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Introduction

If you want to marry a U.S. citizen, you may consider applying for either a fiancé(e) (K-1) visa or a marriage-based CR-1 visa. These visas may seem similar but have very different requirements. Moreover, those will allow you to do different things on differing timelines.

Intending to apply for one of those two visas, you will probably come across plenty of information that will make you even more confused on which one to choose to be in the United States with your beloved one as soon as possible.

Whether you apply for a fiancé(e) visa (K-1) or a marriage-based visa will depend on a set of circumstances related to you and your future spouse. What is useful to consider when choosing which option suits you better is how much it will cost to get this type of visa, how long you will have to wait, whether you have any children and many other circumstances that you will take into account before making a decision and start the process.

Follow this article to learn everything about opportunities that a fiancé(e) (K-1) visa and a marriage-based visa offer.

preparing requirements for K1 visa

What is a K-1 Visa?

The fiancé(e) (K-1) visa is a type of fiances visas and temporary nonimmigrant visa, which will allow you to come to the United States for only a limited time. If you wish to permanently stay in the United States, you’ll have to get married and submit more applications to adjust your status to an immigrant. To be eligible to apply for this type of fiance visa, you will need to meet certain requirements: to be a U.S. citizen, legally eligible to marry, have physically met with your fiancé(e) within two years, and meet some income requirement that we will mention later in the text.

Follow this step-by-step guide to learn how to apply for a K-1 visa.

Department of State building

What is a Marriage-Based CR-1 Visa?

A CR-1 visa is an immigrant visa that aliens married to U.S. citizens or permanent residents obtain because they want to live in the United States along with their spouses. The “CR” stands for “conditional resident” because this visa is only provided to couples who are married for less than two years. If spouses have been married for longer than two years, the Department of State will issue the IR-1 visa. Learn how to apply for a CR-1 visa.

Now let’s make an overview and compare K-1 and CR-1 visas.

Group Of Young People Standing At The Entrance Of US Embassy

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for a fiancé(e) K-1 visa, you must intend to marry a particular U.S. citizen. Whatsmore, you have to do it within 90 days of your arrival in the United States, and this date is not extendable. Of course, it implies that you must be legally eligible to marry and have an intention to establish a bona fide marriage. Also, this visa requires that intended spouses have met each other within the past two years. What is important to note, a K-1 visa is available only if your spouse is already a U.S. citizen because a lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) or green card holder cannot file for this type of visa. Learn are legal requirements for a K-1 visa.

So, in a comparison of K-1 and CR-1, you and your spouse need to prove a bona fide relationship at USCIS and Embassy for both of them. However, if the Embassy does not believe it is a real relationship, they can either ask for more information or, more likely, send the case back to the USCIS. This will effectively terminate the K-1 case because the I-129F approval duration is only four months from the original USCIS approval date. In contrast, if the I-130 is denied and sent back to the USCIS, there is no termination date on it, and the petitioner will have an opportunity to respond to the embassy’s concerns.

What can be overwhelming is that it can pass a lot of time until you get the letter from USCIS. In some cases, it will likely take about one year for the notice of intent to be denied indicating that the embassy is not happy with the material you provided. Many people simply re-file the I-130 and include new evidence that is likely to counter the embassy objections.

So, to sum up: to qualify for a marriage-based visa, you must demonstrate that your marriage with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is legal, legitimate, and not established to receive an immigration benefit, as well as that both of you don’t have other marriage, but are married only to each other.

Compared to a fiancé(e) visa, a marriage visa is available to spouses of both U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, but with different processing times. Processing time for K-1 was between three and 22 months in mid-2020 while the processing time for CR-1 was at least 12 months and could be up to 18 months.

Certain criminal convictions or other factors can make you inadmissible and prevent you from entering the United States on either visa. These reasons can be membership in a terrorist organization or even certain diseases. Also, some people enter the United States on a tourist visa and then get married, although it is not recommended and can be justified only in specific cases.

There are two reasons why CR-1 takes longer than K-1. One reason is that there are two steps to undertake to get the K-1 (USCIS and Embassy), while there are three steps to the CR-1 (USCIS, National Visa Center, Embassy). The second reason is that the USCIS step can be significantly longer for the I-130 compared to the K-1. It depends on which USCIS service center adjudicates the I-130. They vary a lot.

