When an American citizen is engaged to a non-citizen who resides outside of the United States, the citizen must apply for a K-1 “Fiancé Visa”. The Fiancé Visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows an alien to enter the U.S. to marry an American citizen. The visa is issued in the country where the fiancé resides. After the marriage takes place, an application is made for an adjustment to permanent U.S. resident status, an immigrant visa.
To obtain a Fiancé Visa, the citizen must file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for his or her foreign fiancé, known as the “beneficiary.” Supplemental information will be required throughout the process. Once USCIS approves the petition, it is forwarded to the National Visa Center, which conducts a preliminary background check on the beneficiary.
Upon the conclusion of that process, the approved petition is forwarded on to the beneficiary’s embassy, which then obtains additional information from the foreign fiancé, in order to complete the process. The beneficiary must provide additional documentation to his or her local U.S. Embassy, and must undergo a medical examination and attend a visa interview. Foreign fiancés are urged to get the vaccinations required of immigrant visa applicants; although they are not required for issuance of the Fiancé Visa, the vaccinations will be required when the status is adjusted to that of permanent legal resident following the marriage.
Once the petition is approved, the local U.S. Embassy will issue the Fiancé Visa, which can take up to a week, depending on the Embassy. To activate the Fiancé Visa, the beneficiary must travel to the U.S. within six months of the date the visa was issued.
Upon arrival in the United States, the holder of the Fiancé Visa should apply for a Social Security number. After that has been completed the couple can apply for a marriage license, which is issued pursuant to state law and may vary across jurisdictions. States have different requirements for obtaining a marriage license, and some may impose deadlines or waiting periods between issuance of the license and when the ceremony may take place. Couples should carefully monitor the timelines following issuance of the visa.
The marriage ceremony must occur within 90 days of the date the Fiancé Visa was activated. If the foreign spouse is changing his or her name after marriage, he or she must take the newly-issued Social Security card and the marriage certificate to the Social Security Administration to change the name on the card.
After the marriage takes place, the foreign spouse must apply for an Adjustment of Status (AOS) to become a permanent U.S. resident. The AOS application must be submitted prior to the expiration date on the Fiancé Visa. If the foreign spouse wishes to travel outside of the U.S., or to work within the U.S., before permanent resident status is granted, an Advance Parole (AP) or an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) must be filed along with the AOS.
The Fiancé Visa application process is lengthy, involving many steps and various forms of documentation. A qualified immigration attorney can help couples navigate the process and ensure all requirements are met.