Don't Let Timing of Two-Year Meeting Requirement for Fiancé(e) Visa Destroy Eligibility

Couples interested in a K-1 visa who met online or through a marriage broker need to have met in person sometime within the last two years.

By , Attorney · Case Western Reserve University School of Law

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 and hold your wedding, so long as you both meet the legal requirements. 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 eligibility requirements, namely that you are a U.S. citizen, you and your fiancé(e) are both legally eligible to marry (one of you cannot be underage or already married, for instance), and that you intend to marry within 90 days of your fiancé(e)'s arrival in the United States (after which the permitted K-1-visa stay runs out and the foreign national must leave or apply for a green card).

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.

You might also consider other visa options, as described in K-1 Fiancé Visa or Marriage Visa: Which Is Better for Me?:

For How Long Do K-1 Visa Applicants Need to Have Been Dating or Engaged?

Reading the "within two-years" meeting requirement, some couples have worried that USCIS expects them to have actually been romantically involved or engaged to marry for a whole two years before starting the visa application process. This is not the case. There is no minimum time that you are expected to have been romantically involved.

In fact, if you happened to meet each other casually (say, an introduction by friends) long before you were dating, that could count. A brief meeting is enough; there's no minimum time it should have lasted, either.

EXAMPLE: While Rajiv, a U.S. citizen, was visiting his family in India, his cousin introduced him to her friend Laila. Rajiv politely said hello, then excused himself to call his girlfriend in New York. But when he got back to New York, his girlfriend broke up with him. Rajiv thought back to Laila, and scheduled a Zoom conversation with her. Within two months they were engaged, and agreed that she should seek a K-1 visa. Their earlier meeting will satisfy the meeting requirement under U.S. law.

Importantly, however, a purely digital romance will not meet the legal requirements for the K-1 visa.

How Do We Calculate Whether We've Met the Two-Year Meeting Requirement Prior to Filing the K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa Application?

The date when the U.S. citizen files the Form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) is important. It's somewhere during the two years before filing it that 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.

Where Should the U.S. Citizen and Fiancé Meet in Person?

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; they might be denied entry or potentially be accused of immigration fraud for lacking nonimmigrant intent; that is, if immigration authorities believe that your fiancé "secretly" plans to marry you and apply to stay permanently and is just using a temporary visa to gain entry to the United States. The legal problems with that approach are described in Risks of Entering the U.S. as a Tourist, Then Applying for Marriage-Based Green Card.

How Can We Prove That the U.S. Citizen and Fiancé Met?

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:

  • passport stamps showing entry and exit stamps to and from the country where you met
  • copies of boarding passes, travel itineraries, and the like
  • receipts for plane tickets when you met up or one visited the other, and
  • photographs of you and your fiancé(e) together (pictures of the two of you with family members or friends, while not necessary, can provide additional evidence of the legitimacy of your relationship).

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. Also see Preparing Documents to Accompany Form I-129F Fiance Visa Petition.

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.

When Is a Waiver of the K-1 Meeting Requirement Available?

In a few situations, U.S. petitioners and foreign 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 one. Waivers are available (under 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(k)(2)) for cases where complying with the meeting requirement would either:

  • result in extreme hardship to the petitioner or
  • violate strict and long-established customs of the beneficiary's foreign culture or social practice, namely where marriages are traditionally arranged and the bride and groom are prohibited from meeting prior to the wedding day.

The bar to demonstrating extreme hardship to the U.S. citizen is high. Simply showing that meeting in person would be inconvenient, expensive, or 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.

Will Requesting a Meeting Waiver Add Time to the K-1 Application Process?

Be aware that, if you do ultimately seek a waiver of the two-year meeting requirement, the process will take significantly longer than with a normal K-1 fiancé(e) visa application. The total added time is likely to be 5 to 12 months or more. (For an idea of normal timelines, see Chart: What to Expect When Sponsoring a Fiancé or Spouse for a Green Card.)

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 is known to often deny the initial application, forcing you to go through the appeal process, which could take even longer.

Requesting a Waiver Based on Financial Hardship Could Undermine Eligibility for the K-1 Visa

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 they are not likely to become a public charge (dependent on government assistance in the United States). Someone who is viewed as a likely public charge becomes "inadmissible."

Typically, proving that the K-1 applicant won't become a public charge is achieved by requiring the U.S. petitioner to show how they will financially support the fiancé(e). See How Much Income a K-1 Fiancé Visa Applicant's Sponsor Needs to Show. If you cannot even afford one trip abroad, you will have significant difficulty showing your ability to support your foreign-born fiancé(e) after arrival in the United States.

For More Information on K-1 Visas

For a comprehensive, detailed guide to applying for a K-1 visa and marriage-based adjustment of status in the United States, see Fiance and Marriage Visas: A Couple's Guide to U.S. Immigration

And for a personal analysis of your immigration situation and options, and help with the paperwork, your best bet is to schedule a consultation with an experienced immigration lawyer. See Choosing, Hiring, or Firing an Immigration Attorney.

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