If you entered the U.S. on a K-1 (fiancé) visa, you have 90 days in which to get married to the U.S. citizen who petitioned for you. K-1 status in the U.S. cannot be renewed, so if you don't get married within that time, you are expected to leave. But once you're married, you can apply for a U.S. green card (lawful residence), through a process called "adjustment of status." This article gives an overview of how that process works.
As a side note, the law does not require you to apply for a green card after your marriage. You can simply leave the United States.
And if this process seems complicated, or if there are any possible legal difficulties in your case, you might want to get a copy of Nolo's book, Fiance & Marriage Visas: A Couple's Guide to U.S. Immigration or hire an immigration attorney.
Major Steps in Adjusting Status After K-1 Fiance Visa Entry
In order to adjust your status in the U.S., you'll need to
- prepare various U.S. government forms
- gather various documents, such as your marriage certificate
- undergo a medical exam or get up to date on your vaccinations plus get a vaccination report (if you didn't already have these done within the last year)
- mail your forms, documents, exam report, and a fee to an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- attend a biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment, and
- attend an interview (both you and your U.S. citizen spouse) at a USCIS office.
At or soon after your interview, if all goes well, USCIS will approve you for U.S. residence. You will not, however, become a permanent resident right away. Because of the recency of your marriage, you will first need to spend two years as a "conditional resident," then apply to transition to permanent residence.
Forms Required for K-1 Fiance Entrant Adjusting Status
The USCIS forms that you'll need to download from the USCIS website (for free) and fill out include:
- Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This is filled out by the immigrant, and is the primary application used in requesting a green card from within the U.S.
- Form I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the Act or, if applicable, the I-864EZ, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the Act. The affidavit must be prepared by the U.S. citizen spouse, known as the "petitioner," along with supporting financial documents. The affidavit promises that the U.S. spouse not only has the financial capacity to support the immigrant, but that the spouse will do so, in place of any government assistance, for approximately the next ten years (regardless of divorce).
- Form I-944, Declaration of Self-Sufficiency. A new requirement starting February 24, 2020, this calls for extensive financial information and documentation, to prove that you are not inadmissible as a likely public charge.
- Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. This allows the immigrant to receive a U.S. work permit (employment authorization document) covering the period before green-card approval. It's a photo id card, handy for identification purposes even if you don't plan to work during this time.
- Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. The immigrant should fill this out and submit it if there's any chance that he or she will want to leave the U.S. before the interview. Without receiving "Advance Parole," which this form is used to request, leaving the U.S. will result in USCIS cancelling the application, on grounds that it was abandoned.
- Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record. Not all fiances need to have this done, since you already had a medical exam in order to qualify for your K-1 visa. But if the one done for the consulate is over a year old, or it revealed a Class A medical condition for which you didn't get a waiver, or you didn't have all the required vaccinations done at that time, you'll need to go to a U.S. civil surgeon for a new exam. And even if your exam is still within its one-year expiration date, you might need to visit a civil surgeon if the overseas doctor didn't include a complete vaccination record (DS-3025) or you didn't have all the required vaccines administered (including COVID).
- G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, if you'd rather not pay by the required filing fee by check or money order.
These are the basics, though more forms might be needed if, for example, you need to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility.
Documents Required for K-1 Fiancé Entrant Adjusting Status
Along with the various forms, you will need to include the following in your adjustment of status packet:
- Long-form birth certificate. This will need to be accompanied by a full, word-for-word translation, if it's not in English.
- Copy of U.S. entry documents. Include both a copy of the biographical information and U.S. visa/entry page of your passport and your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. This is available online from the Department of Homeland Security, if you didn't receive a paper card from the Customs and Border Protection officer when you arrived.
- Copy of fiance visa petition approval notice from USCIS.
- Copy of marriage certificate, issued by local government office.
- Two color photographs of the immigrant (U.S.-passport style); plus another two if you're applying for a work permit card.
- If you didn't fill out the credit-card payment form, a check or get a money order for the required filing fee. Check the USCIS web page for Form I-485 for the latest fees.
Once you've prepared and collected the various forms and documents, write and make a complete copy for your records.
Mailing Your Adjustment of Status Packet
You can't submit the adjustment of status application to USCIS in person. Instead, it must be sent to a particular USCIS office, called a "Lockbox."
To get the latest address, go to the Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status page of the USCIS website and scroll down until you see "K-1 Fiancé(e)."
Awaiting Word From USCIS
After mailing in the I-485 packet, you should get a receipt notice from USCIS. Some weeks or months later, you will be called in for fingerprinting ("biometrics").
A while (probably many months) after your initial filing, you'll be called in for the interview, which will take place at a USCIS office in a city near you.
If slowdowns occur during this part of the process, see When Should You Start Asking About Delays in Getting Your Green Card Approval?
Attending Your USCIS Interview
At the interview, a USCIS officer will review your application and documents you brought with you to prove a bona fide marriage, ask questions to make sure that your marriage is the real thing (bona fide, not a scam or fraud to get you a green card) and hopefully approve you for conditional residence.
The actual green card will arrive some weeks later, bearing a two-year expiration date. Keep track of that date carefully. Within 90 days of its arrival, you'll want to apply for permanent residence on Form I-751.