So you have finally met the man or woman of your dreams and have decided to get married. Congratulations! Problem is, your new fiancé is from another country and the US government seems to be keen on keeping foreigners out. What can you do? Fortunately as a US citizen you have the right to bring your fiancé from their home country over to the USA for the purpose of marrying and living together. This process can be difficult, but with a lot of patience, diligence, and strong will it can be accomplished relatively painlessly.
What is a Fiancé Visa?
The fiancé visa, officially called the K-1 visa, is an entry visa that allows a citizen of the United States of America to bring their foreign fiancé lawfully into the USA for the purpose of marriage. It is the first step in obtaining lawful permanent US residency for a foreigner, based on marriage. This visa allows a foreigner to enter the USA within six months of issue and marry a US citizen within 90 days of entry. The visa is good for one entry only. If your fiancé fails to enter the US within six months of issue, you fail to marry within 90 days of entrance, or your fiancé leaves the USA, you will need to obtain another visa. You can find more information about the fiancé visa on the 'How Do I?' pages of the USCIS Website.
The following is an attempt to provide factual and useful information on how to obtain a fiancé visa and bring your fiancé lawfully into the United States to get married. It is based on this Researcher's actual successful experience bringing his fiancé (now wife) from Japan to the United States in 2003. When undergoing this process with your fiancé, it can be difficult to find detailed first-hand information. That is what this document is here to provide.
This document covers the fiancé visa process only and does not include instructions on filing for permanent residency. This document also does not cover bringing your fiancé's children (if applicable). Additional instructions are provided on the forms and help pages of the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) website.
You could always hire a solicitor to simplify things for you, but they can be expensive (between US $1000-$2000) and are not really necessary at this point. All the solicitors really do at this stage is fill out the paperwork and file it for you. If you have the money, however, it may be nice to have a professional taking care of the paperwork details. A solicitor can speed up this process in that they are less likely to make a small mistake that could delay your petition. Even if you do hire a solicitor, they are still fallible, so it's a good idea to stay on top of the details yourself.
In addition, all of the proper USCIS forms and instructions can be obtained from the USCIS website. It is advisable to read the instructions very carefully and fill out all of the forms completely!
Part One: Applying to Apply
Before your foreign fiancé can apply for their K-1 visa you must first petition for permission for them to do so. To do this, you will need to prepare several documents about yourself:
I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé
This is the paper that you fill out and file with the USCIS to petition to bring your foreign fiancé to the United States for the purpose of marriage. There will be a fee associated with filing this form - this is currently $110.
G-325A Biographic Information
You must fill out two of these forms, one for you and one for your foreign fiancé. This provides biographical information about the two of you to the USCIS. Each of you must sign your respective forms. This form is four pages of repeat information, but you each need to fill out all four pages.
Proof that you are a US Citizen
This includes a notarised copy of your passport, an official copy of your birth certificate and an official copy of your court-ordered name change certificate if your name is different from that listed on your birth certificate.
Personal Note: This Researcher's parents got a divorce when he was about five years old; his mother remarried a few years after and changed his name at the time that she changed hers. Even though he had used his current name since the first grade it did not match the name on his birth certificate. He tried to explain this to the government but they wouldn't listen. It is vitally important that all of your documents match or that you have official documents explaining why they don't match. The Researcher had to spend an extra six weeks and a couple of hundred dollars getting his name officially changed through the courts in order to get a name change certificate before proceeding with the fiancé visa.
You also need to have two official passport-style photos taken of both you and your fiancé. Places that take passport photos can usually provide these, as they are generally the same. Just make sure that the photos conform to the USCIS colour photo specifications. Print your name and sign the back of each photo of you and have your fiancé print and sign their name on the back of each photo of them. These photos need to be taken within 30 days previous to filing your petition.
If either you or your fiancé have had any previous marriages you will need to provide an official copy of the divorce decree. If the previous marriage ended in death you will need to provide the death certificate.
