K-1 Fiancé(e) vs CR-1 Spousal Visa: Which is right for you?

Erick Widman

If you’re a United States citizen and you would like to bring your non-citizen partner to the United States from another country, marriage is ultimately going to have be part of your plan. With the K-1 Visa process, you will be married after your partner enters the United States, whereas with the Spousal Visa process, you will already be married before you file anything. One of these processes is not objectively better than the other: it depends on the circumstances and preferences of you and your partner.

There are many considerations you should take into account when deciding what process is best for you. Below we outline some key factors to consider and overviews of both of the processes for you to review as a starting point in your decision process.

Key factors to consider when deciding between the two options:

Difference in government filing fees

The government filing and processing fees are different for each visa process and are paid at different times.

Currently, the fees for the K-1 process are $535 for Form I-129F (filed with USCIS), $265 to apply for the K-1 visa (generally paid to the U.S. consulate), and then once your partner is in the United States there is a fee $1,225 for Form I-485/adjustment of status packet filed with USCIS. The total government fees are $2,025.

For the spousal visa process, current filing fees are $535 to USCIS for Form I-130, $325 to the U.S. State Department to apply for the visa, and $120 to the State Department for affidavit of support processing. After everything is approved, there is an Immigrant Fee to USCIS of $220. The total government fees are $1,200.

Ability to Work and Travel

With the K-1 visa, there will be a period of approximately 5-7 months from the time of filing the adjustment of status application in the United States until your partner receives the card that serves both his/her employment authorization and travel document. During this 5-7 month period, your partner cannot legally work or travel outside of the United States. You should not rely on expediting the processing of the work authorization/travel document applications because it is increasingly difficult to receive expedited processing with USCIS.

If your partner enters on a spousal visa, he/she would enter the United States with the ability to work and travel, because he/she would already hold legal permanent resident status.

Ability to enter the United States as soon as possible

Although the timing can vary greatly for both processes based on the exact circumstances of each case, generally the K-1 visa process allows your partner to enter the United States approximately 1-4 months earlier than through the spousal visa process.

Difference in legal fees

The legal fees for obtaining the Legal Permanent Resident Card (“Green Card”) through the K-1 Visa process are usually higher than for obtaining legal permanent resident status through the Spousal Visa process. Because the K-1 visa involves consular processing before your partner enters the United States and a full adjustment of status application process after they enter the United States, the legal fees associated with the full K-1/adjustment of status processes are usually higher than with the Spousal Visa process.

Overview of the processes:

The K-1 “fiancé/ fiancée” visa process:

Step 1 – File Form I-129F with the Immigration Service here in the United States. (Usually takes ~ 5-9 months to receive a decision from USCIS)

Step 2 – Upon approval of the Form I-129F, the case is transferred to the National Visa Center (“NVC”) which notifies the U.S. Consulate in the appropriate country of the approval. (Usually takes approximately ~ 2-6 weeks)

Step 3 – Your partner applies for the K-1 visa and an interview is scheduled and conducted with the U.S. consulate. (Usually this step takes ~ 2-4 months, depending on the consulate)

Step 4 – After your partner enters the U.S. on the K-1 visa, you must marry within 90 days of entry. Thereafter your partner would apply for adjustment of status within the U.S.

Overview of the spousal visa petition process:

Please note to apply for the spousal visa, you need to be legally married before filing anything.

Step 1 – You file a Form I-130 instead of the Form I-129F. (Usually takes ~ 5-9 months to receive a decision from USCIS)

Step 2 – Once the I-130 is approved, the petition will be transferred to the National Visa Center (“NVC”). Once the NVC receives the case, it will issue visa fee bills and request documents. (Usually takes approximately ~ 2-6 weeks)

Step 3 – The interview is scheduled at the appropriate U.S. Consulate (Usually takes approximately 3-5 months for the interview to be scheduled)

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