The K-1 visa allows qualifying fiance(e)s of US citizens to immigrate to the United States. Transnational marriages have become increasingly common with the development of international trade and tourism. Unsurprisingly, the K-1 visa’s popularity has risen sharply as well. This article provides an overview of what intending K-1 applicants should know: the primary qualifications and benefits of this type of immigration visa.
1. Primary Qualifications for K-1 Applications.
a. Citizenship. Either the fiance or fiancee must petition for the visa as a United States citizen. The petitioner cannot, for example, instead be a US green card holder.
b. Legitimate Relationship. The couple must prove marriage is the true reason the non-citizen is applying to enter the USA. Wholly inadequate reasons for applying include I) a social trip to America, ii) sightseeing, and iii) business. The US government requires the engaged parties to submit evidence that they have legitimately fallen in love with each other and intend to marry. This evidence often includes pictures, emails, text messages, letters, phone records, and affidavits.
c. In-Person Requirement. The engaged parties must see each other in person at least once within the two years directly prior to submitting their application. Online video, telephone calls, and emails are not sufficient, though these types of interactions can serve as evidence of a legitimate relationship.
d. Free to Wed. Both sides of the engaged couple must be free to marry. Neither the fiance nor fiancee can be married or have a pending divorce during the application process. As a practical matter, any divorce proceedings should be finalized well before the K-1 application.
e. Financial Ability. The parties must be able to financially support themselves in the United States without the American government’s help. The US citizen usually files proof of income and executes a guarantee against the non-citizen becoming a financial burden on the US government. If the non-citizen lacks financial resources, other US citizens may need to file financial guarantees on behalf of the non-citizen.
f. Timely Marriage. The couple must be ready to wed immediately upon the non-citizen’s entry in the USA. The non-citizen is allowed to stay in the US for 90 days prior to marriage. If the parties do no marry within this 90 day period, the non-citizen must leave the USA. Absent marriage, the K-1 visa holder cannot apply for a time extension, cannot adjust his or her status for a green card, cannot stay in the US through work, and cannot remain in the United States on any other type of visa, regardless of educational status.
The qualifications for a K-1 visa may seem strict, but most legitimate couples with legal counsel satisfy them relatively easily.
2. Notable Benefits of K-1 Immigration.
a. Kids Come Too. K-1 visa holders can bring to the USA their minor children, age 21 and less. The children’s visa type is called the K-2, and it allows the parent and children to enter the United States at the same time. The non-citizen’s children do not need to wait in their home country for completion of the marriage.
b. Green Card and Work Permit. The non-citizen can apply for a conditional green card and work permit as soon as he or she weds his or her fiance(e). This means the non-citizen can remain in the United States and work while married to the US citizen. The conditional green card holder can later apply for a permanent (10 year) green card and remain in the United States indefinitely.
C. Children Can Work and Attend School. The children who arrive on K-2 visas can remain in the United States with their non-citizen parent, obtain work permits, and attend American public schools.
D. Citizenship. Often the non-citizen and his or her children can eventually become US citizens.