Evidence that you and Your Fiancé Have met in the Previous Two Years
You will need to prove that you and your fiancé have actually met in person within the previous two years before the petition was submitted. If you or your fiancé have visited one another you should make a photocopy of your (or their) passport showing entrance and exit stamps. You should also provide photocopies of airline tickets or boarding passes to one another's countries, as well as some informal photos of the two of you together. You should send at least five photos, with at least three of them showing your faces clearly.
Statement of Intent
You must provide a letter stating that you intend to marry your fiancé. This affidavit must be notarised. You should state how the two of you met and how you fell in love. Also include details of when you (or your fiancé) proposed marriage. Include exact dates for when the two of you met and proposed and such. This letter is meant to show that you are in love and genuinely intending to marry out of love. The format that this Researcher followed was:
Fiancé Visa Petition of
(Name) On Behalf of
Being duly sworn, I, (Name), declare:
I am the petitioner named above. I am a citizen of the United States having been born in CITY, STATE, USA on MM/DD/YYYY. I live at ADDRESS.
It is my intention to marry (Name) within ninety (90) days of (his/her) arrival in the United States.
(Now tell your story including dates.)
As proof that my fiancé and I have met in person I am enclosing several photos of us together.
[Notary Republic Notarisation]
I-134 Affidavit of Support
This form is your promise to the USCIS that you can support your fiancé financially and that he or she will not become a public charge. This form also excludes your fiancé from participating in any public benefits services, such as receiving food stamps. This form will not be sent initially but must be sent to your fiancé for later use when they get to actually apply for the K-1 visa. Still, it is best to prepare it in advance. With it you will need to provide a copy of your most recent federal tax return (you can use an official transcript from the IRS), a copy of your most recent W-2 and a letter of employment from your employer on company letterhead signed by an officer of the company (this Researcher used his department director and someone from human resources) stating your name, title, date of employment and current salary. You must meet certain poverty guidelines to sponsor your fiancé. If you cannot meet this financial requirement you can have someone else sign one as well as a joint sponsor. This form must be notarised. Do not get it notarised just yet as it expires after six months and your fiancé will need it later.
Click here for more information about the Affidavit of Support.
Note: The help page above will mention form I-864 rather than I-134. The guidelines are the same and you should check out this help page as you will be filling out form I-864 once your fiancé is in the US and you are married. When you fill out form I-864, you will need to provide copies of your last three years' tax returns or official IRS transcripts and a more-recently dated copy of the above-mentioned letter of employment. If you have lost your job by this time or cannot meet the poverty line requirement you can have someone else also fill out an I-864 as a joint sponser.
NOTE: Some of the items mentioned above (such as birth certificate, divorce decree, etc) do not have to be the official copies at this stage but can be photocopies. You will, however, need the official copies at the stage when your fiancé applies for the actual visa. Just to be safe, make sure you have all of your official records prepared in duplicate to save time and frustration later.Once you have all this in order, send the above information to your local USCIS field office.
Part Two: Waiting
Now you will have to wait while the USCIS looks over your documents and makes sure that yours is not a sham-petition or a marriage of convenience. How anybody could enter into this process out of convenience is bewildering as this process is less convenient than the least convenient thing ever, waiting at the DMV. This waiting period is one of the most frustrating parts of the process. You've just filled out complicated forms, documented most of your life, shipped all of your information to the US government (which is not a pleasant feeling), and now you have to sit and wait. A week or two after you send the petition with all of the required information you should receive a letter from the USCIS stating that they have received your packet and it could take up to ten months to process it. For this Researcher, it took five months to process.
This waiting period can be stressful on the relationship. Nothing ruins the romance of a recent engagement more than having the US government examine your lives with a microscope and keep you waiting in suspense. Make sure you keep in constant contact with you fiancé and try to concentrate on how nice it will be to finally be together. Do your final bachelor thing in the meantime. Try to relax. If all of the paperwork is filled out correctly things should go fine, it just takes time. If there is a simple mistake the USCIS should notify and let you correct it, which just takes more time. If for some reason the USCIS rejects you on grounds that you cannot remedy with them, then this researcher would advise hiring a lawyer.
Above all, DON'T PANIC!
Part Three: Applying for the Visa (K-1)
After your petition has been reviewed and approved you will be notified by mail that the USCIS has sent your petition to the foreign consulate in your fiancé's home country. It will be sent to the consulate closest to where your fiancé lives. After the foreign consulate receives and reviews your information they will forward a visa application packet to your fiancé. Now it is your fiancé's turn to apply for the actual K-1 visa. At this point you will need official copies of your documents. It varies from consulate to consulate but your fiancé should receive and prepare the following:
DS-2001 (or OF-169 or UK/85)
This is the main set of instructions about what your fiancé will need to prepare and is also a checklist of items required for the interview. Yes, your fiancé will have to undergo an interview with a consulate official before receiving their visa1. Go over the instructions carefully with your fiancé, as well as looking over all of the forms. When you have gathered the items on the checklist you will (unless instructed otherwise) need to send the checklist back to the consulate, but not the actual items. Your fiancé will bring the items to the interview later. Items on the checklist should include (but may not be limited to) a notarised copy of your and your fiancé's passports, official birth certificates, official divorce decrees (if applicable), police certificate (more on that below), photographs, I-134, military records (if applicable) and official translations of any foreign language documents into English.
OF-167 Information Sheet About Financial Responsibility
This paper will inform you about your responsibility to financially support your fiancé. It will tell you if you need to supply any extra information besides that which you initially prepared with the I-134. Your fiancé may also receive an I-134 Affidavit of Support form but, since you already had one prepared, when you get the notice from the USCIS that your petition is being sent to the foreign consulate have your I-134 notarised and send it to your fiancé with the supporting documents.
DS-156 (and/or 156K) Non-immigrant Fiancé Visa Application
This is the actual fiancé visa application form that your fiancé will fill out:
DS-230 (or OF-230)
More biographical data sheets.
DSL-1083 Information sheet about police certificates, military records and more
Your fiancé will need to provide a police record to the consulate showing any criminal history or lack thereof. They will also need to provide military records, if applicable.
There may be more or different documents required; the visa application packet will contain instructions specific to your fiancé's home country.
Send the completed checklist back to the consulate with any documents listed as required at this stage. After they receive the checklist and perform a background check, they will send another packet to your fiancé. This packet will set the date for their interview with the consulate. This packet will also contain information about where and how your fiancé can get their medical examination.
Your fiancé will need to have an extensive medical examination at a facility listed as approved by the consulate. Your fiancé will bring the results along with all of the other required documents to the consulate interview. The results of the medical examination must be delivered to the consulate unopened. This exam can be quite costly, usually $100 - $300.
Part Four: More Waiting
Now your fiancé gets to wait for the interview date to arrive. This is even more nerve-wracking than waiting for the petition to be approved because your fiancé knows that they have to go to an interview and speak face-to-face with a government official, which is never a fun thing to do. Make sure you are in contact with each other and are supportive of your fiancé. Try to relax; the interview really isn't all that intense or difficult. Once you've got to this stage they already know what they need to know and are just confirming details and granting visas. This is a huge bureaucracy you are dealing with and that can work to your advantage as no consulate interviewer is likely going to have the time or energy to dig into your fiancé too much.
Part Five: The Interview
Having said that, the interview really isn't all that difficult, although there are some things your fiancé can do to help prepare for it. Know that the questions are not trick questions and all have straightforward answers. The interviewing officer is not going to try to trick your fiancé into saying something that will deny the visa. The key is for your fiancé to emphasise that you love each other and wish to be together forever out of that love. Make sure your fiancé brings all of the required documents and photos with them to the interview.
Again, DON'T PANIC!
For some examples of questions that may be asked at the interview check out Abe's INS Fiance Help Site.
After the interview your fiancé should be approved and can now make arrangements to come to the US. After the application is approved and your fiancé receives their visa they have six months to enter the United States. Once in the United States you have 90 days to get married and then apply for Adjustment of Status.