K1 Fiancé Visas vs. Marriage Green Cards (Spouse Visas) - What are the differences?

November 19, 2020
K1 Fiancé Visas vs. Marriage Green Cards (Spouse Visas) - What are the differences?

Summary

U.S. Citizens who would like to marry their foreign fiance have two options to bring their partner to the United States: a Marriage Green Card (Spouse Visa) through Consular Processing or a K-1 Fiance Visa. U.S. Green Card holders may not apply for a K-1 Visa. The main differences between a K-1 Fiance Visa and a Marriage Green Card are their timing, location, and cost. 


The K-1 visa is often the quicker option for international couples. It takes 9-15 months and costs $800 to get a  K-1 Fiance visa. With this visa, the couple can begin life in the U.S. immediately after their wedding. They will still have to apply for a Marriage Green Card for the foreign spouse to stay in the U.S. The process of adjusting status from a K-1 Fiance Visa to a Marriage Green Card takes 4-6 months and costs $1225.


Consular Marriage Green Cards (Spouse Visas) are issued after the couple is married outside of the U.S. The consular Marriage Green Card application process takes 11-32 months and costs $1,210. The foreign spouse cannot move to the U.S. until the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) approves their Green Card application.


Choosing between a K-1 Fiance Visa and a Spouse Visa can be tricky, but this article is here to help! When you’re ready to apply, we can help you prepare the necessary paperwork for either visa. Click the green button above to get started, and read on to learn more. 


This article is not legal advice. We do not intend for it to replace the expertise of an immigration attorney. Its goal is to help you learn more about the differences between K1 Fiance Visas and Marriage Green Cards.


Overview

What are the differences between a K-1 Fiance Visa and Marriage Green Card?

Eligibility differences

Before deciding whether to apply for a K-1 Fiance Visa or a Marriage Green Card as the fiance of a U.S. Citizen or Green Card holder, it is important that you first determine if you are eligible for these statuses. You can compare the eligibility requirements for a K-1 Fiance Visa and Marriage Green Card in the table below:

To apply for the K-1 Fiance Visa, you must: To apply for a Marriage Green Card, you must:
Be engaged to a U.S. citizen whose income is at least 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. If not, you must submit an additional Form I-864 or Form I-864A with your application. You may not apply for a K-1 Fiance Visa as the fiance of a U.S. Green Card holder. Be married to a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident (Green Card holder) whose income is at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. If not, you must submit an additional Form I-864 or Form I-864A with your application.
Intend to be married within 90 days of your arrival in the U.S. You will need to provide evidence of this intent - for example, vendor receipts that show concrete wedding plans in the U.S. Provide a valid marriage certificate to prove your legal marriage to a U.S. citizen. A valid marriage certificate must list names of both spouses, date of marriage and place of marriage.
Be able to prove that your relationship with your U.S. citizen fiance is legitimate. Evidence can include photos of you together, correspondence like email and text messages between you and your fiance, etc. Same-sex couples are eligible for the K-1 Fiance Visa. Prove that your marriage is legitimate. Evidence can include wedding photos, joint bank account statements, joint lease(s), etc. Same-sex marriages are eligble for this visa category.
Must not be married to anyone else. If you were married before, you’ll need to prove that any previous marriages you or your fiance were in have been terminated legally by death, divorce or annulment. Must not be married to anyone else. If you were previously married, you will need to prove that any previous marriages for both spouses have been terminated legally by death, divorce or annulment.
Have met your fiance at least once in the past 2 years. If you can prove that this isn’t possible for religious or financial reasons, you may be able to waive this requirement.

Still not sure if you are eligible? We can help with our free eligibility screener. When you are ready to apply, we can also help you prepare your application for free. Click the button below to get started.


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Process and timeline differences

The end goal of a K-1 Fiance Visa and a Consular Marriage Green Card (Spouse Visa) are the same - get a Green Card for your spouse so that they can live and work in the U.S. The application process is slightly different for each of these immigration benefits, though. 


The K-1 Fiance Visa application process has three phases.  Phase I and Phase II contain the steps to get the foreign spouse into the U.S. and take 12-15 months to complete. Phase 3 is the process of applying for a Green Card for the foreign spouse following the couple’s marriage and takes 4-6 months to complete.


The Consular Marriage Green Card application process has two phases that take anywhere from 11-32 months to complete. The foreign fiance cannot move to the U.S. until after both phases are completed.

