What Is a K-1 Visa?
A K-1 fiancé(e) visa allows the engaged partner of a U.S. citizen to enter the United States, as long as the couple gets married no more than 90 days later. The newly married spouse can then apply for permanent residence (a “green card”) based on marriage.
Is the K-1 Visa Right for Me?
In some cases it might make sense to skip the fiancé(e) visa process altogether and go straight to getting married and applying for a green card. This decision depends on where you are living, how long you wish to wait to be together, and various other circumstances. For more details, see our guide to differences between K-1 visas and marriage green cards.
(For simplicity, below we’ll use “fiancé” to mean either a male or female engaged partner.)
The K-1 visa allows a U.S. citizen to sponsor their fiancé to come to the United States. Both partners must have the intention to get married within 90 days after the sponsored fiancé arrives in the United States from abroad.
Specific requirements include:
- The sponsoring partner must be a U.S. citizen. U.S. green card holders (permanent residents) are not eligible to sponsor a fiancé for this type of visa.
- Both partners must be eligible to marry—in other words, both must be currently unmarried. Any prior divorce decrees, annulments, or death certificates must be provided to show that any previous marriages have been terminated.
- K-1 visas are available to same-sex partners, regardless of whether the laws in the sponsored fiancé’s home country allow for sex-same marriage.
- The legitimacy of the relationship must be proved with evidence such as photographs, flight itineraries and/or hotel reservations of trips taken together as a couple, written statements from friends and colleagues who are aware of the engagement, letters or emails between the partners, etc.
- The couple must be able to prove that they have met in person at least one time within the two years prior to filing the visa form (except for cases of extreme hardship, or where in-person meetings would violate cultural, religious, or social norms). Evidence may include flight itineraries, hotel itineraries, dated photos, etc.
- Each partner must provide a signed statement indicating an intent to marry within 90 days of the sponsored fiancé’s arrival in the United States. If concrete wedding plans have been made, it’s also a good idea to submit evidence such as wedding invitations, receipts of deposits on a venue, etc.
- The U.S. citizen fiancé must meet certain income requirements. Specifically, the adjusted gross income on their most recent tax return must be equal at least 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. If they are unable to meet this requirement alone, a joint financial sponsor must file a supplemental “affidavit of support.” (Note that the income requirements for a marriage green card sponsorship are different—and higher.)
The first step for an eligible couple is for the U.S. citizen fiancé to file Form I-129F (technically called the “Petition for Alien Fiancé”) with U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The primary purpose of this form is to prove the validity of the relationship.
The following supporting documents should be attached to the completed form as evidence:
- Proof of citizenship for the U.S. citizen fiancé (copy of a passport, certificate of naturalization, or birth certificate)
- Copy of the sponsored fiancé’s passport
- Proof of the legitimacy of the relationship (photos, correspondence, sworn statements from friends and colleagues, etc.)
- Proof of having met in person at least one time within the two years prior to filing the form (flight itineraries, hotel itineraries, photos, correspondence, etc.)
- Sworn statements, written by and signed by each partner, with a brief description of the nature of the relationship and an intent to marry within 90 days of the sponsored fiancé’s arrival in the United States. It’s generally best to provide the original signed statements, and keep copies for your records.
- A copy of any Form I-94 arrival-departure record previously issued to the sponsored fiancé.
- One passport-style photo of the U.S. citizen fiancé and one passport-style photo of the sponsored fiancé.
The government’s required fee for Form I-129F is $535. After the form and supporting documents are filed at the appropriate address, USCIS will typically send a receipt notice within 30 days. Depending on which USCIS service center is handling the case, the processing times can take around 6–9 months (7 months on average). During that time, USCIS may send a Request for Evidence (RFE), if they need more information. Once the Form I-129F is approved, USCIS will send an approval notice.
At this point, USCIS hands off the case to the U.S. Department of State. Within about 30 days after the the I-129F fiancé sponsorship form is approved, the sponsored fiancé will receive a notice from the U.S. embassy in their home country, including the date and location of their visa interview and a list of required documents.
Next, the sponsored fiancé must complete the State Department’s online DS-160 form (technically called the “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application”). This is the actual K-1 visa application, and it’s very important to print the confirmation page once the form has been submitted online.
The State Department then requires the following documents:
Sponsored Fiancé Documents
- Two passport-style photos
- Birth certificate
- Valid, unexpired passport
- Police clearance obtained from all countries of residence of more than six months since the age of 16
- Sealed medical exam form (obtained through physician abroad who is authorized by the State Department)
U.S. Citizen Fiancé Documents
- Affidavit of support (Form I-134)
- Most recent tax returns
- Proof of relationship (copy of the approved I-129F package originally filed with USCIS)
The visa interview takes place at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the sponsored fiancé’s home country, usually about 4–6 weeks after the embassy’s initial notice. The visa fee of $265 is usually paid at the interview—but it’s important to review specific instructions regarding time and place of payment, included in the embassy’s interview notice, which can vary by home country.
The interviewing officer will typically make a decision on the case either the same day of the interview or shortly afterward. If they need additional evidence, they will request that it be submitted directly to the U.S. consulate.
Once the K-1 visa is approved, the sponsored fiancé is given a total of four months from the date of approval of the initial I-129F form to travel to the United States.
Upon arrival, the couple must get married within 90 days, or the sponsored fiancé will lose their K-1 status. If the couple decides not to get married, the sponsored partner will not be eligible to remain in the United States and is required to leave the country right away.
Unlike other visas, the K-1 does not allow for a change to another temporary visa (F-1, H-1B, etc.). It’s also forbidden to “adjust status” from a K-1 visa to a green card based on marriage to anyone other than the original U.S. citizen sponsor. The sole purpose of the K-1 visa is for the sponsored fiancé to enter the United States to join the sponsoring fiancé and get married within 90 days.
Of course, after getting married, the final step is to apply for a marriage-based green card, which will be sponsored by the same partner who originally sponsored the K-1 fiancé visa. Check out our overview of the marriage green card process, plus our start-to-finish guide for spouses of U.S. citizens living in the United States.