K-1 Process: Step by Step

What is the K-1 visa?

The K-1 is a non immigrant visa that permits a foreign national fiancé / fiancée of a U.S. citizen to travel to the United States to marry the petitioning U.S. citizen sponsor within 90 days of admission to the country.

What is the process for obtaining a K-1 visa?

The program is a collaborative process involving U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Department of State (DOS), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Step 1: Classifying Petition – USCIS

  • A U.S. citizen (the petitioner) files Form I-129F to petition USCIS to recognize a foreign citizen (the beneficiary) as the persons fiancé or fiancée.
  • USCIS reviews the documents submitted as required evidence that both parties are free to marry; intend to marry within 90 days of the beneficiarys admission; and, generally, have met in person within two yearsbefore filing the petition.
  • USCIS conducts a background check for national security, criminal records, and other information on both the petitioner and beneficiary.
  • An approved Form I-129F only means that USCIS recognizes the claimed relationship between the petitioner and beneficiary; the approval does not permit the beneficiary to travel to the United States, nor guarantee that DOS will issue a K-1 visa.
  • USCIS sends the approved petition to the DOS National Visa Center (NVC), which forwards it to the embassy or consulate where the foreign fiancé/fiancée will apply for the K-1 visa (generally, the embassy or consulate in the area where the person lives).

Step 2:  Visa Application – DOS

  • The NVC notifies the petitioner when it is time for the foreign fiancé/fiancée to apply for the visa.
  • The foreign fiancé/fiancée applies for the K-1 visa at the U.S. Embassy or consulate indicated on the Form I-129F, submitting identity and civil documents, proof of the relationship, as well as a medical exam completed by an approved physician.
  • DOS conducts background checks on the visa applicant, including fingerprints and other checks similar to those conducted by USCIS, as well as checks of DOS systems and other interagency databases.  A consular interview is also conducted.
  • If the DOS consular officer does not find the relationship bona fide, the K-1 visa will be refused, and the K-1 petition will be returned to USCIS.
  • The DOS consular officer determines whether any grounds of inadmissibility or other ineligibilities apply (criminal, national security, medical, or other) and whether the applicant is eligible to seek waivers of such grounds.
  • The DOS consular officer decides whether to issue the K-1 visa.  K-1 visas are valid for up to 6 months and a single entry.
  • As with any visa, a K-1 visa does not guarantee admission to the United States.

Step 3:  Inspection at a Port of Entry – CBP

  • The K-1 visa holder must travel to the United States and seek admission at a port of entry within the validity period indicated on the visa.
  • Inspection by CBP at a port of entry includes the capture of biometrics and all relevant systems queries for national security, criminal, and immigration information, verification of identity and travel documents, and an interview.
  • If admitted, the K-1 non immigrant has 90 days to marry the same U.S. citizen who filed the Form I-129F with USCIS.

Step 4:  Adjustment of Status – USCIS

  • Following the marriage, the K-1 non immigrant may apply for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status by filing Form I-485 with USCIS.
  • During the adjudication process, USCIS again conducts background checks on both parties, including fingerprint checks on the foreign spouse, and may interview both spouses.
  • If married for less than two years at the time the Form I-485 is approved, the applicant will be granted conditional permanent resident status and issued a Permanent Resident Card (commonly known as a Green Card) valid for 2 years.

Step 5:  Removal of Conditions – USCIS

  • A conditional Green Card cannot be renewed; conditions must be removed or a conditional permanent resident will lose lawful permanent resident status and be subject to removal from the United States.
  • To remove conditions, Form I-751 must be submitted to USCIS within 90 days prior to the end of the two-year conditional permanent resident period.  Both spouses file the form jointly, unless an exception applies.
  • During the adjudication process, USCIS conducts another background check and a fingerprint check on the foreign spouse, and may interview both spouses.
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