Here are the processes and timelines to get a Marriage Green Card through the K-1 Fiance Visa and Consular application processes:

K-1 Fiance Visa Process and Timeline

Time to Green Card: 16 to 21 months

Phase I - Petition for your foreign spouse (6-9 months)


  1. U.S. Citizen fiance files Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiance Visa
  2. U.S. citizen fiance submits completed I-129F and filing fee to USCIS.
  3. USCIS approves Form I-129F and forwards the approved application to the National Visa Center (NVC) at the U.S. State Department.
  4. NVC assigns a case number to the application and forwards it to a U.S. consulate or embassy closest to where the foreign fiance lives.


Phase II - Apply for the K-1 Visa (3-6 months)


  1. Foreign fiance submits a K-1 Fiance Visa application package. This includes Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, filing fees, and the required supporting documents
  2. Foreign fiance schedules and attends a visa interview at their nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
  3. If the case is approved, the foreign spouse receives a visa stamp in their passport.
  4. Foreign fiance enters the U.S. within 60 days of receiving the visa stamp.


Phase III - Get married and apply for a Marriage Green Card (4-6 months)


  1. The couple marries within 90 days of foreign fiance’s arrival in the U.S.
  2. The couple begins the Green Card application process by sending a Form I-485, Adjustment of Status packet to USCIS. This packet includes Form I-485, filing and biometric fees, and required supporting forms and documents.
  3. Foreign fiance must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization if they would like to work while waiting for their Green Card.
  4. Foreign fiance must file for Advance Parole (travel permit) if they would like to travel outside of the U.S. while waiting for their Green Card. To file for Advance Parole, the foreign fiance must complete and submit Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.


Marriage Green Card Consular Process and Timeline

Time to Green Card: 11 to 32 months

Phase I - Petition for your foreign spouse (6-15 months)


  1. The couple gets married outside the U.S.
  2. The couple determines that the foreign spouse is eligible for Green Card.
  3. U.S. citizen spouse or Green Card holder files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative for the foreign spouse
  4. U.S. citizen spouse or Green Card holder submits completed Form I-130, filing fees, and the required supporting documents to USCIS.
  5. USCIS approves Form I-130 and forwards the approved petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) at the U.S. State Department.
  6. NVC assigns a case number to the application and forwards it to a U.S. consulate or embassy closest to where the foreign fiance lives.


Phase II - Apply for a Marriage Green Card (4-17 months)


  1. Foreign spouse submits a Green Card application package. This includes Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application, filing fees, and the required supporting forms and documents.
  2. The embassy or consulate schedules the foreign spouse for an in-person Green Card interview.
  3. Foreign spouse attends their Green Card interview.
  4. If the case is approved, the foreign spouse receives a visa stamp in their passport.
  5. Foreign spouse pays the $200 immigrant fee after they have picked up their passport with the visa stamp and before departing for the U.S.
  6. The foreign spouse becomes a U.S. Permanent Resident once they arrive in the U.S.
  7. USCIS mails a physical Green Card to the  foreign spouse about 2 to 3 weeks later.


Check out our step by step guide on applying for the K-1 Fiance Visa and our step by step guide on applying for the Marriage Green Card to learn about the process and timelines for both applications.


If you would like free help with your K-1 or Marriage Green Card process, ImmigrationHelp.org can assist. Click the button below to get started with our simple web application.

What if the government denies my K1 Fiance Visa or Marriage Green Card Application?

If the U.S. government denies your K-1 Fiance Visa or Marriage Green Card application, you may be able to appeal their decision. It is a good idea for you to work with an experienced immigration lawyer if you choose to file an appeal. You can find free or low-priced legal help at USA.gov.


ImmigrationHelp.org can help you put your application together correctly the first time so that you don’t have to appeal a denial decision. If you're interested, click the button below to begin our free process.

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Cost differences

The cost of applying for a K-1 Fiance Visa and the cost of applying for a Consular Marriage Green Card are different. There are various application filing fees involved in both application processes, and these fees change from time to time. In fact, they are scheduled to increase soon. You can find the most recent USCIS filing fees on the USCIS’s website, and the most recent visa filing fees on the State Department’s website. 

As of November 2020, it costs $800 to get a K-1 Fiance Visa and an additional $1,225 to apply for a Marriage Green Card once you enter the U.S. By comparison, it costs a total of $1,210 to get a Marriage Green Card through consular processing. These fees come from a few different parts of the application processes:

K-1 Fiance Visa Costs Marriage Green Card Costs
Form I-129F filing fee: $535 Form I-130 Filing Fee: $535
NVC Visa Fee: $265 Financial Support Form Fee: $120
Form I-485 filing fee: $1,140 NVC Processing Fee: $335
Biometrics fee: $85 USCIS Immigrant Fee: $220
Total cost: $2,025 Total cost: $1,210


To learn more about the K-1 Fiance Visa application process, you can check out the comprehensive K-1 Fiance Visa filing guide on our website. You can also read more about how to apply for a marriage-based Green Card on our website.


ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare K-1 Fiance Visa and Marriage Green Card applications for free. Click the button below to get started.


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Work authorization differences

According to U.S. immigration and labor laws, you cannot work in the U.S. without an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The process of getting that work authorization is different for a spouse on a K-1 Fiance Visa than for one who chooses the Marriage Green Card route.

Working with a K-1 Fiance Visa

You cannot work in the U.S on your K-1 Fiance Visa unless you apply for and receive work authorization after you enter the U.S. You can apply for work authorization by filing a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS and paying the $410 filing fee. USCIS will generally process this work permit application within 2-3 months. Processing times vary depending on USCIS service center backlogs. 


No matter how long it takes USCIS to process your application for work authorization, your work permit will expire at the same time as your K-1 status - 90 days after you enter the U.S. Because of processing backlogs the short-term work permit may arrive towards the end of the 90-day validity period and thus not be very useful. If you really need it, though, the option is available.


You can apply for a longer-term work permit for free by submitting Form I-765 along with Form I-485 when you apply for your Marriage Green Card after your wedding. As with the K-1 work permit, it usually takes USCIS 2-3 month to grant your Marriage Green Card work permit. Unlike the K-1 work permit, the Marriage Green CArd work permit is good for however long it takes USCIS to make a decision on your Marriage Green Card application. Once your receive your Marriage Green Card, you will no longer need your work permit. Your Marriage Green Card authorizes you to work!

Working with a Marriage Green Card

Most people can’t enter the U.S. until they receive their green card, so working in the U.S. while they wait for the card isn’t an issue. If you have another status that allows you to live in the US while you wait, you still won’t be able to work until you receive your Marriage Green Card unless that other status allows you to work (like an H1-B Visa, for example). Once you have your Marriage Green Card, you won’t need a work permit - your green card is all that you need to work legally in the U.S.!


If you would like to learn more about the Marriage Green Card application process, check out the step-by-step filing guide on our website. We have also published a step-by-step guide for the K-1 Fiance Visa application process


If you are interested in learning how to apply for a work permit, for either status, check out our detailed guide to work authorization.


Whether you decide to apply for a K-1 or a Marriage Green Card work permit, we can help you apply for free. Click the button below to get started.

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How to choose a Marriage Green Card vs. a Fiance Visa

The choice between a K-1 Fiance Visa and a Marriage visa will ultimately depend on what your goals are as a couple. Where do you want to get married - in the U.S. or foreign spouse’s home country? Do you want to move to the U.S. before or after your wedding? What is your budget for this immigration process? How quickly do you want to move to the U.S.? Your answers to these questions will help determine which immigration makes the most sense for your needs. Here are a few scenarios where each application type may be a good idea.

When does a K-1 Fiance Visa make sense?

  • You want to be together with your partner in the U.S. as soon as possible. With this visa, the foreign fiance can usually be living in the U.S. within 9-10 months of applying.
  • You want to hold your wedding in the U.S.. The K-1 visa is designed to get foreign fiances to the U.S. so that the couple can get married. Your marriage is not possible or legally-recognized abroad. For example, you are a same-sex couple, and your partnership is not legal in the foreign fiance’s country.
  • You are more worried about speed than cost. The process of applyign for a K-1 fiance visa followed by a Marriage Green Card is roughly $800 more expensive than simply applying for a Marriage Green Card through consular processing. That extra cost usually allows the couple to be together in the U.S. 2-3 months sooner than a Marriage Green Card would allow.

When does a Marriage Green Card make sense?

  • You don’t mind waiting for 10-13 months for the foreign spouse to arrive in the U.S.
  • You want to hold your wedding outside of the U.S. and don’t mind waiting a while to enter the U.S. after you get married.
  • You want your foreign spouse to become a U.S. Permanent Resident before they arrive in the U.S.
  • You are more worried about cost than time. It usually takes two to three months longer to get the foreign fiance to the U.S. with a Marriage Green Card vs. a K-1 Visa, but it also costs $800 less to actually get the final Green Card.


Both a Marriage Green Card and K-1 Fiance Visa accomplish an important goal - they allow you and your spouse to live together as a married couple in the U.S. The application type that makes the most sense for you depends on your situation and priorities. You can learn more about the merits of the K-1 Fiance Visa and the merits of a Marriage Green Card on our website so that you can make an informed decision about which is right for you.


Once you choose the right visa for your needs, we can help you prepare and file your application for free with our simple web. Click the button below to begin.


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Conclusion

We hope that you found our guide to the differences between K-1 Fiance Visas and marriage-based Green Cards useful. If you have any questions about which of these visas would be most feasible for you, or if you want to share your experience, we'd love to hear from you. Drop a comment below, and we will reply ASAP!


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