People today work, shop, and even fall in love online. If you are a U.S. citizen who falls in love with a citizen and resident of another country, an approved K-1 fiancé(e) visa will allow that person you plan to come to the United States so that you can hold your wedding, so long as you both meet the legal requirements. Importantly, however, a purely digital romance will not meet the legal requirements for the K-1 visa.
Among other things, you as the U.S. citizen (the "petitioner") and your overseas fiancé(e) (the "beneficiary") will need to have met in person sometime within the last two years in order to obtain visa approval. (See I.N.A. § 214(d).) And you will need to be careful to time this correctly.
(This is in addition to the other K-1 requirements, namely that you are a U.S. citizen, you and your fiancé(e) are both legally eligible to marry (for example, one of you cannot be underage or already married), and you intend to marry within 90 days of your fiancé(e)'s arrival in the United States.)
The two-year meeting requirement is strictly enforced by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"). While waivers of this requirement are technically available, USCIS will grant such a waiver only in extremely limited (and unusual) circumstances.
During the two years before you file the Form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), you must meet your fiancé(e) in person. Keep a close eye on the calendar. If, for example, you are reading this now having met only once, 23 months ago, then by the time you submit the I-129F petition your meeting could be 25 months (two years and one month) in the past, USCIS will deny your petition.
While many U.S. petitioners choose to visit the beneficiary's home country, this is not required. You and your fiancé(e) can meet anywhere in the world.
However, be careful asking your foreign fiancé(e) to visit you in the United States; he or she might be denied entry or potentially be accused of immigration fraud for lacking nonimmigrant intent; that is, if immigration authorities believe that he or she "secretly" plans to stay permanently and is just using a temporary visa to gain entry to the United States.
USCIS will not take your word for it that you and your fiancé(e) have met in person within the last two years. Instead, you will need to include documentation of your in-person meeting with your application. Proper documentation can include:
Without overwhelming USCIS with paperwork, include as much of this documentation as possible. Passport stamps carry the most weight, and should definitely be included. USCIS knows that photographs can be forged or taken outside the two-year period. Even plane tickets are not conclusive proof that you visited a particular country; only that you bought a ticket.
If you cannot demonstrate that you and your fiancé(e) have met in person within the appropriate time period, your application for a K-1 visa will be denied. USCIS may deny your Form I-129F Petition at the very beginning of the process; but it is not uncommon for petitioners and beneficiaries to make it all the way to the interview stage at the U.S. embassy or consulate before receiving a denial or an administrative processing notice (which will likewise ultimately lead to a denial).
Some couples have tried to "fix" the meeting problem by scheduling a meeting after the petition looks to be headed toward denial, but this doesn't work. Even if you go and meet your fiancé(e) abroad after filing the petition, your application will still be denied. A face-to-face meeting outside of the two-year period is meaningless.
In a few situations, petitioners and beneficiaries are able to get a waiver of the two-year meeting requirement. However, these exceptions are extremely rare, so it is best not to hope for a waiver.
The bar to demonstrating extreme hardship to the U.S. citizen is high. Simply showing that meeting in person would be inconvenient, more expensive, or more difficult is not going to suffice. Typically, the only time this sort of extreme hardship waiver would be approved is in a case where the petitioner was absolutely unable to travel anywhere, due to extreme illness or permanent physical disability. Proving this would also require substantial medical documentation.
Dangerous country conditions are also rarely grounds for a successful "extreme hardship" waiver of the meeting requirement. Even if your fiancé(e) lives somewhere that is unsafe for a U.S. citizen to visit, USCIS will likely deny the waiver. This is because, theoretically, you and your fiancé(e) should be able to meet in a neutral third country. (Even if your fiancé(e)'s country only rarely issues travel permits to any country, USCIS will most likely not consider this to be extreme hardship.)
The second basis for a waiver, that meeting the future spouse would violate strict marriage customs, is also difficult to obtain. Even if your fiancé(e) comes from a culture where marriages are ordinarily arranged by parents, most cultures do allow some level of in-person meeting between the potential bride and groom. If there is any precedent within the culture of allowing in-person meetings, then the waiver will be denied.
Be aware that, if you do ultimately seek a waiver, the process will take significantly longer than with a normal K-1 fiancé(e) visa application (likely an extra five to 12 months, or more). Overall, a waiver is extremely difficult to obtain and likely to be denied. Even if you have a strong case for a waiver, USCIS will likely deny your initial application, forcing you to go through the appeal process, which could take even longer.
One of the most common complaints with the K-1 fiancé(e) visa is that traveling abroad is extremely costly. Unfortunately, not only does USCIS does not view financial hardship as a justification for a waiver of the two-year meeting requirement, but the very request could make USCIS think the U.S. petitioner is in no financial position to sponsor an immigrant at all.
This is because the U.S. consulate will require the foreign-born fiancé(e) to demonstrate that he or she is not likely to become a public charge (dependent on government assistance in the U.S.). A likely public charge becomes "inadmissible."
Typically, proving that the K-1 applicant won't become a public charge is done by requiring the petitioner to show how he or she will financially support the fiancé(e). See How Much Income a K-1 Fiancé Visa Applicant's Sponsor Needs to Show. If you cannot afford the trip abroad, you will have significant difficulty showing your ability to support your fiancé(e) after arrival in the United States.