If you are a U.S. citizen engaged to a foreign national who currently lives abroad, this guide is for both of you. In what follows, we will discuss the process of getting a green card for the non-U.S. citizen fiancé(e), starting with a K-1 visa application and ending with a marriage-based green card.
There may be other routes — such as getting married abroad and applying for a green card through consular processing — but for the purposes of this guide, we will assume the engaged couple plans to get married in the United States.
If this guide doesn’t apply to your situation, you might want to check out our other Start-to-Finish guides. We’ve also put together an easy-to-understand primer on getting a marriage-based green card.
3-13 months (as of April 2022) for processing the initial petition, plus another month for the National Visa Center (NVC) to send the K-1 visa instructions, plus another 4 to 6 weeks before a decision is made.
Then, once in the United States, the couple has 90 days to get married. They can then submit a green card application, which can take 8-11 months to process. It might then take another 1-2 months for an interview to be scheduled.
About $1000 for the K-1 visa application (including the initial petition) and about $1,960 for the green card application ($1760 in government fees + $200 for medical examination).
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of obtaining a green card using the K-1 visa process:
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The U.S. citizen fiancé completing this form may be referred to as the “sponsor” or “petitioner,” while the non-U.S. citizen partner is called the “beneficiary.”
Before the foreign national fiancé can apply for a marriage-based green card, they must first obtain a K-1 visa to gain entry into the United States. To do that, the sponsor must first complete and file Form I-129F (officially called “Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)”) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). With this form, the engaged couple establishes the validity of their relationship.
Documents and Related Fees
The government filing fee for Form I-129F is $535. To successfully submit the petition, the sponsor must gather the necessary documents, including:
- Proof of sponsor’s citizenship, which might be a copy of their passport or a birth certificate
- Copy of the beneficiary’s passport
- Evidence showing the couple has a “bona fide” relationship
- Statement of intent to marry within 90 days of the beneficiary’s arrival in the United States
- One passport-style photo of the U.S. citizen fiancé and one passport-style photo of the beneficiary
For a more complete list of documents, read our overview of the K-1 fiancé visa. The sponsor should also be sure to read the instructions for filing I-129F. Once the petitioner has completed the form and gathered all the required documents, they can then send the packet to the appropriate facility.
If using the U.S. Postal Service, they can send to:
P.O. Box 660151
Dallas, TX 75266-0151
If using UPS, DHL, or FedEx, they can use the following address:
Attn: I-129F (Box 660151)
2501 South State Highway 121 Business
Lewisville, TX 75067-8003
Once the packet has been received, USCIS will review the documents. If they determine that further proof is required, they may send a Request for Evidence (RFE). If they believe the engaged couple is indeed in an authentic relationship, then they will approve the petition and send it to the NVC.
If, on the other hand, Form I-129F is denied, then they’ll send a notification in the mail containing the justification.
Not sure what costs to expect? Boundless’ USCIS fee calculator can help determine the exact government fees for your K-1 visa application. We also help you pay your costs in installments, so you can get started now and pay later. Create a free account to use our fee calculator and explore your payment options.
It can take 8-11 months for USCIS to process Form I-129F. But following approval, the petitioner should receive a notice within about a month. The notice should contain the data and location of the visa interview, in addition to the list of necessary documents.
Prior to attending the interview, the beneficiary should be sure to complete Form DS-160 (officially called the “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application”) and print the confirmation page once finished. The beneficiary will also need to attend a medical exam, which must be conducted by an approved physician.
In preparation for the interview, the non-U.S. citizen fiancé will need to collect all the required documents, including:
- Printed confirmation page for completed DS-160 forms
- Passport that will remain valid 6 months beyond the intended journey
- Birth certificate
- Police certificates from current country of residence and any country where the applicant lived for at least 6 months since the age of 16.
- Sealed medical examination
Once the beneficiary attends their interview — with the necessary paperwork — the consular officer will then make their decision, either on the same day or shortly thereafter. If they approve the application, they will give the non-U.S. citizen fiancé the K-1 visa inside their passport — together with a sealed envelope containing all the civil documents.
If the consular officer does not approve the application, they will return Form I-129F to USCIS. The engaged couple may, at this point, choose to file another petition and restart the process.
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Once received, the visa will remain valid for another 6 months. Within that time frame, the beneficiary will need to travel to the United States, making sure to bring with them the sealed envelope (which must remain sealed) and the passport containing the K-1 visa. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent will have the final say as to whether the beneficiary may be admitted into the United States.
Once the foreign national partner is in the United States, the engaged couple will need to get married within 90 days. Failing that, the beneficiary will need to leave the United States.
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Once married, the beneficiary is eligible to apply for a green card through the Adjustment of Status (AOS) process. Since they are now officially an “immediate relative” of a U.S. citizen, a green card will be immediately available.
To apply for lawful permanent residence (LPR), the beneficiary will need to file Form I-485 (officially called “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”) — together with all the required documents, including:
- Copy of the approval notice for Form I-129F
- Form I-864 (officially called “Affidavit of Support”)
- Copy of passport page with K-1 visa
- Copy of Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record)
- Copy of marriage certificate
- Copy of birth certificate
- Copy of government ID with photo
- Copy of passport page with stamp of admission
- Two 2×2 passport-style photos
- Form I-693 (officially called “Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record”)
- If the beneficiary has already been examined, they may not need this.
And potentially the following, if applicable:
- Form I-212 (officially called “Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal”)
- Police/court records
- Proof of current or previous J-1/J-2 nonimmigrant status, with evidence showing the beneficiary has complied with the “2-year foreign residence” criterion.
- Form I-601 (officially called “Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility”)
Once all the necessary forms have been submitted, USCIS will review the application. If they require further documentation, they may issue an RFE. The married couple will most likely need to attend an interview. If they approve the application, they will issue a green card.
If the couple has been married for less than 2 years, the beneficiary will receive a conditional green card, which will remain valid for 2 years. After this period of validity, the non-U.S. citizen partner will need to apply for Removal of Conditions in order to get a full 10-year green card. For more information, check out the Boundless guide on the Removal of Conditions process.
Boundless makes it easy to transition from K-1 to green card. We track your application progress from K-1 to green card and securely store your information and documents, so you can navigate each stage with confidence. Returning K-1 customers even get 12% off Boundless’ marriage green card service. Learn more about what we do to help.