedule an interview soon after they've they've collected the these documents and done they're pre-processing. The K-1 visa interview will take place at a U.S. embassy or consulate near the beneficiary. The K-1 applicant and generally any children who you want to receive K-2 visas should attend. In some cases, the U.S. citizen may attend, but it is not required.

The embassy will provide the applicant with a letter that includes a list of items to bring. Typically, the applicant will need to take the following items:

  • Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application
  • Passport valid for at least six months beyond intended period of stay in the U.S.
  • Police certificates from your present country of residence and all countries where you have lived for six months or more since age 16
  • Medical examination
  • Form I-134, Declaration of Financial Support
  • Passport-style photos (2)
  • Evidence any previous marriages have been terminated
  • Evidence of bona fide relationship with the U.S. citizen petitioner
  • Visa fees

The consular officer will interview the beneficiary to verify the validity of the relationship. For a more detailed overview of how to prepare and what to take to the consular interview, read K-1 Interview Checklist.

The consular officer will generally provide a decision at the end of the interview. The officer may even be able to issue the K-1 visa the same day. However, the visa is typically delivered by courier to the applicant within one week.

U.S. Entry and Marriage

What happens at the interview?

The K-1 visa holder has 6 months to use the visa to enter the United States. Couples should use this time (if necessary) to do any final wedding planning. If several family members intend to travel, this window of time gives you time to coordinate. However, a formal wedding is not required. You may get married in a setting that fits you.

The U.S. embassy will provide the visa holder with a package of documents typically called the "visa packet." Upon arrival to the United States, the K-1 entrant will give the visa packet to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry.

After admission to the United States, the foreign citizen must marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days. The K-1 visa cannot be extended beyond the 90-day period. If there is no marriage, the foreign citizen is required to depart the United States by the 90th day. Of course, most marriages go on as planned. Typically, the foreign citizen spouse plans to stay permanently in the United States. In this case, he or she must apply for a green card through a process called adjustment of status.

k-1 visa holder has 6 months to enter the US

Time Line for Fiancé Visa

How long does the K-1 visa take?

The entire K-1 visa timeline from petition to visa may take 9 to 12 months for typical applicants. Understanding the steps in this timeline is even more critical for engaged couples because of wedding plans. Planning for wedding ceremonies that involve a K-1 visa entrant generally require some flexibility. It’s difficult to know exactly when the embassy will schedule an interview and issue the K-1. For a closer look at processing times and steps, take a look at the K-1 processing time.

For the fastest processing, ensure that you meet the requirements and submit a well-prepared petition. Small mistakes and oversights can result in a time-consuming Request for Evidence. CitizenPath can help you navigate this process by submitting a strong petition.

Adjustment of Status

How do I go from K-1 visa to green card?

In simple terms, adjustment of status is the process of applying for a green card from inside the United States. An adjustment of status application typically includes several forms submitted together. The green card time line may take about one year. During this time, the foreign spouse is able to obtain work authorization and travel abroad, provided he or she submits the correct paperwork as a part of the adjustment of status package.

Upon approval of the adjustment of status through a K-1 entry, the foreign spouse becomes a permanent resident of the United States. Subsequently, USCIS will issue a green card as evidence of this status. Permanent resident status gives a person the right to live permanently and work in the United States.

Costs for K-1 Path to a Green Card

How much does it cost to get a green card through a fiancé visa?

In addition to the initial I-129F petition, there are other costs associated with a K-1 fiancé visa. There is an additional cost for the actual visa application and also an immigration medical exam. To clarify, the medical exam must be conducted by a physician approved by the embassy. Costs can vary based on country and typically fall in the range of $50 to $300. Finally, foreign citizen spouses who plan to stay in the United States must adjust status to permanent residence. These costs are spread out over about a year.

USCIS, NVC or U.S. Consulate ItemGovernment
Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé$675 $139
DS-160 Visa Application$265N/A
Form I-134, Declaration of Financial SupportN/A $99
Medical ExamN/AN/A
Adjustment of Status Package
    I-485, Application to Adjust Status
    I-864, Affidavit of Support
    I-765, Application for Employment Authorization*
    I-131, Application for Travel Document*
    I-693, Report of Medical Examination
Total for Typical Adult Applicant$3,270$660*

*Includes some non-essential forms (I-765 and I-131) that can removed for a cost savings

Similar services from an attorney generally cost in excess of $5,000 (plus government fees). CitizenPath is an exceptional solution for do-it-yourselfers that want the reassurance they’re doing everything correctly. Users answer simple questions and receive ready-to-sign forms and detailed filing instructions. We customize your filing instructions based on your answers in the petition so you know what to do for your specific situation. The filing instructions provide detailed directions on supporting documents, how to organize your petition, and where to mail it.

How CitizenPath Helps You

How do I get started with the visa process?

CitizenPath's affordable, online service makes it easy to prepare Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Relative. Designed by immigration lawyers, the K-1 Visa Petition Package helps you eliminate the common errors that create delays, rejections and even denials. That's because the service alerts you when your answer to a question may be a problem. You'll also get customized filing instructions based on your situation. It's a powerful, do-it-yourself tool that puts you in control. And we've got your back -- CitizenPath provides live customer support and provides a money-back guarantee that USCIS will approve the petition. Get started >>

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