You've scoured the catalogs or gone through an international agency and found your foreign soulmate. A few phone calls, letters, maybe a visit, and she said yes to your marriage proposal. So, how can you get your new bride-to-be into the United States so she can attend her own wedding? Even though she's a bride, she's also a potential immigrant, so welcome to the world of immigration paperwork. For your fiancée to come to the United States, she must obtain a K-1 visa.
Your First Step
First, you must file a petition, Form I-129F, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office that has jurisdiction over where you live. You will be asked to prove a number of facts; first that you are a U.S. citizen and second that you and your fiancée are free and single. If either of you were previously married, you must prove those marriages are terminated. Finally, you must also provide evidence of an existing relationship between you and your future wife.
The Background Check
Remember, just because you're applying for a K-1 visa does not necessarily mean you'll get it. USCIS can reject applications for a number of reasons. You'll up your chances of landing the visa if your bride-to-be is free of any criminal or other questionable background. K-1 visas will almost always be denied to applicants with any one of the following: a communicable disease, a dangerous physical/mental disorder, a drug addiction, or a criminal record (including moral turpitude, drug trafficking, or prostitution). Your fiancee's visa may also be rejected if she is deemed likely to become a public charge, has entered the U.S. illegally, or is otherwise ineligible for U.S. citizenship.
Proving Your Love
How do you prove an existing relationship? USCIS wants proof that you have met with your intended during the 2 years prior to filing the petition; proof can be airline boarding passes, itineraries, or passport stamps. This requirement can be waived if you can prove that a face-to-face meeting would result in extreme hardship for yourself or would violate traditional marriage customs in your fiancée's home country. As any long distance couple knows, you can still have a relationship without actual meetings. You can prove it with copies of phone bills, emails, or postmarked letters.
Can you appeal a denial of a visa petition?
If your visa petition is denied, you can appeal the decision within 33 days of receiving the denial letter. To appeal, complete USCIS Form I-290B at the office that made the original decision. The appeal will be sent to Washington, D.C., where the Administrative Appeals Unit will review the application and make a ruling.
Once a petition is approved
When your petition is approved, the USCIS forwards it to the American consular office in your fiancée's home country. Keep in mind, patience is a virtue. It may take anywhere from 4-12 weeks for the petition to reach her consular office. This petition remains valid for 4 months and may be revalidated by an USCIS district officer or State Department consular officer.
If the petition gets the green light from the consular office, an officer will notify your fiancée and give her the necessary paperwork to apply for the K-1 visa. Since she is an intended immigrant, your future bride must provide many of the documents required for a standard visa application. These documents include: a valid passport, birth certificate, divorce or death certificate for any previous spouse, police certificate from all places lived since age 16, medical examination, vaccination records, evidence of financial support, proof of valid relationship with the petitioner, and photographs. Children under age 21 may accompany their mother to the U.S. and will be required to have many of the same documents. Their names must be included in the petition, even if they will not be traveling with your fiancée at this time.
The consular officer will conduct a background investigation and interview your fiancée. The point of the interview is to verify your relationship, and will therefore center around how you met and your marriage plans. If approved, your fiancée pays a non-refundable fee for herself and each dependent child. The officer gives her a sealed envelope containing a copy of the petition, along with other paperwork to present at a U.S. port of entry.
Here comes the bride
You must marry your bride-to-be within 90 days of her entering the U.S. No extension of the 90-day nonimmigrant admission is allowed and failure to do so will result in deportation. Additionally, if your fiancée leaves the U.S. before you are married, she will have to apply for a new K-1 visa.
Working in the U.S.
Your fiancée may also apply for a work permit upon arriving in the U.S. However, the work visa might not be processed within the 90-day time limit for your marriage to take place.
You're married, now what?
Once married, your new wife is classified as an alien spouse. Immediately after marrying, you should apply for an Adjustment of Status, Form I-485, for your wife to become a permanent resident. If you plan to travel outside the country and re-enter before she receives her green card, apply for an advance parole. It may take a year or more before she is interviewed for her green card. After two years of being "conditional," she may apply for Permanent Resident status. Remember, she can apply to become a naturalized American citizen only after these steps have been taken.
Finding your perfect mate
Finding the perfect mate is a difficult process, no matter how you go about it. When you've decided your perfect mate is someone who lives in another country, it can be even more challenging. Getting the legal papers in order to bring her to the States shouldn't be. The K-1 visa process can be a long one. The good news is that it is relatively easy if you and your intended follow the rules and keep up with the required documentation. Then you two can be on your way to wedded bliss.
This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.