Steps to Applying for a K-1 Fiancé Visa

If you are applying for a K-1 fiancé visa, here is an overview of the application process.

By , J.D. University of Washington School of Law
Updated 3/12/2024

If you're wondering how to apply for a K-1 fiancé visa, which allows a foreign national to come to the United States in order to marry and potentially apply for a green card, here is an overview. Get ready for a large amount of paperwork and significant stops and starts, as the process involves these five major steps:

  • U.S. submits Form I-129F to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • USCIS approves case, forwards it to National Visa Center
  • immigrant submits additional forms and documents and has medical exam done
  • immigrant attends visa interview at U.S. consulate in their home country, and
  • immigrant uses the K-1 visa to enter the United States.

We'll discuss all these in greater detail below, as well as the costs and timing involved in this process.

For background on eligibility, see Legal Requirements for a K-1 Fiancé Visa. Very briefly, the U.S. citizen and foreign national will need to show that they intend to marry, have met in person within the last two years (with limited exceptions), and are legally able to marry.

From Petition to Approval: Five Steps to Your K-1 Visa

Obtaining a K-1 fiancé visa involves these major steps.

Step 1: Submitting Form I-129F

The U.S. citizen fiancé submits a fiancé petition to USCIS. This is done on Form I-129F, which is available for free download from the Form I-129F page of the USCIS website. (Don't confuse it with Form I-129, which is used by employers petitioning for workers.)

In addition to filling out the form, the petitioner must prepare various documents affirming your intention to marry and showing that you meet the various legal requirements for the K-1 visa (for example to prove U.S. citizenship status and the fact that you two have met in person within the last two years and that the petitioner has the financial capacity to sponsor the immigrant and promises to do so, by preparing and signing Form I-134).

If any minor, unmarried children will be accompanying the foreign-born fiancé, they will not need separate applications, but can simply be listed on the Form I-129F. They will be seeking what's known as "K-2 visas." (See Bringing Children Along on a K-1 Fiance Visa (K-2 Visas).)

Step 2: USCIS Approval and Transfer to NVC

After USCIS approves your petition, it notifies not only the U.S. citizen petitioner, but also the National Visa Center (NVC) in New Hampshire. The NVC will advise you which consulate it is forwarding the case to.

Step 3: Foreign National Prepares Visa Application, Undergoes Medical Exam

You fill out forms, visit a doctor (one approved by the U.S. consulate) to get a medical exam report and catch up on any needed vaccinations, and make an appointment with the designated U.S. consulate in your home country. For any children coming along, you'll need to submit separate visa applications and medical exam reports. Each applicant must also pay a K visa application fee. USCIS's approval of the I-129F fiancé petition will be good for four months, so be sure to schedule the appointment within that time. Another reason to avoid delay is if you have a child who might turn 21 before entering the United States, in which case they could lose eligibility to apply for a U.S. green card at the same time you do.

Step 4: Foreign National Attends Visa Interview at U.S. Consulate

You and any accompanying children attend a consular interview and hopefully, if you meet the eligibility requirements and are not otherwise inadmissible to the U.S., receive visas (K-1 for the primary applicant, K-2 for the children). The U.S. citizen petitioner does not typically attend this interview. The K-1 and K-2 visas are good for U.S. entry for up to six months.

Step 5: Foreign National Enters U.S., Marries Within 90 Days

After entering the U.S., the K-1 visa holder has 90 days in which to get married and either leave the United States or apply for a green card (adjustment of status). The K-2 children can apply for green cards as well (each one on a separate application). This process involves even more paperwork than the fiancé visa did.

In rare instances, some couples have to attend a fraud interview somewhere during the above-described process, if the U.S. government has doubts about their intended marriage being the real thing. This means an extra-comprehensive interview in which members of the couple are separately interviewed but asked the same questions, after which their answers are compared for consistency.

How Long Does It Take to Get a K-1 Fiancé Visa?

How long the entire fiancé visa application process will take depends mostly on how backed up the various U.S. government agencies you will deal with are. A total of several months is typical, and more than a year is not uncommon.

You can check on USCIS's processing times for Form I-129F on its Check Case Processing Times web page. Also check out How to Ask About Delays in Your Green Card Application Process. Once your case moves to the consular phase, however, it's more difficult to obtain time estimates.

Many couples wish that they could take a quick trip to the United States while waiting for the fiancé visa to be granted. Unfortunately, once you have submitted any part of your fiancé visa application, you are unlikely to be granted entry as a tourist or visitor (category B-2). This is because either the U.S. consulate to which you apply for a visitor visa, or the U.S. border officer who meets you at the U.S. airport or other point of entry will likely believe that your real intention in using the visitor visa is to get married and then apply for your green card in the United States. That would be an inappropriate use of the B-2 visa and could be considered visa fraud. With visa fraud on your immigration record, you would have a difficult time getting approved for any sort of U.S. visa or green card.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a K-1 Fiancé Visa?

This is not a cheap process. At a minimum, expect around $2,000 in U.S. government application fees, around $300 in physician fees to conduct the medical exam, administer vaccinations, and produce a report, travel costs (which will depend on your personal situation and choices), and attorney fees, if you hire one to help you.

If children will be accompanying the K-1 visa holder, you'll need to pay separate fees for each of them on all phases of the process after the I-129F gets approved.

Also realize that, for foreign nationals who want to stay in the United States and become lawful residents with a green card, the process is nowhere near over. The "adjustment of status" application procedure comes next, with its own set of costs for both primary visa holder and any children who also want to remain in the U.S. and obtain residence.

For further detail, see What's Better for Low-Income Couples: K-1 Fiancé Visa or Marriage-Based Immigrant Visa?

For More Information About K-1 Fiancé Visas

For details on these matters, and help completing the application forms, assembling the appropriate documents, and having a successful interview, see other articles on Marriage-Based Green Cards or get the book Fiancé & Marriage Visas: A Couple's Guide to U.S. Immigration, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).

In addition, hiring an experienced immigration attorney to handle your family visa case is worth considering. The attorney can analyze the facts of your case and spot any potential problems, prepare the paperwork, and monitor the progress toward approval. Also see How Expensive Is an Immigration Lawyer?.

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