Difference between K-1 (fiancé/e) visa and a marriage visa (CR-1 or IR-1)

A U.S. work permit, or Employment Authorization Document is valid for different periods of time, depending on the current legal status of the applicant.

In our last post, we talked extensively about the K-1 (fiancé/e) visa process. In this one, we will talk about the difference between that type of visa and a marriage visa (CR-1 or IR-1).

To begin with, let’s explain the fundamental differences between the two. The K-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa. It allows someone from another country who is engaged to an American citizen to come here, get married within a specified period, and adjust their status to obtain a Green Card. On the other hand a CR-1 or IR- visa is an immigrant visa. It allows someone from another country who has already married an American citizen or Green Card holder  in that country to come and live here permanently with their spouse.

Another basic difference between a  fiancé/e visa and a marriage visa is the amount of time each process takes. The entire K-1 visa process, from the initial application to issuance of a Green Card takes approximately five to 10 months. On the other hand, the entire CR-1 or IR-1 visa process from submission of the initial application to completion takes 10 to 16 months. Because these are just estimates, however, it is always best to verify United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processing times.

The third difference between these visas is cost. Generally speaking, it is cheaper to get an IR-1 or CR-1 visa. As of 2016, the filing fees associated with a marriage visa application alone totaled approximately $1,400. In comparison, the filing fees associated with getting a fiancé/e visa were more than $2,300. In addition to these filing fees, travel  and other miscellaneous expenses should be taken into account to determine the total costs in your case.

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With all of that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what you need to do in order to get a marriage visa.

The first step is for you, as the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, to ask the government to assign a visa number for your husband or wife. This is done by filing a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, which we have discussed in detail in past posts. 

The next step sounds simple, but it may actually be the hardest part of the whole process. You and your spouse must wait while the petition and supporting documents are reviewed. If the petition is okayed, it will be forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC) for additional evaluation. With the NVC’s approval, the application will be sent to the United States consular office in the country where your spouse lives. The NVC will also inform your spouse about which material to bring to their interview.

The third step is the actual interview.  At this stage, information in the application will be verified through extensive questioning and verification of certain documents, such as police records, passports, health documents and so forth.This part of the process is specifically designed to make sure that there is no reason why your spouse shouldn’t be allowed to come here to live with you. The questioning is also meant to ensure that your marriage is valid and that you did not get married in an effort to fool the U.S. government.

If the interview doesn’t yield any evidence of fraudulent intent or ineligibility, your husband or wife will receive his or her IR-1 or CR-1 visa. Once in the United States, he or she will be recognized as a lawful permanent resident straight away. It is important to note, however, that “CR” stands for conditional residency, and a visa will be issued with this status if you’ve been married for less than two years. It is also important to note that a visa issued with this status is valid for only two years.

In certain circumstances you can also apply for K-3 or spouse visa. This non-immigrant visa allows your spouse to come here while approval of Form I-130 is pending, and apply for a Green Card later on.

To get this type of visa, the application must be made in the country where you got married. You, as the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident must  file Form I-130 and Form I-129F for your husband or wife. What happens next depends on which form the NVC gets first. If it gets an approved Form I-130 while it is still processing the other form, it will simply close the case and have your spouse continue with the traditional CR-1/IR-1 visa process. If, on the other hand, the NVC completes its review of the K-3 visa application, it will be sent to the appropriate consulate, where your spouse will also be interviewed.

As a sponsor of someone seeking a K-3 visa, you must also provide specific documents including:

  • Completed and signed Form 1-130 – Petition for Alien Relative
  • Evidence of Your U.S. Citizenship
  • Biographical information
  • Proof of your valid marriage
  • Proof of dissolution of prior marriage (if applicable)
  • Colored Photographs – A passport-style color photo of yourself and a passport-style color photo of your husband or wife, taken within 30 days of the date of this petition. Using pencil or felt pen, lightly print the name (and Alien Registration Number, if known) on the back of each photograph.

Your husband or wife must provide:

  • Two copies of Form DS-156, Nonimmigrant Visa application
  • Form DS-156K, Nonimmigrant Fiance Visa application
  • Police certificates from all places lived in for six months and more, since the age of 16.
  • Birth certificates – original and photocopy
  • Proof of valid marriage
  • Proof of legal termination of past marriage(s)
  • Results of required medical exam
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the United States.
  • Two non-immigrant visa photos, two inches/50 X 50 mm square, showing full face, against a light background)
  • Proof of financial support

If the consulate grants a K-3 visa, your spouse can come here. However, a decision regarding admission to the United States won’t be made until his or her arrival at an official point of entry. If admission is granted, he or she will be able to apply for a Green Card later on. A K-3 visa will also allow him to or her to submit an application for employment authorization.  However, it is important to note that these visas are only good for two years, and renewal is permitted only if some aspect of the immigration case is still pending.

To qualify for either a CR-1/IR-1 or K-3 visa, you must:

  • Be legally married
  • Have a permanent residence in the United States
  • Be at least 18 (to sign some of the forms required as part of the application)

The option that’s best for you and your spouse depends on the circumstances of your case. But with so many options — and so many requirements — it is easy to feel confused and overwhelmed. At IMMIF, our experienced immigration attorneys can help you make the right decision.

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