The answer to this will depend on the particulars of each case, but knowledge of the differences between the K1 and K3 will be helpful for unsure applicants.
First, let’s give the K1 and the K3 some names that are a little less legal-sounding and a little more descriptive. The K1 Visa can better be called the “Fiance(e) Visa,” and the K3 the “Marriage Visa.” With that little change, the names actually provide some useful insight into the details of these visas, and their differences are more intuitive.
If you and your loved one are not yet married, but plan to be married in the U.S., the K1 Fiance(e) Visa is most likely for you. If you have already been, or plan to be, married in your loved one’s native country, before settling in the U.S., then the K3 Marriage Visa is probably the one you’ll want.
However—as with most immigration issues—this is not a cut and dry situation. There are other advantages and disadvantages for both visas. Applicants must carefully consider these before making a choice.
First, let’s discuss some advantages of the K1 Fiance(e) Visa. One of the biggest is that the Fiance(e) Visa allows you and your partner to spend more time together in the U.S. before being legally bound. Couples get a 90-day courtship window before the wedding must take place, during which the foreign partner can live in the U.S. This uninterrupted time together can help solidify a couple’s commitment and provide a strong base for the upcoming marriage.
In addition, U.S. Immigration, rather than a foreign government, processes K1 applications, and require only a single petition. This means K1 Visas are typically approved faster than K3 Marriage Visas. Further, getting married in the U.S. means your marriage will be legal and recognized by U.S. Law. And, importantly, if any problem arises during the immigration process your American attorney can serve as the point person—thus keeping you from being endlessly shuffled between government agents.
Disadvantages of the K1 Fiance(e) include: If you are your partner do not get married within the 90-day window the foreign partner must return to their native country; and, it may require more persuasion to prove the legitimacy of your relationship. Your application must also be perfect, or the approval process could be delayed a year or more.
The K3 Marriage Visa, for couples married in the foreign partner’s country, has its own distinct advantages. For one, you won’t have to work as hard to prove your relationship to the foreign immigration consulate. The K3 grants the foreign partner immediate legal U.S. residency. And the foreign partner is permitted to freely travel back and forth between the U.S. and her native country.
On the downside, the U.S. partner must be granted permission by the foreign country to get married there, and marriage laws between the U.S. and other countries are not always compatible.
In addition, the K3 application process involves two steps instead of one, and all documents must be translated into the language of the foreign country. If a single form is missing from your application you will face serious delays, keeping in mind that dealing with foreign-speaking immigration officials can be extremely difficult.
As you may have suspected, there are quite a few factors to consider when choosing between the K1 and K3. Be advised, as well, that making the wrong decision will result in a significant setback for you and your partner. Therefore, it’s advisable to seek the council of a qualified U.S. immigration attorney, who’ll be able to guide you toward the right visa for you.