Family immigration is among the most popular methods of seeking permanent residency in the US. However, the significant restrictions on family visas mean that only people with a direct and immediate legal relationship can sponsor someone for these immigration visas. For example, a US citizen or lawful permanent resident may only sponsor their spouse for a visa because they are legally married.
This limit can put international romantic partners in a difficult position. That’s why the K-1 visa exists. The K-1 program permits citizens to sponsor their fiancés for a short-term visa to enter the US before getting married. However, some critical requirements and restrictions must be met if the sponsorship is to succeed.
Understanding the K-1 Visa
Also known as the “fiancé” visa, K-1s are short-term, nonimmigration visas that last for just 90 days. A person with a K-1 must enter the country and marry their sponsor within that 90-day window. They can then apply for an adjustment of status for an immediate relative (IR) visa to become a legal permanent resident (LPR).
There are some substantial benefits to the K-1 program. While it is a nonimmigrant visa, it provides a clear and obvious path toward LPR status and eventual citizenship. It also permits the recipient to bring their unmarried children under the age of 21 with them to the country. They may even apply for a work permit and travel documents once they marry their sponsor.
However, there are some downsides to the program as well. The 90-day window is a remarkably short period to spend together in the same country. There is no way to extend the visa period. If a couple wants to live together in the US for more than a few months before they marry, the foreign national will need to find another way to enter the US legally. Additionally, the immigrating party is vulnerable to the whims of their fiancé – if they decide to call off the wedding, the K-1 recipient must leave the country.
Despite this, K-1 visas are a popular way to enter the US because they are not subject to immigration caps and let families reunite more easily.
Who Is Eligible for a K-1 Visa?
Any US citizen may be eligible to sponsor a foreign national if both parties are legally free to marry and the marriage is legally permitted in the US. In other words, if the sponsor and the candidate are unmarried adults who are not closely related, they may be eligible to begin the process.
However, there are some strict limits on K-1 eligibility. These include:
- In-Person Meetings: Engaged couples must have spent time together in person in the past 24 months for the US citizen to be eligible to sponsor their partner.
- Income Requirements: A sponsor must typically make at least 125% of the HHS poverty guidelines for the household, including their spouse, to be eligible.
- Health and Background Checks: Certain criminal convictions may bar citizens from sponsoring their partners, or prevent their partners from entering the country. Similarly, certain infectious diseases may disqualify the spouse from immigrating.
You are likely eligible for a K-1 if you can fulfill these requirements.
How to Apply for a Fiancé Visa
Applying for a K-1 is a complex process. According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Collect documentation: The foreign national fiancé will need a valid passport and police certificates from their home country, a copy of their birth certificate, copies of divorce or death certificates of any previous spouses, a completed medical exam form, an affidavit of support, and evidence of their relationship with their prospective spouse.
- File a petition: The sponsor will file Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), with USCIS.
- Submit application and documents: The immigrating partner will submit Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, to schedule their consular interview.
- Attend the consulate interview: The immigrating partner will be interviewed at their consulate to review their paperwork, confirm a relationship with the sponsor, and determine if they are eligible to enter the country.
After the interview and review, the consulate and USCIS will determine if the K-1 should be issued. Even small mistakes can put this process in jeopardy.
The most effective way to file for a K-1 visa is to work with a skilled family immigration attorney. The experts at Litwin & Smith are available to help. Schedule your consultation with our experienced team to discuss your needs and discover how we can assist your family with reuniting in the US today.