The K-3 Visa, Explained

Understanding why this spousal visa is so rarely used

What is a K-3 Visa?

The K-3 visa allows the spouse of a U.S. citizen to enter the United States with temporary legal status while waiting to obtain permanent residence (a “green card”). Practically speaking, however, the K-3 visa is almost always unnecessary compared with better alternatives.


The main issue with the K-3 visa involves the current U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processing times, which can be very lengthy. It takes, on average, about 6–9 months for USCIS to approve a temporary K-3 visa—just about as long as it takes them to approve the marriage-based green card application. Because of this lengthy processing time, most people find that it’s not worth it to apply for a K-3 visa. Unless the processing times change, the K-3 visa should probably be avoided, as it is involves an unnecessary step and additional expense (including an extra $265 filing fee).

K-3 Visa Eligibility

The K-3 visa is designed for couples who were legally married outside of the United States, and is available to spouses who meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • The applicant must be the legal spouse of a U.S. citizen. (The K-3 visa is not available to spouses of U.S. green card holders.)
  • The applicant must currently reside in a country outside of the United States.
  • The U.S. citizen spouse must have already filed a family sponsorship form (Form I-130) that is currently pending with USCIS. This Form I-130 must not have been approved yet, and there must be a receipt notice from USCIS in the meantime.
  • The U.S. citizen spouse must meet certain income requirements. The adjusted gross income on their most recent tax return must be at least 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines in order to qualify as the financial sponsor. If they are unable to meet this requirement, a joint sponsor must file an “affidavit of support.”
  • If the applicant has biological or adopted children who will also travel to the United States (on a K-4 visa), the children must be unmarried and under the age of 21.

Step One: Form I-129F

If all of the above requirements have been met, the U.S. citizen spouse must fill out Form I-129F and file it with USCIS. The name of this form can be confusing because it is technically called “Petition for Alien Fiancé(e),” even though it can also be used by spouses of U.S. citizens.

Once the form has been completed and signed, copies of all required documents should be attached to it, including:

  • The U.S. citizen spouse’s passport, certificate of naturalization, or birth certificate, as proof of citizenship.
  • The applicant spouse’s passport.
  • Legal marriage certificate with certified English translation.
  • Proof of termination of any prior marriages (divorce decree, annulment document, or death certificate).
  • I-94 arrival/departure record, if the applicant spouse has ever received one from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
  • One passport-style photograph of the U.S. citizen spouse and one passport-style photograph of the applicant spouse.
  • Receipt notice for the Form I-130 (itself technically called the Form I-797).

Unlike the I-129F petition when used by fiancé(e)s, there is no filing fee for I-129F petitions designated for spouses.

After signing the Form I-129F and attaching all supporting documents, it’s always a good idea to make an archival copy of the packet before filing.

Typically within about 30 days from the time the Form I-129F is filed, the U.S. citizen spouse should receive a receipt notice. This indicates that the package has been received by USCIS and is being processed. Processing times will vary depending on which USCIS service center is handling the case, but the average is about 6–9 months. During that time, a Request for Evidence (RFE) may be issued, should USCIS require any more information. Once the petition is approved, the U.S. citizen spouse will receive an approval notice.

Step Two: Form DS-160 and Interview

Approximately 30 days after USCIS approves the Form I-129F, the applicant spouse will receive correspondence, usually via email, from the U.S. Embassy in their home country. This correspondence will include the date and time of the applicant spouse’s interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. It will also include a list of documents required for the interview.

The next step is to electronically file the DS-160 visa application on the Department of State’s website, which includes uploading a passport-style photograph. Once the DS-160 has been filed electronically, the confirmation page should be printed and taken to the interview, along with the following documents:

  • Legal marriage certificate
  • Valid, unexpired passport for the applicant spouse
  • Birth certificate for the applicant spouse
  • Police clearance for the applicant spouse, obtained from all countries of residence of more than six months since the age of 16
  • Sealed medical exam for the applicant spouse (obtained through a physician abroad, authorized by the Department of State)
  • Sponsor’s affidavit of support (Form I-134)
  • Sponsoring spouse’s most recent tax returns
  • Proof of relationship (for example, a copy of the pending Form I-130 package originally filed with USCIS). It’s generally a good idea to also bring things such as wedding photographs or any other proof that the marriage is valid.
  • Two passport-style photographs of the applicant spouse.

The State Department’s visa filing fee is currently $265, usually paid at the interview. It’s important to review specific instructions regarding time and place of payment, included in the embassy’s correspondence, which may vary depending the applicant’s home country.

The interview is usually scheduled about 4–6 weeks from the date of the correspondence from the embassy. The applicant should receive a decision the same day or shortly thereafter. If the consular officer needs additional evidence, they will request for it to be submitted directly to the U.S. consulate. Upon approval of the K-3 visa, the spouse may then travel to the United States.

Step Three: Green Card Application

The final step of this process is to travel to the United States on the approved K-3 visa. Although K-3 visa holders may apply for employment authorization upon arrival to the United States, they are not eligible to work until they receive approval of the work permit application, which typically takes about four months.

For this reason, it’s generally better to simply file for employment authorization and a travel permit along with the green card application, which can be submitted upon arrival to the United States. This application, Form I-485 (technically called an “Adjustment of Status” application) is filed with USCIS based on a pending or approved Form I-130.

Final Warning

Although the K-3 visa is available to spouses of U.S. citizens living abroad, it is usually not the best option and should generally be avoided. Because of the lengthy processing times, applying for a K-3 visa usually ends up being an unnecessary step with additional expense (including the extra $265 filing fee).

If a couple is already married with a pending Form I-130, they are almost always better off going directly through the green card process through “consular processing,” which will end up taking about the same amount of time as the K-3 visa process.

Once the applicant spouse arrives in the United States with an approved green card, they will be able to work immediately as a permanent resident, without needing to file any additional applications. For more information on marriage-based green cards, click here.