But do not get frustrated by this information cause there are some tips that you can get from a legal immigration expert and quicken the CR-1 process. One strategy to quicken the CR-1 process is to pursue a K-3 visa. A K-3 visa is similar to a fiancé(e) visa for married couples — it requires the same form as the K-1: the I-129F. In this case, you can file a petition for a K-3 visa after the I-130 petition is filed, and USCIS issues a receipt. This visa has certain benefits (Link to Article 11) and is intended to help reunite the married couples if the I-130 takes too long to adjudicate stateside. It can take a long time for the I-130 stateside, depending on which USCIS service center handles the case. USCIS can route the I-130 to any of the service centers, and process times vary widely. Some of the service centers take about 5 to 7 months, and others may take 12 months. If the I-130 ends up at one of the slow service centers, we would highly recommend you to file a K-3 petition immediately.

The K-3 petition may take 5 to 7 months stateside. It is then routed to the Embassy for consular processing. However, if the I-130 is approved at any time before the K-3 visa interview at the embassy, the K-3 will not be issued, and the CR1 visa case will proceed as normal. If the spouse enters on the K-3, he can file for adjustment of status once in the United States.

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Costs

If costs are an essential consideration for you, you might find a marriage-based visa CR-1 more approachable than a fiancé(e) K-1 visa.

Filing fees for the fiancé(e) visa process in the late of 2020 were $535 for Form I-129F, filed with USCIS. When it comes to applying for the K visa, the fee is $265, which you have to pay to the consulate. Besides, you need to provide $1,225 for Form I-485 and adjust the status packet filed with USCIS and medical exam fees, about $100 up to $300. If you add to this biometrics fee price, the total cost you have to set aside is around $2,025.

USCIS intends to charge these fees, so make sure to check the exact amount the latest before you decide.

On the other side, for a marriage CR-1 visa, the total fees were $1,200 in 2020. This includes $535 for filing the Form I-130 with the USCIS, $325 to the U.S. State Department to apply, $120 for Form I-864 Affidavit of Support to the State Department, and, after your case is approved, a $220 fee to USCIS to receive the green card.

An overview of the fees: K-1 vs. CR-1

Fees for K-1:

  • USCIS -$535 for the Form I-129F
  • Embassy: About $600 (medical plus DS-160 fees)
  • $325 to the U.S. State Department
  • Once in the U.S. and married: $1,225 for I-485 Form
  • Typical Lawyer fees for K-1: $3,000
  • And for adjustment of status: $2500

Fees for CR-1:

  • USCIS: $535 for the Form I-130
  • NVC: $120 for Form I-864 Affidavit of Support to the State Department
  • Visa application fee: to Department of State (National Visa Center), about mid-way through process $325
  • Medical exams: immediately before consulate interview 350-400
  • Once in the U.S. and married: $1,225 for I-485 Form
  • Typical lawyer fees for CR1: $4000
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Demonstrating financials

The CR-1 requires an I-864 Affidavit of Support to meet 125% when the NVC is reviewing. Meanwhile, the K-1 visa requires 100% but preferred 125%. Here, we can see the benefit of the fiance K-1 visa because you get more flexibility with the percentage.

However, the most significant leverage the CR visa offers is to “combine income” with other household members. This means that if you have trouble meeting minimum income, it can comply with the spousal procedures and make it easier to meet the requirement.

I-130 applicants hand over the I-864 affidavit of Support to the NVC, while Fiance visa applicants submit the I-134 form at the visa interview. This means if you are going to submit the I-134, you will have more time to develop a potential solution.

Approval Statistics

What is Approval Statistics for K-1 and CR-1?

The spousal visa is considered more “secure” because it’s got higher approval rates. This relates to both the CR1 visa interview and the USCIS adjudication. According to the USCIS Reports, statistically, 90% of the I-130 petitions are approved, but this number includes more than just spouses. Or, as the same statistics show, about 75% of the I-129F are approved.

During the U.S. Embassy visa interview, the CR-1 also enjoys a higher approval rating but has in mind no published data to confirm these specific numbers. But considering the USDHS statistics table, experience, and other sources, the spouses’ approval rating goes as far as 99%.

On the other side, the K-1 visa statistics show a bit less of approval percentage: around 80% of applicants.

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What Options LGBT Couples Can Use?

LGBT couples can use both options, either the I-130 or I-129F. Still, there are two essential points to note, depending on whether the host country recognizes these type of marriages:

  • If the country they are coming from allows same-sex marriage, then for both fiances K-1 visa or the CR1 are viable.
  • If the host country doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, you may use only the fiance K-1 visa there discreetly or go to a different third country to get married and then apply for a marriage-based visa. In either case, you can use both visa options.

