What Is a K-1 (Fiance) Visa?

by Leigh A. Morgan
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A visa authorizes someone to enter a country for a certain period of time and/or for a specific reason. The United States has more than three dozen types of visas available.

One of those is the K-1 visa, which is for foreign nationals who intend to marry U.S. citizens. Before you apply for a K-1 visa, learn more about the application process and timeline.

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What Is a K-1 Visa?

The K-1 visa, also known as the fiancé visa, allows a foreign person to enter the United States for the sole purpose of marrying their U.S. sponsor. For example, if an American goes to Brazil and falls in love with a Brazilian citizen, the Brazilian citizen will need a K-1 visa to come to the United States to get married. If the visa holder complies with all conditions, they become a lawful permanent resident, which allows them to remain in the United States indefinitely.

Who Qualifies for a K-1 Visa?

To qualify for a K-1 visa, a foreign partner must meet the following requirements:

  • Live outside the United States
  • Be legally available to marry (not married to someone else)
  • Have no history of certain criminal convictions or immigration violations
  • Have met their U.S. partner in person at least once in the previous two years

Additionally, the sponsoring fiancé(e) must be a U.S. citizen. A lawful permanent resident of the United States isn't permitted to serve as a K-1 visa sponsor.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services may make an exception to the in-person meeting requirement under certain conditions. For example, if visiting your fiancé(e) overseas would create an extreme hardship, USCIS may issue a K-1 anyway. It depends on your unique circumstances.

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What Are the Steps for Obtaining a K-1 Visa?

To obtain a K-1 visa, you and your fiancé(e) should follow these steps. You should always check the current USCIS requirements and speak with a lawyer before beginning your application, as the steps do change from time to time.

Step 1: File a Petition

The first step is to file Form I-129F, also called a "Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)," with USCIS. The U.S. sponsor must complete the form and submit it to one of these addresses:

Via postal mail:
Attn: I-129F
P.O. Box 660151
Dallas, TX 75266-0151

Via DHL, UPS or FedEx:
Attn: I-129F (Box 660151)
2501 South State Highway 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067-8003

You can't complete the form at a U.S. consulate, a U.S. embassy or a foreign USCIS office, so be sure to send it to the proper address.

If USCIS approves the petition, the National Visa Center will send you a case number and forward the petition to the consulate or embassy in your fiancé(e)'s home country.

Step 2: Apply for the K-1 Visa

The second step is for your fiancé(e) to apply for a K-1 visa. They'll need to complete DS-160, "Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application," and set up an interview. Before the interview, your fiancé(e) should have the following:

  • Valid passport
  • Divorce certificate or previous spouse's death certificate, if applicable
  • Birth certificate
  • Medical examination
  • Police certificates from current country
  • Police certificates from any other countries where they resided for at least six months
  • Two passport-size photographs (2 inches by 2 inches each)
  • Evidence of financial support
  • Evidence of relationship to U.S. sponsor

What Are the Conditions of a K-1 Visa?

To qualify for a K-1 visa, your fiancé(e) must prove that they intend to marry you within 90 days of entering the United States. Additionally, the U.S. sponsor must meet certain income requirements. As of January 2024, the gross income on your federal tax return must be at least 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for your household size. If you don't meet the minimum income requirement, you may be able to have one of your family members serve as a joint sponsor.

Once your fiancé(e) has a K-1 visa, they can present it at any U.S. port of entry, along with their valid passport. Your fiancé(e) will also receive a sealed packet with their K-1 visa. This packet should not be opened; your fiance will need to give the sealed packet to a customs official when entering the United States. Note that a visa doesn't guarantee admission to the United States. Officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection have the final say over who enters the country and who doesn't.

Your fiancé(e) must enter the United States within six months of receiving the K-1 visa, and you must marry within 90 days of their entry into the United States.

If your fiancé(e) wants to start working right away, they must file Form I-765, "Application for Employment Authorization." They should also apply for a Social Security number and familiarize themselves with the rights and responsibilities of lawful permanent citizens.

What Is the Processing Time for a K-1 Visa?

The processing time varies based on several factors. Some applicants encounter delays because they don't provide the required documents or complete each form in full. The initial petition and visa application also go to several government agencies, so there may be delays in transferring the documents from one agency to another. Generally, it takes 12 to 18 months to receive a K-1 visa.

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