Introduction: The K1 visa is the exclusive visa that allows an American to bring their fiancé/fiancée to, and get married in, the United States. Upon the marriage, the foreign spouse is eligible to adjust of status for permanent resident.
Procedure: The K1 application is a three-step process. First, the U.S. fiancé (petitioner) must submit a fiancé visa petition to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once the petition is approved, the Thai fiancé (beneficiary) must submit a follow-up application to the U.S. consulate in Thailand. Finally, the U.S. consulate interviews the beneficiary. Once the application process is completed, the U.S. Embassy will either approve or deny the visa. The process usually takes 6-8 months. The K1 is a non-immigrant visa that becomes an immigrant visa once the marriage occurs.
Eligibility: The K1 visa has specific eligibility requirements. First, the K1 visa applies solely to affianced parties. Secondly, the petitioner must be a U.S. citizen. Furthermore, the petitioner and beneficiary must have met in personum during the two years preceding the application. (This requirement is waived if there are religious customs prohibiting a meeting.) The petitioner and beneficiary must also pass criminal background checks. Next, the beneficiary must pass a medical examination. Similarly, the petitioner must meet the financial requirements. Additionally, the petitioner and beneficiary must be legally free to marry. (A previous divorce, however, does not negatively affect a visa application.) Lastly, the wedding must take place within 90 days of entry into the United States.
The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) has added a new level of scrutiny to mandatory criminal background checks. The United States Congress enacted IMBRA in an effort to minimize incidents of abuse against immigrant spouses. The statute specifically bars applications by petitioners convicted of abuse. (There is an exception when the petitioner did not instigate the incident and acted in self-defense.) Additionally, the statute seeks to track petitioners who repeatedly file for K1 visas. Once a petitioner has filed for two separate visas, their name is entered into a database. The Secretary of Homeland Security will inform the beneficiary of the number of previous petitions filed. The Secretary will also disclose the criminal background of the petitioner.
When applying for a K1 visa, the petitioner must file form I-134, an affidavit of support. The United States aims to prevent the immigration of people who will likely become wards of the state. This affidavit serves as the basis for determining whether the petitioner can support the beneficiary financially. Eligible petitioners must meet, at minimum, 100% of the poverty level of the state in which they reside. Essentially, if the poverty level of a particular state is $10,000, the petitioner must be able to show that they earn at least $10,000. Accepted documents proving financial status include recent tax returns, bank statements showing annual income, letters of employment, and lists of bonds.
Since the K1 visa is valid for only 90 days, the petitioner and beneficiary must marry within the beneficiary’s first 90 days in the country. Negative consequences befall parties that do not marry during the prescribed period. A beneficiary who fails to marry faces deportation. Any children in the United States on the K1’s derivative K2 visas also face deportation. Should the beneficiary marry another United States citizen, the beneficiary must leave the country and the U.S. spouse must file for a new visa. Failure to marry may also negatively affect the petitioner. The IMBRA allows a U.S. citizen to have only two approved K1 petitions at any time. This may bar the petitioner from re-filing a K1 petition for the deported beneficiary.
Conclusion: In summation, the K1 visa is the optimal avenue for bringing a spouse to the United States. Despite its somewhat stringent eligibility requirements, it offers the fastest method for a foreign spouse to gain entry into the U.S.