If you fear persecution in your country of origin, then some safety concerns may be necessary. With fiance visas, the process can be done without obstructions, so it is proper in these cases.

Nevertheless, you can still get married in a third country and, after that, apply for the CR1 alternative.

Follow the rules sign

Getting Married in the United States or Abroad

Sometimes your only choice is to use the fiance visa. In some countries, marriage to foreigners is similar to bending over backward. There can be several rules and regulations to follow, creating certain obstacles on your visa pathway.

That is why you should evaluate the required procedures for marriage in your partner’s country, what steps you need to take, whether there are any other formalities or a residency period, etc. This information will help you decide which K-1 or CR-1 visa you can choose.

Passport with flag at the back

Which Visa Requires More Documents to Prepare?

Both K-1 and CR-1 visas require the same amount of paperwork.

Still, the I-130 is slightly more burdensome because you can submit the Green Card application (I-485) along with the form. The NVC is also tasked with collecting and evaluating your paperwork.

On the other side, fiance visa petitioners only submit Permanent Residency paperwork after entering the United States and getting married but not with the I-129F. There will also be no dealing directly with the NVC.

However, the K-1 visa will get heavy on paperwork during the final stages. Before taking the interview in the Embassy, you will have to prepare a certain amount of documents.

Meaning, neither procedure is more or less complicated, and as we mentioned earlier, both K-1 and CR-1 visas require you to prove bona fide marriage, and we will tell you more about it in the next part of the article. So, it’s up to personal preferences that you will find more convenient in other stages of the process.

bona fides word highlighted on the white paper

Evidence of Bona Fide Relationship

As we already learned, both the I-130 and I-129F require front loading relationship evidence upfront. Now, you probably wonder what ways of proving that your relationship is established in good faith. When it comes to a spousal visa, it’s quite more comfortable to do this because the only evidence you truly need is a valid marriage certificate.

Meanwhile, in the fiance visa, providing evidence of a relationship can be a bit more complicated. Within the I-129F package, you should attach your photos from the holidays or any other occasions proving that you are a couple, letters you sent to each other showing you maintained the contact while we’re apart, and any other evidence you find firm enough to convince the USCIS officer that your relationship is bona fide. If you think you will not be able to provide satisfactory evidence because you don’t possess such photos, for example, then maybe this visa is not suitable for you.

But, can you really choose which one, K-1 fiance visa or CR-1 marriage-based visa, you will apply for? This is the threshold issue, particularly this year in the COVID-19 era, whether couples can choose between the K-1 and CR-1.

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Downsides

In the end, let’s look at some of the drawbacks that each of these visas has. If you are still uncertain on which pathway to take, you might want to consider the following notes.

If your fiance(e) obtains the K-1 visa, they will not have the work authorization or social security number. Moreover, they will lack permission to travel outside the United States for at least 90 to 120 days after the entry and files for the adjustment of status. For this reason, many couples have their I-485 adjustment application ready to go, even before the fiances arrive in the United States. This way, when they come to the United States, they can immediately get married and then file the I-485. I-485 will also include work authorization, advance parole, etc. In this case, the couple will then likely be interviewed for the green card. The interview can take place sometime within the next 6 to 12 months, depending on the local USCIS office processing time. Note that in some cities, it could be over 15 months. For some people, particularly those who do not have access to the United States to visit their loved ones, the K-1 usually provides a quicker time frame to reunite in the United States.

However, some people will endure a long separation and choose to apply for a CR-1 because they want to hit the ground running upon immigrating to the United States and be able to work immediately upon arrival. Also, some might want to be able to travel internationally right after entering the United States. This is especially important for those having elderly parents abroad that they want to visit anytime, or real estate in the other country. Usually, the reason people will choose a marriage-based CR-1 visa over K-1 is an extra year that you have to wait to get a green card if you take the fiance visa pathway.

It’s really about balance. Each couple and their needs are different. Your situation is unique, and you might find it hard to make a choice at the end of gathering all available information. An outstanding immigration lawyer can help you out with assessing circumstances and advise on what option fits you better so you can soon be together and start building your life in the United States. With over 25 years of experience in immigration matters and with a reliable team of immigration experts well versed in twelve languages, Herman Legal Group can be your first choice, and the rest is on us to provide you with exceptional legal aid and ensure you achieve your goals.

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