K-3 Visa Guide for U.S. Citizens Who Want to Bring Their Spouses to America: Eligibility, Timeline, Application Process, and More

While spousal visas are a common way for couples to achieve permanent residence in the United States, there’s a lesser-known option: the K-3 visa. This visa grants temporary legal status to the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen while they wait for their green card.

K-3 visas are uncommon, but understanding them can empower you to make informed decisions about your immigration journey as a couple. This guide discusses the K3 visa, explaining its purpose, eligibility requirements, application process, timeline, and more.

First, you should know that K-3 visas are rarely issued due to faster alternatives. 

Our guide will help you determine if a K-3 visa is a viable option for your situation. Even if it’s not the right fit, understanding the K3 will give you a well-rounded perspective on the U.S. spouse visa pathway.

So let’s get started!

What is a K3 Visa, and How Does It Fit into the Category of Immigrant Visas for U.S. Citizens' Spouses or Fiancé(e)s?

U.S. citizens have a few options to help their foreign-born spouses live in the United States permanently with them. The most common path is the immigrant visa for a spouse (IR1/CR1). However, there’s a lesser-known option: the K-3 visa

Immigrant visas, like the IR1/CR1, allow your spouse to immigrate and eventually obtain a Green Card. The process typically involves filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with USCIS, followed by an immigrant visa application with the NVC and a U.S. consulate interview.

On the other hand, the K-3 visa falls under the category of nonimmigrant visas for spouses of U.S. citizens. Unlike the IR1/CR1, it doesn’t directly lead to permanent residency. Instead, it offers temporary legal status for your spouse to enter and reside in the U.S. while you wait for the approval of their I-130 petition.

IMPORTANT! Compared to immigrant visas, K-3s are issued infrequently. Moreover, you can only apply for a K-3 visa if married in your spouse’s home country. And, the cherry on top, while already married, you’ll need to file both Form I-130 and Form I-129F, the Alien Fiancé(e) Petition, because the K-3 visa stems from the K-1 Fiancé(e) visa category.

So, where does the K3 fit in, and is it right for you and your spouse?

The K3 visa can be a bridge for couples who are already married, allowing your spouse to be in the U.S. while you wait for permanent residency approval. However, due to its limitations and infrequent issuance, it’s generally considered a less common option than the straightforward immigrant visa path.

You must understand that the K-3 visa application process can be lengthy, with approval times that rival the standard green card process for spouses. This means the K-3 visa might not significantly expedite your timeline for living together in the U.S. For this reason, many consider the K3 as an unnecessarily complicated process. On the other hand, as we will see in a few moments, the U.S. government can and will administratively close the K3 visa application process under certain circumstances.

K3 Visa Eligibility and General Requirements

The K-3 visa offers a temporary solution for some married couples where the U.S. citizen spouse has already filed a petition (Form I-130) for their foreign-born spouse, but it’s still pending with USCIS. Let’s see the specific requirements to determine if you qualify for a K-3 visa.

Who Can Apply for a K-3 Visa?

To be eligible for a K-3 visa, several criteria must be met by both the U.S. citizen spouse and the foreign spouse applying for the visa:

Foreign Spouse (K-3 Applicant) Requirements

  • You must be legally married to a U.S. citizen outside the United States. Spouses of U.S. Green Card holders are not eligible.
  • You must currently reside in a country other than the United States.
  • You must be the beneficiary of a Form I-130 that the U.S. citizen has already filed with USCIS, and the I-130 petition must still be pending with USCIS and not yet approved.
  • You seek entry into the United States specifically to await the decision on the pending I-130 petition.

U.S. Citizen Spouse (Sponsor) Requirements

  • You must have filed an I-130 with USCIS on behalf of your foreign spouse, and it must still be pending.
  • You must demonstrate sufficient financial ability to support your foreign spouse. This typically involves meeting the income requirements set by the Federal Poverty Guidelines (at least 100% of the poverty line) or having a joint sponsor to submit an “affidavit of support.”

K-4 Visa Eligibility for the K3 Applicant's Dependent Children

In some cases, dependent children may also be eligible to accompany the foreign spouse on a K-4 visa. Here’s what you need to know about the K-4 visa eligibility requirements for children:

  • The child must be under 21 years old at the time of application.
  • The child cannot be married.
  • The child must be the biological or adopted child of the foreign spouse applying for the K-3 visa.

IMPORTANT! Not all children of the foreign spouse are automatically eligible for a K-4 visa. Only unmarried children under 21 considered dependents of the K-3 applicant qualify.

The K-3 Visa Application Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

The K-3 visa application process can seem complex compared to the more common immigrant visa path. Let’s see the K3 steps involved, along with explanations:

Step 1: Petition for Your Spouse (Form I-130)

This is the first and most crucial step. You, a U.S. citizen, must file Form I-130 with USCIS. This form establishes your relationship with your foreign-born spouse and your intent to sponsor them for a green card. USCIS will send you an I-797 Notice of Action, acknowledging the receipt of your petition.

