K-1 Fiance Visa vs. Getting Married First

Feb 2, 2024 | Immigration

If you’re a U.S. citizen engaged to be married to someone from another country, you essentially have two main paths to get them a green card to live permanently in the United States – either get married first then apply for an immigrant visa through consular processing, or start the process with a K-1 fiancé visa which allows them to enter the U.S. to get married. Both routes lead to the same destination of a marriage-based green card, but there are some important factors to consider in deciding which path is best for your situation.

Getting Married First

With this path, you get legally married to your fiancé before beginning the green card process. After the marriage, you would file an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative to establish your qualifying relationship. Once approved, your new spouse applies for an immigrant visa through consular processing at the U.S. embassy in their home country.

Pros:

  • More straightforward path– if approved after the interview, your spouse receives their immigrant visa and can enter the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident all at once
  • Tends to be slightly quicker overall compared to the K-1 process, often taking around 10-12 months total
  • Avoids the need to go through the processes twice— getting the K-1 first and then adjusting status after marriage

Cons:

  • You’ll need to travel abroad for your fiancé(e) to get legally married in their home country or a third country
  • Your fiancé cannot enter the U.S. as a visitor to get married – the marriage must happen first before applying for the immigrant visa

K-1 Fiancé Visa

For the K-1 visa route, you as the U.S. citizen fiancé start by filing an I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé. Once approved, your foreign fiancé applies for and obtains the K-1 visa to enter the United States. After entering on the K-1 visa, you have 90 days to get married. After the marriage, you file for adjustment of status for your new spouse to obtain their green card.

Pros:

  • Allows your fiancé to enter the U.S. first on the K-1 visa before getting married, which offers some advantages in getting settled
  • The initial I-129F petition process is relatively quick, often taking around 6 months for approval
  • Getting married in the U.S. avoids the need for you to have to travel abroad for the wedding

Cons:

  • The overall process from start to finish is longer than the marriage abroad path, typically taking 14-18 months
  • Processing times for adjustment of status after the K-1 entry can take 8-12 months
  • Strict 90 day time period after K-1 entry to get married
  • Need to go through an additional step of filing for adjustment of status after the marriage

Other Considerations

For either path, your fiancé’s ability to eventually immigrate may depend on factors like their admissibility to the U.S., previous immigration violations, certain medical conditions, and criminal record. Seeking advice from an experienced immigration lawyer can help analyze whether any complicating factors could impact which process may be better.

Timing is another consideration – for those wanting to get their spouse to the U.S. as quickly as possible, doing the full immigrant visa process while getting married first abroad may be faster. But for those prioritizing their fiancé getting settled in the U.S. before marriage, using the K-1 could make more sense despite taking longer overall.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as the best path depends on your specific situation and priorities. Be prepared for the financial and administrative commitments, documentation requirements, and extended timeline that comes with either approach. The end goal of a marriage-based green card is achievable – it’s just a matter of deciding if getting there via K-1 or straight to an immigrant visa is the better route for you.

How Siri & Glimstad Can Help

Discussing your case with a knowledgeable immigration attorney will help decide which option best fits your situation. Though the process sounds simple, obtaining a fiancé visa is a multi-step procedure where mistakes can often occur. Mistakes in the petition can significantly delay the process or even cause it to be denied. The immigration attorneys at Siri & Glimstad have extensive have successfully helped countless couples obtain fiancé visas and immigrant visas…and subsequently their green cards. We will guide you every step of the way and help you avoid delays and ensure that your case is successful.

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