The journey to becoming a permanent resident of the USA through a K1 visa, also known as a marriage visa, requires a lot of planning and patience. It took more than 11 months from our engagement (January 21st, 2018) to my wife successfully arriving in the USA (January 10th, 2019). I was, of course, her sponsor for the process. Our wedding was February 9th, 2019, and the period from that to citizenship would last at least three years. That’s four years with several rounds of processes, paperwork, and proofs.
First, the obligatory disclaimer: the following is not any kind of legal advice, just a record of our thoughts and experiences. Any part of this process could change at any time, so we recommend that you use other sources to verify what you need, especially USCIS and/or your own legal counsel.
The K1 visa is one of the visas with the most stringent requirements, and justifiably so. The person with the visa is potentially staying in the USA all their life. I do not mean that it is necessarily hard to get a K1 visa, but it IS a long process that requires you to cross your t’s, dot your i’s, have the best of intentions, and pay a significant chunk of money to Uncle Sam along the way. It helps if your significant other has no major marks against them (criminal record, previous marriages, inability to work, etc.), but failure to meet that does not make it impossible.
The initial application – January/February 2018
The night after I proposed to my wife (January 20th, 2018), we were beginning to search online for the USCIS forms we would need to complete. Someone applying for the K1 visa would need to start with form 129-F. As part of the form, you will be submitting a small book’s worth of additional info. Most of this is detailed in the form instructions, but a few things we added for additional proofs. Why? One important thing to remember: if USCIS comes back and requests more information, that’s just more time added onto the process. Not to mention the danger of being denied and wasting time/money. So it’s best to be thorough your first time around.
Our complete package included, in order (this is not necessarily exhaustive):
- A cover letter explaining our intent to apply for a K1 visa, and a list of the package contents
- The check the form requires ($535 – and that won’t even be the worst of it!)
- An OPTIONAL USCIS form, G-1145, that allows USCIS to send a text notification of the form receipt (which means you’ll be notified of acceptance earlier than when the mailed receipt comes your way)
- The form itself, form 129-F
- Evidence of US citizenship, which for me was in the form of my birth certificate
- Passport photos of the two of us, taken no more than 30 days prior to the submission of the form
- A signed letter of intent to marry from myself.
- A signed letter of intent to marry from my fiancée
- Statement of our relationship and in-person meetings. Doesn’t sound like much, but for us this step alone was 46 pages, including things like pictures from our trips together, a written history of our relationship, chat logs, and even my receipt for the engagement ring. The point here is to convince the case manager that the relationship is real.
All told, the packet with all the above was about 70-80 pages. Of course, during that time I had left my fiancée and traveled back to the US after my two-week trip to meet her. So I was in charge of printing and assembling, and she helped me fish for documents wherever she could. And we scanned and uploaded every part of this packet if we needed it again. In early February, after checking and double-checking the packet, we were able to send it off via USPS.
Originally we were going to target a September 2018 wedding. But after looking into the timeframe, we decided to try for early 2019 instead, depending on how things progressed. The unknown nature of the process meant that we had to turn down things that we otherwise would have. For example, we looked at an all-inclusive venue for the wedding that would have been really nice, but that required a large monetary commitment to a date that we didn’t know we could make, and reached the point of non-refundability several months in advance. We had to turn them down and go with venues/vendors that were more easily refundable because of the short window between the time that we knew my fiancée could come here and the time we needed to get married by.
Acknowledgement by USCIS – February 2018
If you submitted the form G-1145 along with your 129-F packet above (which you should, it’s free and only a couple form fields to fill out), you’ll get an electronic notice of receipt in advance of the paper one (I got the electronic notice later on in February). You’ll then get a mailed receipt maybe a week or two later. You’ll get the mailed notice regardless of if you opted in to the electronic notice or not. In either case, make sure to save that mailed notice. It is a form I-797C, known as Notice of Action (NOA), and it has a couple key pieces of info. First, there is the date of receipt. This will come into play should you have to submit a inquiry for a delayed case, as I will explain in the next section. You’ll also have your USCIS A (alien) number and a receipt number, both of which may be used in correspondence with USCIS should the need arise.
Waiting – February to September 2018
One of the hardest parts of this process is waiting for the time it takes. You can expect half a year or more to pass before you hear back again from USCIS. One site to be aware of during this time is the USCIS case processing times website. There, you’ll find estimated time ranges and the latest receipt date for a case inquiry. If your own receipt date listed on the NOA is earlier then that date, then your case is considered late and you are able to send an inquiry to USCIS in order to get them to check on your case.
But what happens if you miss something? If USCIS should find something to be lacking about your case, you will get a RFE, a Request For Evidence. You will then need to supply additional info through the mail. Given that the RFE will likely come near the end of your overall I 129-F wait, getting hit with an RFE will extend the overall processing time. Again, the key is to do everything right the first time! We were lucky in that we did not get any RFE throughout the process.
If everything IS in order and satisfactory to USCIS, you will eventually get notice of an approval – your second NOA, another I-797C – after several months of waiting. Again, you’ll want to keep this one just in case. Behind the scenes, your case will be transferred to the US embassy, and the beneficiary of the visa will now have some stuff to do on their end. We got an email notice saying our case was approved on September 11th, 2018.
K1 visa, step 2 – September/October 2018
After a couple weeks, the petitioner (me in this case) will be instructed to fill out an affidavit of support, I-864. This is a form where you prove that you can financially provide for the beneficiary, if need be. It has its own set of proofs needed, like signed statements for all the bank and investment accounts you wish to document. On the beneficiary’s side, my fiancée needed to schedule a medical exam to get any needed vaccinations and make sure she didn’t have any illnesses that would be a problem in the US. She also had to fill out a visa application form, DS-260, essentially a biographic information form. That can be done online.
