If you're engaged and starting to look ahead to the fiance visa process, you're probably wondering what the visa journey will look like. There are three different main phases of paperwork to be completed when applying for a K1 fiance visa. Read on for all of the highlights!
The first step is a "petition." The petitioning process happens through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a government agency located here in the United States. The I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance is filed by mail; there is no interview at this point. During the petition phase, the government is only checking on a few of the factors required for you and your fiance to receive the visa. That's why it's so important to make sure your case is completely eligible for the visa BEFORE even starting the first step. We see lots of couples who began the petition and even may have gotten it approved without realizing what hurdles they were going to face later in the process to in some cases make the case take years longer or even be completely ineligible.
The factors that USCIS wants to see in order to approve your I-129F fiance petition is that the petitioner is a U.S. citizen, the couple has a romantic relationship and intends to get married within 90 days of the foreign-born fiance entering the U.S., the petitioner doesn't have a criminal history that would disqualify them, and the couple has met each other in person sometime within the prior two years before the date the petition is filed. Both people also must be legally free to marry, meaning other divorces are finalized and there are no other legal impediments (such as the fiance being under age 18 or being too closely related, for example).
Then, in the next phase the government checks the "admissibility" of the foreign fiance. The file moves from USCIS through an intermediary office called the National Visa Center (NVC) and is forwarded to the U.S. Embassy nearest to where the foreign fiance resides. There's more paperwork to be done (of course!) and then an interview is set by the Embassy. The immigrant fiance is required to attend the interview, and 99% of the times, the petitioner is not required to attend the interview since they are in the U.S. (One important exception is the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic, which we have seen insist that the U.S. petitioner fly to Santo Domingo for the interview. It's very rare in general.)
If everything goes well at the Embassy interview, the fiance gets a K-1 visa printed in their passport and they can travel to the United States. They do not have to travel immediately, but must enter the U.S. before the visa expires, which is usually 180 days from the date of issue. Then after arrival, the couple has a 90-day period of time where they can decide whether or not to marry each other. If they do not get married, the foreign fiance must leave the United States. However, typically a couple does get married and then they move onto the final phase of the process which is applying for a green card for the fiance to reside permanently in the United States.
The green card application process inside the U.S. also happens with USCIS. There are several forms and additional evidence filed. The couple will also in most cases have an interview at their local USCIS office. These interviews used to be waived in many cases, but as of the writing of this blog post, USCIS is currently requiring all green card applicants to undergo a marriage interview.
Then, at long last, the green card is mailed to your home (or to your attorney's office). Whew - it's a long journey, but it's worth it!