K-1 or Immigrant Visa: What’s the Difference, Anyway?

U.S. citizens who are engaged to be married to foreign nationals often ask, “will filing a K-1 visa petition be a faster route to reunification than filing an immigrant visa petition after we get married?” The answer depends on which consulate has jurisdiction over the foreign fiancé(e)’s place of residence, where the foreign fiancé(e)and U.S. citizen petitioner live, and where the couple plans to get married.

Regardless of if you take the fiancé(e) route or the marriage route, you will need to file a petition with USCIS. If you start the process before you get married, then the petition will be filed on Form I-129f. If you wait until after you’re married, the petition will be filed on Form I-130.  Currently, USCIS is taking about five months to process both I-130 Immigrant Petitions and I-129f K-1 Visa Petitions. So, all things being equal, it may be that filing a K-1 Visa for a foreign fiancé(e) will take just as long as filing an Immigrant Visa (“Green Card”) application after the couple has married. However, keep in mind that both the K-1 Visa process and the Immigrant Visa process have two parts. It takes USCIS about five months to process the “Petition,” which then gets forwarded to the appropriate consulate to complete processing on the “Visa Application.” Even though the USCIS processing times are the same for the K-1 Visa Petition and Immigrant Visa Petition, the time that the Consulate will take to act on these petitions differs from city to city. Some consulates complete visa application processing on K-1 Visa Petitions more quickly than on Immigrant Visa Petitions. On the other hand, some complete visa application processing on  Immigrant Visa Petitions more quickly than on K-1 Petitions. The best way to find out processing times at the consulate where the foreign fiancé(e) will apply for a visa is to contact the consulate via e-mail and ask. Contact information is available on each consulate’s website. A list of consular websites is available at http://www.usembassy.gov/.

If the U.S. citizen spouse lives in the U.S. and the couple is in a position to get married immediately, then filing for a K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa may be no quicker than filing for an Immigrant Visa. Keep in mind, however, that most foreign fiancé(e)s will find it difficult to obtain a tourist visa to enter the U.S. to get married, which means that the U.S. citizen will need to travel to his or her fiancé(e)’s country of residence in order to get married. Logistical details such as travel, and the time and cost associated with planning a wedding, may make it desirable for a couple to be reunited before the wedding takes place. If a couple wants to get married in the U.S., then applying for a K-1 Fiancé(e) visa may be the only way the couple can accomplish that goal.

If the U.S. citizen lives abroad it will almost certainly be quicker to apply for the Immigrant Visa (“Green Card”) at a consulate. There are jurisdictional requirements that the petitioner must meet, which vary from consulate to consulate. Many consulates require that the petitioner have lived in the country where the visa application will be made for at least six months prior to filing. For information on jurisdictional requirements, you should visit the website of the consulate where you plan to apply for the visa. Again, the list of consular websites is available at http://www.usembassy.gov/.