There is also the visa interview, an in-person interview that she had to attend in Manila. She was asked about the relationship, basically to confirm that it existed and that the information in the 129-F packet from earlier (which the embassy interviewer had access to) wasn’t faked or anything like that. At the end of the interview she got a verbal yes or no from the interviewer. This happened in September 2018. She got a yes, of course, and after that, her passport was mailed to her in one to two weeks complete with a brand new K1 visa! The visa allowed her to enter the US at any time for the next six months. After entry, it allowed her to stay for three months with the expectation she would get married during that time.
And finally, while this isn’t part of the USCIS process, to satisfy a requirement of the Philippines government, my fiancée had to take a 3-4 hour seminar given by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO). It covers what life is like in the US (on a very high level, of course) and the resources available to Filipinos abroad.
Welcome to the US! – January 2019
Early January 2019, I was able to greet my fiancée in the early morning as she flew into the US. After almost four years, we had finally closed the distance! As a reminder, once the beneficiary arrives in the US, you have three months to get married or things could get… illegal.
Marriage! – February 2019
On February 9th, 2019 (pretty much exactly a month after entering the US), the two of us got married. Afterwards, we got our marriage license filed with the government.
Adjustment of Status – February 2019
Welcome to paperwork purgatory, part 2! And this one hurts a little more because it’s just after marriage – this is one of the reasons we delayed our honeymoon a few weeks. But at least we were together at this point!
Since the K1 visa only lasts for three months for the purpose of marrying, the beneficiary now has to apply for an adjustment of status. This will convert them from being here on a K1 visa, to having their own green card that allows them to stay in the US, with conditions (one of which being a limit on out-of-country travel), for two whole years. The application and all supporting proofs should be submitted before the K1 visa time runs out, so really you want to have maybe a month of leeway AFTER the wedding to do this. We had two months of time left in the K1 after the wedding, but managed to send everything off in a week and a half max.
The key form this time is I-485. You’ll find a fair amount of overlap between this and I-129F, but this time the beneficiary is the main person filling out the form, not their petitioner. Somewhat embarassingly, I cannot track down our complete package or anything in it for this submission. Given our propensity to backup everything, it probably still exists somewhere, but for now I have to fall back on the official checklists and my memory for required info. As with before, a cover letter led off our package. We needed another set of passport photos (two for the beneficiary), copies of important documents such as the applicant’s passport and birth certificate, proof that they originally entered the country legally (a copy of the K1 visa in our case), the acknowledgement receipt from the K1 package, our marriage certificate, an I-864 package (the same type of package as before, except with an updated form and a newly obtained set of proofs! I started to know my banker by name at this point.), the beneficiary’s vaccination record (which my wife obtained back in the Philippines when she got the required vaccines).
Oh, and over $1,200. But if the both of you have come this far, it’s probably not going to deter you!
When all that is assembled, you’re once again looking at a significant stack of paper. Once we mailed it off, we were free to enjoy our honeymoon!
Waiting, Part 2 – February 2019
Unfortunately, my wife wasn’t allowed to leave the country (as would be the case for anyone else with a K1 visa, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to come back into the country again) so we stayed inside the U.S. for our honeymoon. Since my wife hadn’t ever been to the U.S. before coming for marriage a month ago, there was indeed a few places she wanted to see – we went to the Grand Canyon (truly majestic, words cannot do it justice), Las Vegas (we’re not the gambling/nightclub types, but it was good for a few days), San Francisco, and a short stay in Ohio’s Amish country. All together, it lasted for two weeks and we had a blast.
The Interview – April to July 2019
Once USCIS has had a chance to go over our I-485 package, they had my wife appear for biometrics in April. Later, they made us schedule an appointment at the local USCIS office for a quick interview in early July. I don’t think it was any longer than 15 minutes or so – as I remember, the lady giving the interview just asked the two of us questions from the package, mainly so they knew we weren’t making it up. The interview was recorded. But at the end, we were told she would recommend us for a resident visa!
The Green Card – July 2019 to present day
We got my wife’s green card in the mail pretty promptly. For most people, that would be the end of the story until the 2 year conditional residency neared its end and it came time to file to get the conditions lifted. That would be nice, huh?
Unfortunately, the green card we received was incorrectly classified. It had the wrong classification and said it was going to expire in ten years instead of the expected two. At first we thought we had just lucked out and bypassed the conditional residency stuff, but not wanting to risk deportation from negligence, we called USCIS to get a clarification.
It was in fact an error, and this necessitated us sending in the green card for correction. So, of course, a form was involved! No money, though, since it was the fault of USCIS. We filled out the form, sent in the green card, and my wife went into the USCIS office again in August to receive a green card substitute – a stamp in her passport that would last for a year while the green card replacement was being processed. Sadly, it took the better part of that year for the corrected green card, enough for us to get worried about if we’d need a second stamp for the next year. But come it did!
As you can imagine by this point, this is a long and potentially complicated process. While you can hire a lawyer to assist in preparing documents (there are some that specialize in immigration), you can also do it completely on your own, as we proved. Just be sure to save whatever you can (chat logs, receipts, pictures, etc.) from early in the relationship to eventually incorporate it into your application. It’s a long process, but how sweet it is when you will be together, married!
Of course, we’re not quite done yet. Now we’re living life, waiting for the two-year mark that will allow my wife to apply for the removal of her permanent resident conditions. A year after that, she’ll be able to apply for citizenship. I hope to continue writing about the process here as it happens.