Step 2: Petitioning for Your Spouse as a Fiancé(e) (Form I-129F)

This might seem counterintuitive as you’re already married. However, the K-3 visa stems from the K-1 Fiancé(e) visa category. You must file Form I-129F: Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) with USCIS. The good news is that there’s no filing fee for K-3 visa purposes when you submit the I-129F, so at least you’re budget-wise.

IMPORTANT! You can file Form I-129F concurrently with Form I-130 or even after it. If you file I-129F later, include a copy of Form I-797 to show USCIS they received your I-130 petition.

IMPORTANT! Children under 21 and unmarried who are your spouse’s biological or adopted children can be included on your Form I-129F for a K-4 visa to accompany them to the U.S. while waiting for the green card petition. However, a separate Form I-130 is necessary for each child before they can apply for permanent residency.

USCIS Processing Considerations Regarding Your Petitions

The ideal outcome for you and your foreign spouse is for USCIS to approve your Form I-130 before or at the same time as Form I-129F, which happens in most cases. This bypasses the K-3 visa stage altogether. Your spouse’s approved I-130 is forwarded to the Department of State, where they can directly apply for an immigrant visa (IR1/CR1) for permanent residency.

If USCIS approves Form I-129F before Form I-130, the K-3 visa becomes possible. Your spouse’s petition would then be sent to the Department of State for further processing.

Step 3. Applying for the K-3 Visa (Foreign Spouse)

As we’ve discussed, the processing order of your petitions (Forms I-130 and I-129F) can determine whether you’ll ultimately need a K-3 visa. Here is what you need to know:

Scenario 1: Form I-129F Approved First

If your Form I-129F was approved before Form I-130, your spouse must submit a nonimmigrant visa application with the Department of State for the K-3 visa. While an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) isn’t required, evidence demonstrating your spouse won’t become a public charge while in the U.S. is necessary.

Scenario 2: Both Petitions Approved (No K-3 Needed)

Once both petitions are approved by USCIS and forwarded to the NVC, or if USCIS approves Form I-130 before Form I-129F, the K-3 visa option becomes unavailable (the K3 process is administratively closed). The NVC will then guide you and your spouse through the immigrant visa (IR1/CR1) application process.

Step 4. Visa Interview and Processing (Foreign Spouse)

In the immigrant visa scenario, if your spouse’s case bypasses the K-3 stage due to earlier I-130 approval, the interview and processing will occur at the U.S. embassy or consulate relevant to your spouse’s nationality.

In the K3 scenario, if your spouse’s situation requires a K-3 visa, they will receive instructions for a medical examination and a visa interview at the U.S. embassy in the country where you were married.

K-3 Visa Required Documents for the Consular Interview

Suppose your situation requires a K-3 visa because your fiancé(e) petition (Form I-129F) was approved before your spouse sponsorship petition (Form I-130). In that case, your spouse must attend a visa interview in the country where you were married. As with any visa, the visa applicant must gather the necessary documents. Remember that all documents in languages other than the language of the interview location will need to be translated by a certified translator.

K3 Visa Required Documents Explanation Notes
Electronic application collecting biographical and background information.
It must be completed online. Once completed, your spouse must print the confirmation page for the interview.
Valid passport
Must be valid for travel to the United States and at least six months beyond the intended stay (exceptions may apply).
Birth certificate
Marriage certificate (proving their marriage to you)
Divorce or death certificates (for former marriages, if applicable)
Police certificates (from all countries where your spouse lived for 6+ months since age 16, including the current one)
Required for spouse and accompanying children aged 16 or older.
Medical examination
Completed by a U.S. embassy-authorized panel physician.
Instructions and a list of authorized physicians are provided by the embassy/consulate.
Evidence of financial support
It may involve your spouse's own resources or proof of your ability to support them (Form I-134 may be requested).
2 passport-sized photographs
Must meet required specifications
Evidence of relationship
Wedding photos, communication records, or other documentation demonstrating a genuine marriage.
Visa application fees
Payment required

IMPORTANT! A completed medical examination from an authorized panel physician is mandatory. While vaccinations are not required for the K-3 visa, getting them during the medical exam is recommended as they will be necessary when your spouse adjusts their status to permanent residency.

Step 5: The Foreign Spouse Applies for a Green Card After Getting the K-3 (Form I-485)

While the K-3 visa allows your spouse to enter the United States and wait for their green card application (Form I-130) to be processed, the goal is permanent residency. As a K-3 visa holder, their eligibility for a green card is solely based on their marriage to you, the U.S. citizen spouse who petitioned for their K-3 visa status.  

A crucial requirement for K-3 and K-4 visa holders to be eligible for a green card is an approved Form I-130. The good news is that your spouse can apply for the green card at any time, even while their I-130 petition is still pending with USCIS. The official form for this application is I-485. 

USCIS’s decision on Form I-485 will determine the validity and conditions of your spouse’s Green Card. Here are two possibilities you need to be aware of:

Married for at Least 2 Years at Approval

If at the time USCIS approves your Form I-485, you’ve been married to your foreign spouse for at least two years, they will receive a green card valid for ten years. The document grants them permanent residency without any further conditions.

Married for Less Than 2 Years at Approval

If, however, USCIS approves Form I-485 and you’ve been married to your alien spouse for less than two years, they and any accompanying K-4 children will be categorized as conditional permanent residents. This means the Green Cards issued to them and their children will only be valid for two years.

If your spouse falls under the category of conditional permanent resident due to being married for less than two years when their green card was approved, there’s an additional step to take. To remove the conditions on their residence and obtain a ten-year Green Card, they (and their children), along with you, the U.S. citizen spouse, must file Form I-751, Conditions of Residence Removal Petition. This form must be submitted within the 90-day days before your spouse’s conditional green card expires.

How Much Does the K3 Visa Cost?

Suppose you’re exploring the K-3 visa option as a way for your spouse to enter the U.S. while you wait for your I-130 petition to be processed. In that case, understanding the associated K-3 visa fees is crucial for budgeting purposes.

  • Form I-130 filing fee: You, the U.S. citizen spouse, pay this fee when petitioning for your foreign-born spouse’s permanent residency. The paper filing fee for I-130 is $675, while the online submission of the form is $625.
  • Form I-129F filing fee: $0 costs. This no-cost principle applies only when you file the petition for your spouse as a fiancé(e), even though it ultimately supports the K-3 visa application. 
  • Form DS-160 filing fee: For your K3 spouse, this form costs $265.
  • Medical examination fee: The cost for the mandatory medical examination and maybe vaccinations will vary depending on the authorized panel physician you choose. You could safely budget about $300 for this stage of the K3 application process.
  • Biometric services fee: This fee covers the collection of fingerprints and photographs during the K3 application process. The exact amount may vary, but most U.S. embassies and consulates in foreign countries request a $85 biometrics fee.

While not included in the government filing fees (U.S. and abroad), working with an immigration lawyer or a firm specialized in immigration services can be a wise investment. Their expertise can help you manage the process better, saving you time and money in the long run. You can expect a $500 service fee for a K3 visa beneficiary, but you must shop around for the best law firms and immigration service providers.

The K3 Visa Processing Time and Timeline

One of the main limitations of the K-3 visa is its lengthy processing timeline. On average, K-3 visa processing takes about 19-20 months, which is roughly equivalent to the processing time for the usual green card application. This redundancy in K3 visa processing times is a significant concern for many couples.

Due to this overlap, many find the K-3 visa to be an unnecessary step. Instead of waiting for a separate K-3 visa and a green card, couples can potentially expedite the process by focusing solely on the application via Form I-130.

Furthermore, the K-3 visa adds to the overall cost of obtaining permanent residency. Considering the lengthy processing time and the additional expense, the K-3 visa might not be the most practical option for all couples.

K-3 Visas Length of Stay and Extensions

Understanding how long you can stay in the U.S. with a K-3 and the options for extending your stay is crucial.

Initial Period of Admission for K3 Visa Beneficiaries

If the K-3 visa application is approved, Homeland Security will grant your spouse admission to the U.S. for two years. This means they can legally remain in the country for two years from the entry date. For K-4 visa holders (unmarried children under 21 of a U.S. citizen or K-3 visa holder), the initial admission period is also two years.

IMPORTANT! If a K-4 child’s 21st birthday falls before the two-year mark, their authorized stay will expire the day before their birthday. Their K-4 visa remains valid until the earlier of these two dates: two years from entry or their 21st birthday.

Changing to Another Visa Status

While your spouse holds a K-3 visa, they are generally not allowed to apply and change their status to another nonimmigrant visa category within the U.S. This means they cannot switch to a different type of visa, like a tourist visa or a work visa.

Extending Your K3 Spouse's Stay (Form I-539)

Fortunately, extending your spouse’s stay beyond the initial two-year period is possible if they meet specific criteria. To apply for an extension, your spouse must file Form I-539 with USCIS within 120 days before their authorized stay expires

To be eligible for an extension of the K-3 or K-4 visa, your spouse (or children) must demonstrate one of the following:

  • Pending petitions or applications: They can show that Form I-130 or Form I-485 applications are still pending with USCIS.
  • Justification for delaying green card application: If USCIS has already approved the I-130 petition, but your spouse hasn’t filed Form I-485 yet, they must provide a valid reason for the delay. USCIS will evaluate their explanation to determine if it justifies an extension of their K-3 visa status.

IMPORTANT! K-4 visa holders (children of a K-3 visa holder) must submit their application for an extension of stay together with their parent’s K-3 visa extension application. USCIS will process both applications simultaneously.

If USCIS approves your spouse’s extension request, they will grant them an additional two-year stay. The extension process can be repeated if they meet the eligibility criteria.

K3 Visa Beneficiaries' Right to Work and Travel in the United States

The good news for K-3 visa holders is that they are automatically authorized to work in the United States simply under their visa status. This means they don’t need a separate work visa to be employed legally.

However, while they have automatic work authorization, getting an official document as proof can be helpful for potential employers. To obtain this document, they must file Form I-765, Employment Authorization Application, with USCIS at any point after they’ve been admitted to the U.S. This form provides tangible evidence of their legal